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Trump & the 21st Century American Family

Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chief | CC BY 2.0

When history looks back at Donald Trump’s role as president, he may be most noted for the fact that he ushered in the 21st century American family. Numerous presidents have had a sexual affair(s) while in office, one need only recall John Kennedy, George Bush I and Bill Clinton; only one president was divorced, Ronald Reagan.  Say goodbye to the 20thcentury.

Trump is now in his third marriage and fathered a child while engaged in an adulterous affair with future wife #2.  While he’s turned the traditional family on its head, he garners much of his support from Americans claiming to be Christian conservatives, high-minded moralists.

Trump met his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and they married the following year.  During the early years of their marriage, they were regulars at Studio 54.  They were together until 1992 and are parents of Trump’s three oldest children.  In a much-publicized exposé, the former Mrs. Trump accused — then denied – that her then-husband sexually assaulted her.

While his first marriage was collapsing, the future president had an affair with Marla Maples, a 26-year-old model-actress, who became pregnant with their one child before they married.  While having their affair, Trump kept Maples tucked-away at Manhattan’s swank St. Moritz hideaway.

Trump’s current wife, Melania, embodies the 21st century version of the First Lady as the “good wife,” combining Jackie Kennedy’s repressed poise with Marilyn Monroe’s inviting sexuality.  The mother of 11-year-old Barron, she once posed nude for GQ and a French men’s magazine; in July 2016, the New York Post, a Murdoch-controlled tabloid, published on its cover page a nude shot of the future First Lady.  Before marrying the future president, she worked as an illegal alien.  According to an AP story, she “was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the United States worth $20,056 that occurred in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country.”

Melania is the president’s third wife and they were married in 2005.  Their marriage signifies the profound change in postmodern marriage.  Once upon a time, a man and woman married; they were of the same race and shared the same religious belief; they became husband and wife, had a couple of kids and stayed together in suburbia until death-do-they-part.  For an increasing number of Americans, this model is over.

Trump’s numerous marriages is no longer an exception; the reputed two dozen cases pending regarding his sexual abuse of women are on-going.  Half of all marriages end in divorce and marriage itself is at the lowest rate since at least 1920.  However, re-marriage is on the rise.  Pew Research reports that in 2013, nearly one-quarter (23%) of all married people had been married before, compared with just 13 percent in 1960.

In a 2015 study, Pew found that the “two-parent household is at the lowest point in more than half a century.”  In 1960, nearly nine-out-of-ten families (89%) were rooted in such a household; since then, such households have shrunk by one-quarter to 69 percent.  Today, about one-third of American families are living a new form of family identity.

The old-fashion “nuclear family” is giving way to new forms of family life that’s been called the “blended” or “complex” family.  New family formations include single-parent (mostly female), same-sex (both male and female) and multigenerational (with children and grandparents) units.  Compounding this, there’s been an increase in multi-dimensional families distinguished by the mixing of parents from different racial, ethnic, national or religious backgrounds as well as with adopted and foster children.

The Census Bureau reports that in 2016 there were 82.2 million families in the U.S. and they come in all complexions and complexities.  About 40 percent (34.8 million) had children under 18 years and, of these, 8.5 million were mother-only and 2.5 million were father-only families.  Adding another dimension to complexity, nearly 2 million (1.96 mil) families consist of two or more races.  In addition, in 2010, approximately 594,000 same-sex couple households lived in the U.S., representing about 1 percent of all couple households.

Pew corroborates the Census Bureau findings, noting “the decline in children living in two-parent families has been offset by an almost threefold increase in those living with just one parent—typically the mother.”  It adds, “Fully one-fourth (26%) of children younger than age 18 are now living with a single parent, up from just 9% in 1960 and 22% in 2000.”

In 2014, there were 116,814 adoptions in the U.S., nearly 30 percent of all live births.  Of the adopted children, 40 percent were through public adoptions, 45 percent private domestic adoptions and about 5 percent through international arrangements.  This data reflects Wm. Robert Johnston definitive analysis of U.S. adoptions and foster care compiled in August 2017.  The most disturbing feature of Johnston study is that there were 414,429 children in foster care in 2014, of which 108,189 were waiting for adoption.  What happens to the other 300,000 kids?; do they become “system babies,” swimming from foster care to juvenile detention to local jail and state prison?

Adoptions can be “open” or “closed” and are facilitated through a private attorney or social-service organization.  An open adoption allows the birth- and adoption-mothers to meet and personally share life experiences; once the child is born and the birth-mother cedes parental rights, the adoption mother is legally and experientially the mother.  Nevertheless, the two mothers and the child can – and often do – maintain ongoing contact.  A closed adoption is another kettle of fish.  The birth-mother’s identity is hidden as well as the child’s birth certificate; in New York, one can’t secure such vital information even after the child reaches 18 years.

Unfortunately, formal adoptions often come with significant costs.  Many prospective (white) parents are asked whether they are seeking a white child or are open to chance.  And chance covers a lot of ground, including a different race or nationality and physical/cognitive disabilities.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has moved aggressively to contain, if not halt, the transformation of the family – and sexual life in general.  One of Trump’s first actions in the renewed culture battle was signing an executive order reinstating the global ban on the discussion of abortion by individuals and organizations receiving federal funding for overseas medical projects.  He followed with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a conservative Appellate Court Justice from Denver, CO, to the Supreme Court. Republican Senators and Congress-members have introduced numerous bills to kill Planned Parenthood, restrict sex education, limit birth control programs and criminalize sexting.  In March, VP Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to roll back funding for clinics that provide contraception and other services in states that want to block the funding.

As the 21st century unfolds, the family is profoundly changing.  The post-WW-II recovery fostered the mythic, old-fashion “nuclear family” celebrated in such popular TV shows like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver.  For all Trump’s invocations to “Make America Great Again,” everyone knows those days are over.  The U.S. is restructuring in the wake of finance-driven globalization and nothing more dramatically reveals it than the changing nature of the American family – and Trump’s 21st century family.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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