In the opening pages of Mary Trump’s book about her family, she describes a visit to the White House to celebrate the birthdays of her aunts: Maryanne, who is turning 80, and Elizabeth, who is turning 75. It’s 2017 and the aunts’ younger brother is now the President of the United States. The author shares her reflections on her last name, something that once was a source of pride but now is a reminder of her complicated family legacy. Then she introduces the major players in her family but the one that stands out most in this book is her grandfather, the family patriarch. The first memory she shares about him is when she stood before him as a 20-year-old asking permission to return to college. He questions her decision, calling it “stupid” and suggesting she go to trade school and become a receptionist. She holds her ground and insists she wants to return in order to get her degree. Then she describes his response: “I must have said it with a hint of annoyance, because my grandfather narrowed his eyes and looked at me for a second as if reevaluating me. The corner of his mouth lifted in a sneer, and he laughed. ‘That’s nasty,’ he said. A few minutes later, the meeting broke up.” (p. 3)
Mary Trump is a psychologist and she appears to have spent plenty of time reflecting on of her family, since she lays out a very thorough anamnesis of her family’s difficulties that resulted in the death of her father at age 42 and the rise of her uncle’s fame. At the center of this saga is her grandfather, Fred Trump, a self-made German immigrant who had no time and no tenderness for his five children. The author describes her grandfather as rigid, callous, and controlling. He spent six days a week at the office and did not believe that taking care of his five young children was his responsibility. Since his wife was often ill, their care was left to a nanny or to the eldest sister; neither, of course, being able to provide the nurturing and care that would lead to a secure attachment and healthy personality. In writing about those early years of her father’s siblings, the author applies her psychological understanding to show how the two youngest children (Donald and Robert) learned to never show neediness. This lack of proper parenting explains the “not enough” of the books title. The “too much” refers to the negative attention and stifling expectations placed on Freddy, the eldest son. Reading his story is painful, especially as the author makes it clear that despite an early attempt to break away from his father, he was unable to do so psychologically. After failing in his chosen career Freddy returned home to suffer more humiliation and defeat until his untimely death.
From a Jungian perspective, the problem the author describes is negative father complex. A complex refers to unconscious contents, usually resulting from childhood wounds or trauma, that develop around a common feeling tone. A complex operates autonomously, outside of a person’s awareness, so that when it’s triggered, one’s actions follow a certain predictable pattern. This becomes particularly problematic when the complex leads one to act in ways that are against one’s best interest or bring harm to others. A negative complex indicates that the effect on the person was detrimental and it can take many forms.
By Mary’s description, Fred Trump was an autocrat and gave his approval only his children followed his rules. When they didn’t, they were subject to being mocked and humiliated. As the eldest son, Freddy was expected to work at the Trump Management office; however, he wanted to be a pilot. Instead of supporting Freddy’s dream, his father criticized him, calling him “a glorified bus driver” and saying he was an embarrassment to his family. Fred Sr. valued toughness, so he ridiculed any show of vulnerability and mocked his eldest son when he apologized for failing to intuit his father’s expectations. Consequently, Freddy’s self-worth eroded over time and he was left with an overwhelming sense of shame and worthlessness. Freddy’s desperation to get approval from his father persisted throughout his adult life so that his dream of being a pilot was sabotaged by his drinking. He returned home, a failure in his own eyes and in the eyes of his father. This is one of the potential pitfalls of a negative father complex: the son has to follow the path set out for him by the father, even if the son’s abilities and temperament are not suited to the role the father expects him to play.
Another problem in this family was the differential treatment Fred bestowed on his sons. The dynamics between Freddy, the eldest son, and Donald, the middle son, recall the archetypal themes of warring brothers where one is clearly preferred to the other. As in the Biblical story of Cain and Able, one lives and the other dies. There are also themes of the younger stealing the elder’s birthright, such as in the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s mother helps him fool the father, but in the Trump family, it is the mother’s neglect of her sons that creates a vacuum and increases the competition between the sons for favor from their father. But it is the father’s role in setting up this unintended rivalry that twists the gut. After his eldest son failed in securing a difficult business deal, he withdrew any but the merest financial support for Freddy and his family. Consequently, they were denied an application for a house and lived in a drafty Trump owned apartment that was never repaired. At about the same time, Donald was being driven around in a company car and earning profits from his father’s business deals despite not have contributed to them in any way. The author points out the discrepancies in the arrangements between her parent’s divorce and Donald’s. Her mother received $600 a month in alimony; Donald’s first wife signed a pre-nuptial agreement that included a bonus of $150,000, worth almost 21 years of what her mother received. In this telling, it is clear that one son’s gain is the other’s loss, and this continues to the next generation when Freddy’s children realize that they were cut out of their father’s share of the inheritance.
The dynamics of the Trump family, as described by Mary Trump, are reminiscent of a Greek tragedy and brought to mind the tale of the doomed house of Atreus. The trouble began with Tantalus who, as a friend of Zeus, was invited to the banquets on Mount Olympus. Tantalus stole the food of the gods and fed it to humans. Later, Tantalus invited the gods to a banquet. In order to test them he cut up his son Pelops and added him to the stew. The gods and goddesses were horrified and refused to eat it. In the Trump family, it was the eldest son who was cut up and sacrificed while the middle son was given honey and nectar. It did not end well for Tantalus. His kingdom was ruined, and he was strung from a fruit tree that leaned over a lake. Every time he reached for the fruit, it would evade his grasp and when he bent to drink, the water would recede. Although he was hungry and thirsty, he could neither eat nor drink. In the Trump family Fred’s children were emotionally starved and, despite Fred’s wealth, many of them lived with a scarcity mentality. The final chapters of this book describe the cursed cruelty of the Trump family, passed down through the generations. A sad but tantalizing tale.
Jeanne Creekmore, PhD. is a Jungian Analyst in Washington D.C. She has a degree in Clinical Psychology from the Union Institute and a Master’s Degree in art therapy from George Washington University. firstname.lastname@example.org https://www.dcpsychotherapy.com/psychotherapist_creekmore.html