Donald Trump Makes the Humblest Racial Justice Humblebrag Ever

Says there's "nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have," and you'll love why.
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Says there's "nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have," and you'll love why.
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Donald Trump is still reaping the rewards of his temporary refusal to disavow the endorsement of David Duke and/or other white supremacists/Ku Klux Klan members. For example, on Tuesday morning, he took to GMA to claim that he's a pioneer for racial equality because his Palm Beach club isn't whites-only:

There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Florida, I built the Mar-a-Lago Club, totally open to everybody, a club that frankly set a new standard in clubs, and a new standard in Palm Beach, and I’ve gotten great credit for it. that is totally open to everybody.  

To quote Chris Rock, "What, you want a cookie?"

As is the case with many Trump claims, though, there's a kernel of truth and a large helping of self-aggrandizement to the story. Trump did, in fact, raise the issue of Palm Beach clubs discriminating against people, but earned a rebuke from the ADL for using the issue for personal gain, then also received a measure of credit in the final analysis. Read what The Wall Street Journal said, and judge for yourself:

But this is a town where until recently, city ordinance required that male joggers wear shirts. Residents bemoaned the rise of a culture in which consumption is meant to be conspicuous. Ten years ago, Mr. Sheeran estimates, about 65% of Palm Beach residents lived on trust money or inherited wealth. Today, he estimates, only about 25% do so. "This was a very graceful senior-citizen market," he says. "It was nice, clean people. Now, you have a lot of junk-bond money. The quality of the money is not pure."

Adds Shannon Donnelly, society writer for the Palm Beach Daily News: "I tend not to go to Mar-a-Lago." Gatherings there, she says, don't attract "a high-end social crowd. If they were high-end, they'd be at one of the other clubs." Besides, covering functions at Mar-a-Lago "would lend [Mr. Trump] credibility he doesn't deserve yet," she says.

Wanted: Doers

Mr. Trump, who still occupies a private wing of Mar-a-Lago, considers such sentiments the last gasps of a dying breed. "You have two groups here," he says, "the doers and those who inherited. Mar-a-Lago is composed of the doers. At the other clubs, you probably wouldn't recognize the [members'] names."

The culture clash began to approach a climax last fall, when Mr. Trump's lawyer sent members of the town council a copy of the film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," a film that deals with upper-class racism. Mr. Trump then approached the town council about lifting the restrictions that had been placed on the club. He also asked some council members not to vote on the request because their membership in other clubs created a conflict of interest.

Last December, after the council refused to lift the restrictions, Mr. Trump filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Palm Beach, alleging that the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago, in part because it is open to Jews and African-Americans. The suit seeks $100 million in damages.

The town denies the allegation and says it was merely deciding a zoning matter. (The Everglades Club denies that it discriminates in admissions; Palm Beach's other clubs generally decline to comment on Mr. Trump's allegations.)

The episode shook the Palm Beach establishment, unaccustomed to having its linen, dirty or not, aired publicly. Some organizations now find they have to tread lightly if they want to hold a function at Mar-a-Lago. When an arm of the Junior League of Palm Beach recently decided to hold a luncheon at the estate, organizers received incensed calls and letters from some members, though the luncheon kept to schedule and was well-attended.

Among the angry was Estelle Curran, a stalwart of the local social scene. "Mr. Trump has made so much trouble in this town," Ms. Curran says. "A lot of people feel that if we boycott the place, we won't help him make money."

Even the Anti-Defamation League in New York, which in a 1994 battle forced Palm Beach's Sailfish Club to open up its membership, was concerned that Mr. Trump was using the charge of anti-Semitism for his own mercantile ends. The league's national director, Abraham Foxman, met with Mr. Trump soon after to air his concerns. According to Mr. Foxman, Mr. Trump agreed to modify his claims to allege only that the town council has treated Mar-a-Lago unfairly, compared with other clubs in town.

Beneath the Glitter

Now, Mr. Foxman seems pleased that Mr. Trump has elevated the issue of discriminatory policies at social clubs. "He put the light on Palm Beach," Mr. Foxman says. "Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact."

In recent weeks, Mr. Foxman says, the league has received calls from Jewish residents telling of how Palm Beach clubs are changing. Locals concur that in the past year, organizations such as the Bath and Tennis Club have begun to admit Jewish patrons. The Palm Beach Civic Association, which for many years was believed to engage in discriminatory behavior, this month named a Jewish resident as its chief officer.

Mr. Trump's critics credit a more general social evolution. "You see gradual change, changes in attitudes," says Frank Chopin, lawyer for the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.