For years, Donald Trump the politician has portrayed himself as a “super genius — and even “a very stable genius” — who succeeded in life less because of the privilege granted by his wealthy upbringing and more because of his own hard work and superior acumen.
In newly published excerpts of her tell-all book, Mary L. Trump claims that her uncle paid someone to take the SAT for him to gain admission to college. As the New York Times reports:
The high score the proxy earned for him, Ms. Trump adds, helped the young Mr. Trump to later gain admittance as an undergraduate to the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton business school.
The claim is, to be sure, unproven. But it tracks with many allegations calling into question just how self-made a man Trump actually is — and raising the role that privilege and cheating may have played at crucial junctures in his life story.
Many of those allegations pertain to Trump’s education, which he has repeatedly exaggerated and held up as proof of his supposed genius.
While Trump’s SAT score might have eventually helped land him in an Ivy League school at Penn, it didn’t do so before two years at less-prestigious Fordham University.
As The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish and a 2001 book by Gwenda Blair have reported, Trump gained the transfer thanks to help from his wealthy, real estate developer father and Trump’s brother, who leveraged his relationship with a close friend in the Penn admissions office to appeal for Trump’s admission:
James Nolan was working in the University of Pennsylvania’s admissions office in 1966 when he got a phone call from one of his closest friends, Fred Trump Jr. It was a plea to help Fred’s younger brother Donald Trump get into Penn’s Wharton School.“He called me and said, ‘You remember my brother Donald?’ Which I didn’t,” Nolan, 81, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “He said: ‘He’s at Fordham and he would like to transfer to Wharton. Will you interview him?’ I was happy to do that.”Soon, Donald Trump arrived at Penn for the interview, accompanied by his father, Fred Trump Sr., who sought to “ingratiate” himself, Nolan said.Nolan, who said he was the only admissions official to talk to Donald Trump, was required to give Trump a rating, and he recalled, “It must have been decent enough to support his candidacy.”
Trump has cited his admission to the Wharton School as an example of his genius, calling it “the hardest school to get into, the best school in the world.” But admissions around the time, according to Nolan and school records, went to about 40 to 50 percent of applicants. Even accounting for that lower bar, Nolan indicated Trump was an unremarkable candidate. “I certainly was not struck by any sense that I’m sitting before a genius,” Nolan recalled to Kranish. “Certainly not a super genius.”
Shortly after Trump graduated from Wharton — and performed significantly worse than he has let on — Trump appeared to get another break thanks to his family ties. The daughters of a podiatrist who rented from Fred Trump Sr. have said their now-deceased father diagnosed Donald Trump with bone spurs — a diagnosis that, after four educational deferments from the Vietnam War for Trump, provided him with a fifth — as a favor to Trump’s father.
“I know it was a favor,” said one of the daughters, Elysa Braunstein, adding: “But did he examine him? I don’t know.”
“What he got was access to Fred Trump,” Braunstein continued. “If there was anything wrong in the building, my dad would call, and Trump would take care of it immediately. That was the small favor that he got.”
Perhaps the biggest hole in Donald Trump’s self-authored origin story, though, is in how he amassed his wealth. Trump has claimed that he got only a $1 million loan from his father to start out and became a billionaire thanks to his guts and guile. An extensive Times report, though, found Trump and his siblings engaged in tax dodges that resulted in the president having “received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire. The paper alleged these dodges included “instances of outright fraud.”
Against that backdrop, paying someone to take a precollegiate test for you might not seem to rank very high. But it certainly fits a pattern. Trump has played up his Wharton education as perhaps Exhibit A of his genius, but we now have plenty of indicators that suggest he felt he needed help to even get in — along, of course, with the evidence that he wasn’t the honor student he pretends to be.
It’s completely logical to ask whether Trump would have gotten such a head start as a young adult if he hadn’t allegedly cheated on his SAT, if he hadn’t leveraged his family for both his college admission and his wealth, and if he hadn’t happened to have an apparently compliant podiatrist as his wealthy father’s tenant.
As that last example demonstrates, what’s particularly striking about this pattern is how it has been affirmed by several people with relatively close past ties to the Trump family. And now, that group includes a member of the Trump family itself.