Journal of the Plague Year (#19)

Berkeley, CA, July 27, 2020 - This week, as I did my daily disabled, hobbled, walker trek around my nearly deserted, once bustling, South Berkeley neighborhood, I was startled as I analyzed my thoughts. I found in my head’s headlines “I Feel So Sorry for Him!” “Him” being Donald Trump.

I had finished reading the first few chapters of his niece’s just published immediate best seller, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

Mary Trump, 55, is the daughter of the President’s oldest brother, who died when she was 16, depressed by his inability to maintain independence from his all-controlling father, and diseased by the alcoholism he’d used for decades as solace. After a troubled childhood trying to establish who she was, and how she came to be where she was (in New York, privileged but not wealthy), Mary Trump has had what seems to be a rewarding life as a psychologist and psychology teacher in various parts of that city.

In her book she wastes no time building narratives to support her conclusions about her uncle. What she states is unequivocal: Donald Trump had “foundered, dragged down by bankruptcies, and had been reduced (from the heir to a vast fortune based on marginally legal exploitation of real estate by his cold, mean father) to “fronting for a series of failed products, from steaks to airlines to vodka.” He was able, according to Mary Trump, to do this because “the lies, misrepresentations, and fabrications which are the sum total of who my uncle is are perpetuated by the Republican Party and white Evangelical Christians.”

She puts him on the couch, as they say, and finds him to be a “sociopath.” Defined as someone who has “extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.”

In the President’s case, his niece says, his sociopathy includes “inability to make decisions, or take responsibility, discomfort with being alone, and going to excessive lengths to obtain support from others.” He may also have “a long undiagnosed learning disability, that for decades has interfered with his ability to process information.” And she notes that he also “has a horrible diet and does not exercise,” which contributes to his morbosity. 

But Donald Trump had the luck to be born into a family where he found a niche, as his father’s chosen heir. His unpleasantness, cruelty, and selfishness were enabled and supported by that father, who ruled absolutely in his household. And ruthlessly in his business life.

Mary Trump’s devastating, incident filled description of Fred Trump is valuable. So is her psychologist’s perspective on how, as his father’s son, Donald could not develop in any way other than he did, and does. 

So why was I feeling sorry for him? History, if anyone survives to write it, will not feel sorry. Me? I vibrated to Mary Trump’s early reference to Charles P. Pierce (“Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (2009)”) “What Trump creates around him are monsters. He is proud of his monster. He glories in its anger and destructiveness, and while he cannot imagine its love, he believes with all his heart in its rage.”

No love. Or not a love that most people would seek, value, and grow from/into as a shaping force in their lives. No love from men, especially not his father. No love from women, except a very old grandmother in poor health and a less old mother in even worse physical shape. Sisters, aunts, cousins, wives held at bay by the cold and at worst insulting and dangerous dynamic of the Fred Trump household. Girlfriends who Donald Trump treated like sexworkers. Which many of them were.

Mary Trump is bitter. And disgusted with both her Uncle Donald and the enabling socio-political milieu that advanced him in such an unprecedented manner to the White House. But her focus on her bitterness is, unfortunately, why her book probably will be a transitory, if influential, phenomenon. Though it’s been a runaway best-seller from the day it became available after Trump’s legal beagles, in an obviously unconstitutional filing, tried to stop its publication. (It could have sold even more had bookstores not been closed in the pandemic.)

Sadly, Mary Trump is obviously smart enough, educated enough, and experienced enough to have given us more than what she has: a shallow best-seller. A slickly written, mostly page-turning chronicle is what we get for our money.

The problem is that what’s mostly missing from Mary Trump’s book is Mary Trump. Her role as a married mother is mentioned exactly three times. There is mention of a wife, but no details about her, or about their marriage The circumstances of her marriage (since divorced) and appearance of her daughter, are elided. ( The daughter, Avary, who’s probably a teenager now, is not even mentioned by name until the last line of the book’s Acknowledgements, where she’s referred to as a “kid”) 

One can understand why Mary Trump did this. She needs to try to protect her life from becoming anything like the revolting spectacle that is her uncle’s. There is also the possibility that the Trump family’s financial manipulations, which she outlines, are going to result in criminal charges, and she might have to be a witness. 

Yet someone – her agent or publisher - should have told her that the road to politics-oriented best-sellers usually becomes a dusty side-path to oblivion. A rare exception is Barack Obama’s pre-Presidential “Dreams from My Father” which is still in print and has sold over 10 million copies. More typical are the superficial politics-based tomes like those churned out by the now disgraced Bill O’Reilly.

Donald Trump’s execrable – and, as Mary Trump devastatingly points out, mendacious book – “The Art of the Deal” is still in print, too, but now sells very little. Though a million copies is not nothing, his subsequent, ghost-written volumes, “Think Big” and “Trump Never Give Up!” came and went quickly. For Mary Trump to have developed a seemingly good and rewarding life despite her father-in-law and her aunts and uncles and cousins, uncle should have been a big part of her narrative. It isn’t.

As the Presidential campaign staggers on, the destruction, death, and despair which the Trump presidency continues to wreak on our country and the planet are too numerous and persistent to ignore,. Unless (as millions do) you choose not to know about them, or to not believe the widely available truth about what’s going on, in such headline events as the COVID-19 virus and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

While Mary Trump’s book has many revealing tales to tell, and allows one to feel present at a lot of appalling family events, it is more like a film script than a serious text. And that script is for a peculiar kind of film. One about a circus. Except that circuses are not led by clowns, they have clowns as featured acts. Donald Trump’s United States is a first. 

His niece will be seen to have been an element in Trump’s exit from office, if that is indeed what happens in November. Such an outcome will be in part the result of some “family values” people reading “Too Much and Never Enough” and re-examining their backing of Trump. A November loss will be seen to have occurred because he was not in control of his message. Events, like this book being published now, took over. And other events that the voting public will have concluded got worse because of him will be even more determinative.

Every week polls seem to show Trump will lose . “The country,” Mary Trump concludes, “to is now suffering from the same toxic positivity that my grandfather deployed specifically to drown out his ailing wife, torment his dying son (Mary Trump’s father), and damage past healing the psyche of his favorite child, Donald J. Trump.”

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