I have read Mary Trump’s book about her uncle. I read it to gain understanding of what makes Donald Trump tick—and, with understanding, perhaps some compassion for someone I, to this date, can neither stand nor understand.
One has to ask if Mary Trump is a reliable witness. We know that, although she is a Ph.D. psychologist, she is the daughter of the Trump family “black sheep.” She describes in detail her father’s persecution by her grandfather, her uncle Donald, and, to a lesser extent, by the rest of the family. We know that she and her brother were effectively disinherited, that they brought a lawsuit unsuccessfully contesting their grandfather’s will (years after their father’s death at age 42). We know that the lawsuit estranged her from the Trump family for a decade. We know that she is a registered Democrat and voted for Hilary Clinton. All this guarantees that her narrative will exhibit a certain bias.
Acknowledging bias, however, does not mean we should reject her story. Everybody is biased. Bias is impossible to eliminate. The only way to handle bias is to listen to other versions of the story and to look for corroboration from other sources. This is what journalists are supposed to do. I am not a journalist and I did not read this book for dirt on Donald Trump or to test out the details of Trump stories and scandals. Large parts of it have been corroborated by other sources and thoroughly researched journalism.
Rather, I read it to try to make some sense of the man, even to arrive at a place where I could both understand him and have some empathy for him.
Because the man makes no sense to me. How can someone so ignorant and incompetent have such supreme confidence in himself despite all the evidence to the contrary? (Most egregiously, his handling of the pandemic that’s killing Americans.) Why has he publicly lied 20,000 times in his presidency (and why so do many people still believe him)? How can he be so apparently lacking in empathy or imagination for the suffering of others? How has he gotten to where he is (and all of us into this mess)?
Perhaps he was severely traumatized as a child.
Perhaps he was abused.
Perhaps he is mentally ill.
Perhaps he has learning disabilities.
Or perhaps 40 percent of the American people see something in him that I simply do not, something worthy of inspiring faith and loyalty, something hidden from my biased eyes.
All and any of this could open a door to my understanding and, thus, compassion. I do try to understand difficult things. I am not stingy with my compassion.
I have to say, however, after reading this book I am richer in understanding of, but not really in compassion for Donald Trump.
All of the above “perhaps” statements do have some truth in them.
Donald was severely traumatized by the illness and intermittent absence of his mother from the time he was three years old.
Donald was psychologically abused by his sociopathic father, whom he feared and whose favor he tried to gain (as did all his siblings).
He probably falls into some kind of personality disorder spectrum which I will not attempt to define here.
There are some hints that he doesn’t read much because of undiagnosed learning disabilities.
And, in the end, he has been able to construct a kind of persona that appeals to a lot of people but not to me because I am not drawn to the trappings of fame, glitz, power, and arrogance.
Here is the part of the story that enhances my understanding but puts a lid on my compassion: Mary Trump does a devastatingly good job of describing how a bully is created, nourished, and empowered.
She shows how Donald the hurt child became the bullying teenager whom his mother and teachers couldn’t control. How the sociopathic father took notice of the very traits in his fourth child that he valued in himself–ruthlessness, killer instinct, reckless boldness—and elevated him to favorite among the five siblings, very much at the expense of the others, especially his oldest son, Fred Jr. (Mary’s father). Father Fred’s scorn for the “weakness” of Fred Jr. and the others, and favor for Donald, fed Donald’s ego but also created a bottomless need for that kind of affirmation and encouraged the ruthless, amoral traits his father admired.
The way the father built up and sustained the son to glorify the Trump brand and influence, the author maintains convincingly, created the charlatan whom we have put in the White House. Huge infusions of cash from the father created the illusion that Donald Trump was a success at business despite his almost total lack of business sense (and despite how many, four? five? bankruptcies). Donald’s success was never real, but, with the support, encouragement, flattery, and downright lies of his father and, later, other enablers, the aura of success created a flimsy empire based on lies, loans, and outright cheating.
A point Mary Trump makes rather well is how Donald Trump grew and flourished in a hothouse of institutions—family, schools, his father’s business empire and then his own, surrounded by a raft of enablers—a set of bubbles that insulated him from life in the real world where you are held accountable for your actions. Only since he is president has he encountered real criticism and it’s pretty obvious he can’t take it or learn from it.
He is now walking naked on the world stage. The damage is escalating. The United States of America is becoming a failed state. People are dying. Our president is manipulated by other sociopaths like Putin and Kim Jong-Un just as his daddy manipulated him.
How much havok will we let him wreak? It is time to dethrone the bully.