Spare a thought for Donald Trump. It’s one thing for a family member to pen a tell-all family memoir when you’re still in the Oval Office and four months away from a make-or-break election.
In her new book, an advance copy of which has been seen by The Irish Times, she fuses her experience growing up in the Trump family – her father was Donald Trump’s eldest brother Fred, who died aged 42 – with the insight of the therapist’s couch.
“I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist – he meets all nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),” she coolly declares in the prologue, referring to the handbook used by experts the world over.
But she says his condition is much more than that.
At the heart of Trump’s troubles, she argues, was his father Fred, whom she describes as a “sociopath”.
A figure reminiscent of Joe Kennedy, the Boston patriarch who ferociously propelled his sons John, Bobby and Edward to the top of American politics, Fred Trump was a self-made business man who did everything to build his property business and ensure his sons inherited this wealth.
After Mary’s father Fred failed to live up to his own father’s ideals, Donald, eight years younger, took up the mantle.
Too Much and Never Enough is in essence a psychoanalytic reading of the current president. The young Donald Trump’s mother fell ill when he was just a toddler, becoming “emotionally and physically absent”. Deprived of his mother’s attention, Donald looked to his father in these crucial developmental years but was rebuffed by anger or indifference. “Needing” for the young Donald Trump, she writes, “became equated with humiliation, despair, and hopelessness”.
In order to cope, Donald “began to develop powerful but primitive defences, marked by an increasing hostility to others”.
As she sketches a history of Donald Trump’s childhood, we see the signs of the future character traits that would become so well-known to the world. “He tormented his little brother and stole his toys,” she remarks at one point. He paid a friend to sit his SAT exams in order to get into Wharton Business School. When his brother Fred was dying in the family home suffering from heart problems, alcoholism and depression, Trump went to the movies.
The book gives delicious details of the Trump family world. The “gold lamé shoe with a four-inch heel filled with hard candy” that Trump’s first wife, Ivana, gave to Mary one Christmas. Her first time meeting 28-year-old Melania, mute and mysterious, who uttered only one word of interest when Donald erroneously told her that his niece used to take drugs. A family dinner Trump hosted in the White House, two months after his inauguration.
In many ways, Mary Trump’s memoir is very different to the recent book by John Bolton, whose dense, detailed account of his time as national security adviser may be of most interest to future scholars of Trump’s foreign policy.
But, like Bolton, she too is an unreliable narrator of sorts.
She and her brother sued Trump and his surviving three siblings over her grandfather’s will. She did not speak to her aunts or uncles for almost a decade until she received an invitation to her cousin Ivanka’s wedding to Jared Kushner.
Running through the book is her own sad story about her childhood and her deep love for her father, who she alleges was “destroyed” by Donald, “following the lead of my grandfather and with the complicity, silence and inaction of his siblings”.
She describes a man who struggled with life and addiction, and was too gentle to stand up to his bullying father and his expectations.
Donald Trump has himself mentioned his brother Fred publicly during his presidency, stating that his brother’s alcoholism is the reason he is a teetotaler.
In many ways, Mary Trump’s book is as much about rehabilitating the memory of her father as it is a character assassination of her uncle. The book is itself an act of therapy as she works through her complex feelings towards her father.
While in many ways the real villain of the piece is Donald’s father, Fred, the book sheds an important light on the familial and psychological impulses that shaped the 45th president of the United States.