The full title of Mary Trump’s book is Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and here, the truth is no matter how many shows I’ve seen about dysfunctional, obscenely wealthy families, none of them quite line up with the cruelty and corruption of the Trump family. It makes the Roys from HBO’s Succession look like the Waltons.
The granddaughter of Fred Trump and niece of Donald Trump writes a family history, one to help readers understand a little better why the President of the United States is the way he is. What made him this way? Why does he lie daily? Why is he incapable of empathy for anyone else?
It really begins with Fred Trump, a shrewd and successful businessman who made most of this fortune thanks to grants and loans from the federal government. He also viewed everything through the prism of money. He left the raising of his children to his wife Mary, and she had too many issues of her own to be very good at it, not to mention she would bow to whatever Fred wanted when he interjected. You get the view of a house where children are pitted against each other and never receive love or praise unless it’s reinforcing what Fred values, which is toughness, cruelty, and a willingness to say anything to get ahead.
The Trumps had five children. Maryanne, Freddie, Elizabeth, Donald, and Rob. Fred took the most interest in Freddie, whom he tried to groom to succeed him, but Freddie was too kind-hearted to survive under Fred’s merciless berating. Donald had the advantage of being seven years younger, so he could observe how his father treated Freddie. But it also made me sympathize with little-boy Donald, the one that needed a caregiver to teach him compassion and kindness, and neither parent could provide that. Kindness is a weakness to the Trumps.
Mary Trump is Freddie’s daughter, and she paints a portrait of a good man who tried, but he was utterly destroyed by a father he could never please, and in part by a younger brother who learned that being a bully only helped him worm his way into becoming their father’s favorite. Freddie didn’t like the family business, and he wanted to be a pilot. Mary lets her readers feel how crushing it must have been for Freddie when Fred and Donald dismissed him as a “bus driver in the sky.”
Really, by the time he was ten, it was apparent Donald was going to be a terrible human being, but that’s what Fred wanted. He wanted a “killer.” So his entire life, Donald got away with murder. Cheating to get into college, bogus “bone spurs” excuse to dodge the draft, and while Maryanne, Freddie, and Elizabeth were left on their own to experience years of near poverty, Donald was made president of the Trump Organization at the age of 24 and had everything handed to him. Everything.
Mary pretty much tolerates her family’s coldness and dysfunction until her father dies from a heart attack at age 42. By the end of his life, her dad was a broken alcoholic. Then her grandfather dies, and she and her brother are left out of his will. The absolute naked greed of the other Trump siblings increases, and by the end, you can’t believe how petty and needlessly dishonest these multi-millionaires are. By the time she sees Donald running for president, she’s had enough, and as she points out early in the book, not one sibling, niece, or nephew ever came out in support of his run.
I felt excitement as she detailed how she was able to work with the New York Times to expose the finances of the Trump empire, which finally demonstrated how Donald’s entire biography is a lie, how Fred funneled hundreds of millions to his son, only to have Donald squander most of it. By the time we get to the middle of his presidency, she spells out how the servile Republicans fell in line to enable him just like everyone else in his life. Here’s a man who is unlovable and unable to feel love for others, but his bottomless ego needs to be constantly reassured. “Too much and never enough” could refer to his need for wealth, for status, for praise. Even as POTUS, he’s riddled with insecurities. She mentions how Republicans like Mitch McConnell should know better, but they use him for their own policy ends, while others like Mike Pompeo are just sycophantic true-believers.
There’s one revealing instance Mary Trump shares where Donald is first introducing her to Melania, and he talks about how she helped him write “The Art of the Comeback” but then he goes into this long embellishment about how Mary overcame drug addiction, and even as Mary is saying “I’ve never done drugs in my life” Donald keeps going, and by the end of his story, she’s pretty sure he thinks his version is now the truth.
Most damning in her epilogue is how Donald Trump made just about every wrong decision he could in addressing the coronavirus outbreak, costing tens of thousands of lives. When the press began questioning his empathy, she simply explains that “Donald is fundamentally incapable of acknowledging the suffering of others. Telling the stories of those we’ve lost would bore him. Acknowledging the victims of COVID-19 would be to associate himself with their weakness, a trait that his father taught him to despise… Most crucially, for Donald there is no value in empathy, no tangible upside in caring for other people.”
There are thousands of men like Donald Trump in the world, but we never hear of most of them, because they weren’t born to multi-millionaires who prop them up and coddle them. My hope would be that Donald’s children, the ones still capable of empathy, read their cousin’s book, absorb its lessons, and try to be good humans. Please try.