What’s In a Name?
In his book Triggered, Donald J. Trump Jr. reveals the following fascinating anecdote about having the same name as his father:
“When my mother first approached my father with the idea of naming me Don Jr., my father is rumored to have said, ‘We can’t do that! What if he’s a loser?’”
While Don Jr. is quick to point out that it’s only a rumor, he admits that it’s easy to believe. “It sure sounds like him. When you’re Donald Trump’s son, you get used to that kind of humor.”
I’m curious if the president has ever confirmed or denied it, so I ask Donald Trump Jr. if his father has read the book.
“I assume so,” he responds. “He said it was good.” Then he adds with a laugh, “Unless he was lying to me.”
“Well, assuming that he did read it,” I rejoin, “I’m sure he would have said something if the story wasn’t true. Right?”
“He has neither confirmed nor denied that it’s true,” Don tells me good-naturedly. “As I said, I can definitely see it as a sort of ‘Trumpian’ thing to say. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d made a joke like that. For him, nothing is off limits. You can have fun with him about anything.”
Who Wants to Be a Billionaire 2.0
While his father was busy developing sizeable chunks of New York City, Donald Trump Jr. and his siblings spent their summers away from the hustle and bustle of the financial center of the world, in their maternal grandparents’ hometown in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Spending six to eight weeks a year in a communist country, complete with drab architecture and endless breadlines, had a tremendous impact on his formative years, Trump Jr. says.
Moreover, being the son of a billionaire didn’t shelter him from getting his hands dirty, doing everything from mowing lawns to chopping trees. While he’s slept under the roofs of some of the most beautiful structures in the world, he has also lived out of the back of a truck in Aspen, Colorado. Although he was employed by his wealthy father, he was barely paid minimum wage (until, over time, he learned how to negotiate for a better salary).
As evidenced by the nearly endless procession of disgruntled former White House employees and their myriad book deals, I assume it isn’t easy to work for The Donald, even if you’re kin. “We’ve seen a lot of the president’s hires at the White House not working out,” I say. “Are his standards too high? Or is he just a difficult man to please?”
“Nah,” Don says dismissively. “He’s tough, but he’s fair. He expects performance, and he definitely expects some loyalty, both of which seem to be in short supply in Washington, DC. I also think there’s an element of having entered government from the world of business, which is very different from politics, where most people make decisions based on what others tell them, even if it’s not in their best interests. The swamp has always taken care of the swamp, so it takes a little while to figure these things out when you come in as an outsider. But that doesn’t mean that those differences are insurmountable.
“If you look at what’s going on now, we have significantly fewer people who were put into positions but were really there to further their own careers in Washington rather than serve the President of the United States. It took a couple of years to work things out, because again, nothing happens overnight, but I think he’s got it down to a system. He’s hiring better people, and everything is running more smoothly now as a result.”
“What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on the business?” I ask.
“No different from how it has affected anyone else in the hotel industry,” he says, before adding in true Trumpian fashion: “But we’re confident we will emerge strongly when this is all over.
“If you look at the economy prior to COVID and the craziness of all of that, and if you look at the response as it relates to getting ahead of it, shutting down travel from Wuhan when the Democrats were still saying that was somehow racist and xenophobic, as opposed to just literally common sense, to shut down travel from the epicenter of a viral outbreak. I mean, at no other time in history and in no other civilization would that be considered xenophobic, but the Democrats could make it so. So I think things are operating really well now.”
Not in Competition
Next, I bring up an incident that took place in Colorado during the 2016 campaign, in which Don Jr. was scheduled to make a solo appearance. The story, which appears in Triggered, reveals a trace of some of the insecurities of someone bearing so famous a name.
When the state campaign called to say that they might have to move the venue, Don admits he thought they were concerned that too few people would show up. However, when they informed him that the site had a capacity of 300 and so far 2,400 had signed up, Don’s reaction was, “Do they know they’re coming to hear Donald Trump Jr.?” (The answer was yes, they did know.)
“Are you prepared to open up about what it’s like to live with this colossal shadow hanging over you?” I ask him.
“Look,” he begins, “I’m sort of used to it. It’s not like this is the first time my father has achieved a huge success. He has done well with anything he’s put his mind to. The reality is that if I were competing with him, then yes, it would be difficult. But I guess I’m self-confident enough that I don’t look at things that way. I don’t see it as being under his shadow, and I’m not trying to exceed what he has accomplished. I’m comfortable in my own skin, which has to be pretty thick in order to survive. I honestly don’t care if some leftist journalist writes something negative about me because I speak my mind and say whatever I need to say. I think my father has created that opening for many other conservatives to also voice their opinions instead of cowering in fear that someone who hates their guts—not only their political ideology but everything about them—will write a nasty article.
“It’s actually been sort of cathartic. I guess I’m blessed to have a little bit of the Trump self-confidence, because I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. I am not competing against my father, nor do I think of it in terms of following in his footsteps and having to come out from under his shadow.”
“Nonetheless, there’s got to be some heightened sense of fear of messing up,” I posit.
“I don’t know about that,” he replies. “Maybe, because anything I do is examined under a microscope, right? I mean, I wish they subjected people like Hunter Biden to the same level of scrutiny that they do me. I think that if they compared our records side by side you’d see two very different things, but the media’s coverage of me is so incredibly biased. So I imagine that that adds some additional strain. But I’m always going to be me. I think I’ve carved out a little bit of my own niche as someone who is willing to fight for what he believes is right, even if it involves an element of risk as an independent businessman. I believe that certain viewpoints and ideologies are worth fighting for because they are truly the best for the future of this country and for my five children.”
Today’s “Comedy”: Not Funny
Despite his best efforts at breaking away and choosing his own path in life, before long Don Jr. was taking on a supervisory role in many of his father’s building projects, starring next to him in his hit show “The Apprentice” for several seasons and receiving media attention in his own merit.
Then, after Trump Sr. was elected president, Don Jr., as executive vice president of the Trump Organization, found himself with the lion’s share of responsibilities for an empire that incorporates some 500 individual entities. President-elect Trump’s decision to hand over control of the Trump Organization ahead of his inauguration to a trust overseen by his two oldest sons was neither Don’s first introduction to controversy, nor was it his first appointment to a position of leadership. But did he have what it takes to fill those bigly shoes?
Don explains to me how his role in the Trump Organization has changed since his father’s presidency. “My title is executive VP for development and acquisitions. Since the Trump Organization has decided to voluntarily ban itself from making new international deals while DJT is in office, in an effort to be as above board and ethical as possible, it means my role is more about managing existing properties than making new deals currently.”
Critics said that he would never make it. Pundits predicted the collapse of both the empire and the relationship between father and son. But just like his father, Don Jr. has also managed to prove the experts wrong. Like his father, Don stands up for himself regardless of who is trying to take him down, and when targeted, he is sure to return the favor with disproportionate vigor. In fact, he has developed his own brash off-the-cuff style that delights his allies and triggers his adversaries.
“It’s unfortunate that most of your haters will never get the chance to appreciate your sense of humor,” I remark.
“They certainly won’t!” he replies with passion. “That’s definitely something I share with my father. Just look at the daily outrage cycles that go on in the media over something my father said, when it’s clear to any thinking individual that he was joking! The media really do themselves a great disservice, because any rational person can see that he’s having fun and literally just trolling them. But they always take the bait, hook, line and sinker.
“The president always comes out swinging,” I note. “Does it ever get to him?”
“My father is a stone cold machine and doesn’t let the ‘haters and losers’ get to him,” says Don.
“In the past,” I say, “there was a lot of comedy coming from the left, yet lately they’ve proven themselves utterly incapable of taking a joke. Why do you think that is?”
“In their perpetual quest to achieve ‘wokeness,’ they’ve lost the ability to make fun of anything,” he laments. “You wouldn’t even be able to do some of the great comedy that was around 20 years ago when I was in college for fear of cancellation. You’re not allowed to have an opinion anymore if you’re a conservative. But if a leftist extremist says something ridiculous, he can backtrack later and claim that he was only kidding, absolving himself of any culpability. Sadly, that’s the double standard by which everything is measured these days.
“For example, when I attacked Joe Biden with a cartoon meme, CNN and The New York Times were outraged! But when a failed comedian like Kathy Griffin held up a mock severed head of the sitting President of the United States that was okay. Can you imagine what would have happened if someone did that to Barack Obama?
“These days, you’re only allowed to make fun of certain things, like conservatives. And as you’ve seen in the halls of Congress, it’s okay to be anti-Semitic, but it’s clearly unacceptable to say anything about Muslim extremism. It’s ridiculous and scary, and the trend needs to be reversed.”
Hindsight Is 20/20
Although it’s been placed somewhat on the backburner in order to free up the news cycle’s front and center for other, more pressing matters, the upcoming presidential elections have never really gone away.
“What role will you playing in the upcoming elections?” I ask.
“The same role I played in 2016 and 2018: I’ll be campaigning across the country in swing states for my father as well as GOP House and Senate candidates, and raising money. I did over 70 events for GOP candidates during the 2018 [midterms], and I’m currently on pace to beat that number in the 2020 cycle.”
“As far as strategy goes,” I wonder, “has anything changed since the previous races?”
“It’s the same basic strategy,” he replies. “Still running against the entire DC political and media establishment. The one positive about the biases from the media is it allows an incumbent president to effectively and believably run against the DC establishment, something that doesn’t typically work for an incumbent, but because of the obvious hatred the media/DC establishment class have for him, it will work for DJT