I’ve read a lot of political books over the past few years so I have a feel for what to expect. Usually, authors of these profiles come to praise Caesar or to bury him. Mary Trump is really doing neither. In Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, the niece of Donald Trump, who has been largely estranged from her uncle for decades, doesn’t have anything good to say about him but neither is she doing a hatchet job on Trump the man or Trump the president. It seems like what she really wants to do is explain why he is the way he is.
In so doing, she has written a terribly sad family history.
Mary Trump is is the second child of Donald Trump’s late brother Freddy. She grew up within bike-riding distance of her grandparents house, which was the hub of all things Trump before Donald took Manhattan. As a child, she spent plenty of time there, observing her extended family in all their cold, striving glory. This book is her story of what it was like being in the Trump inner circle and what it was like being forced out of the family as well.
I think we all knew that the level of dysfunction in the Trump family would be noteworthy. You can’t log onto Twitter without seeing someone speculating about how little Fred Trump Sr. loved his kids and how desperate for approval the living Trumps are today. Mary Trump has two levels of expertise in discussing the real nitty-gritty of that. Not only did she bear witness to her grandfather’s stranglehold on the professional and emotional lives of her parents, aunts, and uncles but she later went on to study clinical psychology. She can retroactively diagnose the behaviors she saw.
She doesn’t shy away from diagnosing her grandfather as a sociopath. She flat out says he had no real emotional life and his only goals were wealth and success. She details how he expected his boy children to model themselves after him and woe betide the son who couldn’t live up to those expectations. His girl children he largely left to the care of their mother, whom he left uncared for despite her chronic health problems. The only thing he ever tended with any attention was his property development and management business.
I won’t rehash the events of the book but I will say Mary Trump’s recollections are proof positive that cold, detached parenting leads to children with warped senses of self. Most of the Trump siblings have terrible self esteem issues. (The author’s father never felt like a success and he died at 42 due to health problems related to his alcoholism.) Not Donald, though. His self esteem was artificially inflated by his father’s calculated decision to use him as the spokeperson for their shared business ventures. Fred Trump Sr. knew his son’s only real skill was getting media attention but he pretended to everyone that Donald was also good at actual business. He created the myth of Donald the Dealmaker.
The fact that Donald can’t deal-make his way out of a paper bag was irrelevant. The myth took on a life of its own and grew so large that we all ended up with an attention-seeking, approval-addicted, bumbling fool of a failure in the White House.
The book, which is a slim 225 pages, isn’t salacious. This isn’t a walk down tabloid memory lane. Mary Trump is very careful to tell only the stories she knows from experience or from reliable sources, such as her own mother. She does an outstanding job of protecting the privacy of her other family members. Even when she mentions relatives she only discusses them within the context of the story she is telling. She doesn’t speculate and she doesn’t gossip. She only refers to the big scandals of the family to give the reader a sense of time; we can tell where we are in history by the name of the wife Donald brings to holiday dinners.
This book reminded me of a book I read about Rosemary Kennedy, the Kennedy sister who was cognitively disabled from birth and was eventually shattered by a lobotomy. Joe Kennedy was arguably as bad a father as Fred Trump Sr. but he had a sense of service to the world that the Trumps never embraced. He encouraged military service in his children, even though it eventually killed some of them, and pushed others to political service on an outward platform of helping individuals. His daughters were charitable in their own right, such as Eunice Kennedy Shriver founding the Special Olympics.
Basically, as fucked up as the Kennedys were, some good came from their existence in the world. So far, the progeny of Fred Trump Sr. have only existed to enrich themselves and sow discord among others.
Too Much and Never Enough is a good book and worth reading if you want to understand why Donald Trump thought he deserved to be president. If only it was also a manual for getting him out of the White House.