If you’ve been present for the last five years, you know that Donald Trump (herein mostly referred to as 45*) is all about winning. But sometimes his wins aren’t especially positive. Like the story Mary Trump tells in her new book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Winning in the family dysfunction sweepstakes isn’t any better than winning in pandemic death counts.
But this book isn’t a political screed, although Mary Trump is certainly opposed to her uncle’s politics. At its heart, it’s a family memoir. And boy, this family has some issues. People have been writing about emotionally unavailable or damaging parents or grandparents since the dawn of time. That’s where this book centers—on Fred Trump, Sr. and the damage he did to his children. Plus, how that not only passed down to the next generation, but to our country as a whole.
Mary Trump tells stories of large family gatherings, and smaller moments. She connects those experiences to her doctoral clinical psychology degree and related experience. And since her undergrad and Master’s degrees are in literature, she pulls it together with quality writing. It was compulsively easy to finish this in a 24-hour time span.
Trump’s grief over the pain her father, Fred, Jr., suffered is palpable. In a nutshell, the expectation from Fred Sr. was that his oldest son would join the family business. There was no alternative in Sr.’s mind. It went downhill fast from there, and is a case study in the damage done by misplaced parental pressure.
On the other hand, Trump is considerably less charitable towards her uncle Donald. In her childhood, teens, and early twenties, she had plenty of contact with him. The family gathered often for meals and other reasons. But make no mistake, these weren’t idyllic times. Fred, Sr. showed constant division among his children. He compared and judged them, all against his demanding, often self-centered metrics. Trump proves her thesis—that this caused irreparable damage to them all—quite clearly.
In particular, Sr. took his kids and pitted them against each other, especially the boys. He encouraged divisiveness and rewarded it. That’s how it was when 45 was a teenager, trying to please his dad. So he pushed all the cruel treatment boundaries of his siblings, his equals in the family. And he’s never stopped trying to roll over into everyone’s personal space (and more) with his desire to win.
Several key topic areas
The book’s content breaks out like this. I’m sure I’ll decide later to add more categories. Nevertheless, these are the primary topics Trump covers.
25% General family relationships, especially dysfunctions
20% Uncle Donald and his behavior / psychological pathology over decades
15% Grandfather Fred and his emotional / psychological abuse of family
15% Trump family business matters and practices
10% The short life and tragic story of her father
10% Inheritance lawsuit and what it revealed
5% The author’s analysis of how the U.S. is now impacted by all of the above
My conclusions and emotions
Mary Trump explains the title differently, and I’ll let you read the book to find that. But, for me, this is a family with too much privilege, and never enough empathy. Those elements, plus Fred, Sr. and his issues, are at the heart of the Trump family dysfunction.
My primary interest in reading this book is the psychological underpinnings of a bombastic public figure. Secondarily, I’m curious about the back back back story of 45. And this covers events from longer ago than any other book I’ve read about him. Mary Trump delivered on both types of content for me.
I thought about my own family while reading the book. Not because we are debt-ridden billionaire real estate moguls. But because my grandparents all had flaws that my parents grew up around. Doesn’t everyone? In fact, nobody’s personality, for good or ill, is developed in a vacuum. Every child is affected by the kind of parent they have. Not one of us is an exception to this rule. But, the vast majority of us don’t become President of the United States. And lots of us go into therapy to attempt to cope with and overcome any damage done by our family.
Also, many families have that one person who makes you crazy. And then someone from the outside (a new, outspoken spouse, for example) comes in and says, “but, you guys created this person by enabling their behavior.” And everyone looks around, points to someone else, and says, “they did it!” Welcome to this book. Except the person starting the discussion is a lifetime member of the family, not a newbie.
I recommend this book if you’re curious about family history of famous people or appreciate dysfunctional family stories. There’s plenty of business and legal terminology thrown into the mix, so be prepared for that. And, thankfully, it’s pretty short at just over 200 pages.
It was a shock to my system to read this after two books about the lives of Black boys and men in America. The dichotomy is stark and upsetting. But after you read this book, an “American Dream” reality check is in order. Or you could pair this with another family memoir. Go famous and try Sally Field’s excellent memoir called In Pieces. Or try something inspiring like Julián Castro’s An Unlikely Journey, which might also renew your hope in the elemental goodness of some political figures.
*as in 45th President, to distinguish from author Mary Trump