Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Nancy Pelosi Spanks the First Brat

WASHINGTON — Two men, sons of immigrants, rising to be the head of their own empires, powerful forces in their ethnic communities. Both dapper and mustachioed with commanding personalities. And both wielding a potent influence on the children who learned at their knees and followed them into the family businesses.

But here’s the difference: Big Tommy D’Alesandro Jr. taught little Nancy how to count. Fred Trump taught Donald, from the time he was a baby, that he didn’t have to count — or be accountable; Daddy’s money made him and buoyed him.

Fred, a dictatorial builder in Brooklyn and Queens from German stock, and Big Tommy, a charming Maryland congressman and mayor of Baltimore from Italian stock, are long gone. But their roles in shaping Donald and Nancy remain vivid, bleeding into our punishing, pressing national debate over immigration, a government shutdown and that inescapable and vexing Wall.

At this fraught moment when the pain of the shutdown is kicking in, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi offer very different visions — shaped by their parents — of what it means to be an American.

When Trump gave his Oval Office address, the framed photo of his dad was peering over his shoulder. In her House speaker’s office in the Capitol, Pelosi prominently displays a photo of herself at 7, holding the Bible as her father is sworn in as Baltimore mayor in 1947.

D’Alesandro was a loyal New Deal Democrat, just as Pelosi — the first daughter to follow her father into Congress — is a resolute liberal. She grew up in a house with portraits of F.D.R. and Truman.

Donald Trump spent most of his life as a political opportunist, learning from his dad that real estate developers must lubricate both sides of the aisle. Trump was once friendly with Pelosi, sending her a note in 2007 when she won the speaker job the first time — with a boost from his $20,000 donation to the party — calling her “the best.” (Unlike with “Cryin’ Chuck,” Trump has not gone for the jugular with a nasty nickname for Pelosi.)

In her memoir, Pelosi recalled that her Catholic parents “raised me to be holy.” She told me, “My mother and my father instilled in us, public service is a noble calling” and “never measure a person by how much money they had.”

A constant stream of strangers lined up at their house in Baltimore’s Little Italy, seeking food and help. One of Pelosi’s most arresting memories, she told CNN’s Dana Bash, was giving immigrants who came to the door advice on how to get into the projects or to the hospital.

Alexandra, Pelosi’s documentarian daughter, recounts this anecdote: Her son, Thomas — who was named after Big Tommy and who stood at the speaker’s side as she reclaimed her gavel — wanted an Xbox in 2017, so he set up a lemonade stand in Manhattan and raked in $1,000.

His grandmother sat him down and asked, “That’s going to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, right?”

He set up the stand again the next year and was once more schooled by his grandmother asking, “That’s going to the victims of the California wildfires, right?”

Contrast that with Don Jr.’s uncharitable message on Instagram on Tuesday: “You know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo? Because walls work.”

Where the D’Alesandros saw the downtrodden and immigrants as people to weave into the American dream, the Trumps saw suckers to squeeze.

According to The Times’s blockbuster tax investigation, Fred lavished Donald with three trust funds and $10,000 Christmas checks. When Donald was 8, he was already a millionaire, thanks to his tax-scamming father. Fred Trump was hauled before a congressional panel investigating whether he had looted government money through fraud. (One congressman said the patriarch’s chicanery made him “nauseous.”)

By the time Donald was 27, he had fully absorbed Trump family values, a callous inversion of noblesse oblige: He and his father were getting sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent to blacks. As Woody Guthrie, who lived in a Fred Trump complex near Coney Island, wrote in a song, “I suppose/Old Man Trump knows/just how much/racial hate/he stirred up/in the bloodpot of human hearts.” Not quite the same as “This Land Is Your Land.”

Fred’s favorite parlor trick was calculating big numbers in his head. But when Howard Stern had Donald, Ivanka and Don Jr. on his show in 2006 and asked them a multiplication question, they were all stumped.

Over the years, Fred funneled tens of millions of dollars to clean up Donald’s messes. The father even gave the son $3.5 million in chips to save an Atlantic City casino. By the time he was in his 40s, Donnie’s allowance was more than $5 million annually. No wonder he’s still an infant.

When Trump said he could “relate” to federal workers who are now going without pay, it may have been the most audacious lie he told all week. He may know what it’s like to go from bankruptcy to bankruptcy — though always with a paternal safety net — but he has no idea of what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck, much less none at all.

As Pelosi told reporters: “He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t.” She also leveled the barb on Trump in person.

Pelosi deploys what she calls her “mother of five” voice on our tantrum-prone president, perhaps in an effort to reparent him. But how do you discipline the world’s brattiest 72-year-old?

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