Nothing stimulates the imagination like the tapestry of a well-woven urban legend. In that vein, the internet recently relaunched an apocryphal tale of altruism by Donald Trump.
Here’s the story, according to the respected fact checking source Snopes: During the 1995 Christmas holidays, Mr. Trump and wife Marla Maples were stuck beside a New Jersey highway, their stretch limo disabled by a flat tire. A passing motorist helped the chauffeur change the tire. Before departing, Mr. Trump insisted on doing something nice for the stranger. The fellow refused, but Donald Trump persisted. “Well then, just send my wife a bouquet of flowers,” the man said, handing his address to Mr. Trump. A few days later, the flowers arrived. Attached was a note that read, “We paid off your home mortgage, Marla and Donald.”
The narrative made the pages of Forbes in 1996. It oozes good will while moving hearts to rhythms of adoration of the president. It strengthens his supporters’ resistance to the tsunamis of actual episodes of his Alpine greed. The tale, however, sags under the weight of its own extensive history, then flattens to the ground under critical analysis.
The legend goes back to at least the 1950s and has been told of celebrities such as crooners Perry Como and Bing Crosby, jazz man Louis Armstrong and others including, more recently, Bill Gates. In its other varieties, it has been said to have occurred with Donald and Ivana in Michigan, or in Canada, your choice of wives and locations.
Critical thinking about any of its iterations evokes questions. First, for a man to whom self-congratulation is mother’s milk, why haven’t we heard him shout it to the heavens? Bear in mind, this is a fellow who, in the 1980s, frequently called New York tabloids to brag about his accomplishments while pretending to be someone else (John Barron or John Miller, neither of whom exist, at least in relation to Trump). And what about the identities and whereabouts of the fortunate couple? Did they not joyfully shriek the good news to their family members and neighbors? Why, Snopes asks, would there have been no newspaper or television interviews with them? And couldn’t the limo driver have changed a tire without help?
Interestingly, during a January 2005 episode of “The Apprentice,” Mr. Trump was asked about the tale by a contestant. He replied, “That’s true.” However, back in 1997, when the story was quite new, a reporter inquired about it at Trump’s office. “We’ve heard the story. No, it isn’t true,” said an assistant.
Perhaps the skunk at this feel-good picnic is that the anecdote goes against virtually everything that is known about Donald Trump’s view of Good Samaritans. His Trump Foundation “charity” was shut down by New York authorities, who revealed it to be such a scam that the Trumps agreed to fork over a huge fine and never again run a nonprofit in the state. Trump University was a hoax that fleeced thousands of students, with whom Trump settled a suit for $25 million. He has stiffed contractors by the dozens. After the death of his brother Fred Trump Jr., Donald allegedly cut off insurance for Fred Jr.’s infant grandson, who suffered from numerous health issues. Smarmy urban legends aside, the cold in Donald Trump’s heart evidently approaches absolute zero.
Clearly, tracking down reports of Trumpian selflessness is a safari to a bone-dry watering hole. Still, who doesn’t like an urban legend? The more absurd the better.