As we write post-mortems of this failed presidency, may I ask a favor of everybody, including media people I admire?
Please, in trying to explain the roots of this dangerously flawed man, stop referring to him as being from an “outer borough.”
Also, please, stop the automatic segue into Archie Bunker and the grand old TV show, “All In The Family,” as if everybody in the borough of Queens sat around on a front step in a sleeveless undershirt and reminisced about the good old days of Herbert Hoover (or George Wallace, or Jefferson Davis, or Adolf Hitler.)
As it happens, I grew up half a mile from the Trumps, although blessedly unaware of them for a long time. Friends of mine knew Fred Trump, his older brother, at PS 131, and said he was a lovely guy, but with learning disabilities. I met him a few times in the late ‘70s, and totally agree.
That neighborhood is not exactly Bunkeresque. It is Jamaica Estates, an enclave of large homes, many of them on glacial hills just north of Hillside Avenue.
When I was a kid, my parents would pack all five kids in the family sedan and drive around Jamaica Estates looking at the lavish Christmas decorations.
My parents were Newspaper Guild activists, real lefties from the ‘30s. After the War, they helped form a discussion group, expressly 50 per cent black, 50 per cent white – idealistic bootstrappers from Queens, who talked about books and politics and life, sometimes in our living room. My parents loved Eleanor and Franklin, and praised Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson and Jackie Robinson.
In later years, my parents voted at the same polling station as that lovely couple that had moved into Holliswood, Mario and Matilda Cuomo. Not exactly Archie Bunker country.
I just looked it up: In milestone elections, Queens voted decisively for John F. Kennedy in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Bill Clinton in 1992, Al Gore in 2000, Barack Obama in 2008 – and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
That’s right. The people who, theoretically knew their home boy best voted for Clinton, 75.4% to 21.8%.
Queens has been consistent politically, even with all the changes. In the early 50’s, Jewish families were moving out from Brooklyn and the Bronx -- my new friends, settling into Tudor homes, reminisced about stickball games and six-story apartments in their old neighborhoods. There were few, or no, traces of Muslim or African-American or Asian families, part of the picture today.
It was an enclave, but the nasty middle Trump brother missed it -- sent to private school in Kew Gardens (until he was caught packing a knife, and was shipped to boarding school, where goodness knows what transpired.)
Most kids in Jamaica Estates went to Jamaica High – for me, a one-mile walk, via Henley Road, near the future TrumpHaus.
Jamaica High was a bastion of academics but a mixed bag for equality. My friend Al Gibson recalls having to badger the “counselor” so he could take academic classes. (PS: He has advanced college degrees and a good career.)
The nasty Trump boy missed this part of growing up: side-by-side with blacks. I served detentions with a black guy (college-bound) after we both thought it was fun to pester a young sub teacher. I shoved back at a black guy who constantly backed into me at the “good” basket in gym class. I also tried to guard Teddy Jackson, with that great first step, later a star at Hofstra – and still my lunch pal.
Our yearbook advisor, Irma Rhodes (who rescued me in English class), held soirées for her staff at her home a few blocks from TrumpHaus; afterward I took the Q-17 bus with a young African-American woman, an art editor on the yearbook. All of this was superficial, of course, but part of the de-mythicizing of race.
But the most integrated part of Jamaica was the choir/chorus of Jean Gollobin (one of the great leaders I have ever encountered in any discipline) who always had mature helpers like Carole Gardner, also a class officer.
Five guys (P.A.L. basketball players from the 103rd Precinct) formed that early doo-wop group, The Cleftones, and would harmonize out in the hall, as if singing under the proverbial streetlamp.
One of my classmates, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, has been a major force in the feminist movement; another, Sid Davidoff, has been a stalwart of Democratic politics; a third, Herb London, has been a conservative candidate. We all gained from the crowded halls and classrooms of a thriving public school. (The city gave up on Jamaica High a few years ago. Some of us keep thinking it will come back.)
Life in the Jamaica area was and remains complex. The middle son of a builder was soon conniving with his father to exclude minorities from their buildings. He’d be doing it today, if he could get away with it. But please don’t tag all of us from Jamaica with the Bunker label.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.