Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump

In TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH, Mary L. Trump draws a detailed portrait of the Trump family pathologies with the intimacy of a psychological case study-- which makes sense, considering that she's a clinical psychologist. Her even-keeled, neutral (for the most part) tone make the irrational behaviors of the people in this book seem even more abhorrent by comparison. The occasional sarcastic aside is just icing on the cake.

I wasn't too sure what to expect about TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH going in, despite the attempted block from the Trump family to keep it from being published. Trump had also attempted to block Michael Wolff and John Bolton from publishing their "tell-alls," as well, and the result was that both of them became best-sellers and garnered a whole bunch of free press. Literally the same exact thing happened with Mary L. Trump's book, but Donald Trump's inability to admit to fault or learn from past mistakes is just one of his (many) flaws. I was left with the impression that Mary Trump was essentially opening her own "tea" shop to spill all the gossip about Trump, but this book doesn't tell anything too scandalizing or surprising. It basically fills in the gaps about things that are public knowledge but have been forgotten or pushed aside in favor of newer, more recent scandals.

The book starts out with a history of the Trump family, beginning with Fred, DT's father, who appears to have been a high-functioning sociopath that enjoyed pitting his children against each other, reveled in the humiliations of others, despised weakness and personal accountability, and groomed Donald to be his successor, while also enabling him to be antisocial, unaccountable, and superficial by not punishing him for misbehavior and essentially providing him with a bottomless well of cash flow for all of his horrible and/or questionable business decisions. Freddy, Mary's father, was the original successor, as the eldest child, but his personal weaknesses made him distasteful to Fred, and the inability to please or escape ended up facilitating an alcohol addiction that helped kill him.

We follow Trump through the 80s, when he began to be popular as "the poor man's idea of rich" (paraphrased from Fran Lebowitz), his two previous wives, his inappropriate comments and cruelties. It's chilling how his lack of empathy or concern towards the mounting American deaths in the COVID-19 crisis mirror his behavior towards his own family members. For example, when Freddy Trump was in the hospital for the heart attack that would end his life, Donald Trump went out to the movies instead of waiting at home with the family. When his own mother was mugged so violently that she suffered a hemorrhage, and Mary visited her every day, Trump snarked that wasn't it great that she had so much "free time." In his own internal calculus, it seems clear that weakness and suffering are liabilities that he can't afford in a world of superlatives where everything around him must be "great" or "fantastic," and especially if those things are a reflection on him.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this book-- apart from the obvious, which is how this country facilitated and continues to enable the abuses of power that Donald Trump wields with the carelessness of a child with a dangerous weapon-- is how badly Mary and her brother Fritz were treated by the family. Donald Trump first tried to essentially oust his whole family from his father's will by attaching a codicil to his father's will that would have made him sole executor. It was caught by pure luck and he and his siblings were all made executors with equal power. You would think that this would make the siblings sympathetic to being cut out of what is their due, but the whole family undervalued Mary and Fritz's inheritance when they were cut out of the will and forced to settle for a pittance, giving them a very, very small fraction of what they should have received. And when they tried to sue for what was theirs, Maryanne, Trump's older sister, had their health insurance revoked-- which came as a huge blow to Fritz, whose son had severe medical issues that necessitated hospital visits for frequent seizures. The lawyer suggested that if they were worried about their child not breathing, they could "learn CPR." Charming.

His lack of respect for Melania and creepy behavior with Ivanka get a throwaway scene each, which is all that's really necessary, because they are so emblematic of his usual patterns. Likewise, his pompous, inappropriate form of "leadership" as president is showcased in the opening scene, when he invites his relatives to the White House for a visit that ends up being both classless and disturbing. TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH is a portrait of a person who lacks empathy, shirks responsibility (but would like to take all the credit while also avoiding any blame). I think it's pretty safe to say, objectively, that he is the worst president the United States has ever had, and that his handling of our crises and petty attempts to deny care and funding to those who oppose him while also making a concerted effort to sow dissent while attacking our nation's most vulnerable showcase his bullying mentality and his desperate need to always feel strong by making others seem weak.

Some will probably say that Mary was too kind or too level in her biography of this man, but I think when writing books like this it's important to strike that kind of tone. If you make someone into a cartoonish villain, it becomes too easy to write them off as a joke, and I think that was one of the biggest mistakes of the 2016 election. Nobody took Trump seriously until it was too late. He needs to be held accountable and taken to task for his bad behavior, and his policies need to be questioned, and he needs to be asked the tough questions that he fears will make him out to be the fool he is.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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