‘Times’ Journalists Puncture Myth Of Trump As Self-Made Billionaire

Investigative reporters Susanne Craig and David Barstow say the president received today’s equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, through what appears to be tax fraud.

CRAIG: That started in 1949. And it was one of the projects that had got – that Fred Trump had received government funding to build. It was a complex called Beach Haven. And what Fred Trump did – it was quite ingenious – is he bought the land underneath Beach Haven, the complex that he would go on to build, and he placed the land in a trust for the benefit of his five children. And then he started paying them rent. He makes them his landlord. And every year, they’d continue to get payments. So instead of paying some…

GROSS: Wait. Wait. Could we just stop a second?


GROSS: I don’t really understand how 3-year-old Donald Trump can be his father’s landlord. Can you explain that?

CRAIG: Sure. It was his land to do what he wanted with. And he put it in a trust, in this instance, when they were very young for their benefit and began paying them rent. It’s completely legal. But that’s sort of one of the ways in which he early on – you know, he’s in – this point, it’s in the 1940s. His children are young. And he’s looking for ways, you would imagine at this point, to begin to take care of his children as they get older so that they – you know, when they grow up, they’ve got money. And it is a way to transfer what is – now he’s becoming a very richer man – is one way to begin to transfer wealth to them. This is the first one. It happened in 1949.

GROSS: So what are some of the ways that by the time Donald Trump was a teenager, he was already wealthy? What are some of the other ways his father gave him money?

BARSTOW: He began doing a number of things. So he started buying or building apartment complexes in Brooklyn and Queens and then gradually transferring ownership of those apartment complexes to his children. So, for example, Donald, when he was 17 years old, became co-owner with his family members of a 52-unit apartment building in Brooklyn that his father had acquired for them. And so they would – over time, Fred Trump assembled roughly eight apartment complexes – over a thousand units in all – that he transferred through a variety of mechanisms to his children. So those thousand units start churning out profits that flowed effortlessly into the pockets of his children.

We actually documented in our reporting 295 different revenue streams that Fred Trump ultimately created for Donald Trump over a 50-year period. I mean, Fred Trump was so ingenious at finding different ways of putting money into Donald Trump’s pockets. So he didn’t just put him on his payroll as a salary employee. He also paid him separately to be a consultant to him. He paid him separately to be a property manager for him. He paid him separately to be a purchasing agent for him. On and on it would go.

CRAIG: He was getting laundry revenue at one point from Fred Trump.

BARSTOW: Yes. And…

CRAIG: …From the buildings.

BARSTOW: You know, some of these revenue streams were relatively modest. Some of them were kind of one-hit wonders. But when you added it all up, it was this incredible stream of money that made Donald Trump – he was a millionaire, actually, by the time he was 8 or 9 years old. Before he ever entered and set foot into Manhattan, where he would make his name, Fred Trump had already transferred to him over $9 million in wealth.

GROSS: So you say by the time he was 29, in 1975, Donald Trump had collected nearly 9 million – the equivalent of $9 million in today’s dollars from his father. When he was 30, in 1976, the myth of Donald Trump really starts to expand. There’s a 1976 article in your newspaper, The New York Times, and you describe it as one of the first major Donald Trump profiles and a cornerstone of decades of mythmaking about his wealth. What did the article say? What were the main points of this 1976 article about Donald Trump?

BARSTOW: It was really one of the first big, big profiles that ran of Donald Trump. And Donald Trump did something in this particular profile that he would actually repeat and use to great effect in subsequent profiles, which was he took The New York Times reporter on a tour of what he called his jobs, his empire. And he starts driving around New York pointing out this building and that building and talking about how wonderful they were doing.

And effectively, what he was doing was he was appropriating his father’s empire as if it were his own empire. So these buildings that he’s pointing out as his jobs and part of his empire, they were, in fact, completely owned by his father. He had no ownership stake in any of those buildings. And so what he did, especially when it was critical to kind of the early mythmaking of Donald Trump, was he simply asserted that his father’s empire was his empire.

And those claims, unfortunately, largely went unchallenged for many, many years by the reporters who were kind of swept up in the glamor of this young, swaggering, handsome guy who was so full of confidence and so full of big plans for the city of New York. And so that story was the thing that, I think, helped give birth to the myth of Donald Trump, self-made billionaire.

CRAIG: One of the things that’s really remarkable about that story when you read it is, you know, he goes through job after job and says that things that are his father’s are his own. And he tells the reporter that he’s worth in excess of $200 million. And everything he pointed to in this story that would go to his net worth at that time was his father’s. He had a tax return a few years later where we see he declared – I think he made $25,000 a couple years later.

BARSTOW: That year, actually – that exact – that year…

CRAIG: It was actually that year.

BARSTOW: …1976.

CRAIG: Yeah.

BARSTOW: And yet, he was sitting there saying that he was worth $200 million. And that was a claim that he would – part of the claim that would put him on the very first list of wealthiest Americans published by Forbes magazine in 19 – I want to say – ’81, ’82 – ’81, somewhere in there.

CRAIG: And it was a spectacular con.

GROSS: And I guess Donald Trump got used to people taking him at his word, even when his word wasn’t true.


.. GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you’re just joining us, my guests are New York Times reporters Susanne Craig and David Barstow, two of the three writers who reported just a couple of weeks ago on how Donald Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father. And it deconstructs the whole Donald Trump myth about how he’s a self-made millionaire or billionaire. And it shows, like, how much money Fred Trump, Donald’s father, funneled to him and his other siblings and how they came up with schemes to avoid paying taxes, making Donald Trump a very, very wealthy man by the time he was a teenager.

OK. So in addition to some of the tax schemes we talked about, Fred Trump made a lot of loans to Donald Trump. Donald Trump has always said that he got a million-dollar loan from his father and helped parlay that into his own empire. So how much money would you estimate Fred Trump gave Donald Trump in loans?

BARSTOW: We were able to document in real dollars $60 million in loans, not one million. In today’s dollars, it equates to $140 million in loans, which is on top of the $413 million in direct wealth that we saw transferred to Donald. What we also saw – I think what is important also is that, in many cases, these were loans that were never repaid. You know, he would take out – we were looking at one particular year, and it was like every month. He’s going back to Dad, and he’s borrowing another couple hundred thousand bucks and then another 500,000 bucks and then a million dollars. It was just, like, a monthly run to Fred Trump to get more money.



And we saw especially that the flow of loans increased as Donald Trump took on big, new projects, or they increased when he was suddenly in trouble, he had run into another financial ditch. So it was a really steady stream that went well beyond, you know, the notion of a guy in his early 20s getting a million dollars from Dad and then being off to the races. These were loans that actually extended well into his 40s and 50s.

GROSS: So how did Donald Trump use the money that was loaned from his father?

CRAIG: Yeah. He used the money for many of his ventures. He had Trump Tower. Money that he got from Fred Trump was used to support that. It was used to support his ventures in Atlantic City and elsewhere. Many of them went under. I mean, especially, you look at Donald Trump’s history in Atlantic City, he’s got several bankruptcies. At one point, he was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. And this is a time he not only owed the banks hundreds of millions of dollars, he was in debt to his father and was going to his father at these very crucial times for more support.

GROSS: So he gets a lot of money from his father, tries to build his own empire and ends up in debt in a lot of instances, instead of making a fortune from his own investments.

BARSTOW: You also see that when he fell – you know, when he would fall down, the safety net was there. The Fred Trump safety net was there to catch him.

CRAIG: There was one just almost unbelievable moment in the story, and you see it in 1990. And this is a time in, you know, the back end of 1990. And Donald Trump is in incredible financial distress. A number of his companies are either in trouble or facing bankruptcy. And Fred Trump had been there for him at every turn, according to the documents. We can see he’s assisting him with money in one case. Donald Trump’s casinos, they’re facing a debt payment. And Fred Trump has a lawyer go into the casino and buy casino chips and walk out without placing a bet. It was simply a way to give Donald Trump money. And this period…

GROSS: And this was, like, $3 1/2 million worth of chips. Right?

CRAIG: It was $3 1/2 millon worth of casino chips. And at this period, his father is there for him at every turn in every document that we can see. And Donald Trump, at this period, has a lawyer – one of his lawyers – draft a codicil to his father’s will, essentially a new will. And this codicil to the will is taken to Fred Trump’s house in December 1990. And Fred Trump immediately sees this codicil as an attempt by Donald to take control of his empire and to potentially put it at risk.

And Fred Trump immediately says no. He freaks out. And he makes a call to his daughter, who is a federal judge and a lawyer. And a new codicil, within months, is drafted that removes Donald as the sole executor of Fred Trump’s will and puts Donald and Robert Trump and Maryanne Trump in charge of his affairs. And then ultimately, a new will is drafted.

But you see, in the depth of Donald Trump’s financial life, after all his father has done for him, that he makes this move that’s an incredibly dramatic move. And it’s scarring to the family, what he did.

GROSS: So what you’re saying, I think, is that at the end of Fred Trump’s life – or toward the end of Fred Trump’s life, Donald Trump tried to take advantage of him for Donald Trump’s own good, to help Donald Trump bail himself out. And Fred Trump, Donald’s father, became suspicious of the son that he had helped with so much money over so many years.

BARSTOW: What we know for sure is that Fred Trump perceived this as an attempt by his son to gain complete control over his estate and, potentially, to use the empire that Fred Trump had doggedly and patiently built over many decades – to use that empire, potentially, as collateral to help bail Donald Trump out of his own financial difficulties.

GROSS: My guests are New York Times reporters David Barstow and Susanne Craig. After a break, we’ll talk about another scheme used to transfer wealth from Fred Trump’s real estate empire to his children. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Let’s get back to my interview with New York Times reporters Susanne Craig and David Barstow who, along with Russ Buettner, spent a year and a half investigating how Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, used various tax schemes to transfer about 413 million in today’s dollars from Fred’s real estate empire to Donald. The reporters say one of the family’s tax schemes involve fraud. This story offers a completely different narrative than the one Donald Trump has always presented of himself as a self-made billionaire.


.. And they had regular family meetings after Fred Trump died. They would hand out checks. You know, Fred Trump’s buildings were very profitable. And they would meet every few months to get an update on the status of the empire and to get a check. And then in 2003, at one of these meetings, Donald Trump announced that it was time to sell and quickly assembled a private sale to a developer in New York for almost all of it. And it was sold – you know, give or take a few buildings – in one sale for just under $800 million.

GROSS: So the buildings that were sold, were those buildings that Fred Trump had still owned at the time of his death? Or did it also include all the buildings that had been transferred from Fred Trump to the children?

CRAIG: They included both the buildings that had been transferred and the ones that he owned. It was pretty much his whole empire. And it sold – you know, the buildings that sold in 2004 were to a New York developer named Ruby Schron, and the price tag was just over $700 million. And what’s interesting about that is we learned through the documents that we went through that that sale price was roughly just under $200 million than what the banks would value it at, you know, in the months after the sale. So it’s incredible to see that that empire was sold for much less than they could’ve got for it very quietly and for much less.

GROSS: So it wasn’t, like, the deal of the century that Donald Trump made?

CRAIG: It definitely wasn’t.


.. GROSS: Susanne, I’m going to ask you to choose either “The Art Of The Deal,” “The Art Of The Comeback” or “The Apprentice” and tell us what was actually going on in Donald Trump’s financial life when these books or the show based on all his fabulous accomplishments and deals went public.

CRAIG: I’m thinking which one to choose.



CRAIG: What are you thinking, David?

BARSTOW: “Art Of The Comeback.”

CRAIG: (Laughter) Go for it.

BARSTOW: Oh. Well, so he publishes “The Art Of The Comeback” in 1997. And it’s this story of his sort of, you know, pulling himself up out of the muck of his casino collapse and, through his grit and determination and wily negotiating skills, getting himself back on his feet. Well, within – a few weeks of the publication of this book so happens to coincide with the time when he actually took possession of one-quarter of his father’s real estate empire through one of these very elaborate tax schemes that we describe in the story. So at this moment when he’s boasting about, you know, his derring-do of getting himself off the mat, it actually coincides perfectly with the moment when he’s just taken possession of 25 percent of this enormous real estate empire. And somehow, someway, not a word of that made its way into the book “The Art Of The Comeback.”

CRAIG: I’m also thinking of, immediately, “The Apprentice” and the opening scene of “The Apprentice” and the song – money, money, money, money – that happened in 2004 right as the sale had gone through, the hundreds of millions of dollars that they had gotten from Fred Trump. And yet when you watch that opening scene, it’s all Donald Trump – Donald Trump’s plane is there, the gold tower in Midtown Manhattan – when, in fact, it was all the opening scene that Fred Trump built and paid for.


.. GROSS: I’m wondering how you feel knowing that you have just totally punctured the myth of how Donald Trump made his money and what he did with his money and his great negotiating, deal-making abilities. And so many people still believe the myth, and Donald Trump is still putting forward the myth.

CRAIG: It’s interesting. When I think about that, I think you have to sort of – I go back to that idea – you know, the lie repeated over and over and passed down into history becomes fact. And I think that we’ve reset that. I think it’s going to take time for this to move into the bloodstream of America. But I think that we’ve taken, I think, a good first stop in resetting exactly the origins of Donald Trump’s wealth. But I do think it’s going to take time, and I think there’s some people who are always going to believe what they want to believe.

But I think the the power of the story is, you know, I think, how careful we were and how documented it was and the Times’ decision to put so many of those documents up. I think it’s really hard to refute the story. It’s hard to refute because it’s absolutely true, and the documents are there. And a lot of them are the source documents of the Trump family themselves. But I think it will take time for this to sort of – you know, for people to digest it. And – but I think it’s going to happen.

Want to End Trumpism?: Step 1 – Break Trump’s Unholy Covenant with Evangelical Christians

This long and rambling essay is about how you change the mind of people who don’t believe in facts or replace the truth with alternative facts. Like the members of the Christian Right who are propping up Trump’s illegitimate presidency.

Why on Earth would Christians claim Trump? Given he clearly is at best a back sliding clueless cluck of a Christian.

Okay so he doesn’t go to church and has never read the bible. But hey at least he supports bible literacy programs in schools. Which may be the stupidest idea I have ever heard.
I say that as someone who went through three years of bible study in school as part of an experiment – we were strongly suspected of reefer madness and hippie sympathies – more religion was the proposed treatment. My high school class wasn’t huge but we were almost 80% Christian kids. The rest were Buddhists, animists, and a handful of atheists.

Three years of bible study and 80% of us were atheists. The rest were Buddhists, animists, and one very lonely Sufi. Zero Christians.

Anybody feel that being forced to learn algebra lead to them loving math? Bible study would kill the Christian faith within a generation.

Full disclosure, I love algebra and use it daily. I read the bible and reflect on it daily. I am the only mathematician out of my class and the only person who isn’t Christian In Name Only (XINO). Most aren’t even that but rather full fledged atheists.
I do have a favourite bible passage. Or rather passages. Luke 10: 25-37.
Which is of course the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Hard to believe anyone who believed in Jesus and the Gospels could read Luke 10: 25-37 and then build a wall to keep immigrants out. But Luke in the original Greek offers some evidence the author was asking a legitimate question. When we say love our neighbour what do we mean by neighbour?
I have neighbours who are wonderful people who treat me great. A bunch of whom are Good Samaritans on steroids. They have vigorously supported wave after wave of immigration and hundreds of immigrant families. Despite being right wing nut jobs.
But others, and remember they all treat me great, hate immigrants and immigration. And I have spent much of my adult life trying to help immigrants put down roots and thrive. And they know that and still treat me great.
They know I am a left winger, a radical environmentalist tree hugger, who works with immigrants. But my neighbours still trust me with their animals 24/7 and their farms/ranches when they are away. And no higher compliment can a rancher offer you. People aren’t simple. Ever.

We really need to enrich the tools we use to think about our fellow humans.

Consider the tricky issue of race. My family is, “An cluaran, an ròs, agus an-còmhnaidh na h-eileanan fad air falbh”. That is nearly untranslatable from the Gaelic. Literally it means something like the thistle, the rose and always the faraway islands. But in the island vernacular it means, “here before time began.”
I am a classic Orkney islander, Gaelic and Norse. I am blonde, pale, blue eyed and freckled. Talk about white privilege. Not to mention my family came to North America in the early 1600s.

Which means we are complicit in arguably the worst genocide of all time. One so bad it created a mini-ice age.

Now ironically my DNA tells a remarkably different tale. I know this because I have been doing modelling and number crunching for a group of scientists trying to use DNA to piece together the complicated history of the Athabaskan people. Or as they are now self identifying Dené.
And in the process we have discovered quite a number of useful markers. And I alone among the research team carry some of them. In fact most of them.

This isn’t like Elizabeth Warren. This is some or all of my grandparents or parents lied. I am a Norse-Gaelic-Aboriginal. A Metis we say here in Canada. And very specifically a Dené.

So my white ancestors came to North America bringing pestilence and death and then partnered up with the surviving aboriginals. And I am the result. I am both perpetrator and victim.

I am also a member of not  one but two aboriginal communities. I grew up spending large amounts of time with the Tinglit and Haida. They treated me like a tribal member and to the extent I thought about it I self identified with them. So in an ethnocultural sense I am also aboriginal.

I am white. And I am aboriginal. The Metis kids I grew up with (and hey northern Canada so that is many of oldest and dearest friends) think this is hilarious. And with great welcoming hearts they have been sharing their culture with me. Or rather introducing me to mine.

The point is race is very, very complicated and we insist on talking about it in very, very simplistic terms. We think about many profound issues in exceedingly simplistic ways. It is not serving us well.
The relationship between Trump and the Christian Right is a very good case in point.
I think more and more Americans are coming to understand that involvement of the Christian Right in the Trump presidency is always going to be a blot on both American history and the much longer history of the Christian faith. Whether it is a turning point for positive change or the point America and Christianity plunged off the cliff in each other’s fetid embrace is yet to be determined. It is really up to all of us.

I am just here to testify. To give my two cents worth. My story begins at 9:39 on January 28th, 1986.
Consider this then my tribute to Christina McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, and Gregory Jarvis. They died that day reaching for the stars, trying to take America and the world into a better brighter future. But what killed them was a bunch of people decided to ignore the facts. Or worse choosing to believe “alternative facts.”

Many Americans have turned believing Alternative facts into a badge of honour in the years since. But the day before the Challenger exploded we still collectively agreed facts mattered. And the engineers and scientists were in total agreement. In the cold the o-rings would fail. And the rocket would explode. A number said it loud and clear, repeatedly. NASA ignored them.

That is now the accepted version of events. Nobody disputes it. What has never been addressed is what impact 6 years of Christian Right rule had had on America’s ability to think? And now we have had what, almost 40 years of Christian Right influence and interference?

But believe it or not that isn’t what my testimony is about. It is about how the same cold front that froze the o-rings and killed the brave crew of Challenger led to me being born again. And how my story of coming to that conversion prepared me to meet the Christian Right in their own churches and share the joy and awe I find in science, technology, engineering, art and math (yes Art). We call it STEAM.

All you need to know for now is that the unusual cold in the US on January 27th, and 28th, 1986 had a negative effect on many people’s travel plans. One of those people had been scheduled to debate a major star of the Christian Right and the leader of the Creationist Movement, Duane Gish in Dinwoodie Lounge at the University of Alberta. Nobody on faculty wanted any part of stepping into the lion’s den.
An hour after the Challenger exploded I got a call from a guy named Dick Peter (who later became Dean of Science at the University of Alberta). Dick wanted to know if with next to no warning and no real preparation time I would meet the incendiary Gish the Fish in open warfare in front of what was likely to be an extremely hostile audience. Of course I said yes. I had seen Gish in action on multiple occasions and new exactly what I was getting into. I was motivated to do it for the crew of Challenger. My personal memorial.

The night of the debate the moderator began by polling the audience. By a show of hands 80+% believed in creation. I was a dead man walking.

Duane would win these debates because first and foremost audiences liked him. He was funny and charming and disarming.

And he cheated. He used what is now known as the Gish Gallop. You simply make misstatement after misstatement as fast as you can so nobody can possibly fact check it all in real time never mind rebut any of it. Gish was the master of alternative facts delivered at auctioneer speeds. It didn’t start with the Trumpites.
He also started every debate by lying about his opponent and trying to get them to say they were atheists. He always stacked each debate audience with fundamentalist Christians. Once he’d labelled you an atheist they were programmed to hate you.

So, when he finally let me speak I introduced myself.
“I was born for the Methodist people, to the Dunkard Clan. My other clans are Church of the Four Square Gospel and Evangelical Presbyterian.”

At this point in my life I was ABD (alł but dissertation). My thesis was on the treatment of chronic back pain without drugs or surgery (long story how I got there). I was spending significant amounts of time in Window Rock with Navajo healers exploring how they approached the problem.

So I introduced myself to a diverse audience in a classic Navajo way.
Duane turned and looked at me and I saw this moment of fear as I said, “and I am a fundamentalist evangelical Christian.” And as I said it I realized it was actually true. I felt this shutter run through me. The next morning I started the search for a church where I could be born again. And I have never wavered in my believe God spoke to me and through me that night. The audience felt the power of my experience.

And then in flow I introduced my companion, Lark. It is an old debate trick. If you are going to lose a debate bring a cute dog. And Lark was wicked cute. That is her great, great grandson in the picture above and he is a dead ringer. Like Lark and all the dogs in between Butch is a highly trained, brave and skilled search and rescue dog.

Recently I wrote a diary called What is a left wing Evangelical Christian? I followed it up with a piece called What kind of Christian was Martin Luther King? Then I did a stub of a diary asking if thinking has gotten too hard? Which would explain the lunacy of the Trump presidency.

In this third and by far the longest and most personal of the diaries I will try to offer both pragmatic advice for dealing with the Christian Right and inspiration that real change may be in the air. All three are linked to that night 33 years ago. But this testimony is enriched beyond belief by the extraordinary feedback I received from my earlier attempts at diaries. A big thank you to everyone who contributed.

The point I set out to make originally is that not all evangelical Christians are the enemy. Some, like me are life long progressives and natural allies of the left. And even in the Christian Right there are people who stand in opposition to Donald Trump. But before I got there the conversation went off madly in all directions.

Had I reached my destination I had intended to move on to a discussion of how to reduce the impact of right wing Evangelical Christians on American politics. That reduction is not just desirable because the Christian Right fueled the rise of Donald Trump. This group, one that has never made up more than 20% of the population and is down to 15% now according to the US Census Bureau, has held serious power in Washington, D.C., and many state legislatures for decades. They have somehow drowned out the voices of reason again and again.

We call them born again and fundamentalist evangelical Christians.

I was raised by them. I am one of them. I thought I’d left all that behind right until I acknowledged my roots on stage. Then I knew it was forever buried deep inside me.
My parents weren’t evangelicals. I am not sure they were even really Christians. They were deeply spiritual and tried very hard to be good and do good works. They served as leaders of the ultra left wing United Church of Canada but almost never attended actual services. They did however make me attend. And had me baptized.

The United Church became the clock of my life. Sunday’s service. Wednesday’s Christian Boys in Training. Thursday’s Christian Girls in Training. I looked upon these sessions as my best opportunity to acquire a girlfriend. I always managed to be passing just as it ended and believe it or not that worked. Saturday’s Social – usually a dance, but games and punch and cakes and on the walk home necking. And then there was choir practice and bible study (much more interesting than what we discussed in school – it was lead by the Reverend of the time but team taught by Catholic Nuns and the local Rabbi). In any case life had rhythm.

Where do the Evangelists come in? I was the last child of a quite large but very spread out family. My eldest siblings are almost two decades older than me. By the time I was born my parents had very active professional and social lives. And little time for parenting. My older brothers were gone to school and the Air Force. My sisters were into Elvis, the Beatles, and boys.
Which is how my grandparents got such a starring role in raising me. Or trying to at any rate. They weren’t any of them young and I was a handful. Each of my Grandparents came from a different fundamentalist Evangelical Christian church.

My paternal Grandfather was a member of the Church of the Four Square Gospel of Aimee Semple-McPherson before becoming part of an extremist Baptist cult that mercifully has ceased to exist. My Dad’s mother was a Dunkard. My maternal Grandfather an Evangelical Presbyterian and my battle axe of a Grandmother belonged to an ultra fundamentalist splinter of the Methodists.

Lest I sound like I am slagging them let me say for the record my grandparents were all what I would call high impact human beings. My Methodist grandmother taught school, served on the boards of numerous charities, helped run a thriving dairy farm, and earned a first class degree in Physics (unheard of for a woman in her day).
My Mom’s dad was a stone mason who with his own hands built much of Calgary’s history. He was a master blacksmith who could build anything from scratch. When he wasn’t running the dairy farm he designed and built amazing stain glass windows. He was a 27th level Free Mason.

My most fundamentalist grandparent was my Dad’s dad. He was a power engineer, turned Mountain guide. Late in his 60s he became a civil engineer but never worked at it. A truly restless spirit he started breeding Cattle and produced World Champion Bulls for several decades. During his life time he started 16 businesses we know of and 75 years later three are still running but he died penniless. Happy but dirt poor.

And finally we come to my Dunkard grandmother. She was born with an incredible gift. At the World’s Fair in St. Louis Teddy Roosevelt declared her Apple pie “the best pie I have ever eaten”. She cooked for the rich and the famous at places like Maligne Lake Lodge in Jasper and the Palliser Hotel in Calgary. Her fans included movie stars like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Maybe the most incredible thing about her was as she travelled the Southern US mastering her craft she collected recipes and each recipe came with stories from the people who created the dish. It is priceless social history. I’ve kept them all these years. I still cook the dishes of course. Deep in Northern Canada.

I was in awe of all of them. They might have been right wing nut job born again fundamentalist Christians but they each had mad skills. I would have followed any of them blindly when I was a child.
I explained this to my audience planning to go on and explain how science saved me. But then life on stage I realized that it wasn’t true. No I had been saved from my fundamentalist grandparents by the Great Goddess Shu. And I blurted that out. Then I had to explain.

Duane tried desperately to get me back on track, to get back to burying me in his alternative facts. But the audience was having none of it. They knew testifying when they heard it. And you don’t interrupt the testimony, ever, for anything.

So I went on. Explaining that my Grandparents agreed on next to nothing. Other than that I should practice their form of uncompromising Christianity. Family legend has it I was baptized in each church.
But like I said they were elderly and I was difficult. Ironically the only affordable, available baby sitter was an ancient Chinese woman (older than my Grandparents as it happens). Anne was considered acceptable because she was a devout Anglican.

There were a remarkable number of things my family didn’t know about Anne. Like she didn’t speak English. Not one word. She just nodded and smiled a lot. And laughed.
And her Cantonese was let’s be kind and say quirky. She taught me her native tongue, Nakhi, and that was what we spoke. By the time I was sent off to spend part of my days with her (age 2) she was living in the back of her grandchildren’s restaurant where she passed her time raising their children, prepping food, and running a huge garden and greenhouse.

Her great grandchildren became my playmates, the restaurant my second home until I went off to university, and the garden and greenhouse where I found peace and wisdom.
You see my fundamentalist grandparents had put me in the care of a llu bu, a female Shaman of the Nakhi people. Anne worshiped Mother Nature who she called Shu. And a bunch of minor Gods she called Shv who were always making mischief. Particularly on anyone who messed with the forests. Except because the Shv were tricksters of the highest order there was frequently collateral damage. Much of it playing out in relationships and communities and the political realm. Her job as a llu bu was to get the Shv out of people’s lives and bring all the people into balance with Shu.

In her late teens Anne entered a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and became a Tibetan Buddhist Monk. On a trip to Shanghai she fell in love, got married and became a Taoist. And rich. Incredibly, opulently rich. Her conversion to the Anglican faith coincided with the Communist Revolution and her personal diaspora to Canada’s frozen north. In which she lost all her material possessions.

Anne for her part thought this odd life arc was a perfectly harmonious circle. “I spent a lot time worrying about stuff that turned out not to matter much,” she used to tell me. Then she would laugh.

Anne believed all these religious things all at once. With great joy and absolute certainty. She was a very happy polytheist who still practiced as a herbalist and Medicine Woman right up to her death at a 109. There were always Shv problems that needed fixing.

Though not a single one of her numerous clients was Nakhi. Anne was the only Nakhi for 5,000 miles in any direction. Nope her clients were all animals. Mostly dogs.
And Anne, Anne was a dog whisper. The gift Anne gave me was she taught me how to talk to the animals. And my grandparents loved it.
You see they did share one thing in common. They could all talk to the animals. And I, the last of the Grandchildren was the only one to have inherited that weird skill. So I went from runt of the litter and general annoyance to adored grandchild.
It was wanting to understand animal whispering that led me to become a scientist. (And you guessed it. The answers turn out to be complex).

And here I paused.
I asked Lark to confirm that she and I could talk. She dutifully barked. I told her she was right I should get back to talking about her.
See Lark was a very famous avalanche rescue dog. One memorable afternoon she dug three people out of an avalanche in Jasper National Park. The deepest was buried in 14 and 1/2 feet of snow.
On stage that night I asked her how that was even possible? Lark spoke. I translated.
God gave my ancestors a great gift. A nose to see the world through. And millions of years of evolution made me smart enough to know how to use it.”

Then I started into a crash course in canine genetics, evolution, and domestication. With what was known about those amazing noses thrown in. Five minutes with more than 40 facts. State of the art for the time. Mostly superseded by other facts in the years since. But impossible for Gish to rebut.

He actually left the stage before the debate was over. I have no idea why. But I suspect he wasn’t used to being upstaged by a talking dog.

In 2013, shortly after his death, I learned Duane Gish spent the next 27 years referring to me as the spawn of Satan.

I guess that is because by the time Lark and I had finished discussing dog evolution and genetics using the Gish Gallop 90% of the audience was pro evolution. Because would a medal winning hero dog lie to them? Or maybe they were moved by the facts. It is by no means the only time Duane Gish lost a debate. But I have been told it is the only time he abandoned a debate.

But what you may be wondering does this have to do with ending the marriage between Donald Trump and the Christian Right?
President Trump is simultaneously two very different creatures.

  1. There is Trump the Man. Most Americans grasp that Trump the Man is at best a waste of space and at worst dangerous, malevolent dark matter.
  2. But there is Trump the Myth. The Mythic Trump is doing Christ’s work making sure America remains a White, Christian State. The Mythic Trump is
    • a self made man,
    • a brilliant business man,
    • a devout Christian,
    • a Messianic figure,
    • an upholder of the most important part of the constitution (the part that apparently guaranteed a White Christian State).
    • He is the reincarnation of King Cyrus of Persia who was supposedly doing God’s bidding without knowing it. And perhaps most frighteningly
    • God’s messenger sent to bring Chaos and thus cause the End Times and bring on The Rapture.

Some people believe so strongly in the Mythic Trump they forgive Trump the Man for family separations at the border, a range of criminal acts including running a fraudulent university and a fraudulent charity, selling the US to Russia, grabbing pussy, cozying up to tyrants, and surrounding himself with knaves and dunces. And that is only a partial list.
The question is can anything be done to shatter the myth?

And we all know the facts will never be enough to convince these sort of believers of anything.
I have chosen two articles that should give us hope and that point the way toward separating the man from the myth.

In the first link three sociologists explain their research into what happens when you make voters aware of how much money Donnie got from daddy. Perceptions of Trump’s ability to empathize drop drastically when voters learn what a spoiled rich kid he was and is and will always be. And politicians who aren’t seen as empathetic lose.

In the second a historian reveals the real roots of Trump’s power, Fake History. There is an organized attempt to convince certain Evangelical Christians that the framers of the US Constitution intended the US to be a White Christian state. It is that dubious and frankly fallacious contention that made Trump the President of the United States.

John Fea has made a start on teaching real history to Evangelicals. The article is a cry for help signal boosting his message. We would all be wise to listen and help.
Because the alternative is an unimpeachable, unindictable President.
On Friday January 11th, 2019 the Guardian ran this article on how Trump’s presidency has come to depend on Evangelical Christians.


and Raw Story summed it up thusly.

Let me be clear. Trump wants to weaponize and use Evangelical Christians to extort Republican politicians to ignore his attempted theft of American democracy. Just as he is using the threat of declaring a national emergency to try to over turn the United States Constitution.
Decisive action is clearly needed. The question is what would that action look like?
What gives Evangelicals their grip on Republican politicians is the idea they are a monolithic, single block of voters. Nothing could be further from the truth. But it isn’t just Republicans who believe it. It is Democrats as well.
You need to understand that the terms Evangelical and Fundamentalist are not synonyms. Evangelicals may be Fundamentalists or they may think that Fundamentalists are brain damaged and possibly dangerous. And it is possible to be Fundamentalist and have lost all touch with Evangelical Christianity. It is also possible to be a fundamentalist and an evangelical and still think Donald Trump is Evil and Republicans are in the sway of False Prophets and a False Prophecy.
This link will explain the difference between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals better than I ever could.
John Green resonates for me when he says Fundamentalists are stricter than other Evangelical Christians.
I am going to pause here and once again explain my own religious beliefs. I am an evangelical Christian. To be precise I am a Hussite. Which means I am a Fundamentalist. Our religious practice is both strict and severe thus meeting John Green’s definition for fundamentalist. I am born again. If you can be born again when you have been baptized six times.

I find it hard to credit when I read the lunacy Jerry Falwell Junior spouts off

but he describes himself using almost the exact same language I use. It is important to realize we are living nearly completely different faiths. Well I think one of us needs to change how we describe ourselves.
Why should you care about these doctrinaire differences? Or waste a moment of your life thinking about the lunacy of Jerry Falwell Junior?
There is this significant block of voters just waiting for Democrats to extend an Olive branch so they can rejoin the party. You see until 1980 evangelicals while leaning right valued social justice issues enough some Democratic politicians could reach them. Then in a place called Phildelphia, Mississippi Ronald Reagan became the first politician to play the hate card. And hate took over the Christian Right.
In has taken decades for dissenting voices to emerge in the Christian Right and begin pushing back. I am going to introduce you to just a few. There are many, many more. A modern reformation is happening in real time in America.


Let’s start with Alan Cross and his response to Falwell’s statements.
And the unbelievably brave Karen Swallow Prior:
Then there are the black Evangelical Christians. the only part of the movement where the numbers are rising. And the black evangelical movement is different, very different from the white approach. It remains truer to the original vision of early 20th Century evangelism.
That doesn’t mean they are all actively trying to change things. But again there are brave Evangelicals of Colour who are:
And finally there is the resurgent religious left.
We need to boost these dissenting voices. And we need to do it today.

And we need to stop being bigoted towards the religious right. Don’t think the left depicts the Christian Right as inferior brain dead zombies? Read these links.
And believe me I could go on.
This approach guarantees failure.

And there are other much better options. To read about professional meteorologists using story telling to convert climate change deniers check out the link below. They use narrative to deliver facts. Just like I tried to do that night.
In summary when confronting the Christian Right lead with your story and let the facts ride along.
Let’s rob Trump of this key element of his base.
And believe me it can be done. You see I got my first few speaking gigs that night I debated Duane Gish. Now I take my testimony to congregations and Sunday Schools in Evangelical Christian churches all over western Canada and occasionally in the US. In the 3 decades since I have spoken repeatedly about evolution, Global warming, and yes abortion hundreds of times.
Because you see I too am one those dissenting voices. And people will listen and do listen. And the very core of what I tell them is this:
1.      STEAM is great fun.
2.      STEAM is useful.
3.      STEAM is a gift from God.
4.      And God really hates it when we ignore His Gifts. HATES IT!
More and more churches are asking me to speak. In the two years since Trump was elected I haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. You see these churches fear for their youth.
They know that STEAM is the future, the Rapture isn’t happening any time soon, and the Old Testament won’t help their children have a materially better life than they had. They also know young adults are fleeing their faith. Because it doesn’t offer a better future. 
They just don’t know what to do about any of that. We need to offer them better options than a retreat into xenophobia, racism, misogyny and hate.
And in closing I want you to know that when the modern reformation catches fire in these communities of frightened parents (and it will) a renewing conflagration is going to sweep across American politics and religion and forever change American history.

Today I leave you with the task of helping we, the dissenters, to ignite that fire.

In the first link three sociologists explain their research into what happens when you make voters aware of how much money Donnie got from daddy. Perceptions of Trump’s ability to empathize drop drastically when voters learn what a spoiled rich kid he was and is and will always be. And politicians who aren’t seen as empathetic lose.