There’s been much psychoanalysis of Trump. Though his depravity seems obvious to any objective observer, supporters dismiss that as baseless partisan slander. Mary Trump cannot be so dismissed. A professional clinical PhD psychologist, she also has intimate first hand knowledge of Donald, her uncle, having been quite close to the family for most of her 55 years. So her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man is absolutely authoritative.
If she were writing to “cash in,” or vent family grudges, she’d have done it years ago, she says. To avoid any such appearance, she refrained during 2016. Now, however, Mary says her speaking out is a matter of “literally life and death” for the country. (Two hundred thousand, at least, have died so far.)
The book is a family saga. There’s a whole genre of “parents from Hell” memoirs. Donald’s mother was missing in action, too fragile and needy to give her five kids any nurturing. But the main character was Donald’s father, Fred Trump, who made a fortune as a property baron. Fred enjoyed only two things in life: money and cruelty. Devoid of human sympathy, his children meant nothing to him except as tools for his ego.
His eldest son was Fred Junior, “Freddy,” Mary’s father. Initially Freddy was tagged as Fred’s successor to run the property empire. He did spend most of his life employed there. Yet Fred himself sabotaged Freddy in that role. His whole existence was a desperate struggle to earn his father’s approval, but he never could; Fred made sure of it. Her father, Mary Writes, “withered and died beneath the cruelty and contempt of my grandfather.”
I kept saying to myself, “Freddy, tell your father ‘fuck you,’ walk away, and live your own life.” But Freddy couldn’t. Instead he stuck around and allowed himself to be destroyed. Driven into alcoholism and dying at 42.
Enter Donald, Fred’s younger son. Watching Freddy’s tragic struggle for their father’s respect, Donald went the opposite way. Instead of sucking up to his father and making himself look weak in consequence, Donald acted out as the bad boy and defied his parents at every turn. And not only was he not punished — not only did he escape Freddydom — he quickly found this did perversely gain his father’s approval. Fred saw Donald as his own alter ego. Just as “tough” and ruthless, just as sociopathic. So Donald became the new heir apparent, and soon had the run of the castle.
Some who experience abusive childhoods repeat the syndromes in their own adulthood. Others can overcome that legacy, and, through social interaction with normal people, rebalance their personas into healthier ones. Donald was certainly in the former category. Indeed, the pathologies he developed growing up in that toxic family intensified, to a grotesquely extreme degree.
As Mary writes, throughout his life, Donald “continued to get away with — and even be rewarded for — increasingly crass, irresponsible, and despicable behavior.” At the final capstone — his election as president — she felt “This can’t possibly be happening.” (Her emphasis.)
Mary agrees with the oft-heard diagnosis of malignant narcissism. But it’s much worse than that — she also sees antisocial personality disorder (i.e., sociopathy) — entailing “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.” Surely accurate about Donald.
She says that as Donald grew up, “he needed his father to believe he was a better and more confident son than Freddy was . . . he began to believe his own hype, even as he paradoxically suspected on a very deep level that nobody else did.” Thus his insatiable craving for affirmations of his wonderfulness. Which not even becoming president assuages. So he stages cabinet meetings and pandemic briefings, etc., that are really just sycophantic praise-orgies. Foreign leaders quickly learned to play him like a fiddle with flattery. Indeed, Mary says, for all his posturing as the savvy tough “art of the deal” guy, Donald is actually a thoroughly manipulable patsy. As seen endlessly in his presidential performance.
The irony is that his focus on sustaining an image of vast competence has always blocked him from being competent. Like it’s never occurred to him to earn praise by actually being praiseworthy.
But he does have one true talent— for putting across the scam that his whole life constitutes. Fooling people. As Mary shows chronicling his business history: repeatedly leaving others holding the bag when his business disasters have blown up. Trump may be the most successful failure ever.
He’s often reported as enraged — by what is always really insufficient ass-kissing. So huge is his sense of entitlement that he constantly feels he’s being “treated very unfairly,” a phrase that’s virtually a verbal tic. Mary assesses his predominant emotion as fear. Fear of being exposed, finally, as the fraud he, deep down, knows himself to be. Staving that off is his life mission. (This is why he won’t accept, in the most literal sense, election defeat.)
Mary writes that we’ve “been shielded until now from the worst effects of his pathologies by a stable economy and a lack of serious crises.” But the pandemic, the economic collapse, and deepening societal divides “have created a perfect storm of catastrophes that no one is less equipped than my uncle to manage. Doing so would require courage, strength of character, deference to experts, and the confidence to take responsibility and to course correct after admitting mistakes.” Instead, Trump’s toolkit is limited to “lying, spinning, and obfuscating” — now leaving him impotent.
So what to make of that recorded February 7 interview where Donald said he knew coronavirus was really bad, but was telling the nation the opposite to avoid panic? Some say his only concern is re-election, not lives at stake. Surely true, yet this was no way to gain votes. He could have ensured his re-election with swift and strong covid action. But no — actually, he couldn’t. Was incapable of that.
It was himself he didn’t want to panic. A national catastrophe did not fit with his ideation of personal glory, so he tried to will it away. After all, he’d skated through his whole life on lies. Saying Covid was under control and would magically disappear was just one more. Lying to himself as well as the public. Donald’s biggest sucker is Donald.
Talking heads often discuss his actions as if there’s calculation behind them. Mary Trump makes clear what’s always been obvious — Donald is incapable of real calculation, foresight, or strategy. He’s an unguided missile. True too of his February 7 interview. A considered strategy of avoiding panic? No. That trope came into his head just as the words came out of his mouth.
Mary’s book anatomizes Donald’s depravity, but the picture has long been clear to anyone with open eyes. But too many American eyes were closed in 2016, and far too many still are. While Trump voters are filled with factoids that defy reality,* and too uninterested in learning the real reality. A charitable view is that they just don’t care. Less charitably, they’re so irresponsible it’s insane. No set of political views or supposed values or feelings or resentments can justify it.
Trump is trying to exploit fear of violence in the streets. A poll shows many now fear it more than covid. My own sister shocked me by falling for this. As if Trump isn’t himself greatly responsible for the societal divisions behind these “riots.” And as if they’re harming the country more than the pandemic. What does truly threaten our future is putting it in the hands of this corrupt, incompetent, lying sociopath. Street violence won’t destroy our democracy. Trump will.
*The Economist’s latest issue quotes one who “especially liked Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt,” and another saying, “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do.”
This post first appeared on The Rational Optimist | Frank S. Robinson's Blog On Life, Society, Politics, And Philosophy, please read the originial post: here