BOOK REVIEW | "TOO SOON AND NEVER ENOUGH: HOW MY FAMILY CREATED THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS MAN" BY MARY L. TRUMP, PH.D.
photo by nacrowe
my first teaching job was at my old high school in KUWAIT. while there i taught expatriate kids associated with foreign political, military and petrolemum industries, as well as well-connected and extravagantly wealthy KUWAITIS. how rich? like FORBES 100 rich. but it was interesting because depending on the birth order of the KUWAITIS, you either had kids that were model students or absolute disasters. it was a total either/or situation. i remember introducing myself to the kids, telling them that i had previously lived and taught in NYC and one freshman student took me aside later after class and confided in me that she had been to NYC twice, for rehab. at 14 she was battling a heroin addiction.
what i realized about many of the KUWAIT children was that they were often severely neglected, being raised by nannies, having to live up to the name of absentee parents. they were in essence traumatized victims.
it was those former KUWAITI students that came to mind repeatedly when reading TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) by clinical psychologist MARY L. TRUMP about the developmental psychology associated with her uncle and the current UNITED STATES PRESIDENT, DONALD TRUMP. it is an incredible perspective she brings as both member of the TRUMP clan (who obviously is knowledgeable of his personal and family history) and that of a trained expert in identifying psychological disorders and psychoses, for which she has taught and collaborated in the writing of textbooks on.
as you may expect, TRUMP's diminished empathy and cognitive deficiencies trace back to his childhood, where like his four siblings he was neglected by his parents. the TRUMP household in QUEENS was one were FRED was the undisputed patriarch and his hostility towards his family and own children knew no bounds. his needs and his ego was what need to be satiated and he had no use for his family. MARY is the daughter of FREDDY, the eldest son of FRED, and he serves as the example of what happens when you don't live up to the expectations of the father. essentially you are wiped out and forgotten. his untimely death in his early 40s from the effects of acute alcoholism brought shame on himself and eventually his children being written out of the family will.
it's a merciless, zero-sum, dog-eat-dog world within that household where empathy, love and basic decency are devalued and wealth and greed are conflating with having value.
younger brother DONALD was profoundly affected by these family dynamics and learned never to capitulate or admit you were wrong in anything, as being vulnerable had no use to FRED. he only respected "killers." as MARY argues, FRED in essence "short-circuited Donald's ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion" leaving him in a state "today [that] is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his emotions, or take in and synthesize information." quite literally his need for affirmation is insatiable and such a personality trait leaves us all vulnerable to bad actors manipulating him with false praise and flattery. for him it doesn't even matter where it comes from, it is "so great that he doesn't seem to notice that the largest group of his supporters are people he wouldn't condescend to be[ing] seen with outside a rally" as MARY astutely points out.
and that is the problem we all face now as the whole national apparatus has enabled him, essentially "the government as it is currently constituted, including the executive branch, half of Congress, and the majority in the Supreme Court, is entirely in the service of protecting Donald's ego." this is our collective reality now. we are all in essence the pawns in his attempts to demonstrate value to his long dead father. to show that he is worthy of his admiration and love.
yes, DONALD is a victim of his father, FRED. along with his siblings he was the victim of child abuse, especially neglect. he was raised in a household that traded in sadistic humiliation and soul-crushing isolation. MARY is not advocating for sympathy on his behalf from the reader, far from it. she is placing his behavior and histrionics within a psychological and family context as only she can to help inform voters for the upcoming 2020 election. god bless her for that.
with 200,000 AMERICANS having perished from this EARTH as a result of his daddy issues, it is incumbent on all of us to heed that warning.
go out and vote.
note: for the record i bought this book at a used bookstore, so no funds went to the TRUMP klan, even though MARY L TRUMP seems to be a more reputable and savory member of that extended family. still i think it is important for people to know that i acquired this in a way that provided funds only to the reseller.
much like its predecessor FEAR (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018), legendary WASHINGTON POST journalist BOB WOODWARD's second book on the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION entitled RAGE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) provides a third-person perspective of events within the WHITE HOUSE based on deep background interviews. what separates this book from its predecessor, aside from its timeline (as this book covers time up until SUMMER 2020), is the actual participation of PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP himself. not liking how he was depicted in the first book and confident of his persuasive abilities, TRUMP spoke with WOODWARD seventeen times from DECEMBER 2019 through JULY 2020, many off the cuff with the president initiating the call himself. it was unprecedented opportunity for both.
that is not to say i learned anything per se reading his words. as WOODWARD states of his experience, "at times, talking to him meant being talked at." that comes across in spades throughout the conversations. WOODWARD asks carefully constructed questions crafted intently for the sake of posterity and TRUMP repeatedly offers a world salad of ramblings and half truths. it isn't shocking, you just get the sense that he doesn't care about facts or information. makes perfect sense when you learn that ANTHONY FAUCI, the director of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES once stated that "his attention span is like a minus number." it seems that WOODWARD has infinite patience and endurance throughout the proceedings as he often rephrases his questions multiple times in order to draw out some semblance of a coherent thought from TRUMP, most often to no avail. in the end he felt that they were essentially "speaking past each other, almost from other universes."
this tic seems to be a rhetorical device aimed at wearing down his perceived adversaries with brute repetition. it is essentially GASLIGHTING. and it works. in FEAR there is a constant theme of TRUMP impulsively and maybe even obsessively bringing up the same topics over and over again with his secretaries. the repetition of having the same discussion multiple times most definitely word down former cabinet secretaries like GARY COHN, JAMES MATTIS, DAN COATS and REX TILLERSON as well as former CHIEFS OF STAFF REINCE PRIEBUS and JOHN KELLY. this book showcases how that same tactic plagued his administration into further mismanagement with the rise of CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC and the NATIONAL PROTESTS that erupted in the aftermath of the senseless killing by MINNEAPOLIS police of an innocent unarmed black man, GEORGE FLOYD. it would be an interesting aside if its consequences were not so dire.
as i write this our national death toll in the UNITTED STATES from COVID-19 is at 204,000 and continuing unabated. as WOODWARD soberly states near the end of his interviews in a first-person aside to the reader, "Trump never did seem willing to mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."
it is hard for me to read this book with the proper distance and perspective as its events are still fresh in my mind. i appreciate the fact that WOODWARD is able to present the administration's perspective effectively, while choosing to interject only when facts run counter to the narrative being presented by such. in this manner both books are great tools for gaining insight into their process or lack thereof when creating policy and making important decisions. i only wish the credo that TRUMP's senior aide and son-in-law JARED KUSHNER presents that "controversy elevates message" wasnt true. fact-checking means nothing in this post-truth digital hell-scape where social media platforms essentially incentivize disseminating disinformation.
the moral failures of this administration will stain us long after he departs the WHITE HOUSE, whenever that may be. as SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM is reported to have said to TRUMP in the aftermath of his photo op at the nearby ST. JOHN's CHURCH, the president had the opportunity in the wake of the wave of protests to react in the mold of either "George Wallace, Robert Kennedy or Richard Nixon."
it is to what will be our eternal dismay that he chose GEORGE WALLACE.
RAGE is an incredible book that is quite harrowing to read but well worth the effort. this book will prove to be important for people to read down the road for insight into the mind of our current fearless leader and how we collectively lost our way as a nation.
where to begin?
i guess i should start off by stating that the timeline of events in FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018) take place from the beginnings of his first ideations of running for president in the 1980s to SPRING 2018 of his first term.
reading any book by legendary journalist BOB WOODWARD is the nonfiction equivalent of watching a movie. his books are written in third-person for the most part in direct, unadorned prose that allows the reader to achieve a sense of clarity and understanding about the multiple discussions and plot points at hand and ultimately their real-world consequences. it should be said that rarely chooses to break into first person, and when he does it is usually to present anecdotal evidence or reasons why he omitted specific details for national security reasons.
what is interesting about reading FEAR is that the confusion experienced is not based in his writing style or handle on the relevant facts, but rather the convoluted subject that is the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and how chaotic and unorganized it is. many things are happening concurrently and largely secretly in what can only be described as an administration whose organizing principle is that of a free-for-all.
internally domestic and foreign policy decisions are discussed and litigated (and often relegated ad nauseam) by an ever-changing cast of officials and secretaries with no protocols or scheduling adhered to by anyone. this seems to be by design from TRUMP himself who sees such a pugilistic bloodbath as a way of discerning which agendas are worth pursuing by how much advocates for such are willing to carpet-bomb their rivals in order to promote. and even then he doesnt take ownership. TRUMP even states to his aides that the only real power is fear. which makes sense both in what he wishes to project and what his antiquated worldview entails regarding modernity.
former REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE chairman and first TRUMP chief of staff REINCE PRIEBUS has a colorful quote describing this melee as "when you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody." it comes as no suprise that this bloodsport has resulted in policies that are often extremist and morally reprehensible. a related insight was the fact that the most powerful set of advisors in his orbit where those slightly outside of the ring. in economic terms the people who served as the opportunity cost: those he could have chosen to be officials and secretaries but didnt. in TRUMP's mind it was never his fault that he fostered a chaotic, unproductive, hellish work environment. it was always everyone else that was under scrutiny. it was them that failed him. its a shockingly naive and juvenile psychology at play. again in his mind there was always someone out there with better insights, that was better prepared and more cutthroat, ruthless and unencumbered by morality or common decency that could possibly utilize and discard to his own end.
if you are looking for an author here that ascribes an explicit sense of moral indignation at the subject, this is not that book (for the most part). largely it is written from the macro perspective of those who collectively participated in the WHITE HOUSE discussions and events related in the book. the value of such is that you get a useful sense of how TRUMP and his supplicants and web of cronies viewed world events. anyone paying attention to such over the past few years will know all these events, such as the 2016 ELECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, and THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION. noticeably at the end when his lawyer JOHN DOWD departs his legal team after TRUMP doesnt heed his advice regarding ROBERT MUELLER's investigation, WOODWARD does concede the book's overall thesis that much of the chaos and ensuing acrimony caused by this administration is based on a series of people who couldn't call him out for being he is: a liar.
and we all pay for it.
i recommend this book for all concerned citizenry of the UNITED STATES and the world.
photo by nacrowe
the word fascist is an oddly mercurial term. it can mean anything in modern-day parlance from a demanding authority figure (boss, parent, teacher) to just someone you vehemently disagree with.
in her book FASCISM: A WARNING (HARPER, 2018), former CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT sets the task of defining and articulating what the term means and how it used to describe the philosophies, behaviors and techniques of regressive regimes from the early 20th century to present day. this is not some high-minded academic thought experiment for her as her family were refugees twice having fled CZECHOSLAVAKIA during WWII and during its post-war COMMUNINIST takeover. she intimately understands scope and dangers of the rising tide of fascism worldwide. she knows the plight of those under its thumb.
but she is also careful to explain that the term does not denote a particular ideology but rather "someone that who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." in essence this cancer can happen anywhere. and does.
leaders she profiles in this book include that of textbook examples like BENITO MUSSOLINI (ITALY), ADOLF HITLER (GERMANY), JOSEPH STALIN (USSR) and the KIM JONG-UN/KIM JONG-IL/KIM IL-SUNG lineage (NORTH KOREA) as well as recent examples that exhibit fascist tendencies such as NICOLAS MADURO/HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), SLOBODON MILOSEVIC (SERBIA), RECEP ERDOGAN (TURKEY), ROBERT MUGABE (ZIMBABWE), GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOW (TURKMENISTAN), VICTOR ORBAN (HUNGARY), ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI (EGYPT), HUN SEN (CAMBODIA), JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (POLAND), VLADIMIR PUTIN (RUSSIA), YOWERI MUSEVENI (UGANDA), ILHAM ALIYEV (AZERBAIJAN), DANIEL ORTEGA (NICARAGUA), RODRIGO DUTERTE (PHILIPPINES), ROBERT KAGAME (RWANDA) and, yes, DONALD TRUMP (UNITED STATES), the first "anti-democratic President in modern U.S. history."
what comes across forcefully is that term fascism covers a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, religious and political philosophies, yet its effect of limiting individual expression is the same.
part of the book addresses the set of circumstances that led to societies being susceptible to the message of despots and totalitarians. ultimately week economies where major short-term challenges and long-term structural issues went unaddressed by an inept system flooded with incompetent politicians led to an opportunity for the public to seek alternatives. also, often issues regarding immigration and national identity, as most countries are based initially on the bonds ethnic groups, come to further heighten an already explosive political environment. NATIONALISM here is not the cause but rather a tool used to manipulate.
essentially the mass psychology involved in supporting fascism is pretty straightforward: this leader will do what needs to be done. in a democracy there is a deliberate effort to guard and protect the interests of the political minority, which often is forgotten by most. it is this key constituency that is lost in the shuffle when the masses make the turn towards a dictatorship. the process is often gradual and similar to that of plucking a duck as MUSSOLINI once explained. unfortunately i have seen such a process in progress during my stints in NIGERIA under SANI ABACHA, VENEZUELA under NICOLAS MADURO, ALBANIA under SANI BERISHA and now the UNITED STATES under DONALD TRUMP.
for me it is easy to pass judgements on pat and current supporters of these movements, especially the ones i have encountered during my lifetime, whether they be CHAVISTAS or TRUMPISTAS. what is more difficult is to look inside and consider how i am adding to the situation. for me this is the most damning anecdote in the whole book: ALBRIGHT makes the argument that our modern digital on-demand culture has created a situation where we expect more from our government than at any point in the past. we expect results without paying the cost. locally-sourced food produced cheaply and ethically. security without loss of privacy. government services without taxation. essentially we are spoiled. we expect simple answers to complicated questions. and that tendency leads us to become cynical and ultimately disengage. this disengagement is an opportunity for change. and change can go both ways.
the path to fighting fascism, especially here in AMERICA is being mindful of others and becoming active in CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: VOTING, VOLUNTEERING, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and INVESTING in our communities. complacency and adopting a myopic mindset focused on your self-interest is what will collectively do us in as a nation. we need to reestablish our sense of mutual connection and responsibility to each other as AMERICANS.
if you don't know how to get engaged look here for ways:
FASCISM: A WARNING is definitely a worthwhile read and an excellent introduction to the topic that is straightforward with unadorned language that is easily understood and deftly constructed for maximum impact.