Politics & Policy

Trump’s Family Values

Donald and Ivana Trump (Alex Wong/Getty, George DeSota/Newsmakers)

In his highly anticipated new exhortation The Joy of Love, Pope Francis urges us Catholics to journey with those in irregular relationships and appreciate the good things they can represent.

“I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion,” he writes. “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness.”

So let me start by attending to Donald J. Trump.

As my regular readers know, I am no fan of Trump’s — indeed, I fall somewhere between #probablyNeverTrump and #NeverTrump on the Republican spectrum. But let me nevertheless say a good word for Trump-family values.

It is true that Trump has discarded two wives, cheated on at least one of them, and (as I have) made a child out of wedlock. But he then married the woman who bore that child, however briefly. He has always supported all of his children financially, unlike many unmarried or irregularly married fathers. And he has managed to create and maintain close relationships with those children despite the barriers to fatherhood imposed by divorce.

They, in turn, are the best part of Donald J. Trump: educated, hardworking, productive, and (in the case of Ivana’s kids, at least) all married with children themselves.

#share#Trump did a lot of things right as a divorced dad. All his older children report feeling he was always available to them if they needed him. He didn’t spend a lot of time with his young kids, but he succeeded in letting them know that they mattered to him. And most important of all, he fostered their bonds with their mothers.

Ivana Trump deserves the lion’s share of credit for raising her three impressive older children with Trump, since she had full custody after the divorce. But she gives him credit for having her back along the way:

“If I would say ‘no’ to the kids, they would go to their father and say, ‘Daddy, Daddy can we get that and that . . . ?’ And he would ask, ‘What did mother say?’ They would tell him, ‘Mommy said no,’ so that meant ‘no.’” 

One can hardly ask for anything better from a multiply divorced dad, and it is clear it did not happen by accident. Trump really does seem to understand that many things matter more than making money.

What he chose to say after his first great political victory in New Hampshire was telling. He began by thanking his family — not generically, but in great detail. First, he thanked his dead parents. Then, he moved on to his sisters. And finally, on a night where Trump could’ve been forgiven for indulging his own outsize ego, he instead took a moment to recall his dead older brother Fred. “I want to thank my brother, my late brother, Fred, what a fantastic guy. I learned so much from Fred. Taught me more than just about anybody. Just probably about even with my father, a fantastic guy. So I want to thank Fred. He’s up there and he’s looking down also.”

Trump did a lot of things right as a divorced dad.

Fred Trump, Jr. died of alcoholism in 1981. In 1999, when Trump’s father, Fred, Sr., died, Fred Jr.’s children were the only grandchildren cut out of the will. Yet in The Art of the Deal, Trump spoke with great love about his older brother, who disappointed their father by refusing to enter the family business, instead choosing to follow his passion and become a pilot.

Trump learned from his brother two great things: 1) Substance abuse destroy lives; and 2) making money isn’t the main definition of success; real success is love.

That’s what he told Wisconsin college students a few weeks ago:

You have to absolutely love what you do, ideally love what you do in a good business. . . . But you know what . . . the loving is more important than having that good business. . . . To me, a successful person has a great family who loves the family, loves the children and the children love him or her. To me, that’s a much more successful person than a person that’s made a million dollars or 10 million dollars and is miserable and doesn’t have a good family and nobody likes the person. I’ve seen ‘em. I think I’ve seen every type of person there is that God created, if you want to know the truth, and the people that are the happiest are not necessarily the people that are the wealthiest.

I am not as sure as Pope Francis is of the wisdom of appreciating the good things about irregular relationships. I do not think such relationships need any more societal encouragement, because they are no longer “irregular” in today’s America; they’re the new normal, and the number of people who bother to condemn them, even in the Catholic Church, is vanishingly small. It seems to me that the world has been too quick to abandon the valuable idea that people can get married, stay married, and raise their children in love together, as Donald Trump’s parents did but he did not.

But if this is what the Holy Spirit is calling on us to do, let us start with the biggest and most obvious example on the American stage right now and praise what is genuinely good in Trump’s family values. His relationships may be “irregular,” but he’s managed to remain a good father nonetheless.

— Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and a longtime contributor to National Review.

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