If Home Is Where the Heart Is, Donald Trump Has No Home

When Trump talks about housing, something very important is missing: empathy

The Justice Department sued Donald Trump when he worked for his father's company for refusing to rent to African Americans. Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

He had one job. Literally one job.

All Donald Trump had to do Monday night was act like a normal, polite, decent human being for 90 minutes. We knew he wasn't going to delve deep into policy. We knew he'd avoid answering hard questions. But if he had just held it together for an hour and a half, he would have received undeserved praise across the spectrum for clearing a bar so low it was practically underground.

But he failed even at that. Instead he spent the first debate flailing, sputtering, whining and interrupting every time Hillary Clinton attacked him. One of those interruptions early in the debate stood out in particular:

Clinton: "In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money. Well, it did collapse."

Trump: "That's called business, by the way."

During the debate, Trump lied several times about past statements he made. He said he didn't support the war in Iraq – he did. He claimed he never said climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese – he did.

But he didn't dispute saying he rooted for the collapse of the housing market. Instead, he used it as an opportunity not only to interrupt Clinton but to brag about his business acumen. To Donald Trump, swooping in like a vulture as millions upon millions of people lost their homes is a reason Americans should put him in the White House instead of a reason we should spit at his feet.

In a debate full of fuck-ups, this was the moment that revealed the real Trump: the man with literally no empathy for a family who's been kicked out of their home because a predatory bank sold them a mortgage they couldn't afford. Trump doesn't see the connection ordinary people feel with their homes. For most of us, where we live is the center of our lives. For Trump, our houses are an opportunity to eke a little profit out of someone else's suffering.

This wasn't the only time housing came up Monday night – there was another key exchange on the subject. "Donald started his career back in 1973 being sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination," Clinton said. "Because he would not rent apartments in one of his developments to African Americans."

Again, Trump didn't dispute the facts of the matter: The Justice Department did sue him when he worked for his father's company for refusing to rent to African Americans. (His employees reportedly marked applications with a "C" for "colored" when prospective black tenants applied.) Instead, Trump pointed out the DOJ brought suits against a lot of firms – yes, there was still plenty of housing discrimination in the early Seventies – and said, "We settled the suit with zero – with no admission of guilt."

Have you ever noticed how many news stories about lawsuits against big companies mention the settlement didn't include an admission of guilt? Have you ever for a moment believed that means the company didn't do what it was accused of?

Trump, who has claimed that he doesn't settle lawsuits, settled this one (and many others). And even without the official admission of guilt, his record of discrimination has been well reported. The facts are clear: Trump kept people who were black and brown from renting apartments in his father's complexes, displaying a deep cynicism and a basic failure of decency that has marked his entire career, up to and including his campaign for president.

His decision to tell people You can't build a home here because of the color of their skin tells you almost everything you need to know about Donald Trump. His continuing failure to show regret or remorse shows you the rest.

Trump's primary residence is an enormous, gaudy apartment in a building that bears his name in large gold letters. His second is a giant Florida mansion that also serves as a private club and resort for the wealthy and famous. Neither looks anything like the kinds of places the vast majority of Americans call home. His Trump Tower penthouse looks especially unlivable. It's more like a museum of bad taste than anything you’d call a home. I can't help but wonder if Trump can't sympathize with Americans who lost their houses in the crash – with victims of housing discrimination – because he doesn't know what it’s like to have an emotional connection to the place where he lives.

But armchair psychology aside, what matters is Trump's record. He profited off suffering. He discriminated against people of color and refuses to take responsibility. A president's policies can have a profound effect on millions of Americans' ability to keep their homes, a lesson we learned the hard way in 2008. Can we trust Donald Trump to do the right thing – or even to care?

Donald Trump admitted that he's "paid nothing in federal taxes" during the first presidential debate: "That makes me smart."