Trump in Palm Beach: a Personal Note

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Not everything about Donald Trump is so bad. In today’s New York Times’ article about Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach and, perhaps, the site of the winter White House, one paragraph jumped out at me:

Mr. Trump’s arrival was greeted with sneers by the Palm Beach elite, and he opened up Mar-a-Lago’s membership to Jews and African-Americans, who had been excluded from other members-only establishments. He was also the first club owner on the island to admit an openly gay couple.

It happens I used to live in Palm Beach – many years ago. My parents had sold their dress-making business in Chicago and taken the proceeds and set up a dress store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I was 13-years-old. I went to public school, where many of the kids were virulently anti-Semitic. I was a tennis player – pretty good for my age (I quit two years later because I was no longer). If you wanted to play seriously, you really had to play at a private club, but there was only one club on the island that would allow Jews in the door. It was a modest club with four courts, where the son of the local drugstore-owner, who played at Duke, also played. (He was also Jewish.)

My parents, who fled Palm Beach after a year, used to use the initials “SFG” (strictly for gentiles) to describe the various institutions on the island. I have never hated a place the way I hated Palm Beach. I once wrote a memoir of my youth for In These Times in which I said that if one town in America were to be sacrificed for a nuclear attack, I would choose Palm Beach. (I got angry letters back.)

Blacks on the island? There were maids and cooks, but at that time (if I’m not mistaken) they couldn’t actually sleep on the island and had to get off by night and return in the morning. There may have been exceptions, but that was the tenor of the place. So I read with interest about Trump’s decision to integrate Mar-a-Lago, even if it were only among the upper and upper-middle class.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John B. Judis is Editor-At-Large at Talking Points Memo. He was a senior editor of The New Republic and senior writer for The National Journal. He is the author most recently of The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (Columbia Global Reports, 2016). He has written six other books, including Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origin of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (Scribner, 2004), The Emerging Democratic Majority with Ruy Teixeira (Scribner, 2002), and The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and Betrayal of Public Trust (Pantheon, 2000). He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, and The Washington Post. Born in Chicago, he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Silver Spring, MD.
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