When you put together everything we know about Donald Trump, it’s terrifying.
Over the past year and a half, there has been a lot of reporting done on what’s perhaps the biggest question of the 2016 presidential campaign: Who is Trump?
What we’ve learned should not give anyone much comfort. This is a man who’s just one election away from becoming the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Yet he’s also someone who has time and time again proven to be corrupt, sexist, racist, and all sorts of other -ists. He has appeared in newspapers demanding the executions of accused men of color who turned out to be innocent. He’s been repeatedly sued for discrimination against people of color and women. He’s engaged in shady business practices that push and at times break the boundaries of the law.
Trump also seems willing and even enthusiastic to bring all of these characteristics to the White House. He has built his campaign around a proposal to build a wall at the US-Mexico border, based in large part on his belief that Mexican immigrants are “bringing crime” to the US. (Nope.) He has proposed policies that target people based on their nationality and religion. He has continued to insult women based on their looks on the campaign trail. And in the second presidential debate — on national television! — he threatened to put his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, in jail if he becomes president.
Many people have called this behavior shocking. But when you get to know Trump, this behavior isn’t really shocking; it’s entirely in character. By and large, Trump’s campaign has merely reflected the very public figure Americans have known for decades — and that makes him all the scarier.
To really understand that, though, it’s useful to look back at Trump’s history of racism, sexism, and corruption. It’s a very long history. But it’s really worth reading and understanding in full. After all, Trump could be the next president of the United States.
Trump has a long history of racism and bigotry
The presidential campaign is far from the first time Trump has faced accusations of racism. The very first time he appeared in the pages of the New York Times, back in the 1970s, was when the US Department of Justice sued him for racial discrimination. Since then, he has repeatedly appeared in newspaper pages across the world as his remarks and actions led to more similar controversies.
Here’s a breakdown of Trump’s long history, taken largely from Dara Lind’s list for Vox and an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:
- 1973: The US Department of Justice — under the Nixon administration, out of all administrations — sued the Trump Management Corporation for violating the Fair Housing Act. Federal officials found evidence that Trump had refused to rent to black tenants and lied to black applicants about whether apartments were available, among other accusations. Trump said the federal government was trying to get him to rent to welfare recipients. In the aftermath, he signed an agreement in 1975 agreeing not to discriminate to renters of color without admitting to discriminating before.
- 1980s: Kip Brown, a former employee at Trump’s Castle, accused another of Trump’s businesses of discrimination. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” Brown said. “It was the eighties, I was a teenager, but I remember it: They put us all in the back.”
- 1988: In a commencement speech at Lehigh University, Trump spent much of his speech accusing countries like Japan of “stripping the United States of economic dignity.” This matches much of his current rhetoric on China.
- 1989: In a controversial case that’s been characterized as a modern-day lynching, four black teenagers and one Latino teenager — the “Central Park Five” — were accused of attacking and raping a jogger in New York City. Trump immediately took charge in the case, running an ad in local papers demanding, “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” The teens’ convictions were later vacated after they spent seven to 13 years in prison, and the city paid $41 million in a settlement to the teens. But Trump in October said he still believes they’re guilty, despite the DNA evidence to the contrary.
- 1991: A book by John O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, quoted Trump’s criticism of a black accountant: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” Trump at first denied the remarks, but later said in a 1997 Playboy interview that “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”
- 1992: The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino had to pay a $200,000 fine because it transferred black and women dealers off tables to accommodate a big-time gambler’s prejudices.
- 2000: In opposition to a casino proposed by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, which he saw as a financial threat to his casinos in Atlantic City, Trump secretly ran a series of ads suggesting the tribe had a “record of criminal activity [that] is well documented.”
- 2004: In season two of The Apprentice, Trump fired Kevin Allen, a black contestant, for being overeducated. “You’re an unbelievably talented guy in terms of education, and you haven’t done anything,” Trump said on the show. “At some point you have to say, ‘That’s enough.’”
- 2005: Trump publicly pitched what was essentially The Apprentice: White People vs. Black People. He said he “wasn’t particularly happy” with the most recent season of his show, so he was considering “an idea that is fairly controversial — creating a team of successful African Americans versus a team of successful whites. Whether people like that idea or not, it is somewhat reflective of our very vicious world.”
- 2010: Just a few years ago, there was a huge national controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque” — a proposal to build a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the 9/11 attacks. Trump opposed the project, calling it “insensitive,” and offered to buy out one of the investors in the project. On The Late Show With David Letterman, Trump argued, referring to Muslims, “Well, somebody’s blowing us up. Somebody’s blowing up buildings, and somebody’s doing lots of bad stuff.”
- 2011: Trump played a big role in pushing false rumors that Obama — the country’s first black president — was not born in the US. He even sent investigators to Hawaii to look into Obama’s birth certificate. Obama later released his birth certificate, calling Trump a “carnival barker.”
- 2011: While Trump suggested that Obama wasn’t born in the US, he also argued that maybe Obama wasn’t a good enough student to have gotten into Columbia or Harvard Law School, and demanded Obama release his university transcripts. Trump claimed, “I heard he was a terrible student. Terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?”
And, of course, there’s what Trump has said and done over the past two years during his presidential campaign:
- Trump launched his campaign calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing crime” and “bringing drugs” to the US. His campaign is largely built on building a wall to keep these immigrants out of the US.
- He called for a ban on all Muslims coming into the US. He has since expanded this ban to include anyone from specific countries, including possibly France and Germany.
- When asked at a Republican debate whether all 1.6 billion Muslims hate the US, Trump said, “I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them.”
- He argued that Judge Gonzalo Curiel — who’s overseeing the Trump University lawsuit— should recuse himself from the case because of his Mexican heritage and membership in a Latino lawyers association. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who’s endorsed Trump, later called such comments “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
- Trump has been repeatedly slow to condemn white supremacists who endorse him, and he regularly retweets messages from white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
- He tweeted and later deleted an image that showed Hillary Clinton in front of a pile of money and by a Jewish Star of David that said, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” The tweet had some very obvious anti-Semitic imagery, but Trump insisted that the star was a sheriff’s badge and said his campaign shouldn’t have deleted it.
- Trump has repeatedly referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has said she has Cherokee ancestors, as “Pocahontas.”
- At the Republican convention, he officially seized the mantle of the “law and order” candidate — an obvious dog whistle playing to white fears of black crime, even though crime in the US is historically low.
- In a pitch to black voters, Trump said, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
This long history is important. It would be one thing if Trump made just a few racist remarks. One, two, or even three of these types of comments might just show a bad speaker who’s seriously racially insensitive, not necessarily a full-blown racist. Maybe even on the campaign trail, Trump is just a racial opportunist, saying things he doesn’t really believe to rile up voters.
But when you take all of his actions and comments together, a clear pattern emerges — one that suggests that bigotry is not just campaign opportunism on Trump’s part but a real element of his personality, character, and career that could guide how he governs as president.
Trump has repeatedly insulted and objectified women over the decades
Trump’s scorn does not, however, stop at minority Americans. Over the decades, he has also repeatedly targeted individual women with nasty comments — mostly focused on their appearance. And he has been accused at least twice of sexual assault.
Trump’s history became an enormous issue on the campaign trail in early October, when leaked audio from 2005 revealed Trump bragging that he can sexually assault women — “grab ’em by the pussy,” as he put it — thanks to his celebrity status.
Vox has a running list of Trump’s remarks going back to 1988, adding up to 61 insults toward 39 women. He called comedian Rosie O’Donnell “a big fat pig,” “disgusting,” “a slob,” and “a very unattractive person.” Bette Midler was “ugly.” Heidi Klum is “no longer a 10.”
The individual insults, though, are just one facet of Trump’s broader attitude toward women. Anecdotes spanning decades make clear that Trump considers it his right to be surrounded by “beautiful” women. He has no boundaries about commenting on their appearance or sexuality. Twice before, he was accused of sexual assault, and he reportedly kissed women on the lips without their consent:
- Jill Harth, who was meeting with Trump about promoting his beauty pageants in the early 1990s with her boyfriend, said Trump reached up her skirt and groped her at dinner, took her to Ivanka Trump’s bedroom and did the same, and continued pursuing her physically despite her protests. Harth filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 1997 that she later withdrew, but her accusations have been consistent for nearly 20 years. (Trump claims Harth pursued him.)
- Ivana Trump, Trump’s first wife, said in a divorce deposition that he raped her: Trump, according to the 1996 biography Lost Tycoon, pulled out Ivana’s hair, held back her arms, and penetrated her forcibly. (Ivana now says the story is “totally without merit” and was told at “a time of very high tension”; Trump’s lawyer refuted the allegations but also said that spousal rape is impossible, which is not true.)
- Temple Taggart told the New York Times that when she was 21 and Miss Utah, Trump kissed her “directly on the lips” the first time they met. (Trump was married at the time.) “I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross,’” she told the Times, saying there were “a few other girls” he treated the same way. (Trump disputes this.)
- In 2005, Trump told The Howard Stern Show that he made a habit of going into beauty pageant contestants’ dressing rooms even when they weren’t yet dressed: “No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. … ‘Is everyone okay’? You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that,” he said, according to BuzzFeed.
Trump also has a long track record of discriminating against women in the workplace:
- At the Trump Organization, he insisted that only the most attractive employees take lunch orders for visitors at a meeting, Barbara Res, a former construction executive, told the New York Times. “That was purely about looks,” Res told the newspaper. “He wanted the people in that room to think that all the women who worked for him were beautiful.”
- During the same era, Trump kept an unflattering photograph of one employee that he called the “fat picture,” and would show it to the employee, Louise Sunshine, when she did something he didn’t like. He told Res, when she gained weight, that “you like your candy,” according to the New York Times.
- When Trump visited the Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, he’d demand that employees he found unattractive be fired, Matt Pearce reported for the Los Angeles Times. And Trump passed this attitude down throughout the organization. Two senior managers urged that overweight employees be let go because they weren’t attractive enough, and managers began scheduling the most beautiful women for shifts when Trump was visiting to avoid trouble.
- On set for The Apprentice, Trump talked about women’s breast sizes, discussed which contestants he’d want to sleep with, asked male contestants to rate the women based on their sexual desirability, and singled out a camera operator for special attention because he found her beautiful, according to Slate and the Associated Press.
- Whenever he could, Trump found a business excuse to surround himself with beautiful young women. He owned or co-owned the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants. He pitched a reality show called Lady and the Tramp, where, according to Variety, “girls in love with the party life will be sent to a charm school where they will receive a stern course on debutante manners.” (Thankfully, it was never made.)
- After Trump tried, and failed, to get Nancy O’Dell to have sex with him — “I did try and fuck her. She was married,” he said on the leaked audio — he tried to replace her as host of the 2007 Miss USA pageant, according to Slate. O’Dell was pregnant at the time. Although Slate doesn’t draw a direct line between action and reaction, firing a woman for being pregnant is illegal. So is firing a woman because she refused to sleep with you.
Then there are the dozens of one-off comments Trump has made about women’s physical appearance on Twitter and in person. “It’s a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees,” he told a former Playboy playmate who had dramatically begged to stay on Celebrity Apprentice. He was a frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show, going along with Stern’s questions about which women he’d want to have sex with.
All of this speaks to another Trump characteristic: When Trump dislikes a woman, his instinct is to insult her physical appearance. When he likes one, he does the opposite, and immediately praises her beauty. He does this even if the context is odd or inappropriate, as when he made sure to note that the victim of a murder committed by an unauthorized immigrant was beautiful:
I absolutely support Kate’s Law—in honor of the beautiful Kate Steinle who was gunned down in SF by an illegal immigrant.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 13, 2015
He memorialized his top aide of 26 years, a vice president within his company, by noting her looks first:
I have just lost my beautiful & elegant long time exec. assistant Norma Foerderer. She passed away yesterday – a truly magnificent woman.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
And, of course, when he wanted to praise Ivanka Trump, his intelligent, accomplished daughter, he did it by conferring his highest honor: He would date her.
Trump is seemingly incapable of separating a woman’s value from her physical appearance. He assumes that his intimate commentary on women’s bodies is always welcome, no matter who might be listening — as the leaked audio, in which Trump is having a conversation with an acquaintance in a professional setting, demonstrates.
He apparently never stops to consider how the women he’s subjecting to all of this might feel. In a professional setting, it’s degrading to know that people are paying more attention to your looks than your abilities or achievements. It’s gross for your boss to tell you you’re beautiful, or for a man with more power than you to speculate about what you’re like in bed. It’s dehumanizing to be reduced to a set of breasts and a pretty face.
Trump’s comments and actions routinely made the women who worked with and for him feel uncomfortable and unvalued. As Kristi Frank, a former contestant on The Apprentice whom Trump once referred to by miming a gesture for giant breasts, told the Associated Press: “I thought he noticed my hard work, but I guess he didn’t.”
And, disturbingly, Trump seems to think all of this is welcomed. He wrote in his 2004 book How to Get Rich, “All the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected. A sexual dynamic is always present between people, unless you are asexual.”
In other words: The women were asking for it. And Trump may have truly believed it. Harth, whom he allegedly assaulted, said Trump “genuinely seemed to assume sexual interest on her part,” Kristof wrote for the New York Times.
Perhaps as a result, Trump has never tried to hide or apologize for his sexism. He hasn’t deleted his old tweets. He hasn’t made a big show of having a change of heart. It would have been easy to, for example, acknowledge that his remarks about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado’s weight gain were offensive and distasteful, say he’s gained perspective and humility from his bigger responsibilities as a politician rather than a pageant owner, and apologize.
Trump justifies his remarks about women either as entertainment or as a blow against “political correctness”:
While @BetteMidler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 28, 2012
All of this adds up to a gross — and potentially illegal — history of Trump’s time in charge of an international business, a beauty pageant, and a reality television show.
But in the Oval Office, his disrespect for women could have even bigger consequences: Would federal appointments in a Trump administration go to the prettiest faces rather than the most able policy hands? Would Trump create a diplomatic incident by leering at foreign leaders or their wives? Would he use the power of the presidency to extort sexual favors from women too intimidated to say no? His track record suggests the answer to all of those questions could easily be yes.
When Trump has power, he uses it to further empower and enrich himself
Beyond the accusations of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, we also know that Trump seems predisposed to abuse power when he obtains it. Whenever he has been in positions of power or authority, he has demonstrated a pattern of trying to enrich himself by abusing the trust others have placed in him — whether it’s creditors, contractors, charitable givers, Trump University students, regulators, or campaign donors.
Over the past several months — and, indeed, the past few decades — reporters have unearthed many alarming stories that show this. They’ve reported on Trump’s many shady business practices. His shady charity. His shady fake university scam. His shady campaign spending. His many shady associates. And, last but by no means least, there is Trump’s refusal to release tax returns or other financial information that would shed further light on his business practices, associates, and philanthropic undertakings.
Now, sometimes Trump’s abuses of trust entail breaking the law, and sometimes they’re within the bounds of the law. And sometimes the legality of Trump’s actions isn’t yet clear — as in the case of Trump University, which will face a fraud trial shortly after the election, and with some of the controversies around the Trump Foundation.
Here are just a few examples — among the many that reporters have unearthed over the decades — of Trump’s tendency to corruption:
- There are the hundreds of accusations that Trump refused to pay contractors and workers what they were owed, which the Wall Street Journal and USA Today compiled this year. “The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years,” Steve Reilly wrote for USA Today. “In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources.” (Trump told Reilly that if he ever didn’t pay, it must have been because he was unhappy with the work.)
True story - my Dad's company was stiffed by Trump on a six figure telecom job in the 1980's. Trump told them it would cost more to sue him.— Brian Walsh (@brianjameswalsh) September 27, 2016
- In 1986, Trump tried to take over two rival casino companies by buying up their stock. But the law required him to disclose his large purchases to the Federal Trade Commission in advance, and he failed to do so. The matter ended up in court, and he was eventually forced to pay a $750,000 penalty as a result.
- Trump, like many other construction magnates from the 1970s and ’80s, has several connections to the mob. Michael Isikoff reported for Yahoo News that Trump worked very hard to keep reputed mobster Robert LiButti happy when he gambled at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, keeping women and black card dealers off LiButti’s table — which led to a $200,000 fine for discrimination — and reportedly gifting LiButti nine luxury cars, exchanged for a total of $1.65 million in cash.
- Other reporters have corroborated Trump’s connections to the mob. “I’ve covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years, and in that time I’ve encountered multiple threads linking Trump to organized crime,” reporter David Cay Johnston wrote in Politico magazine. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks.”
- Trump has a charitable family foundation to which, in recent years, he has given hardly any money, instead raising the vast majority of its funds from others. That’s rather dishonest of him, since he constantly claims that the foundation’s donations are from his own pocketbook. But he’s also used foundation money in deeply questionable ways that may well have run afoul of laws against “self-dealing” with charity money — from an illegal $25,000 donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi around the time she was looking into investigating Trump University to the $258,000 in foundation money Trump spent to settle legal issues regarding his businesses.
- Trump University advertised itself as teaching the secrets of real estate investment, but it was, apparently, a huge fraud — and it’s now facing lawsuits. Jason Nicholas, a former employee, said in one deposition, “They were teaching methods that were unethical, and they had had little to no experience flipping properties or doing real estate deals. It was a façade, a total lie.” Another employee, Ronald Schnackenberg, said in another deposition, “To my knowledge, not a single consumer who paid for a Trump University seminar program went on to successfully invest in real estate based upon the techniques that were taught.”
- As of August, the Trump campaign had allotted 7 percent of its total spending so far — more than $8.2 million — to companies owned by Trump or his children, according to an analysis by Ken Vogel for Politico. Payments went to various Trump venues, an aviation company Trump owns, Trump Tower for office space, his corporate staff, and various other vendors. Now, Trump isn’t expected to provide this space for free — and his campaign points out he’s put $54 million of his own money into his run. Still, it sure looks like he’s trying to pad his business instead of using independent vendors.
- Shortly after the Trump campaign shifted from a largely self-funded model to one more reliant on donors, Trump nearly quintupled the rent that Trump Tower was charging the campaign for office space, S.V. Dáte reported for the Huffington Post. This came at a time when the campaign didn’t expand its staff size, though Trump’s team later told CNN that they were paying for two new floors “in anticipation of more staff.”
- Trump has surrounded himself with shady people throughout his campaign. Among those people is Trump surrogate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration is under investigation for causing a serious traffic jam in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in an act of political revenge against the town’s mayor. There’s also Trump adviser and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was pushed out of Fox News over allegations that he sexually harassed women. And there’s Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser to the campaign, who tried to use a newspaper he owned — the New York Observer — to punish a real estate mogul, Richard Mack, for refusing a write-down on a loan.
Put this all together, and you get a picture of a businessman who’s done everything he can to enrich himself — at times going outside the bounds of the law. And he doesn’t seem to care if the people around him do the same. That presents a very serious threat to American norms against corruption.
“Americans pride themselves on our politicians’ respect for the rule of law, on the checks and balances that protect us from the powerful,” Ezra Klein wrote earlier this year. “But as often as not, our real protection is found not in laws but in norms.”
And that’s the deeper problem underlying all this — that Trump has repeatedly shown he has little respect for norms of ethical or acceptable behavior.
There’s been much discussion about how Trump has repeatedly violated political norms of acceptable behavior, with all the bigotry, racism, and sexism he’s spouted on and off the campaign trail.
But his decades-long track record in the business sector and the nonprofit world, and his management of his current campaign, suggests he’s willing to violate ethical norms too. He treats rules or laws as inconveniences. He ignores conflicts of interest. He takes what he wants, regardless of who gets hurt. And all this is when he is simply a wealthy businessperson.
Yet if Trump wins in November, he becomes the most powerful person in the world, with a nuclear arsenal, the US military, and thousands of government appointees who can carry out his ideas at his disposal.
This is who Donald Trump is — and we’ve always known it
Throughout the campaign trail, there have been repeated suggestions that we will eventually find out who the “real” Trump is. The thinking goes something like this: Trump doesn’t really believe that Mexicans are criminals, Muslims are dangerous, women are objects for his pleasure, and so on. He’s just taking advantage of what many uneducated voters feel to try to rile up the conservative base to victory. Once he’s in power, he’ll be much more reasonable.
Trump himself has pushed this myth, as Dara Lind reported for Vox:
When Ben Carson, during his endorsement speech in March, said that there were “two Donald Trumps,” Trump himself agreed: “There are probably two Donald Trumps. The public version — and people see that, and I don't know what they see exactly, but it seems to have worked over my lifetime, — but it's probably different, I think, than the personal Donald Trump.” The personal Donald Trump, Carson and Trump implied, wasn’t a boor who would (say) casually accuse people of mental illness and sociopathy. He was a decent human being.
And Trump all but promised that, if elected to the presidency, the kinder, gentler, more dignified Trump was the Trump that would rule the country.
“When I’m president I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person you have ever seen,” he told Iowa rallygoers in January. “Right now they come at you from 15 different angles. You have to be sharp, you have to be quick, and you have to be somewhat vicious. When you are running the country, it is a different dialogue.”
But there is no reason to believe this is the case. Trump has had different levels of power and authority over the years, from running an enormous international family business to campaigning for president. And time and time again, he has shown what he’s really like: He will do whatever he can to enrich himself, even if it means pushing or breaking the boundaries of the law. He will apparently hire and fire employees based on his racial biases and gross conceptions of women.
And he’ll never apologize for it — instead doubling down on even the most absurd controversies, from his insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty despite the DNA evidence to his vicious comments about Rosie O’Donnell to his justifications for not paying people he hired for work.
This is who Trump is. That’s what the history tells us. So if Trump becomes president and behaves in the same way, none of us can say we weren’t warned.