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Trumps on the Couch

Mary L. Trump and Donald Trump; Illustration by Tom Bachtell
Illustration by Tom Bachtell

In 1996, at a boozy lunch in Manhattan, a Connecticut lawyer was told about the Trump Organization’s “punishment room” by an Atlantic City lawyer who said that he had represented Donald Trump’s casino interests. According to the story, the truth of which is unconfirmed, employees there devised ways to punish Trump’s enemies, including the journalists who wrote critically of him. One supposed method was to send the IRS a fake Form 1099, showing that the target had been paid a considerable sum for contract work. The aim was to trigger a bill or an audit when the IRS discovered the putative payee had not reported the income. The victim might eventually straighten things out with the government, showing no such money was received: the point was the hassle.

Such stories about Trump are unavoidable if you’ve lived in New York City for a while. Some have become public. Many—like the one above, told by the Connecticut lawyer to my partner in the summer of 2016—have not. But no tale of dishonesty, vindictiveness, bullying, and advantage-seeking is surprising. To Trump, everyone is either a crony to be exploited or an adversary to be defeated and humiliated. He demands loyalty but refuses to give it, except, it’s generally assumed, to certain members of his family.

In 1990 Donald secretly enlisted a lawyer to draft a codicil to the will of his father, Fred Sr. The addendum put Donald in complete control of Fred’s vast estate; his siblings would need his approval for the smallest transaction. According to Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump, the daughter of the late Fred Trump Jr. (Trump’s older brother, known as Freddy, who died in 1981), the document was presented to Fred Sr. at his home in Queens as if it had been his idea. Fred, who was eighty-five and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, was lucid that day and refused to sign. He talked to his wife, Mary, who called the eldest of their five children, Maryanne, by then a federal judge. She agreed that the whole thing “didn’t pass the smell test.” Fred swiftly had a new will drawn up, one that ensured equality among his four living children.

A slightly different version of this story, like several in Mary Trump’s book, appeared in a New York Times exposé of the Trump family’s finances in October 2018. There is a certain justice in the granddaughter’s getting to tell the story herself: when Fred Sr. died, in 1999, Mary and her brother, Fred III (whom she calls Fritz), discovered that their father had been cut out of their grandfather’s will, and that they were to receive the same modest individual bequests as all the other grandchildren. When negotiations with their uncle Robert stalled, Mary and Fritz sued for a larger share and eventually agreed to a settlement. Grandmother Mary, known as Gam, was angry about the lawsuit and cut them out of her own will entirely (she died in 2000).

A few months after Donald became president, Mary gave nineteen file boxes of documents from the litigation—including Fred’s wills and bank records, and the depositions of various family members—to a team of Times reporters. When their work was published, Mary learned a great deal about her own family: that Fred and Gam had in their lifetimes transferred over $1 billion to their children, often through dubious tax-dodging schemes that helped reduce Fred’s heritable assets to scraps, and that Donald, who had long claimed to be self-made, had received $413 million from his father over the years.

Within months, her book proposal was making the rounds. When news of the book’s imminent release broke in June, Robert Trump tried to stop publication on the grounds that his niece was violating a nondisclosure agreement related to the estate settlement. In an affidavit, Mary said she had learned from the Times investigation that the valuations used to determine her compensation in the settlement agreement were “fraudulent”; thus, her lawyers argued, the agreement (including its confidentiality provisions) was invalid. For unrelated reasons, temporary restraining orders against Mary and her publisher were lifted, and the book was pushed out two weeks before its scheduled release.

“No one knows how Donald came to be who he is better than his own family,” Mary writes, calling herself “the only Trump” willing to tell that story. Part of the frenzied reception of her book owes to the thrill in hearing from someone—an educated, progressive, gay, vegetarian, human-seeming someone with a pineapple and a copy of Clarissa in her Zoom background—who sat through the bland meals and absorbed the family lore (she was not quite the “seldom seen niece” of her uncle’s dismissive tweet). Adding to her appeal is her professional background: she received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 2009 and briefly worked at a state psychiatric hospital (before remaking herself as a life coach: “There is no wealth without wellness,” her website counseled).

“Not many facets of the Trump apparition have so far gone unexamined,” Martin Amis wrote in Harper’s in August 2016. “But I can think of a significant loose end. I mean his sanity.” Since then, both mental-health professionals and devoted lay commentators have plumbed Trump’s psychopathologies as they bear on his fitness for office. Last fall, the conservative lawyer George Conway suggested, in The Atlantic, that Trump’s narcissism, evident to anyone paying attention, makes it “impossible for him to carry out the duties of his presidency in the way the Constitution requires.” (A related discussion about Trump’s cognitive decline has gained prominence in recent months, as have assertions about Joe Biden’s.)

Mary is dismissive of these efforts, including those by “armchair psychologists.” She agrees that Donald “meets all nine criteria” for narcissism, and suggests that he may have other personality disorders, as well as a learning disability, but she cautions that any DSM label “gets us only so far.” She argues that we must also understand the origins of those pathologies through a “thorough family history.”

And so, duly catering to the market, the book is presented as a psychobiography of the author’s uncle, whose military academy class photo adorns the cover. But in Mary’s history, there are more important Trumps than Donald. Not only are Fred and Freddy her liveliest characters and those she knows best—a fearsome Dickensian scoundrel and his sensitive, wayward firstborn son—but her moral reckoning, too, seems to lie elsewhere, not in the accounting of Donald’s sins but in the story of Fred’s cruelty.

Fred Trump Sr. did not have the chance to earn his own father’s approval or disapproval. Friedrich Trump was born in Kallstadt, in the Palatinate region of southwestern Germany, and left at sixteen, in 1885. After a few years working as a barber in Manhattan, he went west to Washington State. There, and later in British Columbia and the Yukon, he built and ran hotels for miners that included rooms for prostitution. A tent restaurant he set up on the route north served the flesh of fallen horses, and the hotel-restaurant he erected in the town of Bennett, and then moved up the river to White Horse, offered such delicacies as fresh currants and swan. In 1901, having amassed a substantial fortune, he returned to Kallstadt and married a neighbor. They would have stayed there had the Bavarian government not deported him for shirking his military service years earlier. And so he settled with his wife in Woodhaven, Queens, where he got into the real estate business. One afternoon in 1918, when Fred, their middle child, was twelve, Friedrich started feeling unwell; he died the next day from the Spanish influenza.

Friedrich had been worth about half a million dollars in today’s terms, but with postwar inflation the family was left to scramble. Fred built garages for neighbors while he was still in high school, and as soon as he graduated he found a job in construction, hauling wood up icy Queens streets for $11 a week, a wintertime substitute for a mule. Within a couple of years he was building simple one-family homes, and his business flourished throughout the 1920s. Following the stock market crash, he briefly ran a supermarket but returned to building as soon as he could. In 1933, according to Gwenda Blair in The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President (first published in 2000), he put in a bid for the mortgage-servicing department of a bankrupt Brooklyn real estate company. When he encountered opposition, he wrote an indignant letter to the trustees that fudged both his credentials and his plans for handling the outstanding mortgages. He already had solid political connections, and he won the contest.

Between then and 1942, using funding from the newly created Federal Housing Administration, Fred produced two thousand single-family dwellings and became a millionaire. During and after the war, he worked his connections to obtain government loans to build large housing developments in Queens and Brooklyn (in the late 1940s, he got roughly $26 million to build Beach Haven and Shore Haven Apartments in Brooklyn). He reaped enormous profits, in part by asking for more money than he needed and pocketing the difference. He was investigated for profiteering but was never indicted; a New York State Investigation Commission report called him “a pretty shrewd character.” Woody Guthrie, who lived at Beach Haven in the early 1950s, wrote a song, never recorded, about Old Man Trump’s racist rental practices; the feds later investigated Fred and Donald for racial discrimination.

In 1936 Fred married twenty-three-year-old Mary Anne MacLeod, recently arrived from Scotland as a domestic. A year later Maryanne was born, followed by Freddy in 1938 and Elizabeth in 1942. Donald and Robert were born after the war. Fred worked constantly. On days off, according to Blair, he took his kids on rounds of his apartment buildings. At home he was strict (no snacks between meals), proper (he showered after work, then put on a jacket and tie for dinner), and so frugal that Maryanne claimed she didn’t know her family was rich until a friend told her in high school. He didn’t drink. He was shy and stiff, even in private. Maryanne told Blair that he took a Dale Carnegie course in the 1950s, “but it didn’t help.”

Freddy was an awkward fit in a proud, humorless, abstemious family. Mary writes about her father with tenderness and admiration, and with the sadness of not having known him in his better days. In his youth, he was eager to please. He was also an imp. Once, Donald was taunting Robert during dinner, and Freddy dumped a bowl of mashed potatoes on Donald’s head. Freddy and a friend stole a hearse and, as they stopped for gas, the friend sat up from the coffin in view of an astonished customer. Freddy often hid such antics from his father, who already saw him as frivolous and weak. At Lehigh University, Freddy joined the Air Force ROTC and, “on a lark,” per Mary, a historically Jewish fraternity. (Fred, who had no particular respect for soldiery or Jewry, likely was not pleased.) In the summers Freddy worked for his father, and on weekends he took friends fishing and water-skiing off Long Island in a boat he’d bought in high school.

After college Freddy started working full-time at Trump Management, as was expected of the eldest son. At first, he carried on a fairly happy life outside work. He married Linda Clapp, a National Airlines stewardess from a modest background (this too bothered Fred), and they spent evenings at the Copacabana nightclub and weekends in the Bahamas. Soon Fred III was born, and Freddy bought his first plane. But his relationship with his father was worsening. When Freddy did something his father considered to be a mistake—such as installing new windows in a building when old ones were available—Fred berated him, and if Freddy apologized, Fred mocked him. When Freddy did something well, Fred didn’t mention it. “It never occurred to him to actually praise Freddy,” Maryanne told Blair. After three years, the heir apparent was relegated to handling tenant complaints and overseeing maintenance projects. Following a particularly savage humiliation by Fred, he announced he was leaving the company and applying to become a commercial pilot for TWA. Around this time, he started drinking heavily.

The next summer, Donald, just out of high school, visited his brother at the house he rented in a harbor town near Logan Airport (he was assigned to the prestigious Boston–LAX route). “Dad’s right about you: you’re nothing but a glorified bus driver,” Donald told Freddy, who understood that his brother had been sent to deliver this message. His career as a pilot was hobbled by his drinking and lasted only a few months. He returned to Queens and asked his father for a job. (By that point, Linda was pregnant with Mary.) Freddy, at twenty-eight, was given a chance to redeem himself by taking charge of a new acquisition, the site of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island. Fred, his clout with city government at an ebb, couldn’t get the rezoning he was seeking. He insisted that Freddy hold press conferences, including one ill-conceived event involving swimsuit models and guests throwing bricks through windows. It was a disaster, and Fred blamed Freddy. Freddy, Mary writes, “eventually blamed himself.”

Mary further observes that Donald, who was almost eight years younger than Freddy, learned a clear lesson: “That it was wrong to be like Freddy,” that he should instead be the “killer” Fred wanted. Donald had been aggressive from an early age, throwing cake and gluing together Robert’s building blocks, according to a 1990 Vanity Fair profile by Marie Brenner. Robert, who had a slighter build and a milder manner than Donald, two years his senior, “usually ended up doing things Donald’s way,” Blair observed, though he apparently indulged a few idiosyncrasies: Mary once witnessed him eat an entire block of cream cheese “as if it were a candy bar.” (When Robert died this August, Donald said, “We’ve had a great relationship for a long time, from day one,” and he praised his brother, who also worked for the family business, for showing “no jealousy” over his success. In fact, they were reportedly estranged for twenty-five years, until Donald decided to run for president.)

By the time Donald was twelve, Freddy had dubbed him “the Great I-Am,” after the God of Exodus. Donald’s behavior as a teenager was so unruly that his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy, where Fred, sometimes bearing arm candy for his son, visited him almost every weekend. Donald enrolled at Fordham University, then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania (paying a smart acquaintance to take the SAT for him, according to Mary’s most click-‌baity anecdote), and upon graduation assumed Freddy’s still warm seat at Trump Management. Within three years, he was made president.

Ten years later, Freddy was divorced and living with his parents. He had a heart condition and was still drinking too much, and had become gravely ill. For three weeks as Freddy got worse neither Fred nor Gam sought medical help for him. They finally called an ambulance but didn’t go with him to the hospital. Donald came to the house to wait for news, but after a while went to the movies with his sister Elizabeth. Freddy died alone that night. When Mary, who was sixteen and at boarding school at the time, was told to call her family, she spoke first to her grandfather, who said her father was in serious condition, and then to her mother, who told her the truth.

Mary is both a witness and an expert. She rarely reflects on her position as the former—notwithstanding her warning that “it’s difficult to understand what goes on in any family—perhaps hardest of all for the people in it”—and she is vague about her methods and her aims as the latter. This makes for a disorienting narrative approach, in which the personal and the professional, the colloquial and the clinical, are commingled.

She proceeds from the premise that her grandparents’ pathologies, in particular Fred’s “sociopathy,” had “extreme” effects on their children, especially Freddy and Donald. For Freddy, she concludes, “protecting his love for his father was more important than protecting himself from his father’s abuse”—hence his self-destructive behavior as an adult. Donald, for his part, developed a “combative, rigid persona” in order to shield himself from “the terror of his early abandonment” by his distant mother and from his domineering father, as well as from the trauma of witnessing his older brother’s humiliation. That he supplanted Freddy in their father’s favor did not abate his insecurity; his need for attention and his sense of being “unlovable” only grew, as did his compensatory arrogance. Even Donald’s attempt in middle age to gain control of Fred’s estate is explained as “the logical outcome of Fred’s leading his son to believe that he was the only person who mattered.”

Generally absent from Mary’s analysis is Gam, a footnote to the twinned presumption of Fred’s total power and of the idea that psychological influence flows tidily from an old-fashioned family structure in which the boys were the father’s wards and the girls the mother’s. Mary mentions that Gam had an emergency hysterectomy when Robert was an infant, which resulted in complications requiring further surgeries. (Fred told Maryanne, then twelve, that her mother was not expected to live and that he would call her at school if anything changed.) Gam was thereafter beset by osteoporosis and insomnia, as well as “psychological problems.”

The book does not venture to name these, and the descriptions are scant. All we learn is that Gam was emotionally distant, particularly toward her younger sons, and that the children would come upon her painting walls in the middle of the night or sleeping in unexpected places in the morning. No matter this gothic figure, this “soundless wraith”: Fred apparently acted almost single-handedly, “snuffing out” Freddy and “short-circuit[ing] Donald’s ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion.” (Wholly absent from any discussion is the substantial evidence for the heritability of personality traits; Donald might have wound up with a similar psychological profile even if he’d been given up for adoption.)

Many of Mary’s speculations about motives and feelings become, in an instant, the basis of causal inferences. In describing Fred’s habit of putting down Freddy in front of others, she asserts that Donald “felt increasingly confident that Freddy’s continuing loss of their father’s esteem would be to his benefit, so he often watched silently or joined in.” The sequence here is telling: rather than observe what Donald did and then consider why he might have done it, she assuredly posits the motivation as primary and presents the action as its manifestation. Elsewhere, she asserts that Gam stopped inviting Linda to holidays “without factoring in how the decision might affect me and my brother,” and that “the main purpose” of Fred’s promoting the twenty-four-year-old Donald to a job without clearly defined responsibilities “was to punish and shame Freddy.”

It’s possible that these claims are sourced, but she presents them as empirical facts, not possible explanations. Is it not equally plausible that Fred was trying to firm up his succession and didn’t think about, or particularly care, how it would make Freddy feel? Fred was born in 1905, thrust into early manhood and furious industry, and thought that children’s names ought to come from the preceding generations.

Likewise, Mary’s account of her father’s alcoholism is oddly reductive, especially for someone who once treated addiction patients at a community clinic. She allows that Freddy could be a bad husband and a bad father, and reports that she once witnessed him, drunk and laughing, point a gun at her mother. After his divorce Freddy avoided spending much time with his children, and took to collecting sundry reptiles. But Mary traces her father’s decline to Fred’s sustained browbeating and condescension. She even implicates Donald in having helped to “destroy” Freddy by pressuring and insulting him. Is this a term of clinical art? (Mary’s vindication of Freddy is an ongoing project: twenty years ago, she told the Daily News that her lawsuit was about getting her father recognized—“He existed, he lived, he was their eldest son”; her next book, she recently told the Financial Times, will be about him.)

Mary’s unaccountable narrative omniscience about the mental states of her main characters—at one point she suggests that Donald wishes he had personally killed George Floyd—has a certain parallel in her handling of factual niceties. A substantial portion of the book concerns events of which she has no firsthand knowledge; some of these stories are new, and the most salacious ones made their way onto listicles as soon as the book was released. (The Washington Post recently confirmed that Maryanne was the source of the SAT story, among other details.) But many are recycled from material that is already public. Curiously, when her stories are at variance with previously published versions, she does not note or explain the differences.

In December 1990, she writes, Fred sent his chauffeur with more than $3 million in cash to purchase chips at Trump’s Castle, one of Donald’s failing Atlantic City casinos, and the next day wired another $150,000. Fred had no intention of using the chips; he was helping Donald make a bond payment. According to the Times, it was Fred’s bookkeeper, Howard Snyder, not his driver, who carried out the errand, and the money was sent in the form of two checks, not a bag of cash and a wire transfer. It seems Mary got some of her details from media reports, published as early as 1991, that were based on information from the New Jersey Gaming Commission (which itself, in a complaint about the illegal loan, identified the courier as Snyder). It is unclear why Mary chooses not to rely on an authoritative investigative analysis based on records—some disclosed and some still confidential—many of which she herself provided.

The codicil episode is another such mismatch, and a more consequential one. Mary claims that Donald secretly got two of Fred’s longest-serving employees, his lawyer Irwin Durben and an accountant, to go along with his “plan to betray his father and steal vast sums of money from his siblings.” She claims that Durben and the accountant drafted the codicil and presented it to Fred as if it were his own idea. According to the Times’s records, the drafter was actually one of Donald’s lawyers, one Fred had never met. The Times does not mention who presented the document to Fred, but does state that Donald “sent instructions that he needed to sign it immediately.” This is rather less masterful, and potentially more transparent; it makes Donald both less skilled and less conniving than he seems in Mary’s account.

Mary’s analysis of Uncle Donald has been widely characterized as surprisingly humanizing and sympathetic, with much attention paid to such sentences as, “He is and always will be a terrified little boy.” The portrait is also, perhaps intentionally, belittling: Donald is entirely his father’s creation.

As the Times investigation showed, in grooming his successor Fred provided enormous financial and professional support:

He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.

Mary argues that Donald’s psyche was also Fred’s creation. She claims that Donald’s aggressive personality served Fred’s purpose once Freddy had proved inadequate. Even Donald’s acts of resistance against Fred were, tortuously, a fulfillment of Fred’s hopes; Donald was “able to push back because Fred let him.”

Some of this logic of Fred’s influence on Donald is, as elsewhere, working backward from the conclusion, but because it is relatively well established with prosaic details of the two men’s relationship, the broad strokes are persuasive. According to Mary, when Donald joined Trump Management full-time, Fred learned that his son, who had “very little experience and even fewer qualifications,” didn’t have the disposition for day-to-day operations but did have “bold ideas and the chutzpah to realize them.”

Fred had long aspired to break into the Manhattan real estate market, realized Donald could secure a foothold for the family business there, and became “intimately involved in all aspects of Donald’s early forays.” The contract to renovate the old Commodore Hotel next to Grand Central, a deal for which Donald later took full credit, was made possible through Fred’s political connections and his money. The media started covering Donald, and he showed a remarkable talent for self-promotion, presenting himself as both a playboy and a brilliant dealmaker. Fred played along. He understood the value of media coverage—starting in the 1930s, when doing so was unusual, he filled the papers with press releases on his projects and initiatives. The level of fame his son rapidly achieved, according to Mary, “matched his ego and satisfied his ambition in a way money alone never could.” When the Times profiled Donald in 1976, Fred told the paper, “He has great vision, and everything he touches seems to turn to gold.” When the Times did another profile in 1983, Fred said his son had gone “way beyond” him.

Whereas Fred’s dazzlement seems to have been partly genuine, the money he gave Donald over the decades was likely not an expression of doting; far more plausibly it was an heir-making, loyalty-building exercise that, when Donald’s finances crumbled in the early 1990s, turned into a rescue mission. By the time it was clear that Donald tended to overextend himself dangerously, Fred may have simply made his peace with having a scion with an erratic business record and a scandal-fraught tabloid life that likely embarrassed Fred and Gam’s conservative sensibilities. “What kind of son have I created?” Gam, per Brenner, is said to have asked Ivana during Donald’s first divorce and his affair with the actress Marla Maples. (Around the same time, twelve-year-old Don Jr. is reported, per Brenner, to have offered this astonishing assessment: “How can you say you love us? You don’t love us! You don’t even love yourself. You just love your money.”) When Donald tried to gain control of his father’s estate, Fred confided in family members his fear that Donald was going to use his assets as collateral to save his failing businesses. Fred instructed the lawyers drafting the new codicil to “protect assets from DJT, Donald’s creditors.”

When it comes to Donald, even the few new stories and bits of perspective Mary can provide add little—it’s not that she doesn’t know him well, it’s that anyone who has followed him with a mild interest already knows him too well to be surprised by revelations of kind or of degree, or to be particularly enlightened by expert opinions on his well-documented traits and tendencies. (To paraphrase Amis’s tautology, Donald Trump is unfit to be president because he is Donald Trump.) Too Much and Never Enough is ultimately much more insightful about Fred than about Donald; the father was a private figure whose personality and family life have been far less well known.

Mary has assumed the role of weary, knowing Twitter hero and interview star with apparent ease. “Is the writing of the book an extension of the dysfunction of the family?” George Stephanopoulos asked her. “Probably,” Mary answered. As reported by the Daily News in 2000, and again by the Times this July, in 1991 one of Fred’s lawyers attached a memo to the draft of his new will, warning that giving Mary and Fritz only their individual bequests (the other grandchildren stood to inherit their parents’ portions as well) was “tantamount to disinheriting them.” “You may wish to increase their participation in your estate to avoid ill will in the future.” In the book, Mary doesn’t mention this memo, and rarely does she give any sense of her own perspective, at the time or with the benefit of hindsight, on her uncle or anything else.

In 1994, when she was twenty-nine, Mary agreed to ghostwrite Donald’s third book, The Art of the Comeback. (The Art of the Deal, published in 1987 and ghostwritten by the journalist Tony Schwartz, was the first book to appear in Fred and Gam’s library.) It was not a good experience: Donald wouldn’t sit down for an interview or help her understand what he did for a living; he gave her “pages” that consisted of lavish insults about women who had rejected him, and he remarked on her breasts. She was later fired by the publisher, who hadn’t been notified of her hiring. But why did Mary take the job? Did she think it would be interesting, lucrative? Was it a lark, a way to curry favor? Was she a dupe, or did she just go along with the con?

Perhaps she doesn’t know why she did it, or there’s nothing to be gained by candor. She presents herself as a naïf whose tantamount-to-disinheritance inheritance suddenly disabused her of sentimental notions about recognition and love: “I’d thought I was part of the family. I’d gotten it all wrong.” Perhaps she hadn’t been paying attention to Fred’s petty but well-advertised rules. “Mary, you’ve got to play the game,” Irwin Durben, Fred’s lawyer, told her nearly a decade before Fred’s death, when her grandfather was displeased by her sloppy endorsement signature on a check. She claims she didn’t understand what Durben meant.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that she avoids larger questions about her family’s wealth, a lapse that would be less conspicuous were it not for the book’s presentation as a public service. Regarding her grandfather’s “stunning” final will, she provides scant background and explanation, even when it comes to matters that would seem to fall outside her NDA—for instance, that the previous version of the will also gave most of the estate to the four living children, according to the Daily News. Nor does she reconcile her claim that Fred’s estate was worth “close to a billion dollars when he died” with her acknowledgment that most of that wealth had already been transferred to his children and would therefore seem to be excluded from the heritable assets. Just after claiming that she and Fritz “got nothing” from their grandfather (“nothing” was actually $200,000, four times the median US household wealth that year), she mentions that they already had substantial assets from their father’s estate, including shares in a company called Midland Associates and in “other Trump entities.” Indeed, Mary suggests that it was concern about protecting these shares that prompted her and her brother to sue—and while they were at it, to ask for more. She later learned that Midland Associates was set up by her grandfather in the 1960s as a “quasi-legal, if not outright fraudulent” way to transfer wealth to his children. After disclosing this, she turns to complaining about her “self-made” father’s lack of access to the money: “His boats and planes were gone; his Mustang and Jaguar were gone.”

The sources of the Trump fortune and the methods of preserving it—the fact that Fred made a career of pillaging the public coffers, and that he and his children developed sneaky, possibly illegal schemes to avoid contributing to those coffers—are not points of serious reflection in the book. Mary may have been a relative loser in the narrow contest of inheritance, but, in the family way, she has always been a winner.