With roughly 150 words, the youngest son of President Trump and his first wife, Ivana, provided compelling evidence he is as self-impressed and clueless as his father. Eric Trump has never lived outside the cosseted comfort provided by his billionaire father, and never worked outside the family enterprise. This background is not enough for anyone to consider that his personal experience matters much at all. Eric asking us to give weight to what he has seen reminds one of a 5-year-old who complains he’s never been given the keys to the car and therefore life is terribly unfair.
Even if we generously credit Eric for his life experience, we run immediately into his declaration that his father’s critics aren’t really people and that morality has been evicted from the public arena. Nothing in these words, or his expression, suggested that Eric recognized anything ironic about dehumanizing substantial numbers of people in one breath and complaining about the moral climate in another. And then there’s the question of just who might be responsible for the moral decay that bothers young Trump so much.
Were he to consult the record of the recent presidential campaign, his father’s business practices, or his own childhood, Eric Trump could find ample evidence that someone he knows quite well helped lower the standards for the moral example set by public figures. When Eric was still in grammar school his father helped fuel a sex scandal that ended his marriage to Ivana Trump by leaking tidbits to reporters, who made the tawdry details of an affair public.
It was his own father who fanned the flames of racial tensions during the Central Park Five case, indulged in name-calling to publicly denigrate women, and spoke suggestively about his daughter (Eric’s sister) on the Howard Stern radio show.
Donald Trump’s moral compass directed him to exploit unsuspecting consumers with his Trump University and it led him to utter the gross words about molesting women captured by “Access Hollywood.” In politics Donald Trump’s morality moved him to encourage violence at his rallies, mock a disabled reporter, and call for his opponent to be imprisoned. And let’s not forget the cute names he used to describe his opponents.
Candidate Trump was such an exemplar of moral rectitude that parents were forced to teach
their children that he was not a man to be imitated. One would hope that Eric had been taught better, but on Fox he chose to call the head of the Democratic National Committee “a whack job.”
In his name-calling, his emotion, his sense of entitlement, and his lack of self-awareness, Eric Trump showed he is every bit his father’s son. Were Donald Trump a noble figure, the prospect of a younger generation devoted to his presidency would be encouraging. However, Trump is proving to be so unfit — temperamentally, intellectually, and yes, morally — that the traits that bind the family together are more frightening than reassuring.
In the time I spent, while preparing to write a Donald Trump biography, with Eric, his sister Ivanka and his brother Donald Jr. I discovered they all suffered from a lack of experience outside the custom-made universe that revolved around their father. Like him they had always lived inside the precincts of wealth and power, where it was hard to imagine a problem their father couldn’t fix or a mistake he couldn’t repair.
Donald Jr. had worked for about a year in a bar and then joined the family firm. Ivanka had served a similar term in a real estate company headquartered in the same market as the Trump Organization. Eric had gone straight from college into the family enterprise, but sought to distinguish himself as the charitable one, by talking often about his work on behalf of kids with cancer.
As the youngest of the Donald/Ivana kids, Eric expressed the greatest devotion to his father and seemed most committed to the practice of denial that allowed him to tell me, with a straight face, that his father was on a par with Winston Churchill and President Theodore Roosevelt. (This was back when Trump had yet to even say he was entering the 2016 race.)
The older siblings were a bit less effusive, and Donald Jr. even confessed that his father rubs many people the wrong way. (Donald Jr. also stressed the idea that his family could best be understood as a product of breeding, as if the key traits were a matter of blood.) Not surprisingly, as they sat in their glowing offices, where they commanded their portions of the family empire, nary a word of dissent was ever uttered.
The loyalty expressed by Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. has placed them among the President’s most trusted advisers, and it should qualify them to give him a perspective that might help him stop the self-destructive cycle that has paralyzed his administration. But as the world has prayed for the young Trumps, especially Ivanka, to intervene, they have proven to be inadequate to the task. Eric’s diatribe is yet another proof that the qualities that may bring ruin to the Trump presidency reside in some of his children as well.