Coal miners and islanders: the ancestral roots of Trump and Clinton

By Charlotte Mitchell

With immigration taking centre stage in the US election, we untangle the branches of the two main candidate’s family trees.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, this we all know. He fears that rapists, drug-traffickers and even Middle Easterners are flooding into the country from its southern neighbour.

Hillary Clinton has no such fears. She plans to tackle the problem of the United States’ large illegal immigrant population through more traditional means, namely immigration reforms that would make it easier to gain legal citizenship. Although their policies differ, there is at least one thing that Trump and Clinton have in common: they are both the children of immigrants.

Considering Trump has twice been married to women born outside the United States his hard line policy proposals on immigration appear slightly ironic. Irony only amplified by the history of his own mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, who emigrated to the United States aged 17 from the Scottish Isle of Lewis.

Trump has made several visits to Scotland where he has opened a set of controversial golf courses. His relationship with his mother’s homeland is somewhat ambivalent; he told The Telegraph in 2015 that he has “done so much for Scotland” through his business ventures. However later that same year, following his comment that Muslims should be banned from entering the US, Trump was deemed “no longer fit” to represent Scotland and was stripped of his ambassadorial role and his honorary degree from a local university.

More recently, an “Isle of Lewis supports Trump for president” Facebook page has cropped up, resulting in much back and forth between its creator and islanders who do not support the candidate.

The talk show host, John Oliver, drew attention to Trump’s German ancestry with a campaign launched on his show, Last Week Tonight, where he asked viewers to “Make Donald Drumpf again”. This referred to a previous spelling of the candidate’s surname, which evolved into ‘Trump’ more than 100 years ago. Trump’s great-grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf, travelled to the United States and upon his death left behind earnings which allowed his widow and son, Fred Jr, Trump’s father, to build the Trump empire.

Having graduated from the prestigious Yale Law School and served as of First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton is rarely thought of as the embodiment of the American dream. But trace back just two generations and you find records of Clinton’s ancestors working in the Welsh coal mining industry.

Clinton does not often emphasise her Welsh, English, Scottish, French-Canadian and Dutch heritage, tending instead to focus on the influence her American born mother has had on her outlook. Dorothy Howell Rodham was brought up in a turbulent household. During her childhood she frequently moved schools and shifted from her parents’ unhappy home to the no-more-welcoming home of her grandparents.

She left home at 14, taking on a position as a cook and nanny for a family who encouraged her to educate herself. Rodham later moved to Chicago and supported herself with office work, becoming a full-time housewife following marriage and the birth of her children. Clinton has frequently reflected on how her mother’s upbringing inspired her interest in social programmes and education.

It is not clear to what degree Trump and Clinton’s ancestry may influence their policies if elected. Both candidates are savvy enough to adapt how they present themselves to suit their audience: all-American one day, the product of a long history of migration the next. Their vastly different approaches to immigration are shaped not by personal nostalgia, but by their individual styles as politicians; Trump as a swashbuckling sensationalist, and Clinton the PC pragmatist. Soon, America will have to decide between the wall and the reforms…and would-be immigrants all over the world will be watching.

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