I’ve not written a post for a while, but I recently got my hands on the above book and thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
Almost immediately on beginning Too Much and Never Enough: How my family created the world’s most dangerous man, by Mary L Trump, Donald’s niece I was ambushed by a feeling that I had truly not expected to feel towards Donald Trump. An awkward, unwilling sympathy. It is perhaps to be expected though. Even when watching the life stories of serial killers and persistent offenders (I love Crime & Investigation and ID on TV, perhaps because I tend to be basically law-abiding and am intrigued those who are prepared to buck the system) there is almost always a moment when trauma and abuse raise a species of pity for the child (it is usually in childhood) before their later actions make them into monsters.
The Trump children (Maryanne, Freddy, Elizabeth, Donald and Robert) were essentially unloved and emotionally neglected when their mother, also called Mary, was hospitalised with what would have been known in those days as ‘women’s issues’ – a rampaging infection left unchecked since the birth of Robert, nine months before. While the older children (ranging from 8 to 12 years old) would have had some basic experience of love and affection, Robert and Donald, who was then just two and half, were almost entirely raised in an atmosphere of chilly cruelty with little in the way of affection offered or politesse taught. While the author says that Fred Snr was deliberately cruel, she also offers that he was unimaginative – and often the punishments inflicted by unimaginative uncuddly people can be horrendously torturous to those who crave normal human touch and interaction…
The first part of the book largely deals with Freddy Trump, faced with a cold and unloving father while being a tactile and sociable boy, and then man. Trying to break free of his cephalopod family almost killed him, the tentacles of their disapproval – especially Fred’s – after he’d succeeded in gaining his dream job killed that dream and ruined his marriage, and thereafter he sank into depression, alcoholism, illness and died at 42, basically reduced to being ‘the poor relation’ under his parents’ roof.
In this section of the book, Mary L is most unimpartial – and with good reason. Her deeply beloved, if flawed, father died when she was just sixteen and it is possible to discern, beneath the practical language and psychological analyses, the bewildered and grief-stricken child whose family, far from embracing her in a loving cocoon, expected her to just deal with it, as though their responsibility, meagre though it was, ended completely with Freddy’s life.
It is clear that the Trump household was one in which the patriarchy still held full sway, and the only acceptable masculinity was toxic, bolstered with cruelty, lies and deceit and sneering towards softness, affection and conscience. One can only imagine what effect this would have on a child who grows up knowing only this sort of life. Or one can look to the White House, to the many interviews and quotes from those who have, however briefly, made it into Donald’s orbit – the weird statement that ‘Melania has a son’, his expectation that child-rearing is women’s work along with the boast that he’s never changed a nappy, and, in general, the exceedingly odd relationships with his children.
For example, Barron is seldom seen in informal wear, and this is, apparently, not something brought about by the shift into a more public life. Mary L mentions Donald’s sons, in their teens, rough-housing on the floor of their grandparents’ house – while wearing suits. She reveals several times that informal wear was severely frowned upon by Fred Snr – it seems this quirk was so entrenched that it has endured to the third, and possibly the fourth generation of his descendants.
In fact, many traits that in more functional families would now be laughed about as ‘Grandpa’s funny attitude towards [insert quirk here]’ seem to have been cast in ever-strengthening stone as time has passed. Formal wear at all times, ‘playing the game’ – which seems to be being endlessly civil in public while doing one’s best to one-up (or completely shaft) the rest of the family in private – or even in secret, a semi-resentful closing of ranks when necessary – the latter of which Mary L tried to burst through with this book, without absolute success – and an understanding that you ‘do for family’ that translates to a cold-hearted material transactionality that bears so little resemblance to familial duty that few would recognise it as such: all of these are normal in the Trump family.
The massive amounts of money available to the family do not seem to have made anyone – with the possible exception of Fred and then Donald – happy or secure. Instead, it was wielded as a weapon, something that could (and would) be withdrawn unless the proffered hoops were jumped through and jumped through, time without end. Material needs were taken care of, but in a grudging, hesitant way that prevented the author at least from relaxing against a financial cushion that she should have been able to take for granted.
The withdrawal of literally vital medical insurance from a critically ill child in order to make his parents play ball, only to then be forced (legally) to reinstate it, obliging in reinstating it, but with an attempt to diminish the child’s fragile hold on life as some kind of malingering attention-seeking should be a massive scandal – and no less a scandal should have been unleashed by the reason that ‘playing ball’ was considered necessary at all; the abrupt and near complete pruning of the late Freddy’s line from the vast Trump estate should, equally, have gripped the scandal pages for weeks, after Fred’s death in the late 90s and the release of his will. Mary L freely admits that she expects her family will dismiss her book as mere sour grapes following that debacle, which left her and her brother shorn of what should have been income-generating investments that would have seen them and their children, and possibly even their grandchildren, through comfortably idle lives. She says it is not the case, and that she is speaking out because the world needs to know what Donald is really like.
And this is where we get to the ‘not entire success’ referenced earlier. While there is mention of one or two incidents that pique the interest, for the most part Mary L’s life rotated largely outside Donald’s orbit. He did one or two kindly, avuncular things for her – gave her $100 to get her car fixed, allowed her Sweet Sixteen to be held in one of his new hotels (although, he did charge her father for the party, albeit at a discounted rate), and was, at one stage, the only family member to ask after her mother – but otherwise she seems to have seen him then as a high-flying star, disillusion only creeping in later, over the years, as she saw the disconnect between his image and his self. Anyone hoping for dinner-table gossip gets a little description of the conversations held between Fred and Donald, where ugly women, racial and antisemitic slurs, and political gossip was bandied about – but no details are given.
That Mary L knows her uncle’s temperament and personality make him highly unsuitable to be president is clear – she is passionately dismayed by the wilful gullibility of those who enabled him to the position, and who surround him today, maintaining his myth of abilities, excellence and capability. But her book gives us nothing that a discerning eye could not already deduce from watching the man on TV, hearing his rambling, grandiose speeches and reading his Twitter feed which seems to be a conduit straight from his brain to the rest of the world.
What is not mentioned at all: his behaviour towards women, apart from commenting that she, his niece, was ‘stacked’ upon seeing her in a swimsuit aged 21. The allegations of barging into beauty contestant dressing rooms are not mentioned – in fact, the contests themselves are never mentioned at all; his highly suspect friendship with Epstein is not mentioned, the allegations of sexual assault by dozens of women, not mentioned. Lawsuits and counter suits, which the world knows Donald threatens freely, are barely touched upon. Details of his dodgy business dealings are strongly hinted at, but without the provision of proof of wrong-doing by Donald. Instead Fred is implicated: Fred behaved illegally buying casino chips but not gambling them, Fred poured good money after bad, Fred invested – foolishly – in Donald, persisting in doing so even after he must have realised that Donald was not the super-entrepreneur he was touted to be.
Why, you might ask? Because to back-track on his adoration of Donald would be to admit that he was wrong. And like his son, Fred Trump was never wrong, according to himself, of course.
One can almost, at various points throughout the book, hear Trump aunts and uncles in Mary L’s ear, telling her to tone down this, and ease up here. Many of her revelations are already in the public domain, and her conclusions as to Donald’s pathologies have largely been discussed in comment threads and blogs written by those who have met him. There is some insight into Donald’s behaviour and attitudes, thanks to the history of the Trump children’s childhood, and anecdotes of Mary L’s interactions with him, but again, she does not seem to have known him at all well or intimately. Or if she does, she’s not telling all she could.
One thing that Mary L does state with absolute certainty is the fact that Fred loathed paying his taxes and avoided doing so whenever possible. This, she says, is a trait shared by her aunts and uncles who do the same. The four living siblings seem to have colluded, not only to cut out their dead brother’s offspring from funding that they should have automatically received, but also to minimise the value of their father’s estate. The estate ended up being valued at $30 million. In truth, says Mary L, the value was closer to one billion dollars.
While the statute of limitations on tax evasion is usually three years, this timeframe can be doubled if more than a quarter of the income has been understated, and the IRS can ask for exceptions can be made for unusual circumstances. An under-declaration of some thirty or forty times the value of the estate is surely an unusual circumstance? But quite apart from that, the IRS can pursue a civil suit at any time should they be presented with egregious enough proofs of evasion. There is no statute of limitations on civil cases…
One wonders if the Trump family is aware of that?