When Donald Trump rode down the escalator of Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 to announce his candidacy for President, he surely knew he was about to turn U.S. politics upside down, but being immediately slammed as a “racist” was likely the last thing he ever expected. Racial discrimination was the very thing Trump had always fought against.
In 1985, a brash, young and successful Donald Trump “upset the applecart” and created a culture clash in the high-society island town of Palm Beach, Florida when he purchased Mar-a-Lago, a 28-room, 70-year-old mansion built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Trump paid about $7 million for the 17-acre property.
The estate, along with other upscale clubs in the area, was the center of upper crust social circles in Palm Beach – old, graceful people who partied together and gave money to charity at elite social functions each season.
Donald Trump did not fit their mold, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, from April 30, 1997.
In the early 1990’s, as a way to combat the $3 million yearly maintenance costs, Trump decided to divide the Mar-a-Lago property into smaller lots for residential development. That started the first battle with the city. Palm Beach had earlier approved such a plan from another developer, but rejected Trump’s plan.
Trump sued for $50 million, but later dropped the suit when he got the idea to convert the home into a private club. The city agreed, but told him he could allow no more than 500 members. The Mar-a-Lago Club opened in the spring of 1995 – but much to the horror of the Palm Beach elite, it was a club unlike any other, bringing in “young money” instead of the graceful senior-citizen market.
Trump’s club also brought people of other races into the club circle, where the other upscale clubs in Palm Beach had quietly excluded Jews and African Americans.
Trump really created a stir when his lawyer sent city council members each a copy of the film “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, a story about upper-class racism. Trump then approached council members about lifting the restrictions they had placed upon his club. After the council refused, Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit, alleging the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago, partly because it was open to Jews and African-Americans.
Gradually, things started to change in Palm Beach, and Jewish and African-Americans were admitted to other clubs.
Wall Street Journal reported: Mr. Trump’s critics credit a more general social evolution. “You see gradual change, changes in attitudes,” says Frank Chopin, lawyer for the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.
“He put the light on Palm Beach,” said Abraham Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League. “Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.”
Donald Trump fought against racial discrimination – and won.