The right-wing media likes to imagine billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump as some kind of folk hero, even if there’s nothing particularly heroic about standing in front of a camera and producing the intellectual equivalent of fart noises. In any case, Gawker reported today that Trump shares an interesting connection with an actual folk hero: Woody Guthrie, the American balladeer responsible for “This Land Is Your Land” and countless other songs championing justice and equality.
As it turns out, Guthrie had a lot of opinions about Trump’s father, New York real-estate magnate and noted racist Fred Trump. That’s because Fred was Guthrie’s landlord during a two-year tenancy in Brooklyn. A lease Guthrie signed in December 1950 also bears the signature of one Fred Trump, but that document is only the first of many to result from the pair’s oft-contentious relationship.
Guthrie’s main grievance with Trump seems to have stemmed from the latter’s streak of unrepentant racism and profiteering. Having already traveled the country and written many a song about the racial injustice he witnessed along the way, Guthrie was acutely aware of the systemic forces that worked to subjugate blacks in America. One of these forces was the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which established guidelines that made it easy for developers like Trump to keep blacks out of their federally subsidized public housing projects. Guthrie took up residence in one of these projects, a massive complex Trump had dubbed “Beach Haven.” What Guthrie didn’t know was that Trump had done everything in his power to ensure that only whites were allowed in to this supposed “haven.”
Guthrie caught on quickly to Trump’s vision of a lily-white utopia and soon began to air his grievances in his notebooks. The songwriter took aim squarely at his scumbag landlord, leaving no doubt about his feelings for “Old Man Trump”:
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project ….
In 1979, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett published a two-part exposé about Fred and Donald Trump’s shady real estate empire. Barrett’s carefully researched piece accuses Trump of being “a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity” and includes plenty of damning accusations from Trump’s own employees. It’s too bad that Guthrie wasn’t around to see it; the songwriter had succumbed to Huntington’s Disease 12 years earlier.
Given Donald Trump’s penchant for bigotry and racially charged denouncements of Mexicans and Muslims, it would seem the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If Trump’s vision to “Make America Great Again” involves the same kind of white supremacist tactics his father employed so liberally, well, let’s just say we’re in for a scary future.
The best way to avoid this future, of course, is simply to ask “What would Woody Guthrie do?” before stepping into the voting booth. And you can be sure that America’s last great folk hero wouldn’t hesitate to give that blustery idiot the boot.