For better or for worse, everybody and their brother has an opinion about Donald Trump. As president of the United States, he has become a figure of controversy that tends to polarize the entire world.
However, what the world may not know much about is Donald Trump before the fame and before the presidency. In some ways, he was a completely different man back then. And in other ways, he was already the man who would be president.
Here, then, is a look at Donald Trump and his many controversies throughout the years.
Where it all started
Donald Trump has famously been a hallmark of New York for many years. However, his New York story started in a pretty unexpected place: Queens!
That was the location of Jamaica Estates, which his father helped build and where Donald Trump spent his childhood. According to The New York Times, he would later call this area an “oasis” that helped him see what New York “was all about.”
However, that statement may not be very accurate. As a wealthy and elite suburb that was almost entirely white, Jamaica Estates may have formed an idea of New York and even America in Trump’s mind that does not line up with reality for most people.
Accusations of childhood bullying
Depending on who you talk to, Trump is either a master of self-deprecating humor or a master of putting his foot in his mouth. A prime example of this includes his statement, “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same.”
This may be accurate, but not in the way Trump imagines. Many see his presidency as a bully pulpit, and his old neighbors and classmates remember him as a childhood bully. According to The New York Times, former neighbor Laura Manuelidis remembers Trump as someone who would see a stray ball land on his property and scream, “I’m going to tell my dad; I’m going to call the police.”
It sounds like he was just one manager request away from being a childhood “Karen.” Meanwhile, classmates like Dennis Burnham and Steven Nachtigall told The Washington Post they remember Trump as someone who threw rocks at people and who once beat another boy in an “unusual and terrifying” way.
The military academy years
Threatening unruly children with military school is a staple of movies and television. However, for Donald Trump, the threat was very real. His parents actually sent him away to a military boarding school, New York Military Academy, when he was 13. “I was a wise guy, and they wanted to get me in line,” Trump told The Washington Post.
What was his performance like? It depends on who you ask. We know he became the captain of A Company when he was a senior, but that only lasted a month before he was reassigned as a battalion training officer. “I did a good job and that’s why I got elevated,” Trump said.
However, other cadets claimed that Trump’s officers used hazing to keep younger cadets in line. One such cadet, Lee Ains, told the publication that Trump was transferred because the academy concluded Trump had not watched his officers “as closely as he should have.”
High school baseball star
It’s difficult to imagine Trump playing any sports besides golf. Nonetheless, there was a time when he seemed destined to become a baseball star. During his time at NYMA, he played on the baseball team. His coach, Major Theodore Dobias, described him as “quite the athlete” to the Daily Mail Online in 2015.
Trump himself claimed, “I was the best baseball player in New York when I was young” in a 2014 interview with Michael D’Antonio. While Trump has a tendency to exaggerate, Dobias told the Daily Mail Trump was good enough to get scouted by West Point, the Phillies, and the Red Sox.
Of course, Trump decided to go into real estate instead of pursuing baseball. In another timeline, a Donald Trump rookie baseball card might be worth quite a bit of money!
Questionable college record
Eventually, Trump went to college. Newsweek claims Trump originally planned to go to film school. But when he was rejected by USC, he attended Fordham University instead. After two years, he transferred to the prestigious Wharton School of Business.
How was Trump as a student? Once again, it depends on who you ask. The New York Times reported in 1973 that Trump was first in his class when he graduated. However, this appears to be fake news!
According to Wharton’s own records published in 1968, Trump’s name is not on the dean’s list. And a copy of the 1968 Commencement Program from the Penn Archives shows that Trump graduated without any honors. Furthermore, there are claims Trump may have had help getting into college in the first place. According to The Washington Post, Trump’s admissions officer James Nolan was a close friend of his older brother Fred Trump Jr.
How Trump avoided serving in Vietnam
The Vietnam War is a topic of much controversy for Donald Trump. He was able to get four deferments from service while in college. But Trump’s draft number was called in 1969, after he graduated. So, how was he able to avoid service?
He got a 1-Y medical deferment for bone spurs in his feet. However, according to The New York Times, the bone spurs diagnosis was allegedly a favor from a family doctor. The doctor in question, Dr. Larry Braunstein, worked out of an office owned by Donald’s father Fred Trump.
One of Braunstein’s daughter’s claimed in 2018, “If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call and Trump would take care of it immediately.” She alleged that the bone spurs deferment was “the small favor that he got” in return.
A young real estate mogul
Say what you will about Trump, but he has spent his life accomplishing his dreams. According to The Boston Globe, on his first day at Wharton Trump told his classmates, “I’m going to be the king of New York real estate.”
He already own his first apartment building at age 17, which had been transfered from his father’s name to his own. And with a $2 million loan from his father, Trump was wheeling and dealing real estate before he graduated college.
Trump certainly made his promise of becoming a New York real estate mogul come true in a real and powerful way.
Accusations of racism as a landlord
As president, Trump has made many racially-charged statements. As it turns out, issues of racism and Donald Trump date back to 1973.
This was when Trump Management Inc. (of which Donald was already president) became involved in a civil rights lawsuit. The suit alleged that the company denied renting to certain renters because they were black.
“Their vetting operation consisted of looking at what color your skin was,” historian Gwenda Blair told The Los Angeles Times in 2016. “It’s certainly a one-step process.”
Trump ultimately settled the case, and his company was forced to allow black tenants under the Fair Housing Act.
A close relationship with his older brother Freddy
Failure is often the greatest teacher. And sometimes watching another person fail is the best way for you to learn how to succeed.
This was the case with Donald Trump and his older brother, Fred Trump Jr. In his youth, Donald looked up to Freddy, eight years his senior. He kept a photo of Freddy in his dorm room at military school. As adults, Freddy even served as the best man at Donald’s first wedding.
But Freddy had trouble following in their father’s footsteps as a businessman. “Only because he didn’t really love it, he wasn’t particularly good at it,” Donald told The New York Times in 2016. After a few poor business decisions, Freddy decided to avoided the family business altogether and instead became a pilot. This cleared the way for Donald to succeed their father.
Lessons from the death of Trump’s brother
Sadly, Freddy began drinking heavily in his 20s. Eventually, alcoholism took over his life, ending his career and his marriage. In the late ’70s, he moved in with his parents and worked on one of his father’s maintenance crews. He passed away in 1981 at the age of 42 from complications due to alcoholism.
That horrifying lesson is why Trump avoids alcohol and cigarettes altogether. “I watched him. And I learned from him,” Trump told The New York Times. “He would have been an amazing peacemaker if he didn’t have the problem, because everybody loved him,” Trump said. And with a bit of self-awareness, he added, “He’s like the opposite of me.”
Trump Tower was built by undocumented immigrants
In terms of real estate, Trump is best known for Trump Tower. However, even this famous tower was not without some serious controversy.
Before he could build the tower, Trump had to tear down the Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue. To do this, Trump hired 200 undocumented Polish immigrants. They worked with no gloves, masks, or hard hats in grueling 12-hour shifts. Trump paid them less than half of what they were owed. The workers sued, and Trump settled the lawsuit for $1.4 million in 1998.
There is also some controversy over historic limestone reliefs in the building that Trump had the workers destroy. He had previously promised to gift these pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but backed out when he thought it would cost more to remove the pieces than they were worth.
Trump had no regrets, claiming they were “junk” and not “real art,” according to a 1980 New York Magazine article.
The would-be producer
Trump has made cameos in several movies, most notably Home Alone 2. But did you know he once dreamed of being a producer? He went so far as to help finance Broadway producer David Black’s play Paris Is Out!
Trump got a co-producer credit, but the play ended up as a major flop. He never tried to produce again, though this didn’t keep him from dabbling with the idea of plays based on his life.
In 2005, Playbill even reported Trump planned to make a musical based on his reality show The Apprentice, saying “I know we’ll have a huge hit!” Of course, plans never came to fruition, but can you imagine?