Authors: Mary L. Trump;
Within a month of the election, I found myself compulsively watching the news and checking my Twitter feed, anxious and unable to concentrate on anything else. Though nothing Donald did surprised me, the speed and volume with which he started inflicting his worst impulses on the countryâfrom lying about the crowd size at the inauguration and whining about how poorly he was treated to rolling back environmental protections, targeting the Affordable Care Act in order to take affordable health care away from millions of people, and enacting his racist Muslim banâoverwhelmed me. The smallest thingâseeing Donald's face or hearing my own name, both of which happened dozens of times a dayâtook me back to the time when my father had withered and died beneath the cruelty and contempt of my grandfather. I had lost him when he was only forty-two and I was sixteen. The horror of Donald's cruelty was being magnified by the fact that his acts were now official US policy, affecting millions of people.
The atmosphere of division my grandfather created in the Trump family is the water in which Donald has always swum, and division continues to benefit him at the expense of everybody else. It's wearing the country down, just as it did my father, changing us even as it leaves Donald unaltered. It's weakening our ability to be kind or believe in forgiveness, concepts that have never had any meaning for him. His administration and his party have become subsumed by his politics of grievance and entitlement. Worse, Donald, who understands nothing about history, constitutional principles, geopolitics, diplomacy (or anything else, really) and was never pressed to demonstrate such knowledge, has evaluated all of this country's alliances, and all of our
social programs, solely through the prism of money, just as his father taught him to do. The costs and benefits of governing are considered in purely financial terms, as if the US Treasury were his personal piggy bank. To him, every dollar going out was his loss, while every dollar saved was his gain. In the midst of obscene plenty, one person, using all of the levers of power and taking every advantage at his disposal, would benefit himself and, conditionally, his immediate family, his cronies, and his sycophants; for the rest, there would never be enough to go around, which was exactly how my grandfather ran our family.
It's extraordinary that for all of the attention and coverage that Donald has received in the last fifty years, he's been subjected to very little scrutiny. Though his character flaws and aberrant behavior have been remarked upon and joked about, there's been very little effort to understand not only why he became who he is but how he's consistently failed up despite his glaring lack of fitness.
Donald has, in some sense, always been institutionalized, shielded from his limitations or his need to succeed on his own in the world. Honest work was never demanded of him, and no matter how badly he failed, he was rewarded in ways that are almost unfathomable. He continues to be protected from his own disasters in the White House, where a claque of loyalists applauds his every pronouncement or covers up his possible criminal negligence by normalizing it to the point that we've become almost numb to the accumulating transgressions. But now the stakes are far higher than they've ever been before; they are literally life and death. Unlike any previous time in his life, Donald's failings cannot be hidden or ignored because they threaten us all.
Although my aunts and uncles will think otherwise, I'm not writing this book to cash in or out of a desire for revenge. If either of those had been my intention, I would have written a book about our family years ago, when there was no way to anticipate that Donald would trade on his reputation as a serially bankrupt businessman and irrelevant reality show host to ascend to the White House; when it would have been safer because my uncle wasn't in a position to threaten and endanger
whistleblowers and critics. The events of the last three years, however, have forced my hand, and I can no longer remain silent. By the time this book is published, hundreds of thousands of American lives will have been sacrificed on the altar of Donald's hubris and willful ignorance. If he is afforded a second term, it would be the end of American democracy.
No one knows how Donald came to be who he is better than his own family. Unfortunately, almost all of them remain silent out of loyalty or fear. I'm not hindered by either of those. In addition to the firsthand accounts I can give as my father's daughter and my uncle's only niece, I have the perspective of a trained clinical psychologist.
Too Much and Never Enough
is the story of the most visible and powerful family in the world. And I am the only Trump who is willing to tell it.
I hope this book will end the practice of referring to Donald's “strategies” or “agendas,” as if he operates according to any organizing principles. He doesn't. Donald's ego has been and is a fragile and inadequate barrier between him and the real world, which, thanks to his father's money and power, he never had to negotiate by himself. Donald has always needed to perpetuate the fiction my grandfather started that he is strong, smart, and otherwise extraordinary, because facing the truthâthat he is none of those thingsâis too terrifying for him to contemplate.
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.
addy, Mom's bleeding!”
They'd lived in the “House,” as my grandparents' home was known, for less than a year, and it still felt unfamiliar, especially in the middle of the night, so when twelve-year-old Maryanne found her mother lying unconscious in one of the upstairs bathroomsânot the master bathroom but the bathroom she and her sister shared down the hallâshe was already disoriented. There was blood all over the bathroom floor. Maryanne's terror was so great that it overcame her usual reluctance to disturb her father in his bedroom, and she flew to the other end of the house to rouse him.
Fred got out of bed, walked quickly down the hall, and found his wife unresponsive. With Maryanne at his heels, he rushed back to his bedroom, where there was a telephone extension, and placed a call.
Already a powerful man with connections at Jamaica Hospital, Fred was immediately put into touch with someone who could get an ambulance to the House and make sure the best doctors were waiting for them when they arrived at the emergency room. Fred explained the situation as best he could to the person on the other end. Maryanne heard him say “menstruation,” an unfamiliar word that sounded strange coming out of her father's mouth.
Shortly after Mary arrived at the hospital, she underwent an emergency hysterectomy after doctors found that serious postpartum complications had gone undiagnosed after Robert's birth nine months
earlier. The procedure led to an abdominal infection, and then further complications arose.
From what would become his usual spot by the telephone table in the library, Fred spoke briefly with one of Mary's doctors and, after hanging up the phone, called Maryanne to join him.
“They told me your mother won't make it through the night,” he said to his daughter.
A little while later, as he was leaving for the hospital to be with his wife, he told her, “Go to school tomorrow. I'll call you if there's any change.”
She understood the implication: I will call you if your mother dies.
Maryanne spent the night crying alone in her room while her younger siblings remained asleep in their beds, unaware of the calamity. She went to school the next day full of dread. Dr. James Dixon, the headmaster of Kew-Forest, a private school she had begun attending when her father joined the board of directors, came to get her from study hall. “There's a phone call for you in my office.”
Maryanne was convinced that her mother was dead. The walk to the principal's office was like a walk to the scaffold. All the twelve-year-old could think was that she was going to be the acting mother of four children.
When she picked up the phone, her father simply said, “She's going to make it.”
Mary would undergo two more surgeries over the next week, but she did indeed make it. Fred's pull at the hospital, which ensured that his wife got the very best doctors and care, had probably saved her life. But it would be a long road back to recovery.
For the next six months, Mary was into and out of the hospital. The long-term implications for her health were serious. She eventually developed severe osteoporosis from the sudden loss of estrogen that went with having her ovaries removed along with her uterus, a common but often unnecessary medical procedure performed at the
time. As a result, she was often in excruciating pain from spontaneous fractures to her ever-thinning bones.
If we're lucky, we have, as infants and toddlers, at least one emotionally available parent who consistently fulfills our needs and responds to our desires for attention. Being held and comforted, having our feelings acknowledged and our upsets soothed are all critical for the healthy development of young children. This kind of attention creates a sense of safety and security that ultimately allows us to explore the world around us without excessive fear or unmanageable anxiety because we know we can count on the bedrock support of at least one caregiver.
Mirroring, the process through which an attuned parent reflects, processes, and then gives back to the baby the baby's own feelings, is another crucial part of a young child's development. Without mirroring, children are denied crucial information both about how their minds work and about how to understand the world. Just as a secure attachment to a primary caregiver can lead to higher levels of emotional intelligence, mirroring is the root of empathy.
Mary and Fred were problematic parents from the very beginning. My grandmother rarely spoke to me about her own parents or childhood, so I can only speculate, but she was the youngest of ten childrenâtwenty-one years younger than her oldest sibling and four years younger than the second youngestâand she grew up in an often inhospitable environment in the early 1910s. Whether her own needs weren't sufficiently met when she was young or for some other reason, she was the kind of mother who used her children to comfort herself rather than comforting them. She attended to them when it was convenient for her, not when they needed her to. Often unstable and needy, prone to self-pity and flights of martyrdom, she frequently put herself first. Especially when it came to her sons, she acted as if there were nothing she could do for them.
During and after her surgeries, Mary's absenceâboth literal and
emotionalâcreated a void in the lives of her children. As hard as it must have been for Maryanne, Freddy, and Elizabeth, they were old enough to understand what was happening and could, to some extent, take care of themselves. The impact was especially dire for Donald and Robert, who at two and a half years and nine months old, respectively, were the most vulnerable of her children, especially since there was no one else to fill the void. The live-in housekeeper was undoubtedly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of housework. Their paternal grandmother, who lived nearby, prepared meals, but she was as terse and physically unaffectionate as her son. When Maryanne wasn't in school, much of the responsibility of taking care of the younger kids fell to her. (As a boy, Freddy wouldn't have been expected to help.) She gave them baths and got them ready for bed, but at twelve there was only so much she could do. The five kids were essentially motherless.
Whereas Mary was needy, Fred seemed to have no emotional needs at all. In fact, he was a high-functioning sociopath. Although uncommon, sociopathy is not rare, afflicting as much as 3 percent of the population. Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed are men. Symptoms of sociopathy include a lack of empathy, a facility for lying, an indifference to right and wrong, abusive behavior, and a lack of interest in the rights of others. Having a sociopath as a parent, especially if there is no one else around to mitigate the effects, all but guarantees severe disruption in how children understand themselves, regulate their emotions, and engage with the world. My grandmother was ill equipped to deal with the problems caused in her marriage by Fred's callousness, indifference, and controlling behaviors. Fred's lack of real human feeling, his rigidity as a parent and a husband, and his sexist belief in a woman's innate inferiority likely left her feeling unsupported.
Since Mary was emotionally and physically absent due to her injuries, Fred became, by default, the only available parent, but it would be a mistake to refer to him as a caregiver. He firmly believed that dealing with young children was not his job and kept to his twelve-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week job at Trump Management, as if his children could look
after themselves. He focused on what was important to
: his increasingly successful business, which at the time was developing Shore Haven and Beach Haven, two massive residential projects in Brooklyn that were to date the most significant of his life.
Again, Donald and Robert in particular would have been in the most precarious position vis-Ã -vis Fred's lack of interest. All behavior exhibited by infants and toddlers is a form of attachment behavior, which seeks a positive, comforting response from the caregiverâa smile to elicit a smile, tears to prompt a hug. Even under normal circumstances, Fred would have considered any expressions of that kind an annoyance, but Donald and Robert were likely even needier because they missed their mother and were actively distressed by her absence. The greater their distress, however, the more Fred rebuffed them. He did not like to have demands made of him, and the annoyance provoked by his children's neediness set up a dangerous tension in the Trump household: by engaging in behaviors that were biologically designed to trigger soothing, comforting responses from their parents, the little boys instead provoked their father's anger or indifference when they were most vulnerable. For Donald and Robert, “needing” became equated with humiliation, despair, and hopelessness. Because Fred didn't want to be disturbed when he was home, it worked in his favor if his children learned one way or another not to need anything.
Fred's parenting style actually exacerbated the negative effects of Mary's absence. As a result of it, his children were isolated not just from the rest of the world but from one another. From then on it would become increasingly difficult for the siblings to find solidarity with other human beings, which is one of the reasons Freddy's brothers and sisters ultimately failed him; standing up for him, even helping him, would have risked their father's wrath.
When Mary became ill and Donald's main source of comfort and human connection was suddenly taken away from him, not only was there no one to help him make sense of it, Fred was the only person left that he could depend on. Donald's needs, which had been met
inconsistently before his mother's illness, were barely met at all by his father. That Fred would, by default, become the primary source of Donald's solace when he was much more likely to be a source of fear or rejection put Donald into an intolerable position: being totally dependent on his father, who was also likely to be a source of his terror.
Child abuse is, in some sense, the experience of “too much” or “not enough.” Donald directly experienced the “not enough” in the loss of connection to his mother at a crucial developmental stage, which was deeply traumatic. Without warning, his needs weren't being met, and his fears and longings went unsoothed. Having been abandoned by his mother for at least a year, and having his father fail not only to meet his needs but to make him feel safe or loved, valued or mirrored, Donald suffered deprivations that would scar him for life. The personality traits that resultedâdisplays of narcissism, bullying, grandiosityâfinally made my grandfather take notice but not in a way that ameliorated any of the horror that had come before. As he grew older, Donald was subjected to my grandfather's “too-muchness” at second handâwitnessing what happened to Freddy when
was on the receiving end of too much attention, too much expectation, and, most saliently, too much humiliation.
From the beginning, Fred's self-interest skewed his priorities. His care of his children, such as it was, reflected his own needs, not theirs. Love meant nothing to him, and he could not empathize with their plight, one of the defining characteristics of a sociopath; he expected obedience, that was all. Children don't make such distinctions, and his kids believed that their father loved them or that they could somehow earn his love. But they also knew, if only on an unconscious level, that their father's “love,” as they experienced it, was entirely conditional.
Maryanne, Elizabeth, and Robert, to greater or lesser degrees, experienced the same treatment as Donald because Fred wasn't interested in children at all. His oldest son and namesake received Fred's attention simply because he was being raised to carry on Fred's legacy.
In order to cope, Donald began to develop powerful but primitive
defenses, marked by an increasing hostility to others and a seeming indifference to his mother's absence and father's neglect. The latter became a kind of learned helplessness over time because although it insulated him from the worst effects of his pain, it also made it extremely difficult (and in the long run I would argue impossible) for him to have any of his emotional needs met at all because he became too adept at acting as though he didn't have any. In place of those needs grew a kind of grievance and behaviorsâincluding bullying, disrespect, and aggressivenessâthat served their purpose in the moment but became more problematic over time. With appropriate care and attention, they might have been overcome. Unfortunately for Donald and everybody else on this planet, those behaviors became hardened into personality traits because once Fred started paying attention to his loud and difficult second son, he came to value them. Put another way, Fred Trump came to validate, encourage, and champion the things about Donald that rendered him essentially unlovable and that were in part the direct result of Fred's abuse.
Mary never completely recovered. Restless to begin with, she became an insomniac. The older kids would find her wandering around the House at all hours like a soundless wraith. Once Freddy found her standing at the top of a ladder painting the hallway in the middle of the night. In the morning her children sometimes found her unconscious in unexpected places; more than once, she ended up having to go to the hospital. That behavior became part of the life of the House. Mary got help for the physical injuries she sustained but none for whatever underlying psychological problems made her put herself into high-risk situations.
Beyond his wife's occasional injuries, Fred was aware of none of this and wouldn't have acknowledged the effects his particular brand of parenting had on his children then or later, even if he had recognized them. As far as he was concerned, he had been, for a brief time, faced with the limits of his wealth and power in fixing his wife's near-
death health crisis. But ultimately Mary's medical challenges were a small blip in the grand scheme of things. Once she was on the mend and his Shore Haven and Beach Haven real estate developments, both phenomenal successes, were nearing completion, everything seemed once again to be going Fred's way.