Part 1 of a DCReport Series: Inside the Mind of Donald J. Trump
The publication of Dr. Mary Trump’s new book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, has brought new attention to the mental health of Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States. Much of Dr. Trump’s narrative matches the analysis of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by DCReport contributor Bandy X. Lee, a Yale forensic psychiatrist.
With the two books, an independent public health analysis has met with intimate household experience to produce an evaluation by experts that could not be more thorough. But, until now, no one was making a connection. So Dr. Lee decided to interview Dr. Edwin Fisher, a clinical psychologist and a professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Fisher is the author of a chapter on presidential fitness for The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.
Lee: Our country is literally dying for the lack of access to expertise. Yet, for all the talk that Dr. Mary Trump has generated, no one seems to be drawing on her actual expertise to ask, what does it mean to have “the world’s most dangerous man” in the White House? What is the standard response to a dangerous person? No one is interviewing experts about her work. How do you explain this?
Fisher: Many years ago, Harvard psychologist David McClelland showed that individuals who actually are high-achieving are quick to call on expertise—they don’t go down in flames trying to prove their prowess in areas in which they lack skill. Rather, they are quick to call on expertise to move their projects forward.
Dr. Mary Trump’s book details how “I alone can fix it” is a statement 70 years in the making, not an odd choice of words in a single speech. Donald Trump’s bravado requires the diminishment of all others, including experts. Marginalizing Drs. Fauci, Birx, and Redfield, he creates space for his own position as in the new CDC guidelines that prioritize opening schools over the safety of the students, teachers, and staff within them.
Add to this crude self-interest. The financial markets and tax cuts have been very good to those with “deep pockets” to spend on political campaigns. At the same time, having come to depend on government grants and industry contracts for their well-being causes many organizations to balk at taking on the most powerful individual on earth. This has included, for example, the American Psychiatric Association that has vigorously discouraged discussion of the President’s psychological state.
What most impressed me was the utter coldness of the Trump family.
As a clinical psychologist, what did you think of her analysis, and did anything surprise you?
What most impressed me was the utter coldness of the Trump family. Examples cascade across the pages. Fred Trump, the president’s father, told his daughter after her mother had been rushed to the hospital, “They told me your mother won’t make it through the night” and then, “Go to school tomorrow. I’ll call you if there’s any change.”
Donald’s grandfather died of the Spanish flu in 1918 when Fred was only 12. Mary describes Fred’s reaction, years later, when discussing it: “Then he died. Just like that. It just didn’t seem real. I wasn’t that upset. You know how kids are. But I got upset watching my mother crying.”
The erasure seems to have been passed on, father to son. Shameless in seizing any observation that might provide an advantage, it is surprising that Donald has not used the cause of his grandfather’s death as a prop for his own credibility regarding COVID, instead insisting, “I didn’t know people died from the flu.”
What is your opinion of her assessment that he is mentally “incapable” of leading?
Through the many details in the book, one comes to realize a colossal emptiness of the Trump family. Fred cared only about money and others to the extent they could help him get it. Donald seems to care only about acclaim and feeling powerful, both symbolized by money but how thinly, given multiple bankruptcies. Most clear in this, Mary’s father, Freddy, enjoyed boating and fishing with his friends and became a successful TWA pilot, flying a prestigious Boston-Los Angeles route, but his father had nothing but scorn for these interests not related to Trump Enterprises.
Raised in such a vacuum of connection, it is no wonder our President shows such disinterest in the millions who depend on his concern.
The emptiness extended to the banal. Mary’s mother received an expensive handbag from Ivana one year, evidently regifted judging by its content, a used Kleenex. Raised in such a vacuum of connection, it is no wonder our President shows such disinterest in the millions who depend on his concern.
You were among the first to come forward to say that the president was “dangerous”, when few laypersons were ready to utter that word. How does it feel to have been so right, and what would you do differently if you could go back?
It is an intriguing history, I think, of how our articulating the President’s dangerousness influenced the public’s perceptions and, perhaps, its actions. My sense was that we said, put a name on, what everybody knew. It was apparent in his descent on the escalator to name-call folks from Mexico, in his bragging to a much younger colleague about grabbing women, and in his stalking Hillary Clinton on the stage of one of the presidential debates. We pointed to it and said, “yes,” this is something, it’s real, and it’s a problem.
There is very little Trump would not do to salvage his bloated but ever so fragile pride.
We failed to provoke action strong enough to remove his ability to kill millions, but I suspect the awareness to which we contributed has restricted him in ways we may never know. Perhaps, for example, encouraged by our and many other mental health professionals’ work, generals and leaders in the Defense Department were a bit more assertive than they might have been, perhaps those advising him on foreign policy were a bit more aware of the danger they confronted.
What frustrates is the message not conveyed. As much as many recognize the President’s dangerousness, most fail to grasp how dangerous. This may be changing as, facing realities he cannot bluster away, his flailing becomes more pronounced. Dr. Mary Trump’s articulation of the profound emptiness of her uncle tells me there is very little he would not do to salvage his bloated but ever so fragile pride. It is crucial that those who can restrain him act now or be prepared to do so. Not only our democracy as so many have said, but our lives may depend on it.