The Eroticism of Brutality
On Mary Trump’s ‘Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man’
1.Several years ago, after a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I took a walk in Central Park with a woman I’d met only a few weeks before. We were mourning a mutual friend who had recently died of alcoholism.
She and Alan had been friends since childhood; I’d only known him for a year. We both knew that he’d tried several times to stop drinking and despite being very distinguished in his career had somehow “failed” at sobriety.
We were also aware of a section in the AA literature that states in plain terms: Some people are simply unable to get sober. It doesn’t matter how many degrees someone’s earned or how much money and prestige they have; wealthy, accomplished addicts die every day. It also isn’t a matter of willpower. What matters most is a person’s relationship to the truth. It is impossible to recover from alcoholism and hold onto myths about yourself.
We knew he valued his career above everything else, and telling people at work that his drinking was out of control mortified him. We also knew he had attended a military school for most of his childhood and into his teens. Perhaps asking for help when he’d been raised to show strength in times of weakness seemed like admitting failure. Yet there were alcoholics in the military all over the world who stopped drinking and sought the help they needed.
My friend mentioned Alan’s Southern background and a discussion they once had about the South. She found it exasperating. Despite her efforts to connect with him about the shadow of Southern life, she felt he only wanted to engage in further mythmaking. She described their conversation as sipping “mint juleps on the plantation porch” — shades of that great American literary myth Gone With the Wind. As we walked through the park together and found a bench in the shade, she said, “If you can’t be honest about your history, how can you be honest about your disease?”
She then told me an intimate story from her life, which surprised me, given the newness of our friendship. It was the kind of story white people usually don’t tell Black people — white people rarely tell on each other — but recovering addicts share a special bond.
When she was a little girl living in Maine in the late 1940s, a great-aunt of hers had come up from the South — Alabama or Mississippi, as I recall — to stay with the family. There was a lot of excitement as the aunt arrived at the station. When she departed from the train and saw her favorite nephew and his daughter, she waved and walked toward them, a Black porter in tow, carrying her luggage. There was a brief exchange of warm greetings and embraces as my friend’s father bent to pick up the aunt’s things and walk her to their car. Before she left the platform, the aunt paused, opened a tiny chain purse and addressed the porter. Lifting a coin from the purse, she held it in front of his face. When he reached for it, saying, “Thank you, ma’am,” she jerked it away slightly and shook her head no. Then she said to him, waving the coin before his eyes:
“Before I give you this coin, you do know that as a colored boy you will never be as good as a white person. Isn’t that right, boy?”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“You ain’t never going to be as good as a white person as long as you live. You agree with that, don’t you, boy?”
“Say it. ‘I will never be equal to a white man.’” His face was filled with confusion as he reluctantly repeated the words.
“Just so we’re clear,” her aunt said with steady concentration. “You take this now. Take it, boy. Go on.” And she dropped the coin in his hand and walked to the car, complimenting the lovely weather and starting in on the latest family gossip.
The woman telling me this story was in her late seventies, conservative in dress, and had been a successful lawyer. Not that any of these details necessarily confirm her story, but she seemed reliable to me. Part of me wanted to find a reason to impeach her as a witness, because her testimony was so grotesque. I didn’t want to believe it. But I believed it.
She continued. “I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I know that I was young enough to hold my father’s hand as we waited on the platform. I remember thinking that my aunt must be a witch, like in my bedtime stories, because it was so strange the way she was talking to the man and holding the coin, as if she was casting a spell on him. In a way, she hypnotized us all, because we just stood there, transfixed. Then, when it was over, we walked away like it never happened.
“Something changed for me that day. I had seen people being angry with each other, arguments between my parents, quarrels with my sister. But that was my first real experience of human cruelty: watching a human being try to destroy another human being. It changed me. Knowing that kind of evil was in the world, not just roaming around the streets but in my own family, terrified me. And the way she just smiled and talked about the weather, like the whole thing had happened to other people. I’ve never forgotten that.
“Alan would call me in the middle of the night about his drinking, then the next day we would meet for lunch, and it was like I was talking to someone else. It reminded me of my aunt. I would like to say I’m surprised he’s dead, but I’m not. I would hear the lies he would tell himself, and I would think, ‘I love Alan dearly. He’s a brilliant man. But as an addict, I don’t think he stands a chance.’”
I considered her conclusions about Alan and felt both anger and helplessness at the story about the racist aunt. I was grateful my friend shared it with me. Sometimes we hear about “The Deep South,” “The Civil Rights Movement,” “The Confederacy,” written in capital letters and described in history books. Facts and figures rarely move you to tears, however, or shatter the limits of your imagination.
This woman had lived more than 70 years pursued by the memory of her aunt’s violence. I, however, remembered a great-uncle on my mother’s side, whose history I only knew in fragments, who worked as a railroad porter when he was a young man. My friend’s memory helped me to develop a new appreciation of what had been emotionally incomprehensible before, the deliberate evil of public lynchings, images later captured as postcards — the celebration of a person hanged before a cheering crowd, sometimes burned alive.
A story like hers, too horrifying to dismiss and told by someone sitting beside you and sharing the same air you breathe, makes history compellingly real. The mind resists it, tries to return to the safety of myth instead. Yet if one follows it fearlessly, there is a direct road map that leads one from the aunt on the platform and the hypnotism with her coin to Derick Chauvin’s eight-minute-and-46-second racist trance as he murdered George Perry Floyd on May 25, 2020.
2.In her book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary Trump, PhD, clinical psychologist and Donald Trump’s niece, deconstructs myths about her family — and there is no myth that weighs greater on the American consciousness at this time than the success of Donald Trump.
In a book that comes in at a little over 200 pages, she has her work cut out for her. But the book is economical, forthright, and at times devastating in its effects. Mary Trump’s intentions for writing the book are clear: “Donald, following the lead of my grandfather and with the complicity, silence, and inaction of his siblings, destroyed my father. I can’t let him destroy my country.”
She explains the family history in brief but moving detail: through a series of parental deprivations to which all the Trump children were subjected, Donald and Mary Trump’s father, Fred Jr. (“Freddy”), are both severely harmed by their father. She accuses the patriarch of the family, Fred Trump Sr., of being a sociopath who bullies Freddy, the oldest male child, by insisting that he become a man he doesn’t want to be. When Freddy refuses to obey, Fred Sr. responds to his son with cruelty and a series of humiliations that he endures throughout his lifetime.
Fred Trump consistently withholds affection from all his children and raises them to compete with each other for status and favor, but he especially goes out of his way to mock and belittle his eldest son. He considers Freddy’s unwillingness to carry on the family’s construction business as a personal affront. Dismissed by his father and younger brother as a glorified “bus driver in the sky,” Freddy sabotages the one career he loves and excels at, flying planes for commercial airlines, by drinking too much. Finally, his spirit broken, he is forced to come back to his father and ask for a construction job.
Donald is harmed in a different way; eight years younger and having seen the way his brother’s empathy inspired only contempt in their father, he learns what to suppress within himself to gain Fred Sr.’s approval. At a critical time in his early development, Donald’s mother becomes ill and unavailable, and Fred’s influence is absolute. The character defects that Donald displays early in life, both innate and homegrown, flourish in response to his father’s credo: success at all costs, “killer” instincts, and maintaining a lack of empathy in personal and business relationships. Donald eventually becomes the heir apparent to his father’s company, “thriving” in the construction company beside his father, to his older brother’s even greater humiliation.
Fred puts Donald’s cruelty, his arrogance and ruthlessness, to great use; a sick Donald is good for business. Fred knows that Donald doesn’t have the attention span to see a project through successfully or concentrate on any real work, but Donald does have the panache to dream outside his father’s comfort zones of Brooklyn and Queens. The two men become two halves of a very lucrative whole. After a housing lawsuit against Trump Management for racial discrimination against potential Black tenants is filed and settled out of court, the story is a cause célèbre, and Donald, now on the front cover of newspapers, becomes a star.
Freddy continues to self-destruct, working a series of degrading jobs after his marriage ends. He is the son of one of the wealthiest men in New York, and yet he sleeps on a cot, forced due to his declining health to move back into the family home. His life atrophies; his health disintegrates. In a devastating scene that she has recalled in interviews, Mary Trump finds out while at boarding school that her father has died in the hospital, alone. Her grandparents do not accompany him, and no one from the family is by his side. Donald, aware that his brother is in grave condition, and taking his lead from his father, skips the hospital and goes to the movies instead.
When Fred Trump Sr. dies, preceded in death by his eldest son, he leaves nothing for Freddy’s children in his will. In one of the ugliest sections of the book, after it is clear that Mary and her brother, Fritz, who has a sick child, are being screwed out of their inheritance and taken off the family health insurance, they both listen while their uncle Robert breaks down the contents of the will.
“It’s pretty simple. As far as your grandfather was concerned, dead is dead. He only cared about his living children.”
Mary Trump writes, “I wanted to point out that my grandfather hadn’t cared about Rob, but Fritz intervened. ‘Rob,’ he said, ‘this just isn’t fair.’”
Too Much and Never Enough is a story of family and heartbreak, but it is also an indictment of toxic masculinity, racism, and whiteness. While all the Trumps are white, Freddy becomes “niggered” in the family the moment he refuses to fall in line. Even his son Fritz refers to him as a black sheep when eulogizing him. Freddy is cast out, his memory continues to be a reason for shame, he is almost never mentioned at gatherings, and he’s omitted from his own mother’s obituary when she dies. His siblings maintain Fred Sr.’s cruel edicts even after his death, claiming that they are only “following orders.”
Mary Trump’s insight into her family’s outrageous entitlement becomes an apt metaphor for how white supremacy works — and how Trump’s presidency works! — how it is often an antidote to a white person’s shame or sense of inadequacy. She writes:
If not for an accident of birth, none of them would have been a millionaire… Still they acted as if they had earned every penny of my grandfather’s wealth and that money was so tied up in their sense of self-worth that letting go of it was not an option.
Reading this, I thought of politicians who vote conservatively on issues of social justice — who cut funding for schools, cut affordable health care, deny money for scholarships. They love the idea of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. But for these same people, the idea of turning down millions of dollars in inherited wealth and saying, “I think it is best to make it on one’s own,” would be inconceivable. There are a lot of white faces in these streets shaking their heads at the tragedy of Black economic “failure” while living in houses and driving cars bought with family money that was inherited (read: stolen) from Black labor and Black wealth.
3.I read a comment on Facebook yesterday by a woman who said she wasn’t impressed with Mary Trump. She watched an interview on television and felt Dr. Trump was holding something back — she wanted more.
I get the sense that some people are unsatisfied by her appearances, waiting for the big bombshell, the great reveal. They want to find out that Donald Trump robbed a bank when he was 12; they are looking for some smoking gun, some incriminating revelation that will damn him and leave no doubt as to his guilt. The irony is that there are smoking guns lying all over the place — his financial history alone should sink him like a stone — but when it comes to his supporters, nothing seems to stick. If you haven’t been convinced about who Donald Trump is by what you’ve already seen, then nothing else will convince you.
There are a few zingers in the book, of course; it has been widely reported, for example, that Mary Trump claims Donald paid a student named “Joe Shapiro” to take his SATs for college. And in recent interviews, she has also referred to his liberal use of the “N-word” and his anti-Semitism, which she claims were pervasive in the Trump family. These confirmations, of course, should shock us rigid, and we may be surprised when they don’t. Reporting his financial debacles and the suggestion of duplicity and tax evasion are now the work of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists, and yet he never seemed to pay a price.
George Stephanopoulos asked Mary Trump if Too Much and Never Enough was an extension of the family’s disfunction. She said, “It probably is,” and laughed at herself. I appreciated her answer. If she’d said no, we’d have to question her blind spots — who could watch their father destroyed by his family, their aunts and uncles rip them off for millions of dollars, and not have a desire to put the entire family’s bullshit on blast? Who could blame her for wanting revenge against Donald Trump? During the 2015 election, he spoke sympathetically about his brother Fred Jr.’s addiction as a way to appear politically sensitive to voters about the opioid crisis. The sheer hypocrisy of it all — remembering that Donald went to the movies while Fred died in the hospital alone — would have been the moment I’d have sharpened my pencil to write.
Stars often object to books written by family members because of the mythmaking and revision of history that goes into creating a star. Stars, who rely on myths to maintain their indomitability, are often deeply threatened by family accounts, because they are made human again — mere mortals. The most determined biographer can be thrown off the trail, but family always remembers.
Christopher Ciccone was able to give a very personal view of his superstar sibling in his book, Life With My Sister Madonna. Having been one of the few people in her circle never to sign a confidentiality agreement, he was free. It was Christopher who could tell us about the school concert in which Madonna, scantily clad for a dance solo and unapologetic, mortified her father and revealed the early signs of the controversial performer to come.
Mommie Dearest, written in 1978 and considered to be the first “star exploitation” book of its kind, is still regarded as trash by many of Joan Crawford’s fans. I choose to consider it brave: Christina Crawford’s account, corroborated by several people in Hollywood who felt powerless to intervene on her and her brother’s behalf, disabused us of the notion that child abuse and alcoholism can’t happen in the wealthiest, most successful families.
The company that acquires the film rights to Mary Trump’s book won’t have to look far for dramatic inspiration; the relationship between Fred Sr. and his two sons recalls O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Miller’s The Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. Her book challenges the whole conception of men and winning, including her unapologetic critique of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. In her account, Fred Sr. uses Peale’s compulsive positivity as a way to ignore his wife’s chronic physical and emotional pain and to further humiliate his son for failing.
And while she skillfully deconstructs toxic masculinity in the men, the women in her book are equally compelling. We see Mary Trump’s aunts as both victims of the Trump sociopathology and complicit defenders of the status quo. Mary Trump renders these women in economical but poignant strokes. Her grandmother and aunts Maryanne and Elizabeth give us an indirect insight into the women who continue to stand by Trump. It is her uncles who perpetrate some of the greatest violations, but it is eldest child Maryanne who never challenges her father, and Elizabeth, the middle child and a cypher, who are too cowed by Fred Sr. to be allies. Money is the only currency the family respects. When Mary Trump needs them most to acknowledge her father’s legacy, her aunts turn on her as well.
Dr. Trump shows us the playbook for patriarchal manipulation by revealing the machinations of one of its great players, Fred Trump Sr. Much as Fred Trump divided his children, controlling them through his beliefs in scarcity and deprivation, Donald uses the same strategy to pit governors against each other during the pandemic crisis, New York against Alabama, Florida against Massachusetts. We see through the family’s ruthlessness that money becomes the only acceptable currency, the only definition of one’s worth, that whatever isn’t “perfect” or “great” will magically disappear if you ignore it. And that anything less than absolute obedience is considered an act of disloyalty and must be punished.
4.A therapist friend of mine, of German descent, expressed her concerns about Too Much and Never Enough. She worried that some readers would find Donald Trump too sympathetic, and that he would be seen as a victim of his father, absolving him of culpability. It was very important to her that readers understand that Nazism wasn’t the result of just one very persuasive man, but that it took a country of people, of other leaders and administrators, to stand silently by and enable him.
I reassured her that Mary Trump criticizes her uncle on a number of levels — all devastating. She is unflinchingly clear about his ineptitude as an entrepreneur and catalogues his many failures as a businessman. Donald racks up millions of dollars in debt to banks and his father and still can’t resist investing in new failing ventures. She is clear that he brings this same level of incompetence to his role as president of the United States. While she never diagnoses her uncle, the final chapters of the book are a fascinating character study, examining why Donald Trump is not only incapable of leading the country but may also lead to the end of the American experiment as we know it.
As I read Mary Trump’s book, I recalled the first time I read that Adolf Hitler had failed as an artist, that as a young man he’d dreamed of being a painter. That one humanizing detail — and Mary Trump provides many — meant that Hitler was no longer just a monster lifted from the pages of history books. I saw him for what he was — a man. While this knowledge could never absolve him of his unspeakable legacy — most frustrated artists don’t commit genocide and start world wars — it helped me appreciate what a certain kind of man will do when he feels that he is a failure, what he may put the world through to escape his own feelings of toxic shame.
5.After watching Mary Trump’s interview with George Stephanopoulos a second time, I turned to my partner and said, “You know, I’m getting a gay vibe from her.”
It’s a running joke in our family that I think everyone is gay. This is tricky territory, obviously; what does gay look like? But there was something in the tensions in her body, in the way she spoke. I considered what a gay child in the Trump family might experience, especially in a family so compartmentalized by gender. Gay children are hypervigilant — in many families we have to be, always negotiating whether or not it is safe to come out. We know what it means to keep a secret, especially when the secret we are keeping is ourselves. We also know what it costs to tell.
In one of the final scenes of the book, Fred Trump Sr. is dying, and the family is forced to be at his bedside. When her uncle’s wife moans about having to cancel plans with Prince Charles, Mary Trump writes, “I could have topped that story. In a week I was supposed to be getting married on a beach in Maui. Nobody in my family knew.” She then recalls a homophobic comment that her grandmother once made about Elton John being a “faggot” and writes, “I realized it was better that she didn’t know I was living with and engaged to a woman.”
Coming to this section of the book and reading about Mary Trump’s same-sex relationship struck a deeper chord than just the confirmation that I had been right. It made her witnessing in the family even more compelling for me. It is probably a testament to the changing times that in the interviews I’ve seen, Mary Trump is not presented as a lesbian writer; her book isn’t presented as “written by Donald Trump’s ‘gay’ niece.” And perhaps it doesn’t matter whether Mary Trump is gay or straight or whom she loves. Mary Trump doesn’t emphasize the connection in her book between being isolated within the family and being a gay woman; in a family ruled by toxic masculinity, it is possible that her gayness wasn’t seen because, as a woman, she wasn’t seen at all — gay or otherwise.
The irony is that in many ways it is her father’s life that is the coming-out story — not one of sexual orientation, but of identity. In the toxic world she describes, failing to become a man impervious to others’ feelings or one’s own is almost akin to being “homosexual.” It is one of the ways many boys are split off early in life, encouraged into hypermasculinity, antisocial behavior, and brutality in order to avoid becoming the dreaded “fag.” A gay child, and specifically a gay woman, might understand this dynamic in a way other children might not.
While Freddy’s life ends tragically as the result of a heart attack, almost penniless by Trump standards, he is heroic because he dies on his own terms. Gay children, or children who don’t meet the standards of toxic masculinity, sometimes feel that suicide is the only way to make the bullying stop. When Fred Jr. died, the bullying stopped.
Even in his alcoholism, ostensibly used to medicate his pain, Freddy differentiates himself from Donald and Fred Sr., who do not drink. In the context of a world where the only acceptable response to everything is a pathological need to win, Freddy’s death may be seen as an act of tragic defiance. Like the one “yes” vote by Mitt Romney in Trump’s impeachment hearing, the vote that means Trump will never be able to claim he was unanimously exonerated by his party, Fred’s death is a haunting rebuke, a resolute “no” to the family’s myth of perfection, a final rejection of the Trump brand.
6.At the time of this writing, in scenes that recall Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, federal officers in Portland wearing camouflage are arresting protesters without identifying themselves, putting the protesters into unmarked vans. There has been so much violence and disruption perpetrated by the Trump administration that new persecutions become banal to many; we may only flinch slightly at the latest shocking news, dully anticipating the next violation.
Donald Trump is the wizard in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the charlatan trickster spellcaster who has both awed and intimidated a nation into fear.
Mary Trump’s book is a warning: Just as she watched her own father dismantled by the Trump philosophy, we will continue to watch our freedoms subsumed into the Trump madness. There is only the thinnest barrier now between our democracy and unmarked vans in every major city, silenced journalists, television and radio blaring the government’s agenda from loudspeakers in the streets, people disappeared.
In the middle of a pandemic, we are desperate for the president to act, to do something. But eventually we will realize that we can’t expect Donald Trump to solve Covid-19. He is Covid-19. He is the cancer diagnosis that makes you evaluate your entire life; whether you will give up smoking, unhealthy eating, and find a therapist to release the childhood rage. While I don’t mean to suggest that cancer is healed only by diet and therapy, for many of us a cancer diagnosis makes us sit down and think about radical change. America is having its cancer moment.
Donald Trump is the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, the charlatan trickster spellcaster who has both awed and intimidated a nation into fear. His power works when he is unchallenged, but when Dorothy looks behind the wizard’s awesome mask, she finds out there is a terrified man hiding there, a man who ended up in Oz because he lost his way. The Wizard of Oz isn’t a story about how the wizard gets home — he’s just the catalyst for change.
Dorothy is forever altered, and she develops a new appreciation for home. The others discover their innate power. The story of Donald Trump will remain a static one. It seems to be all about him: Turn on almost any channel at any time of day or night and you will eventually hear his name; but, ironically, in the ways that matter most, what happens to us now has nothing to do with him. This moment is ours.
I’ve tried to make sense of the allure of Trump, because to those who follow him devoutly, there is undeniably a gravitational pull, a primal attraction. I won’t be the first person to observe that he makes ignorance fabulous and a lack of curiosity and imagination seem like resoluteness. Despite his core lack of authority — one doesn’t have to look very closely to tell that he is constantly “riffing” — he compels us by his relentless determination to maintain The Great Myth about himself. Mary Trump would argue that he has to: Without his myths, there is nothing else. And to look down from this altitude, to ask questions about what his entire life has been predicated on, which is a lie, would be to go into complete free-fall. He holds onto his illusions ferociously, calls it self-love, and invites the rest of us to come along for the ride. For some, the effect is exhilarating.
As Fred Trump Sr. once used his son for his own purposes, there are people on the far right who have been waiting for a Donald Trump to arrive—a charismatic fool who will do anything for attention, who will incite the people to act, even against their own best interest. These politicians, like his father, have struck an unholy alliance with the president. George W. Bush was also a fool and, at times, cruel, but he struck us as the frat boy who found himself in the Oval Office because he got lost on a White House tour.
Donald Trump is a fool of a different kind; he’s a showboat but not afraid to act out his vengeance. He can harm us and entertain us at the same time, and he knows that whatever he does, he will get away with it. In the book, Mary Trump quotes writer Charles P. Pierce in Esquire: “He is proud of his monster. He glories in its anger and destruction. While he cannot imagine its love, he believes with all his heart in its rage.” There are those who will allow Trump to cling to his myths as much as he likes, knowing that as long as he stays safely within the boundaries of the cult of personality, they can harness his power to get their agenda done.
These people are on a mission. Some names you know, others you don’t. They will not rest until everything feminine on the planet is eradicated; until toxic masculinity and patriarchal domination define every area of our lives, until the earth collapses in on itself from global warning, until women lose their reproductive freedom, as medical care and access to pharmaceuticals continue to be motivated by profit; until queer people recant their sins or find themselves institutionalized or destroyed; until “race wars” and “protesting” and homelessness become the justification for more incarcerations, more segregation, maintaining a system of labor that relies heavily on an increased prison population paid nothing at all for their work — a return to feudalism.
It will be the state that will determine whom you will call God, whom you will worship, whom you may love. In this parallel universe, tenderness is failure, kindness is weakness, compassion is obscenity. All human interactions will be transactional, defined by exploitation. The erotic will no longer exist; only perversity and extreme acts of pornographic violence will be able to penetrate our numbness. Our children won’t learn the value of fellowship or community, but “The Art of The Deal”.
In the final two pages of her book, Dr. Trump writes:
I can only imagine the envy with which Donald watched Derek Chauvin’s casual cruelty and monstrous indifference as he murdered George Floyd; hands in his pockets, his insouciant gaze aimed at the camera. I can only imagine that Donald wishes it had been his knee on Floyd’s neck.
It is a horrifying allegation that probably crosses the line for some. But I get her point: Derek Chauvin’s merciless act is the perfect intersection of racism, toxic masculinity, and, one could argue, sexual and gender violence. For the man who aspires to be completely invulnerable to human pain, who can turn off any natural instinct to help, who can continue to respond violently even after a man has called for his mother while bystanders scream for him to stop, Chauvin commits the ultimate act of toxic masculine impenetrability and invulnerability. There are sexual implications in the intimacy of maintaining physical contact for that long; a man becomes “feminized” in the eyes of another man by being made that helpless, that vulnerable. It is not just a swift execution by gunshot—a knee to the neck is deeply personal. Chauvin’s knee is motivated by the same sexual terror in white men that led to the castration of hundreds of Black men during lynchings in the South. Chauvin becomes the white man who has dominion over nature, the patriarchal God who ultimately decides who will live or die. For the white supremacist, a racist murder is the ultimate rush.
Mary Trump is clear that for her grandfather, cruelty wasn’t just a tool of manipulation—it was the point. It excited him, defined him. Fred Trump Sr. wanted his sons to be “killers.” One son failed. But Donald perpetuates his father’s legacy: He makes brutality sexy; his cruelty turns some on; we mainline his narcissism and self-absorption like heroin. In this paradigm, locking children in cages doesn’t horrify—it inspires.
Donald Trump keeps his knee on the neck of a country overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases and deaths. It is now he, through spite, magical thinking, and neglect, who decides who lives or dies. His supporters are thrilled, because no matter how much chaos or devastation there is, his demeanor never changes, and he never regrets his actions, which means that in their eyes, he’s the definition of a man. Until we no longer define that behavior as strength, we will remain locked in a psychosexual drama with our president; a perverse, sadomasochistic relationship in which we respond with adulation the more he harms us. In the cult of Donald Trump, we are a nation addicted to a man who is addicted to himself.
7.When this all ends, and it will end, I’ve often wondered where Donald Trump will call home. I’ve always considered him, with his showmanship, makeup, and brass, to be a New Yorker to the core. George W. Bush went to Texas, and I suppose Trump could live in Florida, at Mar-a-Lago. But I suspect he is the New Yorker who can visit Florida but can never live there full-time. Florida, somnambulant and submerged, is where one goes to get away from New York. It isn’t home.
Maybe Trump believes New Yorkers will embrace him again. He will come home like an actor having toured in a role and ask that we understand he didn’t really mean any of it, that he was acting “presidential” and “Republican” as he has acted so many other roles in his life. He is the husband in the old movies who goes out for a quart of milk and walks through the door eight years later asking, “Hi, honey, anything on TV tonight?”
It always seemed bizarre that Donald Trump — pop-culture folk hero or laughingstock, you decide — a man named in rap songs and who appeared in cameos in movies, would go so virulently, toxically, culturally homogenic when he entered politics. New York is racist, of course, just like everywhere else, but the face of New York, the stink of New York, is multicultural, multinational, multisexual, multigendered. Even as a freak in the celebrity circus, Donald Trump in all his grandiosity belonged to us once.
I don’t think New York will claim him. The people who shout from the floor of his rallies and chant “Make America Great Again,” a sea of white faces, will embrace him when it’s over. Still, I can’t see him sitting at their dinner tables, holding their babies, sharing a beer on their front porches. He welcomed their adoration and claimed himself their leader, but they aren’t really his people. They don’t even play golf. I imagine him unmoored and lost.
Perhaps, out of wounded pride, he will carry the “Make America Great Again” stunt until his final days. Or, like his father, he will develop a disease where memory is useless, where sins are eventually forgotten, like the past. Wherever he ends up, I see him as a bitter, private man, living in a small, private place. That is his story.
If you want to dismantle a myth, you have to start at the beginning of your story; you have to walk through pain.
The questions that Mary Trump presents to us in her book — and I believe her book is a gift to the country — are: Where will we be and what will it take before we, like the courageous dog Toto in Oz, run behind the giant mask and expose the man hiding there, manipulating us, pulling our strings, and promising us things that are impossible to deliver? How much destruction must be wrought before the spell is broken and we see beyond the myth to the actual man?
Whatever happens next for America, Mary Trump has the right prescription for the country: If you want to dismantle a myth, you have to start at the beginning of your story; you have to walk through pain.
Mary Trump’s book makes one thing very clear: We are all in the Trump family now. Divided against each other, linked by a sacred bond. We can only begin to recover when we give up the myths about the man, which means giving up the myths about ourselves. Donald Trump encourages us to “Make America Great Again,” but if he’d read his history books, he’d know the question isn’t whether America has ever been great. We’ve been great. We’ve also been brutal. The question is have we ever been fair?
8.These are trying times, to put it mildly. I am a gay man who has used sex since I was 14 to escape my feelings. I haven’t even flirted with anyone in the past four months. Covid-19 shut down all of that: The idea of going to a bar and making out with a stranger because I’m bored seems inconceivable. In my isolation, all that pain I’ve been avoiding in my life, all the things I’m trying to escape, pursue me. It’s in our music, in the Black Southern tradition: Soon one morning, death come a’creepin in my room. Good morning, Heartache, sit down. Black men and women leaving in the middle of the night to avoid the Klan, haunting railroad tracks like ghosts, and moving from one Southern town to another. Roaming.
I run through this house, trying to escape, bumping into myself. Covid-19 has made our homes into funhouses; we are mirrored, we are mocked, we are distorted. None of this makes any sense.
A neighbor of mine who lost her mother to Covid-19 had to say goodbye to her through FaceTime. Some people are still complaining about having to wear a mask, knowing they have never been completely honest with the people in their lives, that they have always denied the essential parts of themselves, withholding love and validation and kindness from the people in their families who’ve needed it most and needed it from them.
(So, motherfucker, shut up. Covid-19 may be new, but admit it, you’ve been wearing a mask for years.)
I walk through the store to buy groceries, sanitizing my hands, the car, the door, my wallet. The other day, I was checking out and had to ask a woman next to me to step back, she was too close, we were almost touching elbows. I couldn’t tell if it was a race thing; sometimes when you’re Black in America, white people just don’t see you—they literally will walk over you, drive you off the sidewalk. It may not have been personal, but I asked her to stand behind the line while I finished paying. She said sorry, and it sounded like she meant it. I’ve observed that with a mask on, people don’t make eye contact or smile. We get what we need from the store and get on with it — things are very transactional.
In a way, Covid-19 is the perfect fulfillment of someone’s patriarchal, toxic-masculine wish. It forces naughty homosexual boys to behave, turns them into “real men” who don’t touch each other. A disease where no one can kiss, no one can hug, where tears and spit and snot and breath and compassion are all suspect: Don’t stand so close to me. Where no one gets to say a proper goodbye.
John Lewis, our great civil rights icon, is dead. Kanye West is running for president. At a recent campaign rally, Kanye informed the crowd that Harriet Tubman didn’t really free the slaves, she merely relocated them so they could be exploited by white people someplace else. George Floyd has been in the ground a little more than a month, and Roger Stone, when challenged on his recent pardon by the president, used a racist slur against a Black radio host. I don’t understand Black Trump supporters. Media presence Candace Owens reminded us that George Floyd wasn’t exactly “innocent,” as if that tells us anything about murder or justice. Dr. Ben Carson, once known for being an esteemed surgeon, said in an interview, “We need to move away from being offended by everything, of going through history and looking at everything.” Both of them are a disgrace to everything Black on the planet — including black tires and licorice. Despite all we’ve seen, despite all the pain and lies we’ve experienced, a recent YouGov/Economist poll showed that 49% of the white people polled still support Donald Trump over Joe Biden.
We are standing at the platform. We are in a trance as Donald Trump dangles a coin in front our country, mesmerizing us. How else do you explain white America, these poll numbers, the spell that so many of us are still under when so much is at stake? Like the witches in fairy tales, President Trump might not be able to destroy our goodness completely, but he can make sure we stay asleep for a very long time.
I’ve been reflecting on that day in the park with my friend. I am still haunted by her story: not just the racist aunt, but what she said about Alan’s death, his inability to abandon a myth that was killing him — much as we refuse to abandon the myth of whiteness even as our country is dying right in front of us. “If you can’t be honest about your history, how can you be honest about your disease?”
When I look at my countrymen and women, I know many of us want change. But too many of us are still too addicted to whiteness. We say we want change, but we can’t stop reading Gone With the Wind.
I love this country dearly. We are a nation that has achieved greatness. But as addicts who would often rather cling to myths than to each other, to paraphrase my friend: I don’t think we stand a chance.