“The story mattered more than the truth…” This simple fact that we’ve all learned to be true of Donald J. Trump countless times underlies the true essence of what Dr. Mary Trump has to say about her uncle. The story he believes, the story he tells, the story he repeats time and time again is always more important than the truth. Out of respect for Dr. Mary Trump, clinical psychologist and author of the book, I will refer to her simply as Trump, more deserving of the formal respect than the president whom I will only call Donald from here on.
Trump’s book is a revelation of sorts on some level, but more so is a tangible confirmation and explanation for the things we’ve known all along. The story matters more than the truth; Donald lacks compassion and empathy; he has never been held accountable in any serious way, ultimately encouraging him to push the limits and move the goal post to see exactly how much he can get away with. We’ve known these things for years, held captive daily by the news of human rights atrocities perpetrated globally, nasty insults thrown across cyberspace, exposés of new criminal behaviour from Donald’s entourage, and more. The news cycle never ceases to mention Donald in a 24-hour period, and we respond to it, feeding his ego, signalling for more. We can’t look away.
If we’ve known all of these things all along, then what makes Trump’s book so alluring? Why did I order a copy as soon as I could get my hands on it? Why did I read it cover to cover in one day? What is it about this book that has caught the eye of not only the entire nation, but also a global stage, having been published in five major cities across the world? The answer is quite simple: it’s raw.
Trump manages to capture the emotional state the vast majority of us have felt at one point or another since 8 November 2016. She brings such a deeply personal rawness to the book, writing from the perplexity and anger and sorrow and educated prescience so many of us have been unable to put to words. I went to this book for understanding, to find an explanation as to why the horrible things threatening the fabric of my country keep happening, and what I got was an emotional response I genuinely didn’t think possible from someone sharing Donald’s bloodline. And I think that’s the point.
Over the last 1,280 days of Donald’s presidency, I have displaced the humanity of the president from his person. I have numbed myself to the thought that a single person could be so far removed from the emotional scale of human empathy so that I may continue to believe in the goodness of human nature. I didn’t realise this until I read the book. Hannah Arendt warns against this very idea in her Eichmann in Jerusalem, writing that when we displace evil deeds and evil behaviours from a human, claiming that they are “monstrous,” we perpetuate an idea that humans cannot be capable of exacting atrocities against other humans. When we label someone as a “monster,” we make them singular; we suggest that only that singular person could have executed the plans lain before him; we remove any acting agents who helped him in his cause to perpetrate “monstrosities.” When we remove someone’s humanity, their actions are no longer our problems to police. We as a community have a duty to one another, a duty to the collective, to hold one another up to a certain moral standard so as to create a safer world in which “monsters” cannot get away with being “monsters.”
Donald is not a monster. Donald is a man who has experienced, according to Dr. Trump, countless failures on both the parts of his immediate family as well as the world to correct his behaviour and hold him accountable.
Trump’s book is not solely about Donald. The majority of the book focuses on Fred Trump – Donald’s father – and Freddy Trump – his older brother, Mary Trump’s father, and heir apparent to the Trump Management empire. The discussions around Fred Sr. explicitly state his sociopathy, his inability to connect with any human on an emotional level, and his failures as both a husband and a father. Fred’s character boils down to the understanding that to him, the only value of a person was monetary, and the idea that, in the Trump family, money was the currency of love.
Fred’s relationship with his eldest son was the only one that mattered to him for the entirety of the five Trump sibling’s childhoods. Fred berated him and publicly humiliated Freddy whenever he did something wrong, never praising him for anything he did right. The lessons imparted on Freddy in this way broke his spirit, instilled a self-value perpetually in the negative, and drove him to a short life of alcoholism, self-sabotage, and self-loathing. Freddy Trump died at the age of 42 alone in a hospital that could have saved his life in the weeks prior during which he lie sick in a bed in his parents’ home, forgotten and neglected.
Donald witnessed the treatment Freddy received throughout their childhoods and learned only that the way to get ahead in the family was to not be Freddy. While Fred’s attentions were laser-focussed on his eldest son, his second youngest was acting out, being “tough,” pushing the limits of unruliness, hardening his emotions to not seem weak, vying for attention in any way opposite to whatever Freddy did. By the time Donald was an adult, Fred started to take notice and understood that the best way to punish Freddy was to promote Donald instead. Donald’s entire relationship with himself, with his father, and with his brother revolved around asserting himself as the best option, building a grandiose image that hopefully his father would buy, showing the world that no one mattered to him more than himself, despite the fact that nothing will ever mean more to Donald than the approval of his long-dead father.
The character we see in the Oval Office now is one of an abused child. Donald received and witnessed years of trauma and zero corrective behaviours. As a young adult, all of these character traits – the story mattering more than the truth; the fundamental need to assert himself as the best; the ever evolving grandiosity with which he presents himself – were reinforced by never being held accountable. His father continued to promote him even when bankruptcy after bankruptcy proved his ineptitude; the banks continued to fund his projects even when the ventures were mathematically absurd; the media continued to print stories about his scandalous life even when the acts they were publishing were morally barren; the American people continued to elect him even when he proved to be devoid of American values.
Dr. Trump in no way excuses his sociopathic tendencies over the course of the book. She explains the origins that she is aware of, the many personal examples she either witnessed or knew first hand from the family, sometimes in such precise details the reader is left feeling as though we are reading something which we shouldn’t. In one passage, she recalls that the youngest Trump sibling, her uncle Robert, would “often” peel the foil back from a block of Philadelphia cream cheese and eat it “as if it were a candy bar, then wash it down with soda.” Early on, she remarks that on a tour of the White House in 2017 before a family dinner, she noted a half-eaten apple on the bedside table in the Lincoln bedroom as Donald wrongfully stated that the room had “never looked better since George Washington lived here.” Trump quickly notes that George Washington never lived in the White House as it was constructed after his death, but no one in the room had the nerve to correct Donald – an oddly personal example of his lack of accountability that, when I read it at least, I could feel the uncomfortable tension of wanting to scream about the sheer disrespect of the whole encounter.
This accountability is the largest takeaway from the book. Dr. Trump is not excusing his behaviours, merely explaining them; however, she is boldly condemning the American population for allowing this lack of accountability to continue. In a world in which the most powerful man in the world is locking children in cages at the Southern border, sentencing swaths of the population to death to preserve the crumbling scraps of the economy during a global pandemic, lashing out at our allies, protecting our enemies, lying directly to the faces of the American people, and more, it is up to us to stand up and remind ourselves that Donald is not a monster, but a man. He is not the product of his own actions alone, but rather he is the product of our banality and inaction against his own.
In 1946, Merle Curti, a forefather of American intellectual history, wrote:
Whether America will provide an even larger freedom at home, an even stronger hope for the world, depends upon what citizens make of our country – depends not only upon the strength of our devotion to it, but also upon the character of that devotion. In a democracy blind, unthinking love of country must presumably give way more and more to intelligent and understanding patriotism, if that democracy as such is to survive. That being so, an examination of the sources and nature of American patriotism may be more than an academic exercise; and he who reads it thoughtfully may be helped toward more enlightened citizenship.Merle Curti, The Roots of American Loyalty, New York: Columbia University Press, 1946, vii.
As American citizens, it is our duty to challenge this administration for the preservation of American ideals and character. The blind, unthinking love that Curti denounces is the same blind, unthinking love Donald is demanding of the American people. His dedication to devotion is entirely self-serving and proves the 2-dimensional version of himself that we’ve all known was the extent of the depth of his character for years. Dr. Mary Trump’s book is not ground-breaking or earth shattering news; it is a reminder that it is our collective duty to remember both that Donald Trump is a man and that he is as strong as we allow him to be. Her book is a reminder that we have the moral obligation to both our country and our world to hold Donald Trump and his entourage accountable for their many crimes. Too Much and Never Enough is a reminder that the truth always matters more than the story.
This article features quotes from: Mary L. Trump, Too Much and Never Enough, London: Simon & Schuster, 2020