What Voters Have Learned Since 2016 About the Real Donald Trump

2020 is going to be different from 2016 not just because of what’s happening but because of what we now know about the GOP presidential nominee

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, his personal history as a thrice-married former pro-choice Democrat from New York City campaigning as a Republican allowed people to project onto him an array of views. He was hailed for being a “dove.” He was taken seriously as a candidate with “more acceptable views” on LGBTQ+ rights than the rest of his party. He was called a “textbook example of an ideological moderate.” What was known about him was largely based on his own self-mythologizing — coupled with the skillful editing of the reality TV shows that made him a household name. His pitch was that he was a self-made billionaire real estate mogul, who would run the U.S. government like a business.

More than five years since he announced his bid for the White House, we know a lot more about who he is — and who he actually was all along. Indeed, Americans have learned more about who Trump really is since he became president than during his decades-long stint in the public eye — and certainly more than they learned from the press while he was running for president.

As Trump runs for reelection, he is now doing so as a known quantity. Here are some of the things that we know about Donald J. Trump now that we did not know in 2016.

He was never self-made

Trump has long branded himself as a brilliant entrepreneur and self-made billionaire who got his start after he obtained a “small loan of a million dollars” from his father, Fred Trump. But a New York Times investigation in 2018 found that throughout his life the president received today’s equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate businesses. Starting when he was a toddler, Trump was receiving about $200,000 in today’s dollars every year. The transference of money was done through schemes designed to avoid taxes, some of which were outright fraudulent, according to the Times.

He illegally used his charity as a personal checkbook, including to promote his bid for the White House

A June 2018 lawsuit charged that the president used the Donald J. Trump Foundation to settle his personal debts, further his business interests, and promote his 2016 presidential bid, a violation of New York’s tax code and campaign finance laws. Trump settled the lawsuit in December 2019 and agreed to shut down the foundation and pay a $2 million fine, which was distributed among eight charities.

He had an affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels and schemed to pay her hush money while running for president

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen claimed during a congressional hearing that the president knew of the plot to pay $130,000 in “hush money” to adult star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election. The payment and non-disparagement agreement were meant to conceal an alleged sexual encounter between Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) and Trump a decade earlier. The president has denied the affair happened and claimed he didn’t have any knowledge of the payment.

He welcomed Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election — and since

Some of Trump’s closest aides had contact with Russians during the 2016 presidential election, including his son Donald Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and longtime adviser Roger Stone. He also repeatedly denied for years that Moscow had even meddled with the election. In 2017, Trump told two top Russian officials that he didn’t care if Russia meddled in the presidential election because the U.S. had a history of doing the same in other countries, according to the Washington Post. In that same meeting, he shared highly classified information with the two officials, even though Russia is considered to be a foreign adversary.

He’s reportedly welcomed Chinese interference in the 2020 election

Former national security adviser John Bolton alleges in his new book that Trump asked China President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 presidential election. The conversation reportedly happened at a one-on-one meeting the leaders had in June 2019 at the G20 summit in Japan. According to Bolton, Xi complained to Trump about China’s critics in the U.S., which led Trump to assume Xi was referring to the Democratic Party. “He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton wrote. He alleges he couldn’t print Trump’s exact words because of the government’s contentious prepublication review of the book.

He has been accused of rape, again, this time by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll

Nearly 20 women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump following the leak of the Access Hollywood tape. The assault accusations then ranged from unwanted kisses to groping. But in June 2019 Trump was explicitly accused of rape. (At a divorce deposition in the 1990s, his ex-wife Ivana Trump used the word “rape” to describe an incident between the couple. She later walked it back.) Columnist E. Jean Carroll said Trump raped her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in the late 1990s. Trump called her a liar and said she had fabricated the allegations to sell her book, and in return, Carroll sued him last year. He denies all the allegations of sexual misconduct, but she says she kept the dress with his semen on it and is seeking a DNA sample from him to prove her charges.

His company employed a large number of undocumented immigrants, including after he became president

While Trump has centered most of his political career around railing against undocumented immigrants, he has long employed them as housekeepers, waiters, groundskeepers, and stonemasons at his golf clubs, according to the Washington Post. The Trump Organization has claimed it has “very strict hiring practices” and terminates anyone who doesn’t have the proper work authorization. However, some of the undocumented staffers had spent years — and in some cases, decades — employed by the Trump family without being fired, including working as the president’s personal housekeepers.

He’s governed as the most anti-LGBTQ+ president since George H.W. Bush

Despite preelection speculation he might be more open-minded than some Republicans, Trump has continuously limited civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans. One of his first acts as president was to roll back Obama-era guidance that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. He also proposed a rule that would allow federal contractors to deny employment to LGBTQ+ employees under the guise of religious freedom. Under Trump, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the U.S. Department of Justice to stop arguing that transgender people are federally protected from employment discrimination. The president also banned transgender folks from serving in the military and proposed a rule that would allow child welfare organizations that receive taxpayer funds to deny service to LGBTQ+ parents. Transgender Americans have been also targeted by Trump in prisons, homeless shelters, and health care.

He has been more hawkish than his predecessors

Under Trump, the number of drone strikes in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan has far exceeded those conducted under President Obama and President Bush. The administration also worked to do away with an Obama-era rule around airstrikes transparency, which required the government to publicly disclose any drone-related civilian deaths. Human rights advocates and some intelligence analysts have been concerned by the rollback. And even though he pushed to bring all 8,600 troops in Afghanistan back home by Election Day, about 4,000 will remain in the Middle East past November 3, 2020.

His promise to protect people’s health insurance coverage has been anything but fulfilled

Trump repeatedly has claimed he is protecting health care coverage for patients, particularly those with preexisting conditions, even as he has waged a yearslong campaign against the Affordable Care Act, including at the Supreme Court during the coronavirus epidemic. After several attempts to repeal the ACA through Congress failed, he has rolled back a series of regulations meant to protect consumers by ensuring health insurance plans were compliant with the ACA. The new rules have allowed insurance companies to sell skimpy, short-term plans that do not offer the best coverage to patients.

He is so orange because he wears Bronx Colors makeup

One of the details in that same extensive Washington Post report is that Trump uses makeup from the Swiss brand Bronx Colors. The company said the president buys its Boosting Hydrating Concealer in orange.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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