In the summer of 1983, me and my old high school friend Scott embarked upon a weekend chartered bus trip to New York City to see Simon & Garfunkel perform at Shea Stadium. We arrived in Manhattan at the crack of dawn that Saturday. After we checked into our hotel, we decided to explore the city and do a little shopping. As we were walking along 5th Avenue, Scott suggested we take a look at a relatively new building that was now part of the 5th Avenue scenery; it was called Trump Tower.
At first, I thought it was a rather unusual name for a New York City building (at the time, the word “trump” to me was associated with a card game). But when we set foot in it, I was amazed at its opulent interior, especially the fountain in which the water ran down a wall in the lobby.
When I returned to New York four years later, the name Trump was more than just the tower on 5th Avenue, it had a face that went along with it. It was connected to Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate magnate who was more than just a successful businessman. He was also a mega celebrity to boot, with his face on so many newspaper front pages and magazine covers and any article that had his name on it guaranteed so many copies of newspapers and magazines being sold to celebrity-hungry readers.
And directly across the street from Trump Tower, the Barnes & Noble bookstore had in its display window a large multitude of copies of his just-published autobiography The Art of the Deal, which topped the New York Times best seller list; to me, this was indeed a visible sign that you capped off your respective career with flying colours.
By the time the 2000s rolled around, Donald Trump was not only a name, but a brand, too. There were Trump Steaks, Trump hotels, Trump casinos, Trump Water, a Trump shuttle airline, Trump University and even a line of Trump neckties. And with the success of his NBC reality series “The Apprentice”, anyone could be successful in business if they followed the Trump philosophy, and win the ultimate prize of working for the Trump Organization and manage one of his spectacular real estate projects around the world.
However, in 2015, Donald Trump decided to go political and declared himself as a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. Through his brash statements, insults, over the wall promises and his slogan “Make America Great Again”, Trump pulled a major upset over Democratic Party candidate (and former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton and was elected as the 45th President.
And now, as his first term is coming to an end and he is seeking re-election, Trump’s administration has been filled with high cabinet turn overs, lies, deceit, vitriol, misinformation, insults, alienation, inaction and too many generalities that have left many reporters, veteran Washington insiders and opponents scratching their heads. As well, there has been a deluge of books that have been published about the Trump administration that have been both favorable and unfavorable; regarding the latter point-of-view, books like Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Bob Woodward’s Fear and John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened have become million-copy best sellers because of its inside look at how this president and his administration has been run unlike any presidential administration in U.S. history … and not for the better.
But what about Donald Trump the person, and what were the circumstances during his life that shaped his character to what we see today? Mary Trump, Donald’s niece (whose father was Freddy Trump, Donald’s oldest brother) has personally witnessed many of these circumstances and brings it all to light with her book Too Much and Never Enough.
This book became an immediate best seller (with over 1.3 million copies sold in its first week of release, making it the fastest-selling book in Simon & Schuster’s 96-year history), and after reading this 211-page tome, I can understand why this book caused such a sensation. This is the first bona fide look at the Trump family from the beginning, and how a sense of family dysfunction, engineered by family matriarch Fred Trump, carried over from the Trump house to the White House, which makes the book read like a combination of a 1980s prime time TV soap opera and a Shirley Jackson novel, with plenty of dark family secrets that border on the macabre.
And Ms. Trump, herself a PhD in psychology, has the pedigree to take the family situations she observed (especially holiday dinners and other family functions), and clearly analyze them in fascinating detail to explain how Donald Trump transformed from favorite son to the world’s most dangerous man.
Perhaps the most tragic figure in this book is Ms. Trump’s father, the late Freddy Trump. Being the eldest sibling, he was originally touted to be the heir apparent to the Trump real estate empire that his father was building from the ground up throughout New York City, especially the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. But having aviation as his passion instead of real estate, and a proposed venture to re-develop the site of the former Coney Island amusement park Steeplechase Park that fell through, Freddy became a commercial pilot for a major airline, but left after one year behind the controls. This failure gave Fred Trump and Donald enough cannon fodder to belittle and humiliate Freddy for not being loyal to the family business, which contributed to his premature death from alcoholism at the age of 42.
But perhaps the most eye-opening aspects of the book – besides the chapter that details Ms. Trump’s contribution to the New York Times’ 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning feature about the Trump family’s history of shady business dealings – are the final chapter and the epilogue that stunningly sums up how and why her uncle Donald became such a dangerous man from the results of his dysfunctional upbringing. She believed that her grandfather made Donald a “vanity project”, in which he would enable him by throwing countless millions of dollars at him to fix any of his business projects that did not work out as anticipated, especially the ones that led to Donald’s series of bankruptcies in the early 90s.
As Ms. Trump writes: “Fred didn’t groom Donald to succeed him; when he was in his right mind, he wouldn’t trust Trump Management to anybody. Instead, he used Donald, despite his failures and poor judgment, as the public face of his own thwarted ambition.”
Also, Ms. Trump has this to say about the president’s inaction during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Donald didn’t drag his feet in December 2019, in January, in February, in March because of his narcissism; he did it because of his fear of appearing weak or failing to project the message that everything was ‘great’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘perfect’. The irony is that his failure to face the truth has inevitably led to massive failure anyway.”
Too Much and Never Enough is a fascinating, alarming book that is practically required reading to understand why Donald Trump is the most unpresidential of his 44 predecessors as U.S. President, and how a person who grew up in a culture of dysfunction, fear and enabling is using those psychological scars to contribute to the unravelling of the American fabric.