Mary Trump’s tell-all will not make her uncle’s re-election bid any easier. The president’s late-night walk of shame is already a classic campaign moment. His niece’s allegation that he paid someone else to take his college entrance exams resonates as true, because of his reported disdain for reading and capacity to inadvertently invent new words like “swiffian”.
Adding insult to injury, Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister, appears to be the key source for this smorgasbord of dysfunction. She is a retired federal judge who left the bench with an ethics cloud over her head. Fittingly, as Mary Trump lacerates multiple sets of vital organs, her pen a stiletto, she thanks her aunt “for all of the enlightening information”.
It is score-settling time, Trump-style. Go big or go home. Few are spared.
Too Much and Never Enough doubles as mesmerizing beach reading and a memorable opposition research dump, in time for the party conventions. Think John Bolton-quality revelations, but about Trump’s family. It is the book Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury, likely wishes he had written but isn’t kin so he couldn’t. It is salacious, venomous and well-sourced.
Sadly, it is also a book born of tragedy and pain. The author’s father, Fred Trump Jr, died in his early 40s. He drank hard, was jettisoned by his father and siblings, and treated as a cautionary tale. Mary Trump is angry, not self-pitying. Although she casts her book as a warning to the American public, it is 200-plus pages of revenge served with the benefit of time and distance. Yet the narrative remains compelling.
Fred Jr found joy in flying and serving his country. He was a member of the national guard and a TWA pilot. In most homes, that would be deemed an achievement. But the Trumps were not most folks. Fred Sr saw his oldest son as weak. His brother Donald humiliated him, his mother Mary stood by and watched. As for Fred Jr’s military service, Trump père found little value there. As for Donald, “bone spurs” were his path to avoid Vietnam.
When Fred Jr was dying, in 1981, the future president thought it an opportune time to go to the movies. Past became prelude. When Roy Cohn, Trump’s friend and consigliere, was dying of Aids a decade later, Trump walked away again. A stunned Cohn reportedly remarked: “Donald pisses ice water.”
But it was the aftermath of Fred Sr’s death that put Mary Trump and the older generation on a collision course. Fred Jr’s two children were cut out of Fred Sr’s will. Maryanne and her brothers did their best to thwart their claims to an inheritance.
Tensions spiraled, then subsided. The matter was settled, and the parties filed a stipulation in surrogate’s court. Ostensibly, the agreement barred disclosure regarding Fred Sr and his legacy. Maryanne was an executor of the estate. Ironically, she has emerged as her niece’s muse. The judge leaked like a sieve.
According to Too Much and Never Enough, Trump and Cohn played a pivotal role in Maryanne’s elevation to the federal bench. At the time, she was only an assistant federal prosecutor, an unusual launchpad to a federal judgeship. Strings were pulled. When Maryanne had the temerity to tell Trump his presidency was failing, her niece now writes, he reminded her that he made her. Like Fred Sr, Trump brooks no hint of disloyalty.
A New York Times investigation in the origins of Trump’s wealth brought the past roaring back. Questions surrounding the family fortune abounded. Tax evasion appears as one possibility. After resisting overtures for assistance from Susanne Craig of the Times, Mary Trump began to cooperate. In the process, she came to doubt the rationale for her own settlement.
As for Aunt Maryanne’s role in the mess, Mary Trump lumps her in with the rest of them: “They all knew where the bodies were buried because they buried them together.”
This may be the first time a family member of a sitting president has publicly accused him of paying a surrogate to take the SATs – a claim the alleged surrogate’s widow denies. Looking back, Trump’s obsession with Barack Obama’s college transcripts appears to have been a fusion of envy, projection and racism. As an institution of learning, Trump University was truly created in its namesake’s image.
Amid all this, mockery is unavoidable. And as Mary Trump observes, the president hates to be mocked. Think of Stormy Daniels dishing about Toad and Mario-Kart – an image best forgotten.
The author also stresses that Trump’s prejudices mirrored his parents. Both Trump and his father were sued by Richard Nixon’s justice department, for housing discrimination. Mary Trump also contends that Fred Sr regarded “Jew” as a verb and was “scandalized” when “the first Italian American family moved into the neighborhood”. Trump’s mother, she writes, derided Elton John as a “little faggot”. The author was in a same-sex relationship at the time.
Trump’s nostalgia for all things Confederate approaches the organic. In his view, hoisting the Confederate battle flag is free speech but Colin Kaepernick taking a knee is blasphemy. As an election strategy, it doesn’t seem to be working. Below the Mason-Dixon line, Trump trails Joe Biden in Florida and North Carolina and is in a tight fight in Georgia.
In this cycle, race-based appeals energize communities of color and repel suburbia. Trump generally turns off college-educated women.
There’s more, of course. Mary Trump writes that if the president “can in any way profit from your death, he’ll facilitate it, and then ignore the fact that you died”. As her book appears, Covid-19 cases are exploding, the pandemic moving to the country’s interior. More than 200,000 Covid-related deaths are projected by election day. The Grim Reaper’s scythe is unsheathed.
Trump is undeterred. He falsely claims the situation is improving and demands schools re-open while his White House looks to numb us into submission. A modern-day Moloch, the president expects the nation to sacrifice itself. Not everyone appears willing, least of all his niece.
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (Simon and Schuster £20) by Mary L. Trump is available for £17.40 from the Guardian Bookshop. Delivery charges may apply.
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