Mary Trump’s novel Too Much and Never Enough was released on July 8th, and yesterday the court dismissed the remaining suit against its promotion. Ava DeSantis writes how the novel fails as the politically relevant exposé and wins as a psychological analysis of the President.
Mary Trump, President Trump’s niece, examined the psychological roots of the President’s narcissism, braggadocio, cruelty, and need for public approval. Ms. Trump questioned the President’s self-made billionaire status and ideology, pitching her work as an effort to prevent her uncle from destroying her country.
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man is a soapy retelling of President Donald Trump’s childhood and family story. The novel will be of interest to historians and casual readers alike, but is not the politically relevant exposé Ms. Trump promoted it as.
In the legal battle prior to the publication of Trump’s novel, Ms. Trump signed an affidavit in which she dubbed her family story as of “deep national relevance.” Pushing against an attempted block on the book’s publication, Ms. Trump’s attorneys argued that the book is highly protected political speech. The public has a right to this information especially, Ms. Trump’s attorneys argued, during an election year.
“[The Judge] got it right in rejecting the Trump family’s effort to squelch Mary Trump’s core political speech on important issues of public concern,” said Ted Boutros, Jr., attorney for Ms. Trump.
The same, tired portrait
Mary Trump paints a convincing portrait of a cruel, lying narcissist, but not a new one. Ms. Trump appears to suffer under the same delusion the media admitted during the 2016 election: voters would not support him if they discovered that he is not a ‘self-made’ billionaire, a kind person, or a smart person, and that his supporters would believe anything a Trump critic says.
Mary Trump’s prologue is a narrative of her trip to the White House for her aunt’s birthday party, hosted by the President. She uses her trip to illustrate Trump’s disregard for truthfulness and his unkindness towards his family.
“Donald made some perfunctory remarks about my aunts’ birthdays, after which he gestured toward his daughter-in-law,” Ms. Trump described. “‘Lara, there,’ he said. ‘I barely even knew who the fuck she was, honestly, but then she gave a great speech during the campaign in Georgia supporting me.’ By then, Lara and Eric had been together for almost eight years, so presumably Donald has at least met her at their wedding. But it sounded as if he hadn’t known who she was until she had said something nice about him at a campaign rally during the election. As usually with Donald, the story mattered more than the truth, which was easily sacrificed, especially if a lie made the story sound better.”
The media ran stories concerning Trump’s untruthfulness so often, since he announced his candidacy for president in 2015, it is a journalistic trope. Last year, for example, CNN ran a story entitled “A month-by-month look at Donald Trump’s top 12 lies of 2019.” The Washington Post keeps a regularly updated count of the President’s lies. This Monday, according to the Post, Trump made “more than 20,000 false or misleading claims.”
All of this work simply reinforces the President’s presentation of himself as the antithesis of the mainstream media and liberal punditry.
Mary Trump asserts that the media failed by not covering his lack of family support, as if Trump did not explicitly position himself as the enemy of the entrenched American political and financial dynasties. “The media failed to notice that not one member of Donald’s family, apart from his children, his son-in-law, and his current wife said a word in support of him during the entire campaign,” Ms. Trump writes. His sister, Ms. Trump continued, only voted for him out of “family loyalty.”
This portrait is historically relevant, regardless of Trump’s faults he will represent an important period in American history, but I cannot fathom which voters will read Ms. Trump’s tale and change their stance on the President. In other words, I cannot imagine Ms. Trump’s novel will impact the 2020 election, as is her stated goal. Too Much and Never Enough is much more a drama than an exposé.
Ms. Trump described an interaction between her and Trump’s sister, Maryanne, watching his 2016 campaign unfold. The women discussed “how his reputation as a faded reality star and failed businessman would doom his run.” Mary wondered “does anybody even believe the bullshit that he’s a self-made man? What has he even accomplished on his own?”
The President hired a man named Joe Shapiro to take his SATs for him, his sister Maryanne did his homework for him, and he used his brother’s insider at the University of Pennsylvania to ensure his acceptance into their Wharton School of Business. After he graduated, his first two development projects went smoothly because of “Fred’s expertise as a developer and deal maker. Neither would have been possible without his contacts, influence, approval, money, knowledge, and, maybe most important, endorsement of Donald.”
His father deliberately promoted Donald’s image. “In interviews in the early 1980s, Fred claimed that Donald’s success had far exceeded his own. ‘I gave Donald free rein,’ he said. ‘He has great visions, and everything he touches turns to gold. Donald is the smartest person I know.’”
Mary Trump’s continued debunking of Trump’s so-called self-made billionaire status is lengthy and entertaining, but, as with her attacks on his character, tired and unoriginal, and likely will not affect the American electorate.
Ms. Trump details how the President cheated his family and his education, and rode his father’s coattails to achieve his wealth and reputation. This narrative is not impactful to a country in which 70% of adults already believe our economic system “unfairly favors the powerful interests,” and is not fair for most Americans. In other words, Americans expect the son of a powerful developer to take advantage of the system to increase his own wealth.
Ms. Trump also tells a much more personal aspect of Trump’s manipulation, how he not only used his portion of his father’s assets to advantage himself, but also his brother’s portion. Mary Trump’s grandfather disinherited her, after the death of her father, and was instead “included in a bequest made separately to all of the grandchildren” which left her with less than a tenth of 1 percent of what her aunts and uncles inherited. Ms. Trump complained, “in the context of the entire estate it was a very small amount of money”
Later, Mary Trump would sue her family for more of her grandfather’s estate. The Trump family deliberately underestimated the value of the estate in Ms. Trump’s settlement. This aspect of the Trump family story is newer to the public, but again I doubt it will be impactful. It is difficult to imagine middle class Trump supporters feeling sympathy for the would-be inheritors of a family fortune, to which they contributed no more or less than Trump himself.
Trump: a victim of child abuse
While Mary Trump’s observations of Trump’s rudeness, cheating, cruelty, and untruthfulness are far from groundbreaking, Too Much and Never Enough is fascinating when it draws a connection between Trump’s faults and his childhood of both ‘too much’ and ‘not enough.’ Mary Trump is a clinical psychologist who handily diagnoses her uncle, blaming her grandfather’s failure as a father.
To explain the President’s narcissism and self-promotion, Mary Trump describes a household rife with competition between brothers Donald and Fred Trump. “As Donald grew up,” writes Ms. Trump, “he was forced to become his own cheerleader, first, because he needed his father to believe he was a better and more confident son than Freddy was; then because Fred required it of him; and finally because he began to believe his own hype.” The narrative Trump created to impress his father, he now believes himself.
As a result, Mary has “no problem calling Donald a narcissist.” In her professional opinion, he may also have dependent personality disorder, indicated by his inability to take responsibility, or antisocial personality disorder, indicated by his arrogance and disregard for the rights of others.
“Child abuse is, in some sense, the experience of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’” wrote Ms. Trump. President Trump, who lost his mother to sickness for a year during his childhood, experienced not enough parental care and empathy, and too much expectation and attention from his father. Trump developed a self-obsessed narcissism as a result of this lack of affection and care, and his father in turn praised this behavior.
“Put another way,” explained Ms. Trump, “Fred Trump came to validate, encourage, and champion the things about Donald that rendered him essentially unlovable and that were in part the direct result of Fred’s abuse.” Trump’s personality “served his father’s purpose,” of increasing the family’s status and wealth.
The Trump Presidency
Mary Trump’s political analysis is strongest where she examines the psychological impact of the presidency on the President’s existing habits and disorders. Ms. Trump argues “Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how he would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.”
The power of the presidency allows Trump’s worst instincts to affect millions of Americans, but, Mary hypothesizes, he still directs his actions at his late father, the one who made him. “Every time you hear Donald talking about how something is the greatest, the best, the biggest, the most tremendous (the implication being that he made them so), you have to remember that the man speaking is still, in essential ways, the same little boy who is desperately worried that he, like his older brother, is inadequate and that he, too, will be destroyed for his inadequacy. At a very deep level, his bragging and false bravado are not directed at the audience in front of him but at his audience of one: his long-dead father.”