Citizen Trump: The parallels between Citizen Kane and Donald Trump

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One, a billionaire whose words are read by and influence millions. The other, Charles Foster Kane. On the face of it, there don’t appear to be a lot of parallels between Donald Trump and the eponymous Citizen Kane. Just for starters, the former exists, while the other is a fictional character portrayed by Orson Welles. But how do they measure up? We pit ‘The Donald’ against ‘America’s Kublai Khan’…

Firstly, we’ll discuss their families, starting with Mr Kane. He was married twice, firstly to the niece of a President, Emily Norton. While this marriage was initially happy, resulting in the birth of their son, Charles Jr, their marriage disintegrates as shown through a series of increasingly terse exchanges around the dining table as Kane becomes obsessed with his work. It eventually collapses after his supposed affair with his soon-to-be second wife, Susan Alexander. This is even less harmonious than the first marriage, with Kane seeking to mould her into an Opera Singer, even building a Chicago Opera House specifically for her to open. She too leaves him, fracturing Kane’s psyche as he loses his last ounces of control over others. On Trump’s side, he has been married three times, to Ivana Zelníčková, then Marla Maples; both ending in divorce, and now to Melania Knauss, resulting in 5 children across these marriages. The Trump family can also be partly thanked for that staple of school science experiments, the Van de Graaf generator. Though not invented by him, Dr. John Trump, Donald’s Uncle, worked alongside de Graaf and co-founded a company to produce them.

While it is difficult to assess them in terms of family, Kane comes out clearly ahead on the money side. While Forbes recently estimated Donald Trump’s wealth at around $3.5 billion, Kane’s would be many times higher. At the time of his maturity in the 1880s, he is said to possess the world’s sixth-largest fortune, which would put his fortune somewhere in the hundreds of billions in today’s money, behind people such as John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. Even after the impacts of the Great Depression, he is still wealthy enough to continue to expand his vast art collection. An interesting similarity between both Kane and Trump comes in the establishment of their family fortunes, which initially came on the back of running boarding houses. Kane’s mother ran a boarding house, and received the deeds for an apparently worthless mine that happened to be rich in gold in lieu of payment for a stay. Trump’s grandfather and grandmother, Frederick and Elizabeth, ran boarding houses and restaurants in Seattle, but also for miners during the Klondike Gold Rush; making them wealthy. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth expanded their holdings, founding Elizabeth Trump & Son, the real estate business that provides the Trump family wealth to this day.

Despite these similar beginnings, their businesses have diversified in very different directions. Donald Trump’s business, named The Trump Organisation since 1971, owns everything from the towers that bear his name, to shares in a diverse array of stocks and shares in companies like Apple and Boeing. Among his more unusual business interests, his company runs the famous Central Park carousel, as featured in works such as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘The Punisher’, along with an ice rink at the same location. The company also has the rights to his name, leasing the rights to various towers around the world and, at one point or another, to products as diverse as Vodka, a line of steaks and a magazine. Kane, on the other hand, was very much a media man. With his wealth established through the world’s third richest gold mine, he then established a newspaper empire; buying everything one might require to do so. He owned forests and paper mills to make his raw materials, allowing the production of thirty-seven different newspapers in his own factories. He also owned two news syndicates and a radio station for further dissemination of his news, along with apartments, grocery stores and ocean liners. He was forced to sell or close many of these during the Great Depression, suggesting that the Trump Organisation’s annual revenue of $9.5 billion would probably have eclipsed his, at least at the end.

Speaking of Kane’s media empire, it is worth mentioning that both Trump and Kane are very much associated with the ubiquitous Fake News. When one of his reporters on the scene tells him that there is no war in Cuba, Kane replies that he’ll ‘provide the war’, almost a direct lift of a supposed quote from Kane’s inspiration, William Randolph Hearst, ‘you furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war’. This is an example of yellow journalism, or tabloid journalism as it is more likely known in the UK, where lurid headlines and stories drive the sales of the paper. Similarly, fake news is where a story has no basis in fact but is sensational enough to interest the public at large. While the term has become heavily associated with Trump, he did not invent it. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it dates back to at least 1890, and the closely related false news was being used in 1575. Strangely enough, Trump wasn’t even the first to use it in the US 2016 Presidential Election, with Hilary Clinton using it to refer to the so-called ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory. Trump would use it for the first time about a month later, in January 2017. According to the New York Times, he made at least one misleading claim for ninety-one of his first ninety-nine days in office. While Kane had a powerful influence in America, as does Trump, the latter can also affect views in the world at large, making him a much more prominent voice in debates on a range of issues.

With such large influences, it is no surprise that both men would embark on political careers. Kane began his by marrying into the political elite through his first wife, thus gaining the support of the Establishment. He then proceeded to try and be elected Governor of New York against Jim Gettys, a political boss. He was initially far ahead in the polls, buoyed by the use of his media empire to guide public opinion, and as the voiceover suggests, it was likely to be the first step towards the White House. However, after Gettys discovers Kane’s relationship with Susan Alexander, he tries to blackmail him to drop out of the race. With Kane refusing to do so, he loses the election as the other papers gleefully report against him, suffering a significant dent to his influence in the process. Trump, therefore, has made his political career much more of a success than Kane. While Kane ran as an independent, Trump has been affiliated to many parties over the years, beginning as a Democrat, to Republican and back again, switching between parties until settling on Republican in 2012. Of course, we all know that he entered the 2016 Presidential Election and won, to the surprise of pretty much everybody. His rapid rise to power has not been matched by his popularity; though he has increased his position from tenth most admired person in America in 1988 to 2nd in 2017, his average approval ratings remain the lowest in the Gallup poll dating back to 1937.

Finally, it is said that a man’s home is his castle, something truer for these two men than others. Trump’s private penthouse apartment in the Trump Tower is alone worth around $64 million, with the tower as a whole worth about $253 million, according to Forbes. In addition, he also owns the Mar-a-Lago estate and another in Bedminster, New Jersey, with numerous other properties around the world. Kane is far and away the victor however, with his Xanadu estate. Named after the capital of Kublai Khan’s Empire, the original was described by Marco Polo as ‘a very fine marble palace… gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts’, around which a park lies. Kane took this to heart, building his gothic mansion from twenty-thousand tonnes of marble atop a purpose-built mountain covered with some hundred-thousand trees. In the grounds, he had a menagerie described as the ‘biggest private zoo since Noah’, with two of many different animal species, along with many other attractions, its cost incalculable. Inside, his collection of art, particularly sculpture, is described as being enough to fill ten museums. Even within his lifetime, the immense scale of the estate means it is already beginning to decay and crumble away.

To conclude, both Kane and Trump are figures who wield an immense amount of power. While Kane may have more money than Trump, he never achieved the reach that the latter can, afforded in part by social media. Both are arguably ‘winners’ in their respective era, but with figures like these, are there really any winners at all?