TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.
Simon & Schuster
JULY 14, 2020: Today marked the publication of Too Much and Never Enough, the “tell-all” book by the niece of the president of the United States. The book has received the legal imprimatur to come out, in spite of efforts in court by Donald Trump and his brother to stop publication.
Furthermore, in another case just adjudicated, Mary Trump (the author) has been granted the freedom to speak publicly about her book anywhere and everywhere, despite the family’s parallel effort to muzzle her interviews and appearances.
Also, this morning: I knew I’d have more than an hour to listen to an audiobook while driving a van carrying nearly half a ton of groceries to a Food Pantry in Richmond, California. It’s a 20-plus mile (32-plus kilometre) trip each way from the warehouse where I pick up my load.
At 3:30 a.m., while having coffee and perusing the cyber-world a bit before leaving home, I decided to download the book on Audible.com. There was no downside to that. Audible has a liberal book-exchange program. Furthermore, if Mary Trump’s book turned out to be a dud, I had other listening choices for the drive.
But it was far from a dud! In fact, so far, Too Much and Never Enough is—by far—the most incisive book I’ve heard or read about Donald Trump and his effects on people and things.
The author begins the book with a lengthy and personal Prologue, which (among other things), describes what it’s been like to be “a Trump”:
- To attend a birthday party for her aunt, in the Oval Office of the White House, in 2017.
- To see her last name practically worshiped by some and denounced by many others.
- To have seen, firsthand, the abusive nature of the family—and to have witnessed the abuse, abandonment and neglect of her father, who died at age 42, at the hands of her grandfather and uncle (stories she will tell in later chapters).
I finished the Prologue just as I arrived at the Food Pantry, disconnecting my phone and getting out of the van to help the volunteers there unload. For the first time, I sent a message up to the manager in the office, rather than walking up to greet him personally, because I felt a need to get back to the book! The writing/storytelling was incredibly compelling! I felt every word being branded into my consciousness.
So why is the book so compelling?
Mary Trump, as many now know, has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and has been a practicing psychologist for many years. In addition, she grew up as the daughter of Donald Trump’s older brother, Fred, and thus has been privy to Trump family events for decades.
This book is an “inside job.” The author is steeped in “Trumpness.” As she says in the book’s Prologue, for the past three years, she has been witnessing Donald Trump doing to America what she once saw his father, and later him, do to their family.
The academic/literary discipline of psychohistory is defined in an online dictionary as 1) the interpretation of historical events with the aid of psychological theory, 2) a work that interprets historical events with the aid of psychological theory and 3) a psychological history of an individual.
The discipline is recognized by many scholars as a serious field of study. Others are somewhat dismissive. Among the most influential books that have attempted to marry history and/or biography with psychoanalytic theory and interpretation are Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom, and Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther.
However, Mary Trump has “life-credentials” that few authors of psychohistory books have had! She is in the unusual position of having grown up in the family of the man who is now what could be called the official head of a larger “family,” the United States of America.
While it’s true that some academics might ding Mary Trump for being too close to her subject, I submit that 1) she can’t help her birth, and 2) she deserves thoughtful appraisal—in my opinion, her training in psychology and her maturity as a person and a writer have enabled her (thus far, in the book) to make her points with both passion and objectivity.
That is what I think makes her words so forceful. The patterns she describes have the urgency of some kind of personal myth, one which she witnessed during her upbringing and is seeing re-enacted once again in a wider sphere, as her uncle imposes the grid of his psychological make-up upon the United States and the entire world.
Hearing her read her own words in the audiobook, I personally experience her voice as having the authority of truth. She also happens to be an excellent writer, who studied literature before embarking upon her career path in psychology.
The combination of all these factors gives the book a compelling force that none of the previous books about Trump or his administration have had for me, valuable though they may have been. Mary Trump’s book is, in my opinion, a work that Americans and others will do well to dip into. As the author says in her Prologue, “If he is afforded a second term, it will be the end of American democracy.”
A concluding passage
I don’t think that my discussion of Mary Trump’s book can entirely convey the immediacy of her own words. Therefore, I’ll conclude this piece with a passage from Too Much and Never Enough. She concludes her Prologue with this passage:
No one knows how Donald came to be who he is better than his own family. Unfortunately, almost all of them remain silent out of loyalty or fear. I’m not hindered by either of those. In addition to the first-hand accounts I can give as my father’s daughter and my uncle’s only niece, I have the perspective of a trained clinical psychologist. Too Much and Never Enough is the story of the most powerful and visible family in the world. And I am the only Trump who is willing to tell it.
I hope this book will end the practice of referring to Donald Trump as having strategies or agendas, as if he operates according to any organizing principles. He doesn’t. Donald’s ego has been and is a fragile and inadequate barrier between him and the real world, which, thanks to his father’s money and power, he never had to negotiate by himself. Donald has always needed to perpetuate the fiction my grandfather started—that he is strong, smart, and otherwise extraordinary, because facing the truth that he is none of those things is too terrifying for him to contemplate.
Donald, following the lead of my grandfather, and with the complicity, silence and inaction of his siblings, destroyed my father. I can’t let him destroy my country.
I’m writing this the day before the publication of this article. At this point, I’m well into the actual guts of the book, with only a few chapters left. The narrative is a more-or-less chronological account. I remain impressed with Mary Trump’s insights and writing skill.
What I want to share here is that I’ve discovered a kind of bonus of reading or listening to a book in the psychohistory genre. Because we’re all variations on the theme of human development and maturing, such a book has a kind of mirror-effect, encouraging the reader’s further contemplation of his or her own life.
Mary Trump narrates the emotional poverty of Donald’s upbringing with a money-and-power-obsessed father and a mother who had limited availability after a nearly-fatal hemorrhage following the birth of her last child, Robert, in 1948. In telling that story, she also weaves in some information from developmental psychology about the need of each of us for love, affection and trust. This background material puts the picture of Donald’s upbringing in bold relief as including none of these necessities.
I couldn’t help thinking more deeply about my own early-life situation, how hard it is to “thread the needle” with all of these factors, and how most of us are thrown back upon our own resilience in the face of at least some “imperfect” circumstances. It became a profound meditation. Too Much and Never Enough is an important current events document, but also a richly human one.
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images: Max Reif