Teachers and Mentors: Who made Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton who they are today?

Jonathan D. Greenberg, Scholar in Residence at The Daniel Gould Center for Conflict Resolution at Stanford Law School co-authored this article with me.

We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King, Jr. "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.

We should not blame a child for the sins of the parent.  Nor should we attribute a teacher's virtues to her student.  But it's also mistaken to ignore the influences and legacies that shape a human personality, or fail to take them into account.  Especially when we are deciding whether the White House, and the nuclear codes, should be given to one person or another.

There comes a time when each of us leaves childhood to develop our own moral identity as an adult.  From then on, we choose our teachers and mentors, and the intellectual and moral lineage to which we identify.   We carry these mentors with us throughout our adult lives, extending their respective legacies in our actions and decisions.  In turn, these actions and decisions powerfully impact the lives of others, directly and indirectly, in expanding connections of cause and effect.  

Donald Trump inherited his father Fred Trump's real estate business and, by his own accounts, his father's philosophy of life.   In his nomination speech at the Republican Party Convention last July, Donald Trump called his father "the smartest and hardest working man I ever knew." http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/full-transcript-donald-trump-nomination-acceptance-speech-at-rnc-225974

But Fred Trump had a dark side, and a disturbing legacy.  

In June 1927 The New York Times reported an attack by 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members and supporters against 100 policemen in Queens New York.  According to Police Commissioner Joseph A. Warren, "The Klan not only wore gowns, but had hoods over their faces almost completely hiding their identity." The Times reported that "Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Rd. in Jamaica" -- Donald's father -- was arrested in the incident. This does not prove that Fred Trump was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but it strongly suggests that he engaged in a Klan-sponsored march and a resulting assault on municipal police.  

Decades later, Woody Guthrie, a tenant of Mr. Trump's racially-segregated Beach Haven apartments in 1950, wrote a song about him: "I suppose/ Old Man Trump knows/ Just how much/ Racial Hate/ he stirred up/ In the bloodpot of human hearts."  

When Donald was 13, Fred Trump sent his son to the New York Military Academy.   Years later, Donald Trump recalls the academy as "a tough, tough place."   Former drill sergeants "beat the shit out of you; those guys were rough."  One of those guys was his baseball coach, Theodore Dobias:  "Like so many strong guys," Trump remembers, "Dobias had a tendency to go for the jugular if he smelled weakness."

Fred Trump remained Donald's most important mentor, teacher and business partner throughout his life.  At Fred's death in 1999, Donald gave the eulogy:  "My father taught me everything I know."  

And Donald Trump had at least one other influential mentor:  Roy Cohn.  Years before, Cohn had served as Senator Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel for his senate committee investigations. It's fair to say that Cohn was McCarthy's most important and most loyal protégé.

In 1973, the Nixon Justice Department sued Donald and Fred Trump for discriminating against African Americans in their jointly-owned housing developments.  "The idea of settling drove me crazy," Trump recounts in his first memoir, The Art of the Deal.   Trump turned to Roy Cohn, who advised him to "tell them to go to hell and fight the thing in court and let them prove that you discriminated..."

He also told me, "I don't think you have any obligation to rent to tenants who would be undesirable, white or black, and the government doesn't have a right to run your business." That's when I decided Roy Cohn was the right person to handle the case.  

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof "waded through 1,021 pages of documents from that legal battle, and they are devastating."  As Kristof recounts,

Donald Trump was then president of the family real estate firm, and the government amassed overwhelming evidence that the company had a policy of discriminating against blacks, including those serving in the military.  To prove the discrimination, blacks were repeatedly dispatched as testers to Trump apartment buildings to inquire about vacancies, and white testers were sent soon after.  Repeatedly, the black person was told that nothing was available, while the white tester was shown apartments for immediate rental.  A former building superintendent working for the Trumps explained that he was told to code any application by a black person with the letter C, for colored, apparently so the office would know to reject it.... Donald Trump furiously fought the civil rights suit in the courts and the media, but the Trumps eventually settled on terms that were widely regarded as a victory for the government. Three years later, the government sued the Trumps again, for continuing to discriminate. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/opinion/sunday/is-donald-trump-a-racist.html

Donald Trump apparently turned to Roy Cohn as a trusted legal and strategic advisor, and personal friend, until he died in 1986.

"I don't kid myself about Roy.  He was no Boy Scout.  He once told me that he'd spent more than two thirds of his adult life under indictment on one charge or another.  That amazed me.  I said to him, "Roy, just tell me one thing.  Did you really do all that stuff?"  He looked at me and smiled.  "What the hell do you think?" he said.  I never really knew.

None of that mattered to Trump.  "Whatever else you could say about Roy, he was very tough."  And another thing you could say was that Cohn was loyal, perhaps especially to Joe McCarthy, and Donald Trump, who was loyal in turn.

McCarthy's rise in power from 1950 to 1954 paralleled a ten-fold expansion in the number of households with TV sets.  For the first time, a charismatic political figure could use media technology to captivate the attention of millions of Americans in real time.  In a sense, McCarthy was the first "Reality TV" producer, director and star.  The television medium enabled him to amass political power by mobilizing fear of foreign enemies, populist mistrust of government, and resentment at establishment political and media elites.  

But in the end, the same television medium triggered and magnified McCarthy's implosion.

With millions "glued to the TV," the 1954 Army hearings were no longer McCarthy's show.   For the first time, the proceedings pitted McCarthy against a far better-prepared antagonist, the Army's eloquent lawyer Joseph Welch.  The result was a televised meltdown.  According to Haynes Johnson, the Army hearings "enabled the American people to see the real Joe McCarthy, life and unfiltered - snarling, blustering, abusing, bullying, giggling, threatening, lying, filibustering..."  

Roy Cohn watched McCarthy unravel and flame out in front of his eyes.  But Cohn's loyalty to his mentor remained visceral -- and perhaps, at a human level, admirable -- for the rest of his life.  Cohn reflected on his own political education, in several published memoirs that suggest haunting parallels to our present moment:

Regarding McCarthy, Cohn concludes: "I never worked for a better man or a greater cause."  

Regarding the Senate committee hearings McCarthy had orchestrated, with Cohn as loyal deputy:   "[I]t was all show biz."   

Regarding the "politically correct" liberal establishment of his era:  "McCarthy did not conform... He was the maverick, the unpolished one who did not speak softly, who upset hallowed traditions."  For that reason, "[t]he liberal intellectual element in government and the communications media regarded him as a mortal threat."  

Regarding reason and evidence:  [McCarthy] said to me: "People aren't going to remember the things we say on the issues here, our logic our common sense, our facts.  They're only going to remember the impressions."  

Cohn emphasized that McCarthy was, in the end less of a politician than a salesman. "He was selling the story of America's peril."  And McCarthy had a salesman's intuitive understanding of razzmatazz, showmanship and hyperbole.  Closing the deal required more than "a dry, general-accounting-office type of presentation.  In consequence, he stepped up circumstances a notch or two."

I. F. Stone, one of the nation's most persistent and incisive critics of McCarthy and McCarthyism, put it this way, in 1953:

"McCarthy will never be beaten on the defensive.  He loses one fight and starts two new ones. Charges are always more exciting than their refutation, and he thereby dominates the front pages.... He has hardly begun to hit his stride as master of the Big Lie.  Like Hitler and Goebbels, he knows the value of ceaseless reiteration.  He has their complete lack of scruple, and sets as low an estimate as they on the popular mind's capacity to remember."

Arthur Eisenhower (President Dwight Eisenhower's brother) put it succinctly, in 1954:  "When I think of McCarthy, I automatically think of Hitler."

As a teenager and young adult, Hillary Rodham's most important teachers and mentors pulled her in two opposing directions.  On the one hand, as Clinton recalls in her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, Rodham's "rock-ribbed anti-Communist, Republican father," and her passionately anti-communist high school history teacher, inspired her to volunteer for the Barry Goldwater campaign as a high school senior in 1964, and to serve as president of the Wellesley Young Republicans in her 1965 freshman year.  

On the other hand, her mother's commitment to social justice influenced her at a young age, and "[i]n 1961 a dynamic new youth minister named Don Jones arrived at our church."  (Hard Choices, 2014) Jones taught Hillary "to open my eyes to injustice in the wider world beyond my sheltered middle-class community," and in 1963 he brought her to Chicago's Orchestra Hall to hear Martin Luther King speak, and, afterward, to shake his hand.  

Listening to Dr. King's sermon that evening, "I was transfixed.  The speech was entitled 'Remaining Awake Through a Revolution,' and he challenged all of us that evening to stay engaged in the cause of justice and not to slumber while the world changed around us."  

His grace and piercing moral clarity left a lasting impression on me.  I was raised with a deep reverence for the virtues of American democracy... The promises that our founding documents made about freedom and equality were supposed to be sacrosanct.  Now I was realizing that many Americans were still denied the rights I took for granted. This lesson and the power of Dr. King's words lit a fire in my heart, fueled by the social justice teachings of my church.  I understood as I never had before the mission to express God's love through good works and social action.

At Wellesley, Clinton's political education became increasingly impacted by the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements.  In the spring of her junior year, Dr. King's assassination had an especially profound impact on her.

According to a September 5, 2007 New York Times report ("In Turmoil of '68, Clinton Found a New Voice"): "When Dr. King was killed on the balcony of a Memphis motel on April 4, 1968, Ms. Rodham was devastated. 'I can't take it anymore,' she screamed after learning the news, her friends recalled."  She reached out to Karen Williamson, who led Wellesley's African American student organization.  The next day, Rodham participated in a Boston demonstration, "returning to campus wearing a black armband."  

As President of Wellesley's student government, Rodham organized a nonviolent two-day student strike "and worked closely with Wellesley's few black students (only 6 in her class of 401) in reaching moderate, achievable change -- such as recruiting more black students and hiring black professors (there had been none)." http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/05/us/politics/05clinton.html

In the 1969 Wellesley commencement address, Hillary Rodham spoke on behalf of her graduating class.  "[W]e feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible," she said.  "And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. What does it mean to hear that 13.3 percent of the people in this country are below the poverty line"
That fall, soon after beginning her studies at Yale Law School, Rodham met a teacher whose influence and impact she compared to Martin Luther King, Jr. "I was equally inspired by my early encounters with Marian Wright Edelman," who had graduated from Yale Law School only six years earlier (and had recently married Peter Edelman, who had been Bobby Kennedy's legislative assistant).  "When I heard Marian speak during my first semester at Yale, she opened a door for me to a life dedicated to legal, social, and political advocacy for human rights, especially for women and children."

Hillary Rodham's most important and influential mentor was Marian Wright Edelman.  The first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, Wright Edelman directed the Jackson Mississippi office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, among other important roles in the civil rights and black liberation movements.  Later, she founded the Children's Defense Fund, where Clinton worked in her first job as a lawyer and chaired its board of directors for many subsequent years.  

In her 1999 book Lanterns:  A Memoir of Mentors, Wright Edelman pays tribute to the teachers and advisors who profoundly influenced her life.  These include Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays, and Christian theologian Howard Thurman.  Marian Wright (her maiden name) went to Spelman College, where she heard Mays and Thurman preach on Sunday mornings.   To her, Dr. Mays was "a mentor of mentors" who deeply influenced many Spelman and Morehouse students, most famously Martin Luther King, Jr.  Howard Thurman's book Jesus and the Disinherited contributed to Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolent resistance to oppression, and King turned to Thurman personally for spiritual advice.  

Another of Wright's early mentors was the charismatic civil rights leader Ella Baker, whose contributions to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to Dr. King himself, were profound.  Mrs. Baker had convinced Dr. King to meet with several hundred African American college students who had been arrested for sit-in protests at segregated lunch counters throughout the south, including Wright herself.  In August, 1963, with the courageous SNCC activists Bob Moses and Jane Stembridge, Wright drove Ella Baker from New York City to Washington D.C. for the March on Washington.  Together, they "shared that period of hopefulness that Dr. King's dream, which was our own, could be realized in America in our lifetimes with the help of our hands and feet and voices."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was Marian Wright's most influential mentor.  She had first encountered him in April, 1960.  Wright was a 20-year-old college student and King a 31 year old minister who came to preach at the Spelman chapel.  

Dr. King's message at Spelman in April that 'segregation is a cancer killing democracy's health' affirmed and emboldened us.  From April 19, 1960, until his assassination on April 4, 1968, he was a continuous, personal, important presence in my life and in that of so many other young people.

Wright followed King on the March 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and she was "thrilled" by his triumphant address to the marchers at the Alabama State Capitol building.  Later that year, "Dr. King answered my call for help" in support of the Child Development Group of Mississippi, one of the largest Head Start programs in the country.  Wright played a further role in American civil rights history by testifying to Congress about extreme poverty in communities throughout the Mississippi Delta, and by bringing Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Jacob Javits, CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr, and others national figures on transformative visits to the ramshackle homes of starving black families in rural Mississippi.

In 1967, Wright visited Dr. King, at a moment when he was extremely depressed, and delivered what turned out to be a life-changing message from Robert F. Kennedy, encouraging King to bring the nation's poorest people, of all races and ethnicities, to Washington D.C. to put pressure on the Congress and the President to end poverty in America.  King responded by launching the Poor People's Campaign.  

Marian Wright was at Washington's National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, when Dr. King delivered his final sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," urging support for the Poor People's Campaign, just five days before his assassination in Memphis.  "We must come to see that the roots of racism are very deep in our country, and there must be something positive and massive in order to get rid of all the effects of racism and the tragedies of racial injustice," Dr. King said.  And "[w]e are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty."

Following Dr. King's assassination, Marian Wright Edelman founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm which became the parent body for the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), perhaps the most important organization in the United States dedicated to the improvement of child welfare, education and health, and the protection of children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected.

The summer after meeting Wright Edelman at Yale, Rodham was awarded a grant to work at her Washington Research Project.  Following graduation from Yale in 1973, Rodham went to work as a staff attorney for the Children's Defense Fund, a relationship she maintained for decades.  To this day, Clinton attributes the guidance and inspiration of Marian Wright Edelman as foundational.  More than any other mentor, Marian Wright Edelman inspired her to pursue a life-long career defending the rights of children and women, and poor families, toward the realization and fulfillment of Dr. King's dream.

Which candidate's mentors and legacies do we want in the White House when they are elected President?