(CN) — Not even waiting for Chapter 1 to depict her uncle Donald as a sociopath whose family has grown cynical of his public illusions, the clinical psychologist Mary Trump prefaces her memoir with a scene from the 2016 campaign trail.
“Does anybody even believe the bullshit that he’s a self-made man?” Mary Trump recalls asking one of the future president’s sisters. “What has he even accomplished on his own?”
The reply from Maryanne Barry, a former federal judge, is cutting: “‘Well,’ Maryanne said, as dry as the Sahara, ‘he has had five bankruptcies.’”
Obtained by Courthouse News one week before publication, an advance copy of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” unveils author Mary Trump as the source behind a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigation that accused President Trump two years ago of using complicated tax frauds as the foundation for the fictional portrait of himself as a self-made success.
When the story first broke in 2018, the Times exposé credited the breakthrough into the murky Trump fortune to tax records sent anonymously by mail, but Mary Trump narrates a far more hands-on relationship with journalists and their source.
As the president’s niece tells it, investigative reporter Susanne Craig landed unwelcome at her doorstep months after Trump’s inauguration and was turned away. The Times journalist persisted a few weeks later with a letter asserting that the documents that she was seeking could help “rewrite the history of the President of the United States.”
Mary Trump recalls being laid up in her house with a foot fracture watching what she describes as “democracy disintegrating and people’s lives unraveling because of my uncle’s policies,” before agreeing to share records from an old inheritance dispute and communicating with the three reporters who shared the Times bylines in person and via a “burner phone.”
“Through the extraordinary reporting of the Times team, I learned more about my family’s finances than I’d ever known,” she recounts, rattling off the findings of the nearly 14,000-word report.
For Mary Trump, one of the investigation’s most “mind boggling” revelations revealed her grandfather’s fortune to be up to four times the size asserted by her aunt and uncles, whom she claims gave an “absurdly low” valuation to defraud her into her settlement.
The book posits “cheating as a way of life” for Donald Trump, tracing the time he paid a friend to take his SATs to a lifetime of tax swindling and a thwarted attempt to rip off his siblings.
One of two children of president’s late elder brother, Fred Trump Jr., Mary Trump says Donald Trump tried to pull off a brazen inheritance “scheme” over the fortune of his father, Fred Trump Sr., that would have left his surviving siblings, Maryanne, Elizabeth and Robert, at his financial mercy.
“We would have been penniless,” Maryanne is quoted as saying years later. “Elizabeth would have been begging on a street corner. We would have had to beg Donald for a cup of coffee.”
In a more lucid moment of Fred Trump Sr.’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, according to the book, the family patriarch refused to sign a codicil that would have legitimized the power grabs. When he died in 1999, that act ensured that three of his children remained co-executors of the estate.
“In 1992, only two years after Donald’s attempt to attach the codicil to my grandfather’s will, effectively cutting his siblings out, the four of them suddenly needed one another: after a lifetime of their father’s playing them off one another, they finally had a common purpose — to protect their inheritance from the government,” the book claims.
Invoking a 2001 nondisclosure agreement, the future president’s other brother, Robert Trump, would later take Mary Trump to court in an attempt to muzzle her from repeating those family secrets.
Even as reporters dissect her book, a restraining order forbids “Mary L. Trump, together with any agent” from describing its contents. Her publishers at Simon & Schuster, which a New York appeals court ruled are not specifically bound by the deal, paint it as an affront to protections against prior restraint of the press.
Backed by high-profile First Amendment attorneys, they argue that Mary Trump’s rights to free expression matter most when writing about her uncle in an election year. That backdrop is evident before her book technically begins.
“If he is afforded a second term, it will be the end of American democracy,” Mary Trump declares in the prologue.
In addition to loftier appeals to free expression, Mary Trump has argued in court that the Times revelations showed that the agreement she signed is unenforceable due to fraud.
But ultimately, true to her profession, Mary Trump’s book is a psychological portrait and a family drama. “Child abuse is, in some sense, a matter of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’” she observes, in an explanation of the book’s title. The psychologist ties the president’s psyche to his father’s neglect in pursuit of his real estate empire and his mother’s illness as a toddler.
“Any story about Donald was really a story about Fred,” Mary Trump writes at one point, referring to New York media narrative surrounding the future president.
It might also be described as the thesis encapsulating the book, offered as the shaky foundation of all of the president’s achievements: “Fred also knew that if that secret was uncovered, the ruse would fall apart.”
In the story of her father “Freddy” Trump, whose alcoholic spiral into self-destruction led to his death at age 42, Mary Trump finds the true self-made man of her clan, briefly realizing his dream of flight as a commercial pilot before being grounded by the expectations of the family patriarch.
Denigrated by his father as a “bus driver in the sky,” Freddy Trump is depicted as a victim of his resignation in following into the family business.
“Donald was as narrow and provincial and egotistical as their father,” Mary Trump writes. “But he also had a confidence and brazenness that Fred envied and his older brother lacked, qualities that Fred planned to turn into his advantage.”
What sets “Too Much and Never Enough” apart from other psychological portraits of the president is not only Mary Trump’s proximity to the subject matter, and the author makes clear that this is no bloodless and disinterested clinical analysis.
Putting her own rationale for spilling the family secrets in a tradition of Trumpian grand gestures, she writes: “It wasn’t enough for me to volunteer at an organization helping Syrian refugees; I had to take down Donald.”
In her professional estimation, diagnosing President Trump with “malignant narcissism” or suffering from “narcissistic personality disorder” is inadequate.
“A case could be made that he also meets the criteria for antisocial personality disorder, which in its most severe form is generally considered sociopathy but also can refer to chronic criminality, arrogance, and disregard for the rights of others,” she writes.
For Mary Trump, the personal, familial and the professional converge in being a witness to a key moment in the president’s life story, an alleged fraud that she detects as a lifelong pattern.
“Nobody has failed upward as consistently and spectacularly as the ostensible leader of the shrinking free world,” she writes.
This is where Mary Trump’s family drama collides with current events.
“At a very deep level, his bragging and false bravado are not directed at the audience in front of him but at his audience of one: his long-dead father,” the book analyzes, in its final chapter.
Reflecting how quickly the book went to print, its epilogue connects the president’s upbringing to his positivity in the face of more than 130,000 dead in the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of what she calls the worst civil unrest since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“The country is is now suffering from the same toxic positivity that my grandfather deployed specifically to drown out his ailing wife, torment his dying son, and damage past healing the psyche of his favorite child, Donald J. Trump,” she declares.