Few people are equipped to undertake the daunting task of understanding our 45th president. Since the announcement of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy in 2015, many Americans have heavily scrutinized his every motivation, but few have the insight needed to break them down.
Mary L. Trump, President Trump’s niece, as well as a clinical psychologist, could be the person Americans need to unearth the underlying causes of Trump’s actions. In her tell-all book, Too Much and Never Enough, released July 14, Mary posits that much of Trump’s arrogance, unwavering confidence despite his incompetence, and general hunger for power comes from his family—especially his father, Fred. Using her own memories, family anecdotes reconstructed into full scenes, and developmental psychology, Mary Trump paints a portrait of the complex and often cruel environment that led her father Freddy to his demise and Donald Trump to his success and power.
The book is prefaced with a Victor Hugo quote from Les Miserables: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Mary, although she despises her uncle, makes it clear that the family environment in which he grew up is largely responsible for his lack of empathy and aggrandized self-image. After finishing the book and revisiting the quote, it also brings to mind Trump’s supporters and the bigotry and hate that he has effectively authorized. Who is truly to blame? The people who deep down held those beliefs in the first place, or the man who normalized and institutionalized those beliefs, allowing them to be expressed seemingly without consequence?
Most of the book recounts significant events that shaped the Trump family—or reinforced its dysfunctionality—but the prologue and epilogue are absolutely scathing. Mary gives several possible and probable diagnoses of Donald, from a definite narcissistic personality disorder—for which, “he meets all nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)”—to dependent and antisocial personality disorders. She continues to call him incompetent and goes so far as to compare him to Frankenstein’s monster. This all occurs in the first 14 pages.
It is not difficult to read this book and feel like you are reading fiction, particularly when much of it portrays Fred Trump as the cruel villain with a three-piece suit as his perpetual costume. But once one of Donald’s mistakes or flaws appears, the book's unsettling portraiture forces the reader to realize this is not a fictional narrative at all, but a real-life account of the family that groomed our sitting president.
Too Much and Never Enough characterizes the patriarch, Fred Trump, as a sociopath with an authoritarian parenting style. He equated love with obedience and had his children chasing his unattainable approval even beyond his death. His expectations that Fred Trump Jr., known as Freddy to all but his father, would take over the Trump empire thrust him into the spotlight. Freddy received the most attention and subsequently faced major criticism from his family, eventually realizing that he could never meet his father’s impossible expectations. Meanwhile, Donald, experiencing neglect as a toddler and witnessing the humiliation of his older brother, grew up to have the “killer attitude” their father tried and failed to force upon Freddy, becoming the businessman son their father had always wanted.
However, the image of the self-made businessman Fred and Donald put out to the world was a sham. Despite what Fred and Donald portrayed to the media, which seldom pushed for details, Donald accomplished next to nothing without the help of his father’s money and influence. In order to win his father’s approval, Donald became an “extension of his father’s ambitions.” Donald’s self-aggrandizement and outright lies drew in more money and attention. The family was rewarded for his sensationalism.
Both Fred’s business and life philosophies were influenced by author and minister Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel of positivity, which emphasizes positive thinking and confident attitudes. The businessman instilled in his children the belief that, “you need only self-confidence in order to prosper in the way God wants you to," and to this day, Donald seems to believe that saying something is great truly makes it so.
Currently, as Mary points out, Donald is using the gospel of positivity to undermine the seriousness of COVID-19. The more Donald claims that he is defeating the pandemic and that the United States is prospering, the more he sincerely believes it.
While Donald used Fred’s unconventional philosophy to bolster his own sense of competence, it was detrimental to Fred’s other children. When his oldest son, Freddy, came to him for help with his alcoholism, Fred is said to have told his son: “Just make up your mind, Fred...What do you want from me?” Leading up to his death of a heart attack in 1981 at age 42, Freddy, in his deteriorating health, was completely dependent on his parents.
Mary largely blames the Trump family’s lack of empathy, general indifference, and constant insistence upon everything being “fine” and “great” for her father’s decline and death. Freddy’s story and demise take center stage for much of the book, with many of the mistakes the family members made in their relationships to Freddy highlighted as the standard for their treatment of others.
The climax of the book comes after Fred’s death in 1999, when Mary and her older brother, Fred Trump III (called Fritz by Mary), were deprived of the large percentage of the Trump empire that their father would have inherited if he were alive. When Mary and Fritz sued their family, Donald’s sister Maryanne proposed the revocation of their medical insurance from Trump Management that they had received their whole lives—at the same time that Fritz’s infant son was undergoing hospitalization for seizures.
In response to the book, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claims it is filled with “falsehoods.” The Trump family attempted to stop the book’s publication right before it was released, but litigation ended the night before its release date. Judge Hal B. Greenwald decided that the public had a right to know what Mary had to say, despite a 2001 agreement that Mary could not reveal family secrets. Judge Greenwald wrote, “The Trumps were local in 2001. The leader of the Trump family in 2020 is global.” The judge also pointed out that Simon and Schuster would lose immense profits if the book was not released as planned.
With the 2020 presidential election approaching in November, it is worth asking if this book will affect voters in any capacity. Most of the details and revelations in the book were more informative than shocking, so it is unlikely that the book will change the opinions of far-left or far-right readers.
However, voters who are on the fence might be the ones most influenced by this book. Those who admire Trump for his brazen confidence and shameless nationalism might now see his arrogance as fearful overcompensation, while those who admire his killer attitude might now see its origins in his cruel father.
The hope of Mary Trump is that the public listens to the story of Donald and sees him as the psychologically damaged child she sees him as. She closes the prologue with a mission: “Donald, following the lead of my grandfather and with the complicity, silence, and inaction of his siblings, destroyed my father. I can’t let him destroy my country.”