One of Donald Trump's favorite statements is "Nobody knows more about [fill in the blank] than me."
Trump receives a perfect score on a mental acuity test: "Person. Woman. Man. Camera, TV" Amazing! What a genius! Joe Biden could never do that!
Mary Trump is Donald's niece--the daughter of Fred Trump, Jr., Donald's oldest sibling. In her new book--Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man--she explains how Donald's father created his mental disorders and his myth of himself as the self-made successful businessman--who knows more about everything than anybody. In doing that, she supports two of the themes in my past commentary on Trump--the biopolitical study of his personality and the Aristotelian study of his rhetorical myth. This also illustrates the importance of understanding the individual history of political actors for biopolitical science.
In this one hour interview with George Stephanopoulos, Mary speaks about most of the main points in her book.
In a way, Mary's book is less about Donald Trump that it is about Fred Trump--his father. Speaking from her knowledge of the Trump family and her knowledge as a psychologist with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, she says that Fred Trump was a "high-functioning sociopath" (24). He had no real human feeling for anyone. He was incapable of empathy. He cared only about what was important to him--his real-estate business. He was interested in other people only if they could help him in his business.
Fred did not think it was his job to care for young children. He was not much interested in his two daughters--Maryanne and Elizabeth--because as women they were inferior. He was more interested in his sons--Freddy, Donald, and Robert--but only if they could work in his business and show the "killer" personality necessary for business success. He made all of his children uncomfortable with either expressing or confronting deep emotions, because he scorned this as showing weakness. Being a "killer" meant being invulnerable.
Fred became a fan of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, and he joined Peale's Marble Collegiate Church, although he rarely attended. He had not read the book, but he liked the idea in the title--that the key to success was to always think positive. Mary calls this his "toxic positivity"--the insistence that the best response to human suffering is to declare that everything's just great. Fred's wife was sick for much of her life. Because of her osteoporosis, her bones were so brittle that she often suffered excruciating pain from broken bones. Whenever she was suffering, Fred would say something like "Everything's great. Right. Toots? You just have to think positive," and then he would leave her alone with her pain. Mary repeats that line more than once. It's even the last sentence of the book (93, 161, 211).
Fred hoped that his oldest son--Freddy (Mary's father)--would succeed in his business and carry on the Trump empire. But when Freddy did not satisfy his expectations, he demeaned him as a failure. Freddy enjoyed flying, and he became a pilot for TWA, but his father ridiculed this as an unimportant job. Freddy was forced to quit that job because of his alcoholism. His health suffered from the effects of his excessive drinking and smoking. He died at the age of 42 in a hospital with no one from the family around him. On the night that he died, Donald and Elizabeth went out to see a movie.
Once Freddy began to fall out of his father's favor, Donald saw the chance to take his place as the manager of the Trump businesses. His father had built his empire of rental housing in Brooklyn, but he had never tried to enter the more glamorous real-estate world of Manhattan. So when Donald began building projects in Manhattan, and became famous as a wildly successful builder in Manhattan in the early 1980s, this fulfilled his father's desire for recognition, although his father always told the news media that he had done little to help his son, and so Donald's success was all his own.
Until a few years ago, Mary herself believed this story of Donald as the self-made billionaire businessman with a genius for making deals. But then one day in 2017, she answered the door at her house and met Susanne Craig, a reporter for the New York Times. Craig told her that she was part of a team of reporters investigating the financial history of the Trump family. When Fred Trump died in 1999, there was a long legal battle over the inheritance of his estate, because Mary and her brother had had their father's portion of the inheritance taken away from them. They finally were forced to accept an unfair settlement based on false estimates of Trump's worth. The New York Times reporters believed that the documents collected by Mary's lawyers could reveal the truth about Trump's financial history. At first, Mary refused to cooperate. Finally, she agreed, and she was able to deliver 19 banker's boxes of documents from her lawyer's office to the reporters. This was crucial for the stunning revelations in the New York Times article published on October 2, 2018.
This was the longest article (almost 14,000 words) in the history of the New York Times, and it earned a Pulitzer Prize. It showed that for decades, Fred Trump had been using shell companies to channel almost $1 billion to his children without having to pay gift taxes. Donald has said that "my father never gave me much money." This is a lie, because Donald at age 3 began receiving money from his father, and by the time he was 8 years old, he was a millionaire. Donald received the equivalent of $413 million in today's dollars. Moreover, his father bailed him out in all of his projects in Manhattan and Atlantic City when he could not pay his debts. This showed that Trump was a failure in all of his business ventures, and it was only his father's money that hid the depth of his failures.
This supports Mary's claim in her book that Donald is utterly incompetent in doing anything other than shameless self-promotion of his myth of success. As I have argued in a previous post, this refutes the rhetorical enthymeme that ran through his presidential campaign of 2016:
Major premise: Because of stupid politicians, America no longer wins; and America will not win again until a successful businessman who know how to win is elected president.
Minor premise: Donald Trump is unique in his business success and his prudence in knowing how to win, because he is a self-made multi-billionaire.
Conclusion: Therefore, Americans need to elect Trump president.
Even without the evidence from the 2018 New York Times article, one might have expected that voters in 2016 would have seen Trump's extraordinary record of 6 bankruptcies as exposing the falsity of his myth. But the brazenness of his deceptive rhetoric was powerful enough to hide the truth.
As president, Donald has continued to lie about his intelligence and success despite the obvious evidence of his mental incompetence and failure. Of course, his very success in lying so shamelessly testifies to his skill for rhetorical manipulation--the kind of skill that is often displayed by a narcissistic psychopath.
In previous posts, I have written about Trump's grandiose narcissism (here), about psychopaths (here and here), and about how how Trump's rhetorical success shows some of the techniques of "chimpanzee politics" (here).
Here are the diagnostic criteria for "Narcissistic Personality Disorder" in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
"A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
"1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
"2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
"3. Believes that he or she is 'special' and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
"4. Requires excessive admiration.
"5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations or especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
"6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
"7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
"8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
"9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."Mary says that Donald meets all nine criteria. She also believes, however, that Donald is even more complicated in that he also satisfies the criteria for antisocial personality disorder (psychopathy), dependent personality disorder, some learning disabilities, and perhaps a self-induced sleep disorder (12-13).
But if he is so disordered, then how has he managed to survive and even succeed--to the point of becoming president of the United States? Mary's answer is that he has been "essentially institutionalized" for most of his adult life. First his father and then the people in government have sheltered him from the consequences of his disordered mind and behavior. He has never had to live in the real world.
Mary's ultimate explanation is that Donald is the product of his father's abusive parenting:
"Nothing is ever good enough. This is far beyond garden-variety narcissism; Donald is not simply weak, his ego is a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment because he knows deep down that he is nothing of what he claims to be. He knows that he has never been loved" (198).
"Though Donald's fundamental nature hasn't changed, since his inauguration the amount of stress he's under has changed dramatically. It's not the stress of the job, because he isn't doing the job--unless watching TV and tweeting insults count. It's the effort to keep the rest of us distracted from the fact that he knows nothing--about politics, civics, or simple human decency--that requires an enormous amount of work" (199).
"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" (202).
"Donald withdraws to his comfort zones--Twitter, Fox News--casting blame from afar, protected by a figurative or literal bunker. He rants about the weakness of others even as he demonstrates his own. But he can never escape the fact that he is and always will be a terrified little boy" (210).In previous posts (here), I have argued that the bad character of a politician really does matter. Conservative Republicans used to believe that, but now those who have embraced Trump no longer believe that. There are some Republicans, however, who do believe that Trump's bad character--his lack of any moral or intellectual virtues--does matter. Some of them are supporting the "Lincoln Project"--a group of leading Republicans who are sponsoring political ads recommending that Republicans should vote for Biden and against Trump--and against the Republican leaders who have enabled Trump. For example, Jimmy Tosh is a wealthy lifelong Republican in Tennessee who has often contributed to Republican candidates, but now he is contributing to the Lincoln Project. He was recently quoted as saying "I agree with 80% of the things he does. I just cannot stand a liar."
Mary Trump's book supports this position by showing the depth of his bad character.