The legendary American folk hero and singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) penned more than 1,000 songs, including “This Land is Your Land,” a panoramic tune that has become a national anthem. Guthrie was a product of the Great Depression and lived through the “Dust Bowl,” a period of severe dust storms that severely damaged the ecology and agriculture of the United States, which contributed to his leaving his native Oklahoma. He wrote about his experiences while on the road. As a folk musician, Guthrie took up social causes – collaborating with the likes of Pete Seeger and Leadbelly – and inspired a generation of folk singers that includes Bob Dylan.
But not everyone was a Guthrie fan or inspired by the possibilities that inspired him. Will Kaufman, professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Central Lancashire, wrote in the Conversation of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s father, Fred:
“In 1950 Woody Guthrie signed his name to the lease of a new apartment in Brooklyn. Even now, over half a century later, that uninspiring document prompts a double-take…Below all the legal jargon is the signature of the man who had composed “This Land Is Your Land…the most resounding appeal to an equal share for all in America. Below that is the signature of Donald Trump’s father, Fred. No pairing could appear more unlikely.”
According to Kaufman, the document – which has never been published before – showed that “Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of Fred Trump’s buildings and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings.” Specifically, he wrote about the postwar housing haven Trump built – principally for whites. Guthrie discovered about a year into his lease that Fred Trump was all too willing to embrace the color line in Beach Haven. This discovery fueled lyrics in Guthrie’s songs, such as “Racial Hate at Beach Haven,” “Beach Haven Race Hate,” and “Beach Haven Ain’t My Home:”
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
he stirred up
In the bloodspot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at this
Eighteen hundred family project
Fred Trump was quick to step in after the war when the Federal Housing Authority issued loans for affordable public housing. Trump embraced the FHA’s guidelines for avoiding “inharmonious uses of housing” – or as Trump biographer Gwenda Blair puts it in her book The Trumps, Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate: “a code phrase for selling homes in white areas to blacks…restrictive covenants were common among FHA projects – a betrayal, if ever there was one, of the New Deal vision that had given birth to the agency.”
We are all familiar with the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Trump senior was investigated by a U.S. Senate committee in 1954 for profiteering off of public contracts, not the least of which was overestimating his Beach Haven building charges to the tune of $3.7 million. Both Donald and Fred Trump were investigated in 1973 and 1978 by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department – the major charge was “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents had created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.”
Evidence of the Trumps’ discriminatory conduct came from Trump employees. In 1979, Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett wrote of Fred and Donald Trump’s real empire:
“According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents confirmed that applications sent to the central [Trump] office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. Three doormen were told to discourage blacks who came seeking apartments when the manager was out, either by claiming no vacancies or hiking up the rents. A super said he was instructed to send black applicants to the central office but to accept white applications on site. Another rental agent said that Fred Trump had instructed him not to rent to blacks. Further, the agent said Trump wanted to decrease the number of black tenants already in the development by encouraging them to locate housing elsewhere.”
Guthrie had written that white supremacists like the Trumps were “way ahead of God,” but as Kaufman noted, it was hardly meant as a compliment – though the Trumps would probably be arrogant enough to see it as one. Guthrie hated fascism, an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization, which Donald Trump epitomizes. In fact, Guthrie started composing antifascist music while in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He became famous for the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists,” which was scrawled across his acoustic guitar.
Woody Guthrie died about 12 years before the Trumps were brought before the Civil Rights Commission. However, as Kaufman rhetorically asks:
“Woody Guthrie had no time for “Old Man Trump…We can only imagine what he would think of his heir.”
We have lambasted Donald Trump recently for embracing Russian strongman Vladimir Putin – the world’s preeminent fascist, notorious for his totalitarian repressive methods. Trump said of Putin’s support for him leading the Republican presidential field that it’s a “great honor.” However, Guthrie spent his life fighting against fascism for social justice and equality and given the tone and tenor of Donald Trump’s campaign – his fascist authoritarian values – his alignment with the leading neo-Nazi white-supremacist groups, and the xenophobic fear-mongering and racist fascist repressive policies he advocates, it would not be hard to answer that question.