Analyzing the man from Queens

Those of you who are worried about what goes on inside Donald Trump's brain - like, if you watch a newscast and think, "Is this man nuts?" - may wonder why he behaves the way he does. I suggest you consider where he came from.

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Those of you who are worried about what goes on inside Donald Trump's brain - like, if you watch a newscast and think, "Is this man nuts?" - may wonder why he behaves the way he does. I suggest you consider where he came from.

Not who he came from, though you could instructively explore the stories of those people - his German immigrant grandfather, who struck it semi-rich in the Klondike Gold Rush; or his unassuming father, who made a fortune building government-subsidized housing in New York City's outer boroughs; or his mother, a Scottish immigrant who wore her hair in a flourish that was described in one account as a "dynamic orange swirl."

Make of all that what you will. You might even attribute Donald Trump's aversion to news coverage to the controversies often surrounding his father, who was investigated by the Justice Department for civil rights violations in the 1970s, by Congress for war profiteering after World War II, and by New York City police for alleged involvement with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

Anyway, the Old Testament tells us that "the son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father," so let's not put too much blame on Fred Trump Sr. for whatever you may not like about his son Donald John. Though you may say it fueled the younger Trump's subconscious, if you want to get all Freudian about it.

Rather than that, though, think about what you may call the geography of the man. Our president was born and grew up in Queens, the easternmost borough of New York City, which has a culture all its own. It's a place with what The New York Times, in a 2015 profile of candidate Trump, called an "us-versus-them combativeness that the Republican base has eaten up."

Consider: Andrew Cuomo is from Queens. So is John McEnroe. And a whole lot of other people whose behavior may remind you, in one way or another, of the 45th and current president of the United States.

I don't mean to disparage all folks from Queens. My wife, for one, grew up there, and she would only gently object, I'm sure, if I failed to note here her many charms. You get my drift.

Queens is geographically the largest borough of America's biggest city, and also the most ethnically diverse community in America. A busy street in Queens may feature a halal butcher squeezed between a taqueria and a fried chicken joint, with dozens of languages being spoken by passers-by.

But for all its breadth and heft, Queens has always hovered in the shadow of its more comely siblings, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Even in the comfortable neighborhoods where Trump, Cuomo and McEnroe grew up - Jamaica Estates, Holliswood and Douglas Manor, respectively - there's a sort of resentment that the gang from Queens isn't getting its due.

So is it coincidence that resentment is often seen as the driving dynamic of Trump's political success? He stokes resentment of people from foreign lands who are supposedly coming for the jobs and comfort that have accrued to the offspring of earlier immigrants (Trump); resentment of educated elites who suggest the Trump White House is shaping policies based on simplistic fantasies (like the notion that tariffs will create jobs here); resentment of traditionally excluded groups who are now grasping for full participation in America's cultural and political life - women, people of color, native Americans, people of the LGBTQ community.

Some people outgrow the prejudices and bad behaviors of their youth. McEnroe, for example, has become in his 60s a thoughtful analyst of sport. He's also honest and introspective about the on-court behavior that during his tennis career made him an international embarrassment. Why couldn't he stop his childish tantrums when he was playing? Maybe because there was nothing in it for him to stop.

"He's the only player in the history of the game to go berserk and play better tennis," George Plimpton once wrote. "What's the incentive to behave if that's how you play your best?"

Trump has become president of the United States and a billionaire three times over (he says) despite behavior that we teach our children to avoid, like bullying, lying and, according to many lawsuits, cheating. With his record of success, why should he be anything other than he has always been?

Or maybe he can't change. Some psychotherapists have concluded that the president displays many symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, including a need for constant admiration, an arrogant demeanor and a self perception of superiority.

Or he could be just a guy from Queens who can't stop trying to prove that he belongs with the cool kids.

Rex Smith is editor of the Times Union. Contact him at rsmith@timesunion.com.

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