On January 20th, Donald Trump will exit the White House and his presidency will end. Although the legal battles and the threats of a slow-moving coup are still in the air, it’s almost certain the Joe Biden will be inaugurated that same date. The siege of the Capitol building on January 6 was once again a demonstration that nothing is sacred for Trump and that he does not understand —or does not care— about limits.
A lot of ink has been spilled on the figure of Donald Trump. His presidency came as a shock in 2016, beating the odds and starting a chain of events that included the rise of white nationalist groups, the implementation of horrific immigration policies, the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and many other outrageous acts. Trump has been considered a sociopath, a fraud, a wannabe dictator that sympathizes with other strongmen, and a conman that got away with everything while in the oval office.
The list of books highlighting Trump and his presidency is long, from bestsellers by veteran Washington journalist, Bob Woodward, to former White House employees, like Omarosa and John Bolton, and even Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen. One would think that another Trump book will be unnecessary, but as publisher Simon & Schuster have shown, they keep coming and shedding more light on the phenomenon known as Donald Trump.
The latest book by the publisher that was bought by Random House proves to be potent, and probably, one of the best ones of the series. Mary L. Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough (Simon & Schuster, 2020), is a deep dive into the family history of the Trumps, and Donald himself. Being the niece of the president gives her a certain insight that many pundits and journalists lack when trying to understand him. Add to the fact that she’s a psychologist, and you have an account that not only builds upon the history of wealth, business dealings, and public image of the family but also into the deep psyche of the personalities, pathologies, and sheer character that shaped it.
Mary L. Trump’s father was Fred Trump Jr., the firstborn of Fred Trump, the patriarch of the family. Fred Jr. was believed to be the heir of the real state company that Fred Trump Sr. founded with his mother in 1927. But it was at once clear that Fred Jr. wanted other things. He went to the ROTC, graduated from college, and got his pilot license –he was one of the first pilots to fly Boeings in the 1960s. To the eyes of any regular human being, these are great achievements for a son to carry out, but, this is Donald Trump’s family we’re talking about here…
For Mary, to understand the rise of Donald Trump and the later downfall of his father, you first must look at how Fred Trump managed the family. Mary Trump, Donald’s mother, had health problems after Robert Trump, the youngest of the family, was born. She had several surgeries and was in-and-out of the hospital for various months. Already taking care of her oldest children, Freddy, Maryann, and Elizabeth, the health problems that Mary accumulated made it almost impossible to take care of Donald and Robert. “During and after her surgeries, Mary’s absence –both literal and emotional– created a void on the lives of her children,” explains Mary L. Trump.
As she became absent, the family duties rested upon Fred Trump, who was allergic to parenting. He was an old-standard misogynist that “believed that dealing with young children was not his job and kept to his twelve-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week job at Trump management.” Because her mother was absent, Donald and his brother, Robert, needed double the attention. His father disapproved of such behavior, relegating his two sons when they were the most vulnerable at the time. Mary L. Trump expands:
Fred’s parenting style actually exacerbated the negative effects of Mary’s absence. As a result of it, his children were isolated not just from the rest of the world but from one another. From then on it would become increasingly difficult for the siblings to find solidarity with other human beings, which is one of the reasons Freddy’s brothers and sisters ultimately failed him; standing up for him, even helping him, would have risked their father’s wrath.
Fred did not care what were the goals or wishes of his children, he simply cared about accumulating wealth and keeping afloat Trump Management. With his attention in business, Donald’s behavior was let loose. He terrorized his youngest brother, Robert, and even pushed back against his father (Fred permitted such behavior because of his “big fish eats smaller fish” mentality). Donald’s behavior became so chaotic at school that even Fred was pressured to send him to military school. Trump had his father pushed everything out of the way, to the extent that he did not do any of his assignments at school. (Mary shows that Donald found a “smart kid”, Joe Shapiro, to take his college entrance exams.)
Mary L. Trump’s answer for these developments at a young age almost sounds like an apology than an answer: “Fred destroyed Donald, too, but not by snuffing him out as he did Freddy; instead, he short-circuited Donald’s ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion.”
Of course, these were harmless actions by Donald, compare to his doings when getting into Trump Management. He bulldozed through his older brother (ranking higher in the hierarchy of the family), Freddy, and was at the top of many projects at a relatively young age; he humiliated his brother at every opportunity, in coordination with his father. This finally brought Freddy to the world of alcohol, depression, and finally, death (at the age of 43).
Although these are interesting insights into the Trump family dynamic, the great parts of the book are in the latter half of it. It creates a window into a frantic family, loyal and at the mercy of the judgment of Fred Trump —and later Donald— ready to push those who threaten the hierarchy that keeps the money coming. The details would make this review 5,000 words long. Because this must be short, I’m only going to mention some nuggets that made me spit my beer several times while reading.
Like the way the Trump family blockaded Mary L. Trump’s nephew from much-needed healthcare for chronic disease because of the last will dispute; or how they basically made Mary’s mother come at every Thanksgiving while basically relegating her to oblivion in the same roof; or how Fred Trump kept the cash flowing for his son’s business failings, going to the extent of getting arrested for exchanging an excessive amount of gambling chips from one of his Atlantic City casinos. (As the LA Times reported at the time: “his lawyer, bought 700 gray gambling chips without intending to gamble. The purchase of the $5,000 chips gave the casino enough cash for an $18.4-million interest payment.)
The problem that one could find in Mary Trump’s book is the lack of analysis in the system in general. Yes, the way Trump was brought may have contributed to his current actions. Still, is too simple such a view. The Freudian analysis does not help when understanding a press that, as the book showed, was an accomplice of his self-promotion. Moreover, it does not explain how a system that privileges wealth and the accumulation of it created the monstrosity (to borrow Nathan J. Robinson’s book title on Trump) that now threatens democracy.
Overall, Mary L. Trump’s vengeance (book) is a thrilling journey that does not leave the reader with a more humane portrait of Donald Trump, but a grim and horrifying view of the whole Trump family.
* * * * *
A review of Mary L. Trump, Too Much & Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Simon & Schuster, 2020).
Embed from Getty Images