by Rachel Zarrow
According to psychologist and author Mary L. Trump, child abuse is “the experience of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’.” In her recent memoir of a similar name, Too Much and Never Enough, Mary Trump, the president’s niece, describes the multi-generational cycle of emotional abuse in the Trump family that contributed to the development of Donald Trump’s persona. In the prologue, she writes, “I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist—he meets all of the nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—but the label only gets us so far.” She speculates that he likely meets criteria for dependent personality disorder and a caffeine-induced sleep disorder as well. Mary Trump paints a portrait of Donald as a narcissist whose disordered personality is a byproduct of the abuse of his parents—a chronically ill, subservient mother, and an emotionally withholding and financially enabling father.
The book is as much an indictment of the entire Trump family as it is of Donald, and it focuses on the influence of Fred Trump senior, Donald’s father and Mary’s grandfather. Fred wanted his oldest son, Freddy (the author’s father) “to be a “killer” which “was really code for being invulnerable.” According to the author, her grandfather Fred, who amassed a fortune developing real estate in Brooklyn and Queens, “had a propensity for showmanship, and he often trafficked in hyperbole—everything was ‘great,’ ‘fantastic,’ and ‘perfect.’” If this language sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because Donald has parroted the same language throughout his presidency, especially regarding America’s response to COVID-19. She writes:
Donald didn’t drag his feet in December 2019, in January, in February, in March because of narcissism; he did it because of his fear of appearing weak or failing to project the message that everything was ‘great,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘perfect.’
Mary Trump describes her grandparents’ house—the House as she calls it—as a place in which societal standards of fairness and justice did not exist.
Ideally, the rules at home reflect the rules of society, so when children go out into the world, they generally know how to behave. When kids go to school, they’re supposed to know that they shouldn’t take other children’s toys and they’re not supposed to hit or tease other children. Donald didn’t understand any of that because the rules in the House, at least as they applied to the boys—be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness—clashed with the rules he encountered at school. Fred’s fundamental beliefs about how the world worked—in life, there can only be one winner and everybody else is a loser…and kindness is weakness—were clear.
Not only were the House rules twisted, but they were also unfair, bent to accommodate Donald, who Fred homed in on as his successor.
Mary Trump carefully selects family anecdotes to demonstrate the dynamics that led to both Donald’s inflated sense of self-importance as well as the ultimate downfall of her father, Freddy. Of one of Fred’s real estate controversies, the author writes: “It soon became clear that [Fred] wasn’t going to get the rezoning he needed. Nevertheless, he made Freddy responsible for the near impossible: making Steeplechase a success.” Ultimately, the deal fell apart, and Fred blamed his twenty-eight-year-old son Freddy for its failure. Though this particular anecdote doesn’t revolve around Donald, it demonstrates Fred’s tactics for manipulating his children, a cruelty and absence of emotional intelligence that led Freddy to alcoholism and an untimely death and Donald to an inflated sense of self-worth.
Spanning more than a century of family history in just over two hundred pages, Too Much and Never Enough moves at a fast pace. The challenge I faced, when reading and reviewing it, was the impossibility of compartmentalizing, of disentangling my preconceptions of Donald Trump—one of the most divisive figures on the planet—from the character of “Uncle Donald” as he’s presented in the book. Skeptical readers might dismiss the author as someone motivated by a thirst for revenge, and in the prologue, the author addresses this attack. Mary Trump explains how she’d realized, years earlier after she and her brother were almost entirely written out of their grandfather’s will, “that if [she] spoke publicly about [her] uncle, [she] would be painted as a disgruntled, disinherited niece looking to cash in or settle a score.” Yet she describes how finally, with the “out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of an economic depression, deepening social divides,” as well as the “events of the last three years,” she “can no longer remain silent,” This sense of urgency resounds throughout the memoir.
Toward the end of the book, Mary Trump describes her decision to provide documents to New York Times reporters working on an extensive article examining the Trump family’s business dealings and tax evasion tactics. Though the article details the financials, it doesn’t explore the personal reasons behind Fred’s favoritism and loyalty to Donald, and this personal side—the family dynamics—is what appears in this book and keeps the reader engaged. “Everyone in my family experienced a strange combination of privilege and neglect,” the author writes. Despite the family’s enormous wealth, most of Fred’s children (except Donald) were “trapped in their financial circumstances.” Mary’s aunt Maryanne could only afford to feed her family because she received furtive gifts from her grandmother, “Crisco cans filled with dimes and quarters” from the laundry machines in their various rental units. By most standards, the amount of wealth in the Trump family was abundant, but Fred created an environment in which it never felt like enough. “Of course wills are about money,” Mary Trump writes, “but in a family that has only one currency, wills are also about love.”
Among a number of other recent tell-alls about Donald Trump, Too Much and Never Enough stands out as the only book written by a member of the Trump family, and Mary Trump’s background in psychology positions her uniquely as family historian. With the 2020 election less than two weeks away, there’s no better time to share this book with the undecided voters in your life.
Rachel Zarrow writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in various outlets including The Atlantic, BUST, and the San Francisco Chronicle.She is working on her first novel and screenplay. She lives in San Francisco. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @rachroobear and at www.rachelzarrow.com