Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President review – a warning from history

Matt Frei looks at the generations of Trump past, who built their legacy on illegal emigration, trespass and prostitution

He is going to be hard to avoid this week. This programme Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President (Channel 4) – is sort of Who Do You Think You Are? It only goes back a couple of generations, but that’s all it takes to unearth lots of interesting stuff. Forewarnings, you might say. It’s a shame it doesn’t reveal that Donald was actually born in Mexico, but it’s still pretty good.

We start with grandad Friedrich Trump, who arrived on a boat from Germany in 1885 aged 16, and worked as a barber in New York before going west to seek his fortune. After running a restaurant in Seattle for a while, he went north to follow the gold rush, because young Friedrich dreamed that one day his grandson would have hair of spun gold and ride a golden elevator in a gold tower … possibly. For now, Freidrich opened another restaurant, a pop-up this time – on the infamous Dead Horse Trail, Friedrich made burgers out of the dead horses and sold them to the starving prospectors. “Literally flogging a dead horse,” presenter Matt Frei can’t help saying.

For the gold-diggers who survived the harsh frontier conditions and the horseburgers, and who now craved flesh of another kind, Friedrich then opened a hotel-cum-brothel on land that didn’t belong to him. No mention of whether horse – dead or alive – was on the menu there, too.

He got out at the right time and, after making enough money, returned to the fatherland to find himself a wife. Trouble is, the Bavarian state government didn’t want him back – because he had left without permission and without doing military service.

At this point, it’s hard not to start shouting at the telly, at Bavaria 112 years ago. (Take him back, please, he’s rich, and enterprising, he’ll be good for the economy – and you have no idea what will end up happening, next century, if this man goes back to the States!) Maybe you went on shouting at the telly throughout the show, desperately trying to change the course of history: Mary Anne (Donald’s Scottish mother), don’t leave the Outer Hebrides, Lewis is lovely, there’s nothing for you in America! No? Well, that’s enough children isn’t it, three? Is there no contraception in 1946?

Hang on, though, that’s jumping the gun. We were still with grandad Friedrich and the beginning of the Trump empire, which is so far built on illegal emigration, draft-dodging, prostitution, trespass and the misfortune of others (including horses). But what has that got do with his grandson? Well, according to Mr Genetics, Donald himself, 80-85% of who you are and what you do is down to your genes. So maybe Herr Pferdefleisch-burger does have something to answer for.

Things didn’t get a whole lot nicer when Donald’s dad, Fred, took over the property business after Friedrich died. He exploited the desperation of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Then, after the second world war, he exploited president Eisenhower’s scheme to build new houses for soldiers who had actually served. To allegations of corruption add racism: the Trump Organization would rent you an apartment just as long as you weren’t black. If you were, you got a C on your application, for “colour”, and you didn’t get an apartment. An ideal environment for a future president to be born into, I’m sure everyone will agree.

Young Donald showed early signs of being a different kind of C-word: he was rough, violent and disrespectful, and was packed off to military academy. “The difficulty I had with Donald was that I think there was a real emptiness inside him,” says a more learned contemporary. “And if you have no empathy, you’re fit – as Shakespeare would say – for stratagems and spoils.”

His older brother, Freddy, was supposed to take over the real-estate empire, but he didn’t have what it took, plus he had a drinking problem. So, Donald was handed the reins (why does this keep coming back to horses?).

From then on, the story is a more familiar one – of further wealth; bankruptcy; marriage and divorce; buildings and businesses and aeroplanes called Trump; wives called Ivana, Marla, and Melania; children called Junior, Uday, Qusay and Marine, or whatever it is. We know where it ends up, on Friday ...

“FAKE HISTORY”, he might find time to Tweet. “Totally made-up facts. @Channel4 ratings are tanking, Sleazebag Matt Frei one of the most overrated journalists on TV …”

I’m feeling a bit threatened by Trump, myself, since he started posting TV reviews. “Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!” he tweeted, about Saturday Night Live. Oi, small hands! Off my job. Or I’ll run in 2020.

• This article was amended on 18 January 2016 to correct the quote from Donald Trump’s contemporary at a military academy. An earlier version said “have empathy” where he actually said “have no empathy” in the programme.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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