“Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President”

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President” is a rather entertaining British documentary about the Trump family, narrated by Matt Frei, directed by Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice.

The most interesting part of the film may be the beginning, the narrative of grandfather Friedrich Trump, who came to the US from Bavaria after a crisis as a teen and started building businesses in lower Manhattan in the 1890s. They were generally restaurants, bars, and brothels. He moved out west, to Seattle, and followed the gold rush to the Yukon in Canada.  At one point, he shipped a hotel down the river like a toy and put it back together when it broke apart in the river current in Whitehorse.

After some failures he tried to go back to Bavaria and was refused citizenship because of draft evasion. Sound familiar?  He wound up back in New York.

His son Fred Trump would take after him and build a real estate empire, mostly houses, in Queens. There’s a reference to Coney Island and maybe one of my favorite spots from twenty years ago, the Seaside Courts for paddleball. Donald would be the fourth child and second son, and was always getting in trouble, and would thrive in military school. But the older brother would “fail”, becoming a pilot and then succumbing to the bottle, and Donald would wind up with the real estate empire.

The grandfather showed a real pioneering work ethic (I’m reminded of the entrepreneurialism in Lagos, Nigeria recently depicted on an Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”) but with the father Fred and then Donald it turned more into manipulative and aggressive dealing to see what they could get away with. Is that raw capitalism?

The film races through Donald’s career, briefly covering his bankruptcy in the late 90s.  It covers his marriages, to Ivanka and later to immigrant Melania.

The end of the film talks about Donald’s attitude about “winners” and “losers” and his somewhat disturbing belief in what sounds like eugenics. Trump seems to believe that better genes equates to existential personal moral superiority (which the Nazis also claimed).  He did get in trouble early in his own career for redlining black applicants for apartments, marking their paperwork with “C” for colored.  But in my own experience, one time renting an apartment in Arlington VA in 1971, I encountered the same kind of talk from a rental agent, and again when moving to Dallas at the beginning of 1979.

The Netflix version runs 48 minutes, but imdb lists the length as 65.  Maybe the longer version covers more about the 2016 election.

Wiki picture of Whitehorse in autumn.

Name:  “Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President
Director, writer:  Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  65 / 48
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Guardian, independent  (both reviews here rather concerned about the tone of the film on race and genetics)

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT)

“Kill All Normies”: a meta-pamphlet about Milo’s world and even Pepe the Frog

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right”, a booklet (120 pages) by Angela Nagle, seems to attribute the rise of nationalist populism as a kind of sum-effect of the chaos on the Internet in the past ten years or so.  As the author says in her last chapter title, it isn’t funny when the culture wars go offline.

I’m rather shocked at the meanness and bullying that happens on line, and the revenge and stalking;  Melania Trump has said she wants to do something about it, even if it helped her husband get elected. The behavior reflects a certain cynicism and even nihilism, that the “system” is leaving a lot of “us” out, so we might as well rebel against civilized living.

Nagle’s presentation is non-sequential and rather random, so it is hard to follow an argument.  But gradually she gets into the same territory covered by Milo Yiannopoulos in his book “Dangerous” (July 13).  She gradually develops a comparison to Milo’s style of conservatism, which I would call hyper-meritocracy (a preoccupation with other people’s virtue and its visual evidence, and a cult of personal competitiveness) but not libertarianism and definitely not alt-right or fascism, and the older Par Buchanan type of conservatism evident in the 1980s with the “Moral Majority” crowd.  She almost manages to make cis gay men as likely to prefer conservatism to the particularly constricting identity politics of the extreme Left.  The alt-right has its own identity politics, with a different crowd.  In the end, communism (or hyper socialism, Venezuelan style), fascism, and extreme nationalism (as Putin is verging on), and even theocracy (Islamo-fascism) all start to seem alike. They are all authoritarian, and easily morph out of excessive political concern over personal “right-sizing” and deservedness.

She manages to convey some interesting narratives, such as about the life of mass shooter Eliot Rodger and his manifesto “My Twisted World” (this 2014 Isla Vista case definitely made “manifesto” a bad word, but so did the luddite Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in the 1990s with his “Industrial Society and its Future” where he ranted about the imposition of socialization).  She also gives a perspective on the hit film “Fight Club” (1999, Fox, directed David Fincher, with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt).

She also conveys pretty well just how far some people go into group identity belonging, especially on the radical Left.  People have amputated their own limbs to “belong” to “people with disabilities”. She has the same horror at the staged anarchical violence at Milo’s events. She discusses “manosphere” as something sometimes disfigured by tattoos and wounds, something far removed from the cleaner fantasies of the 1960s when James Bond told us “what it means to be a man”, or when a perfected (except around red kryptonite) Clark Kent conveyed that on “Smallville” in the 00’s.  (Tom Welling has gone downhill since then, sad to say.)

In the end, it seems like “populists” dislike “elites” who watch and criticize but don’t step up and swing and take the risks of getting beaned.

Vox interview with author.

Salon discussion of the book.

Author: Angela Nagle
Title, Subtitle: “Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
publication date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-543-1
Publication: Zero Books, 120 pages, paper (ebook), 7 chapters and conclusion
Link: publisher

(Posted: Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT)

“The Trump Survival Guide” by Gene Stone; what can “you do”? Join movements? Volunteer? Become an activist?

I read about this little handbook in the Washington Blade print edition at dinner last weekend.  It’s a new Bantamweight book “The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through what You Hoped Would Never Happen”, by Gene Stone, a little paperback and Kindle how is prolific with advice guides.  (Should read, “what you had hoped…”.)

The back cover says “Don’t Despair, Don’t Retreat, Fight Back”.

The book  is set up in fourteen short chapters about various issues.  Each chapter introduces the history of the issue, says what Barack Obama did about it, then speculates what Donald Trump might do, and then what to do about it personally.

The historical narratives assume a reader who knows very little history.  So this book, in a sense, is “for people”;  it’s not an argument about what policy should be (although it generally is “liberal” to moderate in tone).  I don’t write these sorts of articles or books myself, and I’ve sometimes been quizzed as to “why not”.   It may sell very well for a while.

The advice, “What you can do” is rather challenging.  It says, join organizations (or maybe movements?) Volunteer.  Become a teacher.  Become a mentor.  Volunteer in a soup kitchen.  Knock on doors and raise money.

I don’t knock on doors and ask for money because I view myself as a “journalist” and “above that”.  That makes me a spectator and critic, I guess.

On the volunteering, I find my own activity has to be very carefully thought through and matched to my background.  Many volunteer organizations are not very transparent and too bureaucratic and authoritarian in their own way.  I could imagine, for example, directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas.  But I would like to get my own playing skill back up first (to something like USCF 2000).

All that said, there are some interesting points.

One is that Nixon conspired to get black people convicted of drug offenses so they couldn’t vote later.   I’ve heard that before, but it’s good to be reminded.

Another is the whole history of political parties, that at one time we had a “Know Nothing” party that predicts modern anti-intellectualism, and that the US has often had very discriminatory immigration policies in the past.

Still another is the attitude toward women’s work – that women were needed in the workforce during World War II, rather suddenly, so that the men could fight.  There is coverage of Trump’s inconsistency with regard to women (and his vulgar comments), and a hint that many men, ironically, see women’s work as a sign of their relative impotence, a profound cultural issue (which stands opposite to how male homosexuality often works).

He gives a good history of LGBTQ rights, especially pre-Stonewall, when society was deliberately intrusive into the private lives of gay people.  He covers the history of sodomy laws briefly, as well as DADT. He notes that Trump personally has claimed to support gay rights, but seems to be appointing anti-gay people to his Cabinet (Mattis seems OK on the DADT repeal as of this writing).  Trump seemed to treat gay contestants fairly on his own “Apprentice” show.

On immigration, he notes that Obama set up DACA but was pretty aggressive with deportations.  He notes that Mike Pence had once said he wanted to deport even the settled Syrian refugees.

On national security, he notes Trump’s own waffling on Iraq, but he doesn’t pay enough heed to the fact that Obama’s withdrawals may have helped allow the civil war in Syria to aid the spread of ISIS into Iraq and create random lone wolf threats to American civilians at home. I think the targeting of civilians, a kind of enemy conscription, is a bigger legal threat to other areas (like free speech online, with the terror recruiting problem) than most commentators realize. He does talk about the NSA and the torture issues.

On health care, he does explain that premiums for some people in the individual market, under the individual mandate, went up under Obamacare to help cover other people with pre-existing conditions.  People with too much income were not assisted with subsidies, so that is why many voters (who became Trump supporters) became incensed.  I like the idea of covering pre-existing conditions separately with a reinsurance vehicle. But you would have to debate, state by state, what gets covered this way.

He doesn’t cover the free press and free speech issues, or network neutrality, in much detail, but his brief statement on net neutrality sounds grim, like it could lead to censorship by telecom companies.

Author: Gene Stone
Title, Subtitle: The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Trhough what You Hoped Would Never Happen
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-268648-0
Publication: Dey St/William Morrow, 191 pages, paper, 14 chapters, endnotes
Link: author

(Posted: January 26, 2017 at 1 PM EST)

“13th” traces US racism to use of prison slave labor


Name: 13th
Director, writer:  Ava DuVernay
Released:  2016/9
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length 100
Rating PG-13
Companies: Netflix Red Envelope
Link: Fortune

13th”, directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix studios, is a powerful documentary that traces racism (particularly what we saw in Trump’s campaign this year) and racial profiling all the way back to the logical sequels of slavery.

The 13tn Amendment to the Constitution prohibits slavery except for convicted criminals.  (I could wonder immediately about involuntary conscription into the Armed Forces.)  So “Negros” were often convicted of small crimes so they could be “re-slaved” by prison labor.  The film traces the use of prison labor all the way into recent history with the privatization of prisons for profit with many of the laws drafted by a conservative pressure group, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), such as SB1070 (NPR story )


The use of prison labor corresponds with many trends in race and criminal law since Reconstruction, leading to segregation and the whole “Jim Crow Law” legal establishment in the South. Then in the 1970, Richard Nixon developed a code of criminalization associating drug abuse and pot with war protesters and with blacks.  (The Army, however, gradually became a place where African Americans could advance, as it already was in 1968, when I was drafted.  That had been helped by Truman’s desegregation of the military in 1948.) I recall a very draconian anti-drug law signed by Rockefeller for New York State in 1973.  The Reagan years continued the anti-drug campaign with Nancy’s “Just Say No” campaign, and with particularly the explosion of crack.

This documentary maintains that the 1915 epic “The Birth of the Nation” helped foment the KKK,. The film covers the practice of lynching, with graphic autobiographical accounts and pictures (which the late Gode Davis has covered in his unfinished film “American Lynching”, of which I saw parts of, about 30 minutes, in his home in 2003).  The film mentions autobiographies of black people affected by segregation, and the gradual exposure of the evils of segregation with the media of the day – big magazines (as in “Loving”, yesterday), and television, which televised the Civil Rights movement in the south – Selma, and the death of Emmett Till.

The film does present several of the most corrosive and provocative rants by Donald Trump early in his 2016 campaign. (In fact, his pet saying has been rephrased as “Make America White Again.”) The film mentions Trump’s demand of the the death penalty (no longer possible) for “The Central Park Five” even though those men (from a late 80s case) were later exonerated by DNA evidence (and had been coerced to confess) – the wrongful conviction issue that has become a career for filmmaker Andrew Jenks.

The film looks at relative incarceration rates by race and notes that in many states, felons cannot vote again.  (An earlier film, May 10, covered te way sex offenders are kept away from society forever by the criminal justice system.)

At the end, the film summarizes several of the police shooting cases that led to the Black Lives Matter movement, especially Ferguson, and Fernando Castille in Minnesota.  Darrien Hunt in Utah would have been a good one to cover (Reid Ewing tweeted a lot about the incident).

(Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2016 at 9:45 PM EST)

“The Apprentice” in first three seasons on NBC did present Donald Trump at his better self


“The Apprentice”  (NBC, Winter and Spring, 2004, multiple seasons through 2016, produced by Mark Burnett, “reality tv”)

I’m going to start this review by reproducing what I wrote in 2006 or so on my legacy site, since Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy makes it relevant now.  Here goes:

So, what if you could have it all? Money, …  Well, Donald Trump becomes a media star, along with all sixteen of his apprentices. Omarosa will star on the soap Passions (the show with the fetus swapping) later, and Bill Rancic finishes off with the top job. Which in hindsight seems right. Bill was rather the Clark Kent of the program: like the Smallville hero, he was kind of a mystery at the beginning, and gradually increased his socialization with the group to the point that the others become loyal to him, as he would be protective of them.  I thought that Kwame would actually win until the final boardroom. Now, I don’t know about all the catty backstabbing and all, I think that is a lot of hype. I do know that it would be stressful to live with other people in close quarters for fifteen weeks without outside access, rather like the military. (So will there be gays on The Apprentice next year? The question presents itself.)  There were other great moments, mostly early. Troy’s leg wax, for the sake of the team; Sammy’s chess game, Jason’s finding Sammy in the fetal position, Troy’s ploy “I want what you want.”  (When will Jason have his first building in NYC?) It’s great the The Donald will pay for Troy’s college education. I’ll pass myself on applying, partly for the reasons noted above, or maybe because I don’t like to sell other people’s stuff.  But, of course, business is about bringing a provider and a customer together in mutual interest, right? I could do that. I like the comment by Donald after the art show: you have to believe in what you sell. And a great appearance by the Fab Five for the pediatric AIDS auction benefit.

Oh, OKAY, “you’re fired.”  Then “you’re hired.”

For more on some special quirky episodes and the Boardroom #2 in Season #2 where one of the candidates touches a “third rail” to taking a needless risk with a presumptive statement, see note 18a, near the end of the note, at  this link. One thing of interest is that Mr. Trump was extremely offended by voluntary statements that appear to be self-incriminatory or insubordinate, even if made for “Socratic” reasons to “test the waters.”

The third season was “Book Smarts v. Street Smarts.”  The fourth had an openly gay male candidate, who lasted for most of the competition. There were no problems with the group accepting him in the Trump living quarters, which raises an interesting point when compared to the military objections to gays in the barracks, leading to the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.

It’s also interesting that on the Dec 15 finale in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Trump “your’re hired!”  the African American candidate Randall, and then asked Randall a question that probed whether Randall would be diluted if he also hired Rebecca. Randall said that there should be only one Apprentice. Don’t share the joys.

In the 2006 season, a 22-year-old, Lee, has made it to the last five, and could raise the question as to whether Donald really would hire someone that young to run one of his companies. Lee, winning the “two out of three ain’t bad” tasks that he has led, had avoided the snakelike behavior of other contestants and escaped the boardrooms by trying to heal conflicts. Perhaps he learned those people skills as a fourth-grade inner city school teacher, or as a soup kitchen volunteer, according to the bios and the nbc.com apprentice website. It does seem that “people skills” are what it takes to win the whole thing.

Martha Stewart is hosting a second version of The Apprentice in the fall of 2005. In the first challenge, the teams had to take a fairy tale, write and illustrate a children’s book and present it to elementary school children in somewhat intimate fashion, the kids seated on rugs as often done in grade school. The tales were “Hansel and Gretel” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” The point was made that the writer and presenter must connect with her customer. Writing here is seen as meeting the needs of specific customers. (One team wrote one of the stories in verse.) In may case, writing is much more a matter of presenting complete content for all readers and “connecting the dots.”

I’ve noticed the “Old Navy” (designer clothing) ads recently. They have large dancing casts. In one ad the music (singing “Daddio”) is invigorating and really helps sell the clothes. The other ad takes place on a roottop with a matte painting of NYC and looks lifeless. Could these ads have been designed by a future episode of “The Apprentice” that we haven’t seen? It’s easy to see, from the tasks that we have had (with Donny Deutsch, especially) which ad executives would pick on The Apprentice. Maybe Mr. Trump will look at Old Navy for a future episode if he hasn’t already. The ads need some work.

A Spanish filmmaker has taken this concept to independent film with “The Gronholm Method” (link below).

The Apprentice returned in 2007 with “The Apprentice LA”.  Yup, New York and LA. This time, losing teams sleep in tents, but with a warm climate.

I never became a fan of “Celebrity Apprentice”, since the celebrities by definition had little stake in the outcome.  But it did show that Trump has a legitimate interest in charity.

Let me backtrack, though, with another walkthrough of some of this.  On Memorial Day weekend of 2004, I did visit Atlantic City, NJ, and probably one of Trump’s properties.  While driving in across the causeway, I heard Troy McClain, survival of the leg wax (the episode had been about “negotiation”), on my car radio, pitching some event.  I recall that Trump paid for McClain’s college tuition after his appearance on “The Apprentice”.  Trump even mentions the McClain hazing (“taking one for the team”) in his book “How to Get Rich”.  But, as I noted in my legacy footnote, that brings up not only hazing, but a whole different kind of event, sympathy events, like “Be Brave and Shave” events to raise money for cancer patients on chemotherapy.  I don’t like the idea of sacrificing my own body, about which I am sensitive, for a “team” or to make somebody else all right.  Does that make me a coward?

The “life-threatening” gratuitous confession in season 2 does remind me of an incident in my own life that I mentioned in my review of “Untouchable” (May 10).

I actually thought that Trump usually used good judgment in the Boardroom.  Most of the time, I agreed with his reasons for his hires and fires.  Given the controversy over his apparently narcissistic behavior as a Republican presidential candidate, some of the episodes in “The Apprentice” showed a surprising appreciation of humility. The very first episode was about selling lemonade outdoors in lower Manhattan in summer heat.

(Published: Monday, June 6, 2016 at 9:30 AM)