What do you want from this book?
It’s an important question, because it will shade the value of the work dramatically. There are a few reasonable expectations for Mary Trump’s expose of the family dynamics. Some might want insight into how Trump’s mind works, by a trained expert with direct association with the President. Some might want a historical analysis of how Trump rose to, and maintained, power. Some might hope for a book that will convince some readers not to vote for Trump in 2020.
None of these goals are fully achieved by Mary Trump’s book, but on the first two counts she comes as close to success as is humanly possible. She is limited on the first measure by her cursory direct association with President Trump. While a member of his close family, she has spent comparatively little time around the President or his children for more than twenty years. In a demonstration of her professionalism, she speaks early about Trump’s psychological issues and points out that he demonstrates too many symptoms for any simple analysis; she finds that he undoubtedly has severe psychological damage but that trained experts would need long hours to determine all of his problems, much less to address them. She is bound on the second matter by a reliance on personal memory where concrete records are not available. This is, unfortunately, standard for historical records but professional journalists or historians would undoubtedly prefer hard evidence unhindered by the vagaries of memory.
On the third goal, the book generally falls flat. As far as the hope of changing minds is concerned, potential problems are seen early into the book when Mary Trump praises Hillary Clinton as “arguably the most qualified Presidential candidate in the history of the country.” While many who voted for Trump (particularly those who did so reluctantly) and many others who voted for third parties or did not vote at all may be reconsidering their actions in 2016, few among them have forgotten their issues with Clinton’s incompetence, potential criminality, immorality and dishonesty. It is not by coincidence nor purely due to foreign agitation and Republican hyperbole that Hillary became the second most disliked Presidential candidate in modern history, and framing her as a paragon – particularly within the earliest pages of the book, before people have committed to reading through or developed familiarity with the author – is a grave error, because it will push away readers who might otherwise be convinced. It’s also not an isolated occurrence; Mary Trump demonstrates her established political views only intermittently through the book, but reminds the readers of her bias most notably at the beginning and end… where wavering pro-Trump readers are most likely to either refuse to read through it or are going to be searching for an excuse to dismiss the information they’ve been provided. This is not a condemnation of the book, merely a warning that it hands justifications to those who will wish to dismiss it as politically or economically motivated.
To the end of providing insight into Trump, then; the book is a success. If you wish to learn about the dysfunctional family, about the awfulness of Fred Trump, about the regular lies and familial backbiting, the long-simmering rivalries and outright contempt sown among members of the Trump clan, this book will provide plenty of material for you.
Mary provides details on the Trump ranging from her immigrant great-grandfather all the way through to the modern era, and presents us with the image of a family that was raised in the absence of encouragement, support, appreciation and love. Examples and recalled details are provided, and the reader comes away from the experience with a greater understanding of how the Trump family came to be and why Donald Trump is and always has been a clear danger to the country.
Which brings us back to the original question: What do you want from this book? Depending on the answer, this book should either occupy a prominent place on your shelf or be left at a bookstore waiting for a more suitable owner.