If irony wasn’t already dead, the greatest irony of the legal maneuverings by President Donald Trump and his siblings to block publication of their niece’s new book would be their claim that she’s only in it for the money.
If she is, that’s the Trumpiest thing about her.
Mary Trump is a psychologist and the daughter of the late Frederick Crist “Freddy” Trump, eldest of the five Trump siblings. In Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, she examines the emotional dynamics of Donald Trump’s upbringing and career. But she also brings the receipts about some of the dirty financial dealings that are a family tradition, making clear that in pretty much every situation, the Trumps are in it for the money, even if they have to cheat other Trumps to get it.
The book opens with the author’s account of a family birthday party for her aunts, Maryanne Trump Barry and Elizabeth Trump Grau, at the White House in April of 2017. Mary had long been estranged from most of the family, after she and her brother, Fritz, sued them over their grandfather’s estate in 1999.
She hadn’t taken her uncle’s campaign seriously, or supported him, and she was stunned when he became president. The party was her first encounter with him in years, and it didn’t give her any hope he’d rise to the demands of the job.
Gesturing to his son Eric’s wife, Trump told Mary, “Lara, there, I barely even knew who the f--- she was, honestly, but then she gave a great speech during the campaign in Georgia supporting me.” At the time, Eric and Lara had been together for about eight years.
That utter self-involvement is just one of her uncle’s symptoms, Mary Trump writes as she runs through a whole array of psychological disorders that could apply to him. She acknowledges that countless pundits have “diagnosed” her uncle, but she is the only one who can bring both personal and professional knowledge to bear.
“The fact is,” she writes, “Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. At this point, we can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.”
Mary shows her uncle no mercy, but the real villain of the book is her grandfather, Fred Trump. A workaholic developer, he made a fortune mainly by using government loans to build what we’d now call affordable housing in Brooklyn. Mary Trump acknowledges his success but considers him “a high-functioning sociopath” who emotionally and psychologically abused his five children, especially sons Freddy and Donald. Fred’s wife, Mary McLeod Trump, suffered a severe postpartum infection after her last pregnancy that left her in poor health for the rest of her life. For about six months when Donald was a toddler, the five kids were essentially motherless while she was hospitalized.
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Freddy was first the golden boy, but as he grew up and chafed at following his father into the business, Fred savagely rejected and criticized him. Freddy’s brief happy career as an airline pilot was sabotaged by Fred, and Mary recounts his wretched decline into divorce, alcoholism and death at age 42. He was living with his parents by then, and they waited for three weeks before getting him medical help. When he died in the hospital, he was alone. Donald had gone to the movies.
Fred had long ago pivoted from laid-back, sensitive Freddy to belligerent, self-aggrandizing Donald as his favorite son. Mary reveals that Donald was sent off to military school at age 13 because neither his private school nor his mother could deal with his bullying and brawling; she also notes Donald later paid a friend to take his SATs.
Fred, however, came to see Donald’s aggression as an asset he could use. In Mary Trump’s description, Donald became his father’s front man, playing the brash mogul while Fred really ran the business and made the money. When Donald actually did try to run things, as he did in Atlantic City, disaster ensued — and Donald blamed others.
After Freddy’s death, Fred and his surviving children repeatedly schemed to cut Mary Trump and her brother out of the family fortune, carving up what would have been Freddy’s share for themselves. When Fred died, Mary and Fritz learned they had been cut from his will entirely, leading to their lawsuit and an undisclosed settlement.
In one of the book’s most eye-opening chapters, Mary reveals that she was the source for much of the information in the New York Times’ massive 2018 exposé “revealing the long litany of potentially fraudulent and criminal activities my grandfather, aunts, and uncles had engaged in.”
So why write her memoir now, after a lifetime of being ostracized and cheated by her family? It’s no longer just personal. The book’s epilogue focuses on the president’s failure to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a failure Mary Trump attributes to his overwhelming fear of showing weakness and his complete lack of empathy.
“While thousands of Americans die alone,” she writes, “Donald touts stock market gains. As my father lay dying alone, Donald went to the movies. If he can in any way profit from your death, he’ll facilitate it, and then he’ll ignore the fact that you died.”
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
By Mary L. Trump
Simon & Schuster, 225 pages, $28