Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man
By Mary L. Trump. Simon & Schuster. 225 pp. (2020)
In the prologue, the author speculates the familiar laundry list of mental disorders ascribed to her uncle, Donald Trump. NPD, antisocial personality and learning difficulties have been publicly speculated on at length. She briefly muses on the potential for 'dependent personality disorder', whereby the sufferer is uncomfortable with responsibility, solitude, and seeks out others for support. Personally attesting to his barely-veiled exhaustion at a White House birthday dinner in 2017, Mary speculates whether Donald is caffeine-dependent, with resultant sleep deprivation a ratchet upon various co-morbidities.
The book consists of a litany of family incidents. The villain of the piece is Fred Trump, father to Donald and grandfather to the author. Fred was a workaholic who ran a strict household, seldom showing love or affection to his children or his spouse Mary. The author acknowledges Fred's talents, first as a builder and later as manager of evermore ambitious real estate projects. Stiff, stern and haughty at home, at work Fred morphed into a social, chatty showman; talking up his new builds and taking out gaudy ads festooned with words like 'Fantastic', or 'Perfect'.
Fred's wife Mary Anne MacLeod Trump is portrayed as present yet absent - inattentive, unassertive, her draining medical conditions stemming from childbirth a frequent drain. The author saves her fire for Fred, but implies that Mary was an unmotherly parent, preferring to tend to her own appearance as a wealthy man's wife. Even as Donald relentlessly bullied his younger brother Robert, his mother acted as bystander; what capacity for nurture and care she had was vested in her daughters. Beyond simple errands, she had no role in Fred's business, and became distant to the male members of the household. Mary Anne seems an N type of low temperament.
It isn't lost on the author that the Trump household in the 1930s, 40s and 50s was pretty conventional for the time. Fred, as the provider, was casually misogynist, racist, antisemitic and classist; irritated when the first Italian-American family moved to the neighborhood, and holding his low-income tenants in contempt. It is clear Fred was the sanguine autocrat; the tireless managerial NPA type, whose ruthlessness in business paired with cold parenting gives rise to the author's speculations of sociopathy. For all his success, Fred was arrogantly shallow, considering money analogous to personal worth; people with less were inferior cretins - simple as that.
Clumsily attempting to mold his sons Freddy (the author's father) and Donald in his own image, Fred created misery with bullying, verbal abuse and constant demands. Freddy's early career was spent managing the Trump buildings, but Fred retained control of all but the most petty decisions on property maintenance. Though Donald was still in school, his father took to favourable comparisons: 'Donald is worth ten of you, he'd never act like this.' Freddy eventually rebelled, becoming a pilot: to his father, this was an unforgivable betrayal. Though Freddy was a gifted flier, his success was undermined by his father's constant berating; on one occasion Donald visited and contemptibly asked why Freddy was 'wasting his life' becoming 'a glorified bus driver'. Taking to drink to reduce his stress, Freddy's fledgling career faltered and he returned to the family business. Assigned to a construction project doomed to fail, Freddy was blamed for the failure and became the family's whipping boy. His marriage collapsed, and he succumbed to alcoholism aged 42.
It was clearly for Donald to take up the mantle of the family business, taking his father's ceaseless belittlement as justified tough love to build 'real men' of his sons, rather than as abuse. Growing bolder, assertive and ambitious, Donald began to live up to his father's ideal of the next winner of the family. As the years went by Donald was the one to achieve a bond with his father; the two had much in common and shared enthusiasm in securing political connections necessary for obtaining building permits and subsidies. Unlike his radio-faced father, Donald wasn't afraid to make himself the the image of the Trump enterprises. While his elder siblings struggled with poverty and feared asking help, Donald soared and schmoozed to new heights. He lacked his father's intelligence and acumen, yet exuded a supreme confidence. Though blessed with exuberance, Donald was also obnoxious, humourless, clumsy with women. Hopeless at running things, Donald looked the part of a business 'killer', and for Fred, this sufficed. With Donald on brand, the family made moves on Manhattan with glitzy success. Rudderless once his father mentally declined, Donald's business genius ruse collapsed amid multiple bankruptcies, only to rise again in reality TV, and again as President of the United States.
The author stresses that the effect of both parents' pathologies were outsized: all five Trump children were disadvantaged at maturity. I daresay it's common for young adults to bear such burdens in milder form; typically, deleterious traits are moderated in capitulation to the world and its demands of conduct. Donald however did the opposite: redoubling the negative traits instilled by his mother's absence and father's assertive abuse into the figure he became. For Mary this was at immense cost; anxious to be invulnerable, Donald permanently lost the capacity to be sympathetic, kind or loving and was alienated from his siblings, who considered him a repellent bully and egotist. Donald's image as a slickly superficial man of commerce was inspired by TV, a medium he enjoyed. From these anecdotes Donald would seem the natural NA type, but somehow the feeling that he is an unintelligent and damaged NPA type who amputated his own sense of organization, diligence and responsibility remains. The author has no love for what her uncle became, but is sympathetic - as said, Fred is the villain of the piece.
The book is short, perhaps due to the author's inexperience. Yet given the mire native to recalling decades of family acrimony, what might have been indulgent tedium is instead coherent, breezy narrative. As a demonstration of how heavily upbringing and family shape personalities, Too Much and Never Enough is a solid read.