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Trump’s family is 'about all he trusts'

Michael Knigge
January 22, 2017

Trump family biographer, Gwenda Blair, talks to DW about the new president’s views on family, and explains the very different roles his wives and children play.

USA | Trump-Familie am Lincoln Memorial anlässlich des "Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration concert"
Image: picture-alliance/CNP/AdMedia/C. Kleponis/

DW: Family plays a very important role for President Donald Trump. What kind of first family can we expect in the Trumps?

Gwenda Blair: As we have seen, he is holding on close to that family. This is how he is going to continue what he has always done, which is to focus on maximizing his own advantage. He always had a very sharp eye for how to get ahead, whatever the situation, and for the opportunities that may be lurking and how to profit from them. He did this in his business career, and what we are now seeing is the rolling out of making the White House into a for-profit situation, depending on his family, depending on his children, having his daughter and his son-in-law very close by.  We don't know how close his son-in-law will be in the White House, but presumably not far. That's his way of taking this forward and keeping the focus on what's in it for him and how he can take advantage of now being president. 

Donald Trump has five children and has been married three times. What is his concept of family?

His family is what he trusts. I think that is just about all he trusts, really. He trusts himself, and they are an extension of himself. It is a very close family. There were five children in his own family and he said early on he wanted five children. They are from three wives, but he has got five children. In that way, he might consider himself a successful husband and father. He sees this as the kind of basic unit and everybody outside of that is an outsider.

USA Autorin Gwenda Blair
US author, Gwenda Blair.Image: Matthew W. Stolper

Trump has been accused of nepotism for his appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House advisor. He has also been criticized for his decision to hand over the running of his businesses to his sons, because of potential conflicts of interests with his political role as president. But Trump has not been phased much by that criticism. Why?

He is a clever guy. There is no doubt about it, whether you like him or not. He was good at figuring out loopholes in business, he was good at figuring out how corporate bankruptcies would help him not to pay personal income taxes for 20 years, and he is now very good at figuring out loopholes in the White House. And one of them is: the president cannot legally be held to any conflicts of interests. And with his turning over his businesses to his sons, he insists that this is not a conflict of interest and that he won't talk to them, which on the face of it is very hard to imagine. He is managing to kind of blur the lines, so it seems ‘well, they are just his kids'.

And having his son in law, instead of his actual blood descendent, as his closest advisor is another kind of blurring operation. The fact is, that he is not legally required to go by the same kind of regulations that every other person who is working in the government, and every other person he is going to appoint to his cabinet, has to follow. And he is extremely aware of that. Just as he was aware that he is not legally required to hand over his tax returns. Every other president has done it, there is a lot of tradition and there is a lot of expectation. But he is not required to do it. That is called a loophole. And the same is happening with his children, and the supposed removal from his business, which isn't really happening, because there is a loophole there and he is going right through it.

Donald Trump mit seiner Tochter Ivanka Trump
Donald Trump speaks with his daughter, Ivanka.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Thew

Donald Trump's children seem to play larger and more important roles politically, and in his business matters, than his wife. Do you share that view, and if so why is that?

All of his three wives have been in some ways very important. In the public eye, all three are models, all three are very attractive, all three are the kind of accessories that someone who has set out to be the alpha male in any room or situation wants. Having a blond model wife on his arm is a very important accessory, a very important prop - and they played that role very well. After all, they are women who are trained to get attention - that is their job. So they have been very important in that respect.

His first wife Ivana wanted to be more than that. She wanted to be part of the business, and their marriage fell apart. He didn't want someone next to him. He wants someone who is at his side, a little bit beside, but not getting out in front. And that was a disaster and so it didn't work out and he went on to wife number two, who had no designs to have any business role. Wife number three has even less designs. We have seen her at his side in public. But she never gets out in front of him, speaks very rarely, and it seems she is not even going to be with him in the White House.

Would you say then that his blood descendents, his children, are more important to him than his wives?

So it would seem. The wives are the accessories, the children are the future. They are the dynasty that is going to go forward.

Gwenda Blair is the author of "Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire" and "Donald Trump: Master Apprentice". She teaches journalism at Columbia University.