Public Books: The Big Picture: America’s real estate developer in chief

Public Books, November 30, 2017The Big Picture: America’s real estate developer in chief

Donald Trump may have vaulted to the White House with the backing of small-town and rural voters, but he is one of the few big city–born and raised occupants of the White House in the last century. He has spent nearly all of his seven decades living in New York City. His fate and that of the metropolis are fundamentally linked. Trump rose to power through plunder and predation, aided and abetted by public policies that allowed him to build a fortune in real estate development. He is a beneficiary—personally and politically—of the staggering class and race inequalities that define modern American life.

A native of Queens, Donald Trump was the son and heir to Fred Trump, a scrappy and ruthless developer of housing for New York’s white working and middle class. An outer-borough nativist and one-time Klan supporter, the senior Trump profited mightily from the federal government’s massive intervention in the real estate industry, which began in the Great Depression. His fortune was premised on strict racial segregation, a process whose legacies still shape the geography of urban and suburban America.

The Big Picture is a public symposium on what’s at stake in Trump’s America, co-organized by Public Books and NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge. Featured image: The Panorama of the City of New York, Queens Museum of Art. Photograph by Chris Devers / Flickr

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