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8 Times Trump Claimed He Was A Self-Made Man

Donald Trump has, for decades, attempted to portray himself as a self-made, up-by-your-bootstraps entrepreneur who benefited little from his father’s fortune, relying on his own gumption and wiles to overcome financial challenges.

But a bombshell investigation by The New York Times published Tuesday annihilated this claim.

The Times, citing hundreds of confidential tax returns and financial records, reported that Trump received over $400 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing today. And, to bail out his failing businesses, Trump borrowed tens of millions of dollars from his dad and relied on the elder Trump ― who was one of the richest people in America in the 1970s, according to the paper. 

The report, which the White House has criticized as a “misleading attack against the Trump family,” also described how Trump and his siblings helped their parents dodge millions of dollars in taxes, including “instances of outright fraud.”

Below are eight examples since the 1990s when Trump played the “self-made man” card.

“My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”

One myth that Trump has repeatedly touted is the claim that he transformed a “small loan” of $1 million from his father ― that he accepted early in his career and repaid with interest — and transformed it into a “massive empire.”

“It has not been easy for me,” Trump, as a presidential candidate, said at a town hall in New Hampshire in October 2015. “I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan, and I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest. But I came into Manhattan and I started buying properties, and I did great.”

According to the Times’ reporting, Fred Trump loaned his son at least $140 million in today’s dollars. Most of it was never repaid.

“Rich men are less likely to like me, but the working man likes me because he knows I worked hard and didn’t inherit what I’ve built.”

In his famous 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, Trump declared he was beloved by the “working man” because he “didn’t inherit what I’ve built.”

That claim is contradicted by the hundreds of millions of dollars that Trump reportedly reaped from his dad’s real estate fortune, starting from when he was a young child.

“By age 3, he was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. In his 40s and 50s, he was receiving more than $5 million a year,” the Times wrote

In all, Trump is said to have received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father. 

Donald Trump's father Fred reportedly bailed him out of many tight financial spots. 


New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s father Fred reportedly bailed him out of many tight financial spots. 

My father’s “story is classic Horatio Alger.” 

In The Art Of The Deal, Trump’s 1987 ghostwritten bestseller, the real estate magnate downplayed his father’s own wealthy background. 

“His story is classic Horatio Alger,” Trump said of his dad, referring to the American author of Ragged Dick who was best known for his rags-to-riches novels about impoverished boys.

While it’s true that Fred Trump had a reputation for hard work and frugality, he was not poor like Alger’s protagonists. His father, Frederick Trump Sr., reportedly made a fortune in the Alaska gold rush and also invested in real estate.

When Fred Sr. died in 1918, he left behind an estate of almost $500,000 in today’s dollars. His wife, Elizabeth, was the one who then founded the family business, which was originally named E. Trump and Son.   

Donald Trump has repeatedly portrayed himself as a self-made entrepreneur.


Fred Prouser/Reuters

Donald Trump has repeatedly portrayed himself as a self-made entrepreneur.

“I often say that I’m a member of the lucky sperm club. But did it give me a natural talent? I don’t think so.”

In a rare moment of recognition of his privileged upbringing, Trump admitted in his 2009 book Think Like A Champion that he was a “member of the lucky sperm club” ― a term he’d earlier defined as someone who’d inherited “somebody else’s wealth.”

He insisted, however, that his father’s real estate fortune had little bearing on his own success. 

“I often say that I’m a member of the lucky sperm club,” he said. “But did it give me a natural talent? I don’t think so. It gave me an advantage that I deliberately chose to develop into an advantage.” 

“I built what I built myself.”

Speaking to PBS’ Charlie Rose in 1992, Trump was unequivocal in its description of himself as a self-made entrepreneur.

“I built what I built myself,” he told Rose. “I did it by working long hours, working hard and working smart. More importantly than anything else is by using my own brain. There was a point where I was making so much so fast and it was so easy that I almost got bored. It’s true.”

“I’m proud of my net worth. I’ve done an amazing job.” 

When Trump formally announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015, he boasted about his net worth ― which he pegged at about $9 billion (a number that’s been refuted) ― and claimed he owed his wealth to his own hard work and gumption.  

“I did a lot of great deals, and I did them early and young,” Trump, who has repeatedly rebuffed calls to release his tax returns, said at a rally at Trump Tower. “And now I’m building all over the world, and I love what I’m doing.”

“If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines.”

In his 1990 interview with Playboy, Trump bragged that he possessed an X-factor that had contributed to his success ― and he used the metaphor of a coal miner to make his point. 

Asked about what satisfaction he derived from doing a deal, he replied:

“I like the challenge and tell the story of the coal miner’s son. The coal miner gets black lung disease, his son gets it, then his son. If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination ― or whatever ― to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.’”

″‘It’ is an ability to become an entrepreneur, a great athlete, a great writer,” Trump continued. “You’re either born with it or you’re not. Ability can be honed, perfected or neglected. The day [champion golfer] Jack Nicklaus came into this world, he had more innate ability to play golf than anybody else.”  

“My father never sheltered me.”

Trump said in The Art Of The Deal that his father had “never sheltered” him and that he’d had to figure his own way out of challenging situations.

But the Times’ report paints a significantly different picture. 

According to the paper, Trump’s father repeatedly helped rescue him from financial ruin, loaning him millions of dollars and pumping millions more into his failing businesses. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as several of Trump’s business ventures, including his Atlantic City casinos and the Plaza Hotel, were hurtling toward bankruptcy, four entities that Fred Trump had created paid his son the equivalent of $8.3 million in today’s dollars, reported the Times. 

Trump’s dad also infamously sent one of his bookkeepers to Atlantic City in 1990 to buy $3.5 million in casino chips to help his son make a bond payment. 

The ruse was discovered and the casino had to pay a fine ― but thanks to his father, Trump “narrowly avoided defaulting on his bonds,” the Times wrote.

Fred Trump wasn’t always able to get his son out of financial trouble, however. Despite the financial “safety net” he attempted to provide, Trump has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for his companies six times.

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