“Let Biden sit through an interview like this,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace last month as he sweated profusely, skirting questions about the coronavirus pandemic. “He’ll be on the ground crying for mommy. He’ll say, mommy, mommy, please take me home.”
Sounds like a personal problem, I thought, cringing. Does Trump want his Mommy? Why would he project that Freudian fantasy onto his opponent if he wasn’t, on some level, crying out for some Oedipal desire to be mirrored, protected, and seen?
Thanks to Mary Trump’s Book Too Much and Never Enough, we now know that Donald Trump’s mother was in fact a cold and emotionally distant woman. Through Mary’s anecdotes, Trump’s emotionally barren and neglectful childhood has come to light in a very public way, and he’s probably feeling a bit vulnerable now.
In her book, Mary makes the case that Donald Trump’s pathological persona is a result of his childhood trauma at the hands of a sociopath father and an absent mother. His entire adult life has been a reenactment of the need for his parent’s approval and love.
Who is Mary Trump to Donald Trump?
Mary Trump = Donald Trump’s niece and the author of Too Much and Never Enough
Freddy Trump = Mary Trump’s father, Donald’s brother
Fred Trump (Sr) = Mary’s grandfather, Donald and Freddy’s father
Mary Anne MacLeod Trump = Mary’s grandmother, Donald and Freddy’s mother
Mary is 20 years younger than Donald, so she had a unique glimpse into the family structure, particularly around holidays and family gatherings.
Fred Trump Sr.: Donald Trump’s Dad
Fred Trump Sr. (Donald Trump’s dad) was the son of German immigrants who became a real estate developer after WWII. He used government-backed loans from the Federal Housing Act (FHA) to build low-income housing in Queens, NY. Post-WWII, the FHA was especially friendly to developers, so Fred was essentially building in large part on the taxpayers’ dime. No doubt Fred was financially savvy and methodical, but Mary states unequivocally that he was a sociopath.
“Although uncommon, sociopathy is not rare, afflicting as much as 3 percent of the population. Symptoms of sociopathy include a lack of empathy, a facility for lying, an indifference to right and wrong, abusive behaviour, and a lack of interest in the rights of others.”Mary Trump, Too Much and Never Enough
Fred was unemotional and uncharismatic. He didn’t empathize with others’ emotional needs. He encouraged bullying, divisive behavior, and betrayal between siblings. He wanted his sons to be “killers,” and to take over the family business from their father. Emotions were disdainful to Fred, so he was unable to provide care, love, and mirroring to his young children.
“Having a sociopath as a parent, especially if there is no one around to mitigate the effects, all but guarantees severe disruption in how children understand themselves, regulate their emotions and engage with the world,” Mary said.
Mirroring is the process of mimicking and responding to someone with unconscious body language, and it’s extremely important for child development. This is why newborn babies make faces and gestures at their caretakers, who are then supposed to respond (peek-a-boo!). Mimicking another person’s actions allows the baby to establish a sense of empathy and begin to understand another person’s emotions.
Fred considered child-rearing a woman’s job, so the duties of care and emotional mirroring fell to Mary. Unfortunately, Mary’s health failed when Donald was an infant, so she too was unable to care for him during that crucial time.
Mary Anne MacLeod: Donald Trump’s Mom
“Mary Anne MacLeod Trump was the kind of mother who used her children to comfort herself rather than comforting them,” Mary Trump said. “She attended to them when it was convenient for her, not when they needed her to. Often unstable and needy, prone to self-pity and flights of martyrdom, she frequently put herself first. Especially when it came to her sons, she acted as if there were nothing she could do for them.”
When Donald was two years old, Mary Trump underwent an emergency hysterectomy which led to an abdominal infection that nearly killed her. She spent the next 6 months in and out of the hospital. As a toddler, Donald was in a precarious position. He wasn’t getting his emotional needs met by either of his parents because his mom was emotionally and physically absent and his dad was a sociopath.
“All behavior exhibited by infants and toddlers is a form of attachment behavior, which seeks a positive, comforting response from the caregiver—a smile to elicit a smile, tears to prompt a hug,” Mary writes.
Indeed, the scientific literature supports this developmental theory. Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score is the go-to book on trauma and somatic psychotherapy. He posits the effects of trauma and PTSD (which everyone experiences on some level) are not limited to the brain, but actually affect our body’s cells, tissues, and nervous system.
“Trauma almost invariably involves not being seen, not being mirrored, and not being taken into account.”Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
He goes on to show that emotional neglect physically inhibits the growth of the frontal lobes in the child’s brain, essentially making their brain smaller.
“Without flexible, active frontal lobes people become creatures of habit, and their relationships become superficial and routine,” Van Der Kolk said. “Invention and innovation, discovery, and wonder, all are lacking.”
A compelling argument for why Trump acts like a man-child is because he is frozen in time, reenacting his unaddressed childhood trauma, projecting it onto his and his followers’ worldview on a national scale.
Freddy Trump: Donald Trump’s Brother
Freddy is the Author Mary’s father. According to Mary, he was an empathetic and sensitive soul. He was well-liked by his friends, he spent his weekend flying planes and vacationing in Montauk with his fraternity brothers. Unfortunately, his father didn’t appreciate these hobbies or personality traits.
Fred wanted his sons to be killers – unemotional and ruthless – and Freddy was too soft. Mary said Fred Sr. “dismantled [Fred Jr.] by devaluing and degrading every aspect of his personality.” Fred wanted him to work for Trump Management, while Freddy wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. His father mocked him ruthlessly. Freddy developed a drinking problem, no doubt in part to cope with his father’s disapproval and rejection. When he had a heart attack at age 43, while living in his family’s home, none of his family came to see him at the hospital. Donald was at a movie when he died.
Freddy was a “black sheep” or marginalized family member. It’s common in narcissistic family structures to label one child the “golden child”and the other a “scapegoat.” In this case, Freddy is assumed to be the scapegoat. He could never do anything right in his father’s eyes. On the other hand, Fred lavished Donald with praise, telling him “You’re a King,” and grooming him to become his business heir.
Kids will do almost anything to earn their parents’ approval. Seeing what happened to his older brother Freddy when he dared to show emotion or stand up to Fred Sr., Donald learned early on to do the complete opposite. His father appreciated and cultivated young Donald’s sadistic side. As long as Donald continued fulfilling his role as a “killer,” he was accepted by his father.
Of course, as adults, we’re responsible for our own actions, so this book isn’t to suggest that Trump’s parents are completely at fault for why he’s like… *gestures wildly* …this. Many people had shitty childhoods, and grow up to not be malignant narcissists or xenophobic, authoritarian dictators.
The fact that Donald Trump’s earliest experiences included neglect and abuse provide a reasonable theory for his behaviour today on the world stage. But Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the sheer number of people who support him should be evidence of our collective trauma. White supremacy is inherently traumatic, and it’s very existence depends on marginalising and “othering” people, similar to how the narcissistic family depends on a scapegoat and a golden child. The issue is deeper than Donald Trump.
If we refuse to address our childhood trauma, we’ll be stuck in that cycle for the rest of our lives. Look at the family upbringing of any dictator and you’ll see how they internalised their oppressors and reenacted it in positions of power. We are all responsible for unlearning negative patterns of behaviour, reaching inside and rooting out our own internalised hatred and white supremacy so that we don’t continue to identify with the oppressor. Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be capable of that sort of self-reflection, and at nearly 80 years old, time is running out. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the deepest recession since the Great Depression, when people need leadership most, Donald flounders to cover his stark incompetence, still trying after all these years to impress his dead daddy. In his words: Sad!
Written by Jennifer Karami