Mary L Trump, the niece of United States President, Donald Trump, has neatly arranged all the hidden skeletons from the Trump family’s closet in the chapters of her explosive book, ‘Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man’ which was published on Tuesday.
The book, as is self-explanatory from the title, is about how Donald Trump became the man he is today. And, the answer, of course, Mary claims, lies in his dysfunctional family, and his loveless upbringing.
This book attempts an audacious flight and tries to explain Donald Trump’s personality traits -- his constant need to use hyperboles, his repeated assertions of how ‘everything is great’ despite the facts proving otherwise, his urge to lash out at those who deign to disobey him or worse still, abandon him, his stubbornness to deny his mistakes, or take responsibility and many other traits, that had often baffled the public (sometimes even his voters), media and his opponents in the past.
To Mary’s credit, she does succeed in deconstructing Donald Trump’s personality, and to understand the influences that shaped him. Partly because she is a psychologist, she maintains a clinically objective view in understanding his disorders, and insecurities that made him the way he is.
However, she is also, someone who had seen Trump up close, and had been at the receiving end of his unfair treatment, and therefore, her most caustic and scathing criticism of the US President are those in which she remembers him as his niece, as the daughter of Freddy (Donald's older brother) who was constantly humiliated by Donald, and his father (Fred Trump Sr).
“I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist — he meets all nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) — but the label gets us only so far,” Mary claims in the early pages of the book, adds that a case can also be made for the fact that he suffers from an antisocial personality disorder which can explain his ‘arrogance’ and utter ‘disregard for the rights of others’.
However, she does not stop there. In her diagnosis, she claims that her uncle suffers from a learning disorder, which has, for decades, interfered with ‘his ability to process information’ and also from dependent personality disorder, which is often marked by an individual’s inability to make decisions or take responsibility. She also propounds that he suffers from a caffeine-induced sleep disorder.
Despite such inferences, Mary as a psychologist is humane towards her uncle, sometimes even sympathetic. She dissects his childhood, and his psycho-pathologies with the sharpest scalpel, but not without empathy.
Taking her readers back to the time when her uncle was as young as two-and-a-half years, she explains how a constantly ailing, and emotionally detached mother, and a ‘sociopathic’ and a ‘bully’ as a father (Fred Trump Sr), left Donald Trump insecure and dealing with emotional abuse at a young age.
She uses anecdotes to establish, how Trump’s elder brother, and Mary’s father, Freddy (Fred Trump Jr), served as a cautionary tale for young Donald, as he often saw Freddy being humiliated and getting a smackdown from his father for not being a ‘Killer’.
Donald soon understood that the only the thing that would make him eligible for his father’s approval, and his validation, was to be that – a ‘Killer’, a brash go-getter, who is willing to bend rules, and get things done his way, even if it is at the cost of others.
Not to say, Donald didn’t have a natural knack for it. Mary recounts childhood tales of how Donald would torture and bully his younger brother, Rob, by hiding his Tonka trucks, and how he was always disrespectful to his mother, who was happy to get him off her back when he was sent to a military academy.
The book explains how Donald grew up with many daddy issues, and constantly craved his validation. Much like Donald, his father, Fred too had a propensity for showmanship.
Mary claims he too ‘trafficked’ in hyperbole and everything was “great,” “fantastic,” and “perfect” for him too. Fred also was very precocious about his branding and often inundated newspapers with press releases about his construction works.
He did not have much oratory skills, being from a German immigrant family (ironic, since Donald Trump constantly keeps making such strong policies against immigrants), but he did not miss an opportunity to plaster walls with ads of his properties.
Trump did inherit many of his father’s not-so-charming traits. For instance, when Trump would call women ‘ugly, and fat slobs' or call the men, who usually were more accomplished or powerful than him 'losers’, his father would often join in.
In fact, when Mary had expressed her desire to go back to college to complete her comparative literature course at Columbia, her grandfather had told her that it was a stupid idea and that she should just become a receptionist instead.
That kind of ‘casual dehumanization’ and derogation of women were common traits of both the father and the son. However, Donald took it much further, and that too at an early age.
Mary claims that when Donald set his eyes at Wharton Business School, and knew that he may not have had the grade point average to get enrolled in such an elite institution, he apparently enlisted ‘a smart kid with a reputation for being a good test taker’, Joe Shapiro, to take the SATs on his behalf.
While his advance academic foundation was build on duplicity, the book also recounts how Donald and his father both faced a Justice Department lawsuit because they refused to rent their buildings to black people.
However, one marked difference that sets Donald and his father Fred apart was that unlike Donald, Fred knew how to run a business, and was not drowning in debt, and he was indeed good at construction.
Mary describes that Donald, on the other hand was just busy building a fake image for himself that would make him a part of Manhattan’s elite and the act of a Billionaire playboy, and a self-made businessman was nothing but a charade. Fred, however, was not only impressed by this act of Donald, but was also financing it secretly.
Mary writes, “Fred was willing to stake millions of dollars on his son because he believed he could leverage the skills Donald did have — as a savant of self-promotion, shameless liar, marketer, and builder of brands — to achieve the one thing that had always eluded him: a level of fame that matched his ego and satisfied his ambition in a way money alone never could.”
Donald faced several bankruptcies, however, his self-promoting did not stop, and still continues to date as he holds the topmost rank in the United States government.
Now that Trump occupies the office of President, Mary says that it is harder than ever for him to project that he is qualified to do the job, especially with so many questions being raised after each of his bad decisions. He cannot also ever evade the sense that his win was illegitimate.
“Over Donald’s lifetime, as his failures mounted despite my grandfather’s repeated — and extravagant — interventions, his struggle for legitimacy, which could never be won, turned into a scheme to make sure nobody found out that he’s never been legitimate at all,” Mary states, adding that her uncle continues to exist in the ‘dark space between the fear of indifference and the fear of failure that led to his brother’s (Freddy) destruction.’
Mary’s book is as much about the other Trump, Freddy, as it is about Donald, and it is during the scenes and anecdotes about her father (Freddy) that she culls out from memory and recreates for her readers, when she sounds most sincere, almost a little hurt, wronged.
The wounded memory of seeing her father side-lined, constantly belittled and undermined by her grandfather and uncle Donald is palpable in the way she writes. Freddy was the elder son and the heir apparent of Fred Trump Sr’s vast business, but that never happened.
In the book, Mary shows how her grandfather (Fred Trump Sr) had systemically dismantled Freddy’s self-confidence and reduced him to a depressed, and miserable alcoholic, who died alone in the hospital, while her uncle and aunt went to the movies. The memory of how she was told of her father’s death, is indeed painful to read.
She is a gifted writer, who effortlessly recreates the past from interviews, conversations and relayed memories as she joins the pieces to paint a portrayal of Donald Trump, that is not only uncomfortable to look at, but also makes you think.