Has Any President Ever Been as Despised in his Hometown as Donald Trump?

Donald Trump
People participate in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Imagine knowing your hometown hates you so much that more than 400,000 of its residents will march to your front door just to get the message across.

There's one New Yorker who doesn't need to imagine. Last Saturday—Donald Trump's first full day as president—the scene outside his window was like the boombox scene in Say Anything..., except instead of John Cusack holding a boombox it was nearly half a million women holding signs with slogans like "Eat shit, Trump."

Trump's two primary residences—midtown Manhattan, where he has lived for thirty-something years, and downtown Washington, D.C., where he has lived for seven days—became sites of enormous, sprawling protest. The main event was in Washington: More than half a million people descended on the National Mall for the women's march. The gathering easily engulfed the size of Trump's own inauguration one day prior, with mothers and daughters and their allies traveling from as far as Iowa or San Francisco to march. It was the largest inaugural protest in U.S. history, and it generated satellite marches across the country and the world (even Antarctica!).

But let’s focus on the march in Manhattan, which served as the visual embodiment of an obvious but rarely discussed fact: The 45th president of the United States is utterly despised in his own hometown.

In fact, hating Donald Trump has long been a pastime in this city. "To native New Yorkers, he is more like a burr under the skin that has been irritating us for years," wrote Joyce Purnick back in 2011. (With equal parts fondness and disgust, she recalled the days when he was just "the neighborhood hellion" in Queens.) Trump is a New York institution in the way that Times Square or cronuts are New York institutions: irritating cultural signifiers that are both ubiquitous and roundly mocked by New Yorkers for their unbridled tackiness. Except cronuts aren’t running the country. At last weekend's march, decades of distaste culminated in massive demonstrations. Protesters thronged Fifth Avenue in such high concentration that it took 20 minutes just to walk a block. Among the more colorfully worded signs I spotted: "Eat shit, Trump"; "He's got 65,844,954 problems & this bitch is one"; "President Dump"; "I used to like Cheetos"; "Impeach the Cheat-O”; “NYC will never accept you”; and “Kiss my Muslim ass.”

It takes a lot to get New Yorkers to congregate outside en masse in the middle of January for something other than Hamilton tickets. But Trump's town hates him that much. As it stands, the president of the United States could not conceivably win a race to be mayor of his own city.

That's not some accidental blip. It's not a small thing. It's unprecedented (or "unpresidented," to use the president's most Freudian misspelling): Trump's base of support is almost nonexistent in the city where he has spent most of his life, the city where he built his business brand and began slapping his name on gaudy skyscrapers the way dogs piss on trees. The voting figures support this: Trump received less than 10 percent of the vote in Manhattan, the borough he calls home. He fared somewhat better in Queens, where he was born and raised, but still couldn't win over more than 21.99 percent of voters. Citywide, he received 461,174 votes to Hillary Clinton's 1,969,920. "Theoretically, he could have fit everybody who voted for him in Manhattan into Jacob Javits Center if he'd have got there before Hillary," the historian Doug Wead says. (This is not an exaggeration.)

There are all the usual reasons for this: New York City is quite liberal; Trump ran as a Republican. New York is a city of immigrants; Trump ran on an aggressive platform of scapegoating immigrants. But this goes beyond the usual. The mayor of New York has already threatened to sue the federal government over Trump's intended crackdown on 'sanctuary cities.' Simply wearing a Trump hat in downtown Manhattan is enough to draw weird stares. For some locals, the anti-Trump cocoon is a measure of comfort: "Trump may have America," New York Magazine heralded in a December cover story (which recounted scenes of "bleary-eyed nods" and hugs between strangers on November 9), "but the city is still ours."

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Has any president been so despised in his hometown? I posed the question to two presidential historians (both named Doug), but neither could think of anything really comparable.

"Franklin Roosevelt was from Dutchess County—Hyde Park, New York—and they voted against him every time he was president," Douglas Brinkley, the author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America, tells me. "I was always a little astounded that he couldn't carry his own village. It's Republican, just like New York's Democratic." But there wasn't much deep-rooted animosity there. Eleanor Roosevelt, in a 1944 diary entry, recalled being told by the district's Democratic supervisor that "in spite of the fact that they vote against him, all his neighbors love him."

Doug Wead, a former special assistant to George H. W. Bush, offers a more recent example. Bush liked to play up his image as a Texan, but he had a longtime family residence in Kennebunkport, Maine, and in 1992 lost the state of Maine to Clinton. "Nobody paid any attention," Wead says. "Nobody from Newsweek called." Yet these days, the Bush family is "well-liked" up in Kennebunkport, according to The Washington Post. (Wead has to think back much further to find another example—all the way to biblical times. "I mean, when Jesus was alive, he already said it was a proverb that a prophet is without honor in his own land. So it's not a totally freakish idea that somebody would be despised and unpopular in his own city." Trump is a prophet!)

Trump People participate in a Women's March to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump in New York City, U.S. January 21, 2017. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Trump, Jesus, whatever—these are deviations from the norm. Most presidents are popular in their home territory. When I traveled to more than 30 presidential hometowns and birthplaces for a project several years ago, I was surprised to find that even unpopular or widely disliked presidents tend to be adored in their hometowns. In the tiny quaker city of West Branch, Iowa, Herbert Hoover is revered for his humanitarian work and small-town roots. Vermont has lots of affection for Calvin Coolidge, a president who is basically best remembered for knowing when to stop talking. And I found proud defenders of Richard Nixon's honor in Yorba Linda, California.

Meanwhile, Trump's support thrives in states that are as far removed from Manhattan culturally as they are spatially. It has become a cliché to decry Trump-bashing liberals as "out-of-touch elites," "coastal elites"—choose your preferred label of scorn. What sometimes gets obscured in this discussion is the extent to which Trump is, geographically speaking, the literal embodiment of New York elitism: The man lives in a massive penthouse apartment covered with 24K gold; this apartment occupies several floors of a 5th Avenue skyscraper with the president's name all over it. That working class voters in the South and Midwest decided this New York-bred billionaire best represents their interests still feels like some bizarre fluke of history and timing.

Trump's background (and wealth) makes him a presidential anomaly in more ways than one. For a long time, the conventional route to the presidency was to become a senator or governor in one's home state first. Trump has no prior political experience—in New York or otherwise—so currying favor on his home turf was hardly a necessity. (He probably knew he could not win his home state: New York has not gone for a GOP candidate since Reagan in 1984.) Trump's urban background is also unusual: Most presidents have hailed from more rural or provincial settings (Bill Clinton's Hope, Arkansas, for example, or Reagan's upbringing in northern Illinois). Only one other president was born and raised in New York City: Teddy Roosevelt.

Any given city's political leanings can influence likeability. "If you're a conservative and you live in Los Angeles, you're not going to be liked," says Brinkley. "If you're a conservative and you live in Chicago, you're not going to be liked. I think Trump is different because he was disliked before [New Yorkers] knew whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. He was disliked because he carried around him a cloud that he wasn't good to do business with."

Maybe when we're all dead and gone, New York will come around to Trump. Maybe his presidential library will be here, and a museum for his boyhood home and another museum for his tweets. Until then, the message is clear: CITY TO TRUMP: DROP DEAD.