New York City real estate developer and reality TV star Donald Trump (1946- ) served as America’s 45th president from January 2017-January 2021. The billionaire businessman ran as a Republican and scored an upset victory over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election.
Trump began his career working for his father’s real estate development firm, taking over its leadership in the 1970s. In the ensuing decades, he acquired and built hotels, office towers, casinos and golf courses and also appeared on 14 seasons of “The Apprentice.” He was the first person ever elected to the U.S. presidency without any previous government or military experience. On December 18, 2019, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. On January 13, 2021, he became the only president in U.S. history to be impeached a second time.
Early Life and Education
Donald John Trump, the son of Fred, a real estate developer, and his wife, Mary, a homemaker and Scottish immigrant, was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York. The second youngest of five children, he attended private school in Queens before enrolling in the New York Military Academy for eighth grade through high school.
Trump studied for two years at New York City’s Fordham University then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, where he earned an undergraduate degree in 1968. During the Vietnam War, he received four student deferments and one medical deferment and wasn’t drafted for military service.
After college, Trump joined his father’s company, E. Trump & Son, which developed apartments for the middle-class in New York City’s outer boroughs. He became president of the firm in 1974 and went on to make a name for himself in the Manhattan real estate world with the construction of such high-profile projects as the Grand Hyatt New York hotel, which opened in 1980, and Trump Tower, a luxury high-rise that opened in 1983.
Also in the 1980s, Trump opened hotel-casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey; acquired Manhattan’s storied Plaza Hotel and bought the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, which he renovated and turned into a private club. Among other ventures, he briefly owned an airline and a professional football team in the short-lived United States Football League. In 1987, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s memoir and business advice book, was published and became a best-seller. In 1989, his net worth was $1.5 billion, according to Forbes, and he made his first appearance on the cover of Time magazine.
However, in the early 1990s, following an economic downturn and slump in the real estate market, Trump was deeply in debt and several of his casinos filed for bankruptcy. In 1995, he reported a nearly $1 billion loss on his taxes. Trump eventually made a financial comeback, in part with a business model that involved licensing his name for a wide variety of ventures ranging from condominiums to steaks and neckties.
Trump continued to acquire and develop real estate properties, and in 2016, when he became the first billionaire elected to the White House, his empire included office buildings, hotels and golf courses around the world. (His various business holdings, before and during his presidency, would become the topic of two Supreme Court cases where potential conflicts of interest were investigated, prompting a request for Trump to release his tax returns).
In 2004, Trump started hosting a reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” in which contestants vied for a management job at one of his companies. The show featured Trump’s catchphrase “You’re fired” and drew big ratings. The business mogul eventually raked in $1 million per episode and became a household name. He hosted 14 combined seasons of “The Apprentice” and a spinoff show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
In addition to starring on “The Apprentice” and making cameo appearances in other TV shows and movies like “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” Trump owned several beauty pageants from 1996 to 2015, including Miss Universe and Miss USA. In 1999, he founded a modeling agency that continues to operate.
In 1977, Trump married Czech model Ivana Zelnickova, with whom he went on to have three children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump. The pair divorced in 1992 and the following year Trump wed actress Marla Maples, with whom he has a daughter, Tiffany Trump. After Trump’s second marriage ended in 1999, he tied the knot with Slovenian model Melania Knauss in 2005. His son with Melania Trump, Barron Trump, was born in 2006. Ivana Trump died in 2022.
2016 Presidential Campaign
Before winning the U.S. presidency, Trump never held any elected or appointed government office. He had considered a presidential bid on at least several earlier occasions prior to the 2016 race but ultimately opted not to run. In 2011, Trump began questioning in TV interviews whether then-President Barack Obama was born in the United States. In the following years, he harnessed rumors about Obama’s birthplace to help grow his audience on social media and gain notice in the world of conservative politics. (The White House released the Hawaiian-born president’s short-form birth certificate in 2008 and his long-form birth certificate in 2011.)
In June 2015, the real estate developer announced his presidential candidacy in a speech at Trump Tower. He ran his campaign on a pledge to “Make America Great Again,” the slogan emblazoned on the baseball hats he often wore at his public rallies, and spoke out against political correctness, illegal immigration and government lobbyists, while promising to cut taxes, renegotiate trade deals and create millions of jobs for American workers.
Trump's brash, unapologetic style and sometimes-controversial comments garnered widespread media coverage. In May 2016, he cinched the Republican nomination, beating out a field of 16 other candidates, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.
In the general election, Trump ran against Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential candidate from a major political party. The race was divisive, in part due to a number of inflammatory remarks and tweets made by Trump. While some members of the Republican establishment distanced themselves from the candidate, Trump’s supporters admired his outspokenness and business success, along with the fact that he wasn’t a politician. A big campaign promise was to build a fortified border wall with Mexico.
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As the election neared, almost all national polls predicted a victory for the Democratic nominee. However, on November 8, 2016, in what was viewed by many people as a stunning upset, Trump and his vice-presidential running mate, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, defeated Clinton and her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Trump won reliably red states as well as important swing states including Florida and Ohio and racked up 306 electoral votes to his rival’s 232 votes. Clinton won the popular vote.
Investigation Into Russian Interference in 2016 Election
On July 22, 2016—just days before the Democratic National Convention—WikiLeaks published emails hacked from the DNC, prompting DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign.
The FBI began investigating the hacks, and in September, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees issued a joint statement stating Russian intelligence agencies were behind the election interference. Their faith was echoed by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Intelligence on Election Security.
In January 2017, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report concluding that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. The report found that the Russians did not directly tamper with polls, but instead disseminated pro-Trump messages across the Internet and hacked the DNC. Facebook later announced in 2017 that over 3,000 political ads on their site were linked to Russia. Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and insisted via Twitter that there was “no collusion!” between his team and the hackers.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. The Mueller Report found that Russia "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion" and "violated U.S. criminal law.” It ultimately failed to find the rumored link between the Trump administration and the interference, concluding: “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Several Trump associates were indicted, including Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Flynn.
Trump Impeached, Then Acquitted
Trump was impeached on December 18, 2019, on two articles—abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The impeachment charges stemmed mainly from a July 25, 2019 phone call with the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. During the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, vice president under Barack Obama and a Democratic hopeful for the 2020 presidential race. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had publicly accused Biden of having former chief Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin removed from office because he was investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of the company.
An anonymous whistleblower came forward to report the call: "In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump on September 24, 2019. Just under a month later, members of the House voted along partisan lines in favor of impeachment. All but two Democrats supported the article on abuse of power, while all but three Democrats supported the article on obstruction of Congress. No Republicans voted in favor of either article of impeachment against Trump. On February 5, 2020, the Senate voted largely along party lines to acquit Trump on both charges.
Trump's 2020 Reelection Campaign and Second Impeachment
In his reelection campaign for 2020 against Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, Trump doubled down on his core issues of bringing back the economy following the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, boosting job growth, an “America First” approach to trade and foreign policy and a hardline stance on immigration.
Trump continued to hold large rallies, as he did during his 2016 campaign, despite the risks of coronavirus. Most of these rallies were held outside to mitigate risk. Trump also said he was “all for masks,” but rarely wore one himself.
In October, Trump, as well as several of his cabinet members, contracted the coronavirus. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for three days where he received multiple treatments, including an experimental antibody. Upon his release, Trump told reporters that he felt “better than I have in a long time.”
In the final days of his campaign, Trump continued to declare himself the “president of law and order,” pushing back on calls for police reform amid the outcry over racial injustice and police brutality. Just over a week before Election Day, the U.S. Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, who had clerked with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Results from Election Day 2020 initially appeared promising for the incumbent Trump. However, since a record number of Americans voted early or by mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, counting of those votes continued for days. After the fourth day of vote-counting, the Associated Press and other major media outlets declared Biden the winner. The vote was certified by the Electoral College on December 14, and later by Congress. The voter turnout rate in the election was the highest in over a century, and while Biden received the most votes in U.S. presidential history, Trump received the second-most.
On January 6, 2021—the same day members of Congress met to certify the results of the election—Trump addressed a crowd of supporters outside the Capitol. In the speech, he aired unfounded grievances about election fraud, reiterated false claims about winning the election and vowed to "never concede." After his speech, a violent mob stormed the Capitol; five people died.
On January 13, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for alleged "incitement of insurrection." Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. On February 13, 2021, the Senate acquitted then-former President Trump in his second impeachment trial. Seven Republicans joined 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump, falling short of the 67 guilty votes needed for conviction.
In a break with tradition, Trump did not attend the inauguration of President Biden, becoming one of only seven presidents in U.S. history who did not attend their successor’s inauguration.