On Mary Trump’s Book
So I finished Mary Trump’s book late last night, and here’s what I think is so important about it.
But first, for those who think there’s nothing new there that we haven’t already known about Trump, let me preface my comments by reminding people that they come from the perspective of someone who has been writing about Trump’s deficits (which I dub the “Little King” complex in a Medium article reprinted in my most recent book, and described on a Huff Po piece before the election as “the pathology of privilege”) for a long time. Conceptually, my perspective in those pieces coheres very well with Mary Trump’s “diagnosis.” This is from “The Little King”:
A man who gets psychologically roasted by a roast — and doesn’t even have the ability to hide his upset from the camera — is not the kind of man who can be “strategic” with his middle-of-the-night tweets, as Rachel Maddow and others have argued…I’ve never subscribed to the “Trump is brilliant in some ways” theory. He may have an instinctive (and at the same time, well-practiced) feel for how to use media. But he is too impulsive and self-indulgent to be strategic with his tweets.
Forget both the psychoanalytic diagnoses and the attributions of cagey strategy. It’s really as simple as this: Trump cannot bear humiliation. And anything short of absolute allegiance, absolute adoration is humiliating to him. It’s a king-complex, but held by a man with the emotional requirements of a dangerously insecure child. The perfect recipe for a bully. Not someone who should be let loose in a playground, let alone the White House.
My pieces on Trump, like Mary’s book, also focus on how Trump is the grotesque product of a lifetime of enabling by those around him. Comparing him to Henry VIII (without, of course, endowing him with Henry’s intellect and knowledge!) I wrote:
I’m not the only writer who has been appalled by the election and subsequent behavior of Donald Trump. Dozens of books have been written about the derangements of the Trump presidency. But Mary Trump, unlike the rest of us, has known the Little King all her life, and has seen up close — and not just in the White House “room where it happened,” as in John Bolton’s book — distortions of a personality that began in childhood. You think “Succession” is chilling? The Trumps have them beat by a mile.
In describing how Trump was MADE — and was exactly who he is for a long, long time — Mary Trump unmasks the (largely media-motored) farce of treating Trump as though he’s an adult — an unscrupulous, criminal, bigoted adult, but an adult nonetheless. The fact is that this aberration of a human being has been coddled like a child all his life, with the result that he has never been forced to grow up. At the same time, the rewards (from his father) came only come so long as he betrayed no “weakness” and projected the image of success and “manliness” at all costs. Never admit you were wrong, never apologize, never let a slight go without a counter-attack. He was loved (if you can call it that) but only by remaining “the best”, “the greatest,” “the only one who…..”. And — here’s where Trump differs from others with similar family dynamics — he was never forced to confront the reality of himself once he became “an adult” because the world — as filtered through the mass media — continued to reward his illusions and lies, right up to and well beyond his installation in the White House. Mary Trump writes:
“It’s easy to sound coherent and somewhat knowledgeable when you control the narrative and are never pressed to elaborate on your premise or demonstrate that you actually understand the underlying facts. It is an indictment (among many) of the media that none of that changed during the campaign, when exposing Donald’s lies and outrageous claims might actually have saved us from his presidency. On the few occasions he was asked about his positions and policies (which for all intents and purposes don’t really exist), he still wasn’t expected or required to make sense or demonstrate any depth of understanding. Since the election, he’s figured out how to avoid such questions completely; White House press briefings and formal news conferences have been replaced with “chopper talk” during which he can pretend he can’t hear any unwelcome questions over the noise of the helicopter blades…Still the news networks refuse to pull away. The few journalists who do challenge him, and even those who simply ask Donald for words of comfort for a terrified nation, are derided and dismissed as “nasty.” The through line from Donald’s early, destructive behavior that Fred actively encouraged to the media’s unwillingness to challenge him and the Republican Party’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the daily corruption he has committed since January 20, 2017, have led to the impending collapse of this once great nation’s economy, democracy, and health.“
In tracing the “through line” from his father’s hot-housing of Trump’s grandiosity to the media’s and GOP’s enabling, Mary Trump alters our perception in a way that the most astute analyses cannot. The book may not change what we think about Trump, but in exposing that he is essentially the same person as POTUS as he was when a child makes it impossible to see him, as destructive as he is, as powerful. She doesn’t excuse him by virtue of his pathologies (which she describes as too various to be captured in a single diagnosis), she diminishes him by unmasking their source in childhood, and their psychological fragility. At bottom, they are elaborate defenses against the fear of being exposed as — a nothing, really, just a not-very-smart, mean-spirited little boy whose only talent was positioning himself as his father’s heir. As such, Fred, who was sadistically uncaring to most everyone else in the family, continually saved Donald from failure and humiliation — for example, by illegally purchasing millions of dollars of chips from Donald’s failing casinos — and kept the gold-plated image intact. And then, by capturing the attention of the media largely through lies and self-aggrandisement, Trump was able to exploit that media’s antagonism toward Hillary Clinton and shoehorn himself into the White House.
Mary Trump destroys any illusions that her uncle is some kind of “media genius” or instinctively great politician — or even a clever criminal. That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous, but the opposite. He’s a child, still convinced of his own omnipotence, and capable — like a child — of striking out and knocking the Legos to the floor without a thought for any consequences. As such, he is as dangerous as the most despotic monarch. He’s not “strategic” — but that makes him all the more frightening. No amount of criticism of his increasingly incoherent rantings or destructive policies can touch him — because such criticism still treats him as a grown-up. Being attacked only proves to him that he is a formidable man, not a pathetic little boy. But deconstruct that image of the Big Man, as Mary Trump has done, and…well, I hope she has ample protection.
Just as Sarah Cooper’s brilliant comedic lip-synching of Trump-talk exposes his cognitive incoherency and sheer blather as no amount of editorializing can, Mary Trump’s book exposes the bragging, vengeful child playing at being a president, with the Resolute Desk, Rose Garden, Secret Service — and virtually the entire cadre of Republican flunkies — the costuming that makes it seem “authentic.” Mary Trump unmasks the illusion. And — note well — warns us to prepare for her uncle acting-out, as mindlessly and reactively as the child that he is, if he doesn’t get his way in the election.