For being such a quick, easy and fun read, cartoonist and journalist Ted Rall’s new offering, ‘Trump: A Graphic Biography’ is a comprehensive wealth of information on the 2016 Republican candidate.
In Trump: A Graphic Biography, Rall uses mixed media in a resourceful way, incorporating his distinctive drawing style with news clippings, internet screenshots and photographs, occasionally bringing to mind animator Ralph Bakshi’s early subversive films like Fritz the Cat and Coonskin, in which animated characters were superimposed over photographs of New York’s landscape. He also ups the magnification on his microscope, drawing on Trump’s classmates’ accounts of his spoiled, unruly behavior giving way to a superior, cocksure, cutthroat attitude that drew resentment from his peers.
Rall depicts one defining moment in Trump’s life, during which his professor at the Wharton School of Finance asks him, “Why are you studying real estate?”
Trump replies thusly:
“I’m going to be the king of New York real estate.”
A quick nod is given to an account by Trump’s schoolmate at Wharton, Candice Bergen, who later went on to become a famous actress, of her blind date with Donald Trump, and how he showed up being driven in a burgundy limousine with his suit and boots matching the car’s paint job.
“He was very coordinated.”
Ted Rall studies Trump’s Geminian contradictions, showing that despite a documented history of misogynistic outbursts, many of the women who have worked closely alongside Trump speak warmly of him, and he enjoys cordial relations with his two former wives. However, Trump’s inconsistencies are perhaps best captured in one illustration showing himself with an angel on his shoulder reminding him that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was “one of the worst decisions in the history of the country” whereas the devil on the opposite shoulder tells him:
“Defeat ISIS by taking their wealth! Take back the oil… Bomb the hell out of them.”
Rall also discusses how the groundwork was laid for Donald Trump’s nomination, cross-relating the perception of the failure of democracy both in Germany’s Weimar Republic and in the U.S. post 9/11 and how like Hitler and Mussolini, Trump used humor, charm, and charisma to appeal to a disenfranchised population, particularly those who felt underserved when George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s economic teams bailed out Wall Street instead of Main Street.
Indeed, it was this charisma that was on full display during Republican debates as decorum went out the window, prompting Ted Rall to observe:
“It often felt like he was the only one on stage.”
What makes Trump a particularly fascinating read is that Rall ponders the adulation Trump has been receiving from lumpen proletariat voters concerned with an influx of undocumented immigrants, despite the fact that Trump is no stranger to skullduggery in the interest of the Almighty Dollar. This is particularly described in the form of Trump purchasing a rent-controlled high-rise overlooking Central Park and intimidating the tenants into moving out by ordering that repairs are stopped and mail is refused and using overworked, underpaid Polish immigrants to work off the books in 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime demolishing an old building in midtown Manhattan to make way for Trump Tower.
Rall also examines Trump’s prejudices and the consequences thereof. For example, there was the time he was sued by President Richard M. Nixon’s Department of Justice in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 because the Trump Organization refused to rent the apartments it managed to black people. However, Trump, with the help of McCarthyist lawyer Roy Cohn, countersued for $100 million, claiming that the discrimination accusations were false and that the U.S. Department of Justice was coercing his organization to rent apartments to welfare recipients. Trump’s cozy relationship with racist Mafia boss Robert LiButti is discussed, as is the Trump Plaza being fined $200,000 for honoring LiButti’s request that black employees be kept away from his casino table.
Of course, perhaps what makes this biography of Trump stand out from the rest is Ted Rall’s disclosure that during the late 1980s, Donald Trump applied for a loan from the Industrial Bank of Japan while Rall was working there as a loan officer. Though Rall’s boss was tempted by the prestige of having Donald Trump as a client, Rall could tell from the numbers on Trump’s application that Donald Trump was a deadbeat. Rall’s instinct proved correct, as many banks that lent money to Trump for various real estate projects ended up getting bamboozled.
Undoubtedly, with Trump, Ted Rall has provided voters with a Rosetta Stone in terms of understanding Donald Trump’s character and why his supporters are drawn to him. In that case, this book, despite, or more so because it is perhaps the most accessible account of a politician’s life story, is one of the best of its kind.