9 Nov 2016

Donald Trump: Teen to tycoon to president

11:21 pm on 9 November 2016

How did a young man from the suburbs of New York become a powerful real estate tycoon and US president?

US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on November 6, 2016. AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated the heavily favoured Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton in a closely fought race on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

The problem with Donald Trump, billionaire, celebrity and now president-elect, is not where to start but to end. Pull at one thread and you will get another.

Look back on RNZ's live coverage of election day here.

His life has been a rollercoaster, a lot of it lived in the public eye and even more of it controversial. There isn't enough space here to tackle it all but here's a potted history:

Donald Trump was born in Queens, New York, on 14 June, 1946. His father, Fred Trump, was a self-made real estate broker who owned two chauffeur-driven limousines. His mother, Mary, was a Scottish immigrant whose father had been a fisherman.

It was a strict house where swearing was forbidden. Despite their wealth, all the Trump children were forced to make their own money through paper rounds and summer jobs. Donald was a rebellious child - in elementary school he punched a teacher "because I didn't think he knew anything about music".

New York real estate giant Donald Trump poses in his Trump Tower office on a giant letter "T" on May 8, 1996.

Donald Trump poses in Trump Tower on 8 May 1996. Photo: AFP

The strict upbringing saw the teenaged Donald shipped off to a New York military academy after his father discovered a switchblade in his bedroom. Donald excelled as captain of the baseball team and winner of the 'Neatness and Order' medal but made few close friends. He graduated in 1964 and, already strongly attracted to the limelight, flirted with the idea of going to film school. Instead, he attended Fordham University and transferred after two years to Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1971, three years after graduating from college, Donald moved into an apartment in Manhattan on Third Avenue and 75th Street.

As a suburban boy from Queens, he was an outsider on the Upper East Side but his audacity surprised many developers there. In a complicated deal which included financial aid from his father, he bought the crumbling Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street for $US70 million and gutted and renovated the building. He relaunched it as The Grand Hyatt Hotel in 1980. It was a great success and with Donald having maintained a 50 percent interest, the money started pouring in. Trump the tycoon had arrived.

In the 1980s Donald built Trump Tower in Manhattan, stirring up controversy as he went. Undocumented Polish labourers were an essential part of the operation and The New York Times criticised Trump for demolishing two irreplaceable Art Deco features on the original site. However, once the 28-sided building was complete, 700 guests including New York Mayor Ed Koch joined Donald for the 'topping off' party. Ten thousand balloons were released over Madison Avenue in celebration. The building literally cemented the Trump name into Manhattan. He still lives and works there (though now he'll be moving to Washington).

His celebrity grew exponentially with the launch of his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal. It spent 48 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, 13 of them at No 1, and generated millions of dollars in royalties. The publicity provided a nice boost to his business empire, with revenue for The Trump Organisation surging. In the coming years he would launch Trump airlines, construct hundreds of new buildings and generate enough profit to buy his own yacht, Trump Princess. The '90s, however, were to be a lot crueller.

It began with the costly divorce from his first wife, Ivana, after she discovered his affair with Marla Marples. His finances were undercut by the 1990s recession which ripped apart the New York real estate market and he missed the deadline on two thirds of his interest payments. In 1991 Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy. It was followed by Trump Plaza in 1992, bringing his reputation as a business genius into question. At one point Donald gestured to a homeless man in the street, and claimed to be $900 million poorer than him due to his immense debt.

Trump took drastic measures to balance the books, selling assets like his airline, and then made an unexpected move into mass market entertainment - buying the Miss Universe franchise. He leveraged his failures to publish his second book - The Art of the Comeback. His father died in mid-1999, leaving behind an estate of $250-$300m.

This file photo taken on January 16, 2007 shows US billionaire Donald Trump (C), the producer of NBC's The Apprentice, poses after he was honored by the 2,327th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA.

A file photo from 16 January 2007 shows Donald Trump, during his days as producer of NBC's The Apprentice, celebrating his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo: AFP

The end of the '90s marked his first tilt at the White House, when he actively pushed to be the Reform Party candidate in the 2000 election. At the time he said Oprah Winfrey would be his ideal running mate. His policies included a one-time 14.25 percent tax on the superwealthy to reduce the federal deficit, ammending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against gays, and universal healthcare funded by increased corporate taxation. However, he pulled out in February 2000 due to infighting in the Reform Party which he dismissed as "a total mess".

The mid-noughties brought Trump's highest profile role to date - as the host of The Apprentice. The series presented the Trump Organisation as a desirable place to work and Trump as a financial sage. It gave the tycoon the chance to make even more money through presenter fees and an executive producer credit. The first season finale had the highest ratings on television that year after the Superbowl, and earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.

It wasn't all roses though. In 2005 he launched Trump University. It offered "graduate programs, post graduate programs" in real estate to the general public, offering to teach the secret of Trump's business success. It subsequently closed following lawsuits from students who alleged the scheme was a racket. The New York Attorney General's office warned the company that it was breaking the law by calling itself a university (it had no charter). Ronald Schnackenberg, a former salesman for Trump University went on record calling it a "fraudulent scheme".

Trump continued to court controversy and publicity over the next decade before launching his presidential bid on 16 June, 2015. He vowed his campaign would be self-funded so he would never be beholden to lobbyists or donors. He also expressed the opinion that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers and laid out policies to defend the Second Ammendment, build a wall along the Mexican border, repeal Obamacare and renegotiate foreign trade deals. His controversial statements did not go unnoticed; within weeks NBC, Macy's and Univision all issued statements distancing themselves from the campaign.

And here we are, a bit over a year later.


Toby's Donald Trump

Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs