Too much and never enough. How my family created the world’s most dangerous man by Mary L Trump

Review by Rose.

How similar are we to our parents? For many, this is a positive question; we may reminisce about loving compassionate parents and be glad we share their traits, and may be grateful for their parenting and support. For others, the idea that they are like their parents is a horrific proposition. Some children spend an entire lifetime trying to understand the savagery of the people that sat next to them at the dining table. To those children, the monsters in storybooks created less fear than those who watched over them at home.

Mary L. Trump’s book is about the power that parents have over their children, and how this power can be used negatively. It’s about the critical and lasting damage caused by abusive parenting. Without doubt, this is a biased account: the book is from Mary Trump’s point of view and Mary does not want Donald Trump re-elected. We have to evaluate her writing, listen to the experiences she presents and decide if we think she could be right. She puts forward a theory about her Uncle, Donald Trump, and the origin of his personality. Some will argue she is incorrect based on their perspective or counter-evidence. Either way, her story is valuable from the perspective of caregiving and child development. It’s a devastating look into one man’s crushing destruction and another man’s victory. One man who lay on a plain cot with a thin mattress in a luxurious house dying, and another who would eventually hear thousands chanting his name in a frenzy against the thundering beat of an orchestra bass drum. Some parents can be like a stick of dynamite, their impact on a personality can be explosive. This is the story of a patriarch, a man Mary believes was a high-functioning sociopath obsessed with power and wealth. A cold selfish misogynist who was determined that one of his children would carry on his legacy and facets of his personality into the future. It’s also a dissection of the myth that Donald Trump was a self-made man.

The opening of Mary’s book reads like a scene from a grotesque comedy, the absurdity of the power of a name brand embossed into everything you touch, becoming chilling and comical in equal measures. Mary is invited for a family meal at the Whitehouse. They stay at the Trump International Hotel. Inside she finds, Trump shampoo, Trump slippers, Trump towels, Trump bathrobe everything stamped with the name Trump, her surname. She gulps down the Trump wine to cope with the fact that her uncle, the man that used to make derogatory remarks about women at the dining table, is now president of the United States and seated at the Whitehouse, a fact she did not believe would ever become a reality.

Trump is an outrageous showman. At times he acts like the pampered child that tells a relative that she is ugly and fat and that’s why no one will date her. Some people enjoy this type of discourtesy and describe it as entertaining. In the 1980’s he was admired as a rich playboy and billionaire property developer. He was on the nightclub circuit in the 1990s, the suited older yuppie dancing with a multitude of attractive blondes. He made cameo appearances in the films Home Alone 2, Sex in the City and many others including a pizza advert. He has meticulously cultivated an image to sell to the public. He employs a discourse that is very different from any other president. The straightforwardness of his speeches, the ‘simple speeches’ as they are often known are an attempt to appeal to the everyday voter, not only the educated voter. Despite his abundant wealth from childhood, he wants to make people feel like he is on their side. Trickery and illusion are two cards on Trump’s table and he knows how to use them. He doesn’t appear to care too much about consequences and at times seems to have an impulse control problem. With most presidents, you know what to anticipate, with Trump there is an uncontrollable quality, like the erratic man in the asylum he creates a kind of nervous energy in crowds. He leaves them on edge with the feeling that he could do or say anything. He is fast to mock an opponents anatomy or sexual prowess to win a debate while the crowd clap and cheer. One could say that Trump understands the term schadenfreude, taking pleasure in observing the downfall of another person. He has worked this to his advantage in rhetoric politically. He also recognizes the hypnotic effect status, fortune and power can have on some people in society. We live in a culture that admires and spotlights wealth, where people flick through glossy magazines and imagine having that jet, that mansion, sitting behind that gold desk. Some people see him as the man who has everything, even admiring his arrogance and boastfulness as behaviours that possibly enabled him to become profitable, without noting that family wealth helped him from a young age. But what exactly created Trump’s personality? How did this story begin? This is what Mary attempts to address in this book.

In society, parents are revered as valued and distinguished figures and their importance is projected and instilled onto their children, with the instruction that one should respect one’s parents. Unfortunately, there are some situations when this becomes a significant problem. Some parents can be sociopaths, even psychopaths. It is not a common occurrence, but it happens. Some of these parents, like Mary’s grandparents, may appear as successful respectable people in the community. It’s a reality that somewhere right now a child will be living under the tyranny of an abusive parent. The trauma ricocheting into later generations. Living with this parent can be akin to a vulnerable animal attempting to survive a tougher predator. It is a savage terrain for a child to navigate and it leaves enduring scars. Even when rejected, abused and ridiculed, a child may still frantically turn to the parent, the reason for their existence, for acceptance and a sign of love. As an adult, that child may still exist inside the adult, a ghost-child, still requiring some indication of acceptance. Every time Fred Trump Jnr looked in the mirror he would see some of his father’s physical features, a constant reminder of the man that considered him a failure in life. The consequences of abandonment, neglect, brutality and lack of affection, were tested decades ago in the controversial laboratories of Dr Harry Harlow and his experiments with monkeys.  

As Mary describes in this book, a sociopath cannot love a child, instead, the child is seen as a possession and an object, an extension of themselves, existing only to fulfil the parent's selfish requirements. Mary Trump argues that her grandfather, Fred Trump was a sociopath. Sadly, trying to leave a parent, or criticise their warped view of the world can mean the child pays an extortionate price. Some are cast out financially, ridiculed, ostracised or emotionally abused. When Fred Trump Jr, Mary Trump’s father, attempted to leave his father’s empire to be a pilot, Mary discusses the trauma that was inflicted on him. His father, she tells us, like Donald Trump, was abusive and a bully.

Eventually, like all the family members of the Trump household, Fred Trump Jnr returned to the home and re-joined as an employee for the Trump Empire. The adult Trump children lived in buildings owned by the Trump Real Estate Empire, they had medical insurance paid by the Trump corporation. Fred Trump Jnr did attempt to build a different life but, instead, was ensnared into his sociopathic father’s domain. Some of the flats Fred Trump Jnr occupied with his wife and family were not well maintained, as Mary reveals that her grandfather was miserly and only interested in profit.

As the eldest son of a real estate Tycoon, Fred Trump Jnr was shaped to take his father’s place as head of the Trump Real Estate Empire. However, he did not have some of his father’s more ruthless personality traits. Fred Trump Snr regarded him as a failure, a weak puppy, someone to taunt and traumatise. He became addicted to alcohol and pills. There is always a stigma in this kind of death. To me, Mary Trump’s father was a victim of a dysfunctional family and abuse that extinguished the light inside him. He spent his entire adult life watching his father favour his brother Donald.

From a very young age, Mary Trump tells us, Donald, who she states did not have a normal upbringing, exhibited arrogance, frequently bullied other children, even those smaller than himself, and refused to listen to authority figures. She describes him wearing a constant sneer on his face that emphasized his superiority over other people. Donald Trump, she says, knew he would not receive comfort from his father, thus he gave up trying. Instead, he became the mirror image of his father and what his father wanted him to be. Donald Trump was not punished for bad behaviours as a child and paid little attention to what his mother said. In this family, the boys upbringing was overseen by the father, the daughters by the mother.

His father seemed to admire his display of more difficult behaviours. She says Donald watched his older brother fail with Fred Snr and watched him being ridiculed and emotionally abused. Mary relates hearing Donald Trump and his wife talk about money deals and ugly women frequently. This was right after her father died.

Donald Trump used the problems Fred Trump jnr had with his father to gain favour with Fred Trump Snr and become the most liked son. Donald Trump then took part in a systematic bullying of his elder brother, joining the father in the bullying, put-downs and abuse.

Mary argues that it was a domineering sociopathic father who created Donald Trump’s personality. That his mother was frequently sick and did not interfere in his upbringing. The monster begets a monster, darkness begets darkness. Is the creation of Donald Trump a creation of a tyrannical sociopath with no emotion, a man obsessed with power and wealth? It’s up to the reader to decide. Does this mean that we should look at Donald Trump as a victim of a sociopathic abuser? This is a difficult question. One might say that the family created him, yet he has had plenty of time to evaluate his personality to understand what he is and make changes. Some may contend that it’s rare that such dramatic psychological changes are possible after a certain stage in life. It’s a very complex subject that cannot be addressed here.

Fred Trump Jnr died at forty-two years old, he had been a long-term alcoholic and he had also become addicted to pills, very few of his peers and friends had parents like him. Many children having a parent like this, find it difficult to talk about in front of others. There experiences of caregiving are so far removed from the ordinary experience of other people's that often these children learn to not talk about it. When you hide this kind of pain it can lead to addictions. Mary discusses the stigma of this type of addiction at that cultural time.

Mary disipates the illusion that Donald Trump was ever a self-made man, that he spent his entire life recieving large funds from his father, that Donald Trump used an illusion to project to the public.

As someone with a PHD and understanding of psychological disorders, Mary is equipped to diagnose and theorise at a professional level. It’s impossible not to feel for Mary when she describes her father’s death and the coldness she witnessed afterwards. It's heart wrenching, and anyone who understands the early death of a parent will struggle with these scenes. In one scene Mary arrives home after her father's death, she walks through the Trump family home, past the bedrooms of the adult children, each one is beautifully decorated, except one, her father's, in his a plain cot rests against the wall, its mattress thin, even the status of the children in the house is demonstrated by their room in the family home. The man they percieved as the failed son is placed in a room that you would feel awkward giving a guest. All the things he loved, boating, flying, were taken from him one by one as the years rolled by.

Mary's diagnosis of Sociopathy.

Sociopathy is a personality disorder also known as anti-social personality disorder and has been defined in the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a guide for mental health professionals.

The person will usually exhibit some of the following symptoms that demonstrate an impairment to self-functioning and interpersonal functioning.

Impulse control problems – risking taking behaviour
Lack of empathy - lack of feeling for the needs or suffering of others. A lack of remorse for actions that could cause harm or hurt to other people around them
Goal Setting based on personal gratification – they are motivated for their own goals to the exclusion of others
Will most likely exploit other people around them for their own needs
Deceitful Behaviour
Intimidating and aggressive

These are just some of the symptoms there are many others.

When Mary uses the term ‘high-functioning sociopath’ she is talking about a person that has no problem maintaining a difficult job or career and who can create financial stability and be capable of being responsibly financially. Many people with this personality disorder may find a career or long-term job stability much harder.

Reading about Fred Jnr's addiction and depression, watching his destruction that happens over a long length of time, is deeply affecting. The triumph of this book is that fact that Mary Trump talks about abuse and her experiences, this kind of abuse can happen in any home, any social class. It's a roll of the dice what parent's you get in life, and a parent can affect your entire living experience as a human being. Mary is a brave person, willing to stand up and speak, her book is a fascinating insight into family dysfunction. Despite the book having a bias it's an exceptional look at a powerful family seen through a young girls eyes, of the obession with wealth and power at all costs of a dysfunctional family.

Themes are abuse, addiction, sociopathy, child-development, sibling rivalry, power and wealth, American dream of the self-made man, success and how it is viewed in society.

Mary L. Trump in an interview about the book:

Short video of little children being asked about Trump: