The Donald and the Dow
The Ouija Board of Stock Market Indices
Trump-supporters felt anxiety as they watched recent White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefings. In the face of disruption, disease, and death, the president confidently hyped stock market averages as victory. In an April briefing, Trump was unequivocal: "The market is smart. The market is actually brilliant...they're viewing it like we've done a good job. They view it that way."
This disconnect — from lives ravaged by death, unemployment, zombification of cities and towns, and an unknown future — is hard to bear and set aside. For loyal supporters, it is especially painful since oppositional media often rebuke Trump's showcasing the stock market as evidence of his success: "[During his presidency] Mr. Trump has obsessed over the daily gyrations of the stock market like no president before him. He trumpeted its relentless rise as a validation of his leadership, his financial acumen and his policies. Disappointing days were the fault of Democrats, the media or the Federal Reserve" (The New York Times).
President Trump's Basic Motivation
How can we understand Trump's monocular view? What drives his steadfast trust in economics? If you are thinking strictly along familiar lines of money, politics, power, or greed, you miss the central emotional determinant: love.
A Family Business
Ninety percent of American businesses are family-owned. However, only three percent of family businesses make it to the fourth generation. The Trumps are part of this uncommon breed. Theirs is a powerful history of anchoring family attachment, security, and love through business. Family First is the antecedent of America First.
When President Trump's father, Fred C. Trump, Sr., was almost thirteen, he suddenly lost his father, Friedrich, to the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Living in Queens, N.Y., the president's grandmother, Elizabeth, with three children, faced economic catastrophe. Teenage Fred began work as a carpenter and rescued the family. Fred and his mother formed a real estate company, Elizabeth Trump & Son. Fred was so young that his mother had to sign the checks. Fred C. Trump, Sr. ultimately became one of the leading real estate builders of Queens and Brooklyn, N.Y. A further powerful piece of history is that Fred's father, Friedrich, in Germany, lost his father (1877) when Friedrich was close to adolescence. With the family in dire economic straits, adolescent Friedrich was sent to a distant city, apprenticed to learn a trade. Considering that President Trump was abruptly sent away to military school at age 13, we are left with the striking history of three generations of Trump males meeting adversity in early adolescence and mastering it (Roth, 2020).
Finding His Father's Love through Work
From earliest childhood, Fred Trump, Sr. took Donald to his construction sites. Summers off from school were spent with Dad on the job, and with Fred Trump, Sr., that meant seven days a week. Throughout those years, Donald learned the skills of construction and its finance. During college, Donald managed a housing development in Cincinnati, which he ultimately sold, and soon joined Elizabeth Trump & Son full-time for five years.
Donald Trump: "Fred C. Trump wasn't the kind of dad who took us to the movies or played catch with us in Central Park[.] ... Instead, he'd take me to his 'Let's make the rounds,' and we'd be on our way[.] ... He was ... a little remote, until I joined his business. That's when I really got to know him[.] ... My father always trusted me. He'd been in business for fifty years, but he'd never let anyone else in the company sign his checks until I came to work[.] ... He had absolutely no doubt about my ability. His faith gave me unshakeable confidence[.] ... My father gave me knowledge ... knowledge that became instinctive[.] ... I love relating to [my kids] just the way my father related to me — through a passion for work well done" (Trump and McIver, 2004). "My father loved his work[.] ... So, he would not say [to me] 'work, work, work' ... [b]ut I would see that he enjoyed what he did. And I learned that way not so much by his words but by his actions" (Fisher and Kranish, April 2016).
Not surprisingly, Donald Trump, Jr. has described the evolution of his love for his father in similar terms, even down to "It wasn't a 'Hey Son, let's go play catch in the backyard" kind of relationship[.] ... It was 'Hey, you're back from school, come down to the office.' (The upstairs home [in Trump Tower] was only an elevator ride away from the downstairs office)[.] ... So, there was a lot of time spent with him[.] ... But it was on his terms. You know, that tends to be the way he does things" (Kranish and Fisher, 2016). Like Fred Trump, Sr., this work-fathering relationship included learning construction skills, and the same on-the-job-fathering was experienced by Eric and Ivanka (Roth, 2020). Tiffany's recent Georgetown law school graduation evoked a warm endorsement from the president: "Just what I need is a lawyer in the family!"
The bond between President Trump and his father was expressed through business for as long as Fred Trump, Sr. lived, and perhaps a bit beyond. Donald's eulogy at his father's funeral in 1999 began with him telling the attendees, "My father taught me everything I know. And he would understand what I'm about to say. I'm developing a great building on Riverside Boulevard called Trump Place. It's a wonderful project" (Horowitz, 2016). Trump probably could feel his father's beyond-the-grave happiness at hearing Donald's plans — "like father, like son."
Builder as Rescuing Hero
Donald Trump's significant building projects involved Herculean challenges — economic, political, architectural, and cultural. His ventures often reversed decay (the Commodore and blighted neighborhood became the Hyatt complex), awakened potential (Trump Tower), generated life (acres of Manhattan's Westside Penn Central Railroad Yards lying fallow), brought vision (40 Wall Street reinvented), rescued New York City's bureaucracy (Central Park Wollman Skating Rink), or restored — in Trump's words — a "beat-up, overgrown Rembrandt" (Mar-a-Lago). Trump's books are often framed as economic mentoring guides: The Art of the Deal; How to Get Rich; Think Big; Never Give Up; or that great hopeful tempter of titles, Think Like a Billionaire. Even The Apprentice was guidance on how to be the best in business.
Family protection and love through economics is now extended to the nation. In part, this motivation explains the president's hurt and anger at being misunderstood by the media: "Heav'n has no Rage like [scorned] Love to Hatred turn'd" (Congreve, 1697).
But, importantly, despite dismay at President Trump's clinging to the Dow through COVID-19, his supporters remain undaunted, because emotionally, they feel the unspoken, underlying, loving devotion. As I explain in my book (Roth, 2020), in "Trumpspeak," affective communication is effective communication. He means it when he says: "I love America!" For President Trump, whose integrative imagination soars, economic-family-love now encompasses our entire nation.
Sheldon Roth, M.D., a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is author of recently published Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J. Trump.