The problem with a fraud as big as this president is that once you start collaborating with him, it’s impossible to get out.
Too Much and Never Enough, Mary Trump’s devastating indictment of how the Trump family created, as her subtitle characterizes him, “the world’s most dangerous man,” hits bookstores this week. Its publication coincides with—as she predicted—record-shattering COVID-19 cases, a fragile economy, and a half-formed government plan to open schools this fall at any cost. By now you have doubtless ingested the greatest hits of her family gossip: Donald Trump
- ogled his own niece in a bathing suit and
- sought to fill one of his books with hit lists of “ugly” women who had rebuffed him; Donald Trump
- paid someone to take his SATs;
- Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal appeals court judge, once described her brother as a “clown” with no principles; Donald Trump
- was a vicious bully even as a child;
- Freddy Trump—the author’s father—died alone in a hospital while Donald went to a movie.
The details are new, and graphic, yes, but very little about it is surprising: The president is a lifelong liar and cheater, propped up by a father who was as relentless in his need for success as Donald Trump was to earn his approval. Check please.
But not quite. What is new and surprising is also that Mary Trump, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, has given us a granular portrait of Trump’s profound impairment: She says that her uncle has all nine clinical criteria for narcissism, although she insists that this diagnosis is only the tip of the psychological iceberg—he may also suffer from antisocial personality disorder, sociopathy, and/or dependent personality disorder, along with an undiagnosed learning disability that likely interferes with his ability to process information. I leave it to the mental health experts to determine whether some or all of that is accurate. But what Mary Trump surely adds to the growing canon of the “Trump is unwell” book club is not limited to family gossip or mental health diagnostics: At bottom, Too Much and Never Enough may be the first book that stipulates, in its first pages, that the president is irreparably damaged, and then turns a clinician’s lens on the rest of us, the voters, the enablers, the flatterers, the hangers-on, and the worshippers. It is here that Mary Trump’s book makes perhaps the most enduring contribution to the teetering piles of books that have offered too little too late, even while telling us that which we already knew. Because Mary Trump begins from the assumption that other analysis tends to end with: Donald Trump is lethally dangerous, stunningly incoherent, and pathologically incapable of caring about anyone but himself. So, what Mary Trump wants to know is: What the hell is wrong with everyone around him? As she writes in her prologue, “there’s been very little effort to understand not only why he became what he is but how he’s consistently failed up despite his glaring lack of fitness.”
The book is thus actually styled as an indictment not of Donald Trump but of Trump’s enablers. The epigraph is from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and it’s emphatically not about Donald John Trump at all: “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” Mary Trump
- blames Fred Trump for Donald Trump’s pathology, although she doesn’t claim that her uncle is a tragic victim of abuse. She blames
- his family that propped him up (also her family, it should be noted), and then in concentric and expanding circles,
- the media that failed to scrutinize him,
- the banks that pretended he was the financial genius he was not,
- the Republican Party, and
- the “claque of loyalists” in the White House who continue to lie for him and to him in order to feed his insatiable ego and self-delusion. Even the phrase “too much and never enough” is perhaps deliberately borrowed from the language of addiction, and what Mary Trump describes here is not just her uncle’s addiction to adulation, fame, money, and success, but a nation’s—or some part of a nation’s—unfathomable addiction to him.
The bulk of the book focuses on the tale of Mary and her brother Fritz’s abandonment by the rest of the Trump clan. Her father, Freddy, the scion and namesake, failed to be the storybook heir to her grandfather’s real estate empire, instead collapsing into a tragic black hole of alcoholism, illness, and despair. Donald Trump, Freddy’s younger brother, not only helped push Freddy down but also stepped on his sinking shoulders on his way into the empty, Freddy-shaped space to become his father’s successor. And as Freddy’s parents and three other siblings altered their lives and priorities in order to orbit around Donald, Mary and her brother were eventually written out of the wills, the empire, and the family story, as payback for their father’s perceived weakness and failures. This is all tragic in its own right, but it also makes Mary, who has been let down by the so-called adults in the room almost since her infancy, perfectly positioned to explain and translate what happens to otherwise high-functioning adults—
- her aunt Maryanne, a competent federal judge;
- the lawyers and accountants tasked with fulfilling Donald’s whims and hiding his failings;
- the sycophants and Republicans and evangelical Christians who support his campaign unquestioningly; and
- the officials who now populate the Senate, the Cabinet, and the Oval Office.
All of them appear to be reasonably mentally sound. Yet they all cover for Donald, at the expense of real suffering and genuine human loss, just as the Trump clan ignored Freddy’s disintegration and death. Mary Trump’s childhood trauma has become America’s trauma, and she really wants to know how that came to be. Again.
The section of the book that has garnered the most attention is likely Mary’s claim that Trump cannot be evaluated for pathologies because he is “in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized” and that he has in fact “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.” We are not used to seeing entities like the White House described in this way—a “very expensive and well-guarded padded cell”—as a means of protection for the broken man inside rather than as a platform from which a leader can change the world. And her ultimate point is that even a shattered psyche, buffered from the real world, can still do irreparable damage to it. But the most interesting assessments she offers are reserved for those inside the “institutions,” the people who might have saved us and certainly have not, from
- the nuclear family, to
- the Trump businesses, to
- New York’s bankers and powerful elites, to
- Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Jared Kushner.
They all knew and know that the emperor has no clothes, even as they devote their last shreds of dignity to effusive praise of his ermine trim and jaunty crown.
Mary Trump seems to answer the question of why they do this in a section late in the book about Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump. In describing Fred’s growing realizing that his fair-haired boy, Donald, was a fraud, Mary explains that, yes, Fred himself was a master at fattening his wallet with taxpayer funds, committing tax fraud to benefit his children. (Mary admits she was the one who leaked the family tax information to the New York Times in 2018 for its blockbuster story.) But as it became clear that Donald had no real business acumen—as his Atlantic City casinos cratered and his father unlawfully poured secret funds into saving them—Mary realized that Fred also depended on the glittery tabloid success at which Donald excelled. Fred continued to prop up his son’s smoke-and-mirrors empire because, as Mary writes, “Fred had become so invested in the fantasy of Donald’s success that he and Donald were inextricably linked. Facing reality would have required acknowledging his own responsibility, which he would never do. He had gone all in, and although any rational person would have folded, Fred was determined to double down.”
Mary Trump’s words there could just as easily be true for
- John Kelly,
- Kellyanne Conway,
- John Bolton,
- Mitch McConnell,
- Susan Collins, or
- Melania Trump.
And as Mary Trump is quick to observe, the sheer stuck-ness of his enablers means that Trump never, ever learns his lesson. Being cosseted, lied to, defended, and puffed up means that Donald Trump knows that, “no matter what happens, no matter how much damage he leaves in his wake, he will be OK.” He fails up, in other words, because everyone around him, psychologically normal beings all, ends up so enmeshed with his delusions that they must do anything necessary to protect them. Trump’s superpower isn’t great vision or great leadership but rather that he is so tiny. Taking him on for transactional purposes may seem like not that big a deal at first, but the moment you put him in your pocket, you become his slave. It is impossible to escape his orbit without having to admit a spectacular failure in moral and strategic judgment, which almost no one can stomach. Donald Trump’s emptiness is simply a mirror of the emptiness of everyone who propped him up. It’s that reflection that becomes unendurable. This pattern, as Mary writes, “guaranteed a cascade of increasingly consequential failures that would ultimately render all of us collateral damage.” Nobody, not even Mary, who signed on briefly to ghostwrite one of his books, ends up just a little bit beholden to Donald Trump and that includes his rapturous supporters who still queue up, maskless, to look upon his greatness. As she concludes, his sociopathy “reminds me that Donald isn’t really the problem at all.” That makes hers something other than the 15th book about the fathoms-deep pathologies of Donald Trump: It is the first real reckoning with all those who “caused the darkness.”
Mary Trump is, among other things, a brisk and gifted writer, and she is a fact witness to, and also a victim of, a family that elevated a mediocre and vicious man, at the expense of justice, fairness, and truth. Her real beef is not with her uncle Donald, who has always been exactly as we have long known him to be; that’s why a smattering of new details about his business failures and meanness were never really the point of this book. We’ve read that book before. The perspective of this book is made possible exactly because Mary Trump was one of the first children to be written out of the will, cast out of the family, and denied the support and love that should have been hers, as a result of her father’s perceived failures. It is this—because she was ousted rather than being forced to remove herself—that allows her to see clearly why everyone else stuck around. And what she reveals is a devastating indictment of all the alleged adults who stick around Donald Trump, who came together to fail America, to leave vulnerable populations to fend for themselves, and who continue to lie and spin to pacify his ego. They do it because they can’t admit the payoff is never coming, and to save themselves from the embarrassment of having to admit they were catastrophically wrong.
Bill Barr has been involved in a game of Three-Card Monte with US Attorney assignments. First, he pulled DC US Attorney Jessie Liu out of her position as top prosecutor in DC, installed a lackey, Tim Shea, who then started doing favors for Donald Trump’s criminal associates, reducing Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendation and trying to tank the Mike Flynn case altogether. Barr then tried to do the same thing to Southern District of New York US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, trying to install Jay Clayton, a non-prosecutor as the top prosecutor in SDNY. Berman had the last laugh as he both exposed Barr as lying about the claim that Berman had resigned (he hadn’t) and securing the appointment of his Deputy Audrey Strauss as SDNY Acting US Attorney. Now, Barr is at his shell game again, trying to swap a high-ranking DOJ official, Seth DuCharme, for the US Attorney at the Eastern District of New York US Attorney’s Office, Richard Donoghue. Will Barr get away with this latest game of musical chairs . . or musical US Attorneys?
Those are some of the views Republicans endorse by uncritically embracing and supporting President Trump. He is leading his party down a sewer of unabashed racism and willful ignorance, and all who follow him — and I mean all — deserve to feel the mighty wrath of voters in November.
I’m talking to you, Sen.
- Susan Collins of Maine. And you, Sen.
- Cory Gardner of Colorado. And you, Sens.
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina,
- Martha McSally of Arizona,
- Joni Ernst of Iowa,
- Steve Daines of Montana,
- Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and
- John Cornyn of Texas.
And while those of you in deep-red states whose reelection ordinarily would be seen as a mere formality may not see the giant millstones you’ve hung around your necks as a real risk, think again. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina and even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, you should look at the numbers and realize you are putting your Senate seats — and the slim GOP majority — in dire jeopardy.
You can run and hide from reporters asking you about Trump’s latest statements or tweets. You can pretend not to hear shouted questions as you hurry down Capitol hallways. You can take out your cellphones and feign being engrossed in a terribly important call. Ultimately, you’re going to have to answer to voters — and in the meantime you have decided to let Trump speak for you. Best of luck with that.
It is not really surprising that Trump, with his poll numbers falling and his reelection in serious jeopardy, would decide to use race and public health as wedge issues to inflame his loyal base. That’s all he knows how to do.
Most politicians would see plunging poll numbers as a warning to try a different approach; Trump takes them as a sign to do more of the same — more race-baiting, more authoritarian “law and order” posturing, more see-no-evil denial of a raging pandemic that has cost more than 120,000 American lives.
Racism is a feature of the Trump shtick, not a bug. He sees the nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd as an opportunity not for healing and reform, but to stir anger and resentment among his overwhelmingly white voting base. Trump wants no part of the reckoning with history the country seems to crave.
This week, city officials in Charleston, S.C. — the place where the Civil War began — took down a statue of John C. Calhoun, a leading 19th-century politician and fierce defender of slavery, from its 115-foot column in Marion Square and hauled it away to a warehouse. Also this week, Trump reportedly demanded that the District’s monument to Confederate Gen. Albert Pike, toppled last week by protesters, be cleaned up and reinstalled exactly as it was.
Trump went to Arizona not just to falsely claim great progress on building his promised border wall, intended to keep out the “hombres,” but also to delight fervent young supporters by referring to covid-19 as “kung flu.” Weeks ago, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that racist term was clearly offensive and unacceptable. But since Trump has made it into a red-meat applause line, Conway now apparently thinks it’s a perfectly legitimate way to identify the virus’s country of origin.
All the other Republicans who fail to speak up while Trump runs the most nakedly racist presidential campaign since George Wallace in 1968 shouldn’t kid themselves. Their silence amounts to agreement. Perhaps there’s enough white bitterness out there to carry the Republican Party to another narrow win. But that’s not what the polls say.
Trump’s antics are self-defeating. He’ll put on a racist show for a shrinking audience, but he won’t wear the masks that could allow the economic reopening he desperately wants. He may be able to avoid reality, but the Republican governors — including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida — scrambling desperately to contain new outbreaks cannot.
It’s almost as though Trump is determined to destroy the Republican Party. Let’s give him his wish.
He — and his party — are much, much worse.
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters, killing four. The 50th anniversary of the Kent State massacre passed with little notice in a nation preoccupied with Covid-19 — but now, suddenly, echoes of the Nixon era are everywhere. And Donald Trump seems to be deliberately invoking Nixon’s legacy, tweeting out “LAW & ORDER!” in the apparent hope that it will magically rescue his political fortunes.
And given Trump’s determination to put troops in the streets of America’s cities, it’s quite likely that innocent civilians will be shot at some point.
But Donald Trump isn’t Richard Nixon — he’s much, much worse. And America 2020 isn’t America 1970: We’re a better nation in many ways, but our democracy is far more fragile thanks to the utter corruption of the Republican Party.
The Trump-Nixon comparisons are obvious. Like Nixon, Trump has exploited white backlash for political gain. Like Nixon, Trump evidently believes that laws apply only to the little people.
Nixon, however, doesn’t seem to have been a coward. Amid mass demonstrations, he didn’t cower in the MAGAbunker, venturing out only after his minions had gassed peaceful protesters and driven them out of Lafayette Park. Instead, he went out to talk to protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. His behavior was a bit weird, but it wasn’t craven.
And while his political strategy was cynical and ruthless, Nixon was a smart, hard-working man who took the job of being president seriously.
His policy legacy was surprisingly positive — in particular, he did more than any other president, before or since, to protect the environment. Before Watergate took him down he was working on a plan to expand health insurance coverage that in many ways anticipated Obamacare.
Trump, by contrast, appears to spend his days tweeting and watching Fox News. His administration’s only major policy achievement so far has been the 2017 tax cut, which was supposed to lead to surging business investment, but didn’t.
He responded to the Covid-19 threat first with denial, then with frantic efforts, not to control the pandemic, but to shift the blame for shambolic, ineffective policies to other people.
So Trump is no Nixon. And the country he’s trying to dominate — his favorite word — is very different, too.
The good news is that America is a far less racist, far more tolerant nation today than it was in 1970. Remarkably, multiple polls show a majority of Americans approving of the protests inspired by George Floyd’s death, and strong disapproval of Trump’s response.
This doesn’t mean that systemic racism is gone — far from it. But a majority of Americans are willing to acknowledge that racism is real and see it as a problem, which represents huge moral progress. Nixon’s “silent majority” is now a noisy minority.
But it’s a very dangerous minority. While we are, as I said, in many ways a better nation than we were, we’re also a nation in which the rule of law and democratic values are very much under siege.
At this point it’s alarmingly easy to see how the United States could follow the path already taken by Hungary, becoming a democracy on paper but an authoritarian one-party state in practice. And I’m not talking about the distant future: It could happen this year, if Trump wins re-election — or even, potentially, if he loses but refuses to accept the results.
And the reason democracy is threatened in a way it never was under Nixon is not simply that Trump is a worse human being than Nixon ever was; it is the fact that he has so many enablers.
Trump’s authoritarian instincts, his admiration for and envy of foreign strongmen, his desire to militarize law enforcement have long been obvious. These things wouldn’t matter so much, however, if the Republican Party were still the institution it was in the 1970s — a big tent with room for a variety of views, represented in the Senate by many people with real principles. These were people willing to remove a president, even if he was a Republican, when he betrayed his oath of office.
The modern G.O.P., however, is nothing like that. Many of its leading figures — people like Senator Tom Cotton — are every bit as authoritarian and anti-democratic as Trump himself.
The rest, with hardly any exceptions, are loyal apparatchiks, intimidated into obedience by an angry base. This base gets its information from Fox and Facebook and basically lives in an alternate reality, in which protesters demonstrating peacefully against police brutality are actually a radical horde that will begin a violent insurrection any minute now.
The point is that today’s Republican Party wouldn’t object to a Trumpian power grab, even if it amounted to a military coup. On the contrary, the party would cheer it on.
The bottom line is that while parallels with the Nixon era are very real, there are important differences between now and then — and the differences aren’t reassuring. In many ways we’re a better country than we used to be, but we’re in dire political straits, because one of our two major parties no longer believes in the American idea.