In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, Mary Trump, the U.S. president's niece, discusses her family's chilling history, her grandfather's ruthlessness and what it would mean if Donald was re-elected. Mary Lea Trump, 55, is Donald Trump's only niece. Her father, Fred Trump Jr., who died in 1981, was his older brother. Her recent book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man" caused quite a stir in the U.S., broke sales records and remains in the top nonfiction spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Trump, you write that your uncle is the world's most dangerous
man. What do you mean by that?
The combination of his pathologies and his position is extremely dangerous. In
some sense, you could say that any American in his position is potentially the
most dangerous person on the planet. But my uncle clearly doesn't have the
intellectual capacity or the impulse control to be trusted.
SPIEGEL: What went through your mind when he was elected back in 2016?
was devastated. In a really weird way, I took it personally. I used to be
really proud of my family name because it just sounded cool. It was difficult
to hear my name constantly referring to somebody who was doing all of these
horrible things. It felt like an assault.
SPIEGEL: What was it like to grow up as a Trump?
It was totally normal because we had no perspective from the outside. I just
went to my grandparents' house on the weekends and hung out.
SPIEGEL: Your great-grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born in Kallstadt,
located in the present-day German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. He died in New
York City during the 1918 flu pandemic. Was his death or your family's German
heritage ever discussed when you were younger?
My grandfather never spoke about his dad. I don't think he was particularly
bothered by his death. My grandfather was a first generation American. It was
total assimilation, no clinging to pride about his country of origin at all.
And Donald, too, never referred to himself as being German because they did a
lot of business with Jewish people. Apparently, they didn't understand that people
can make the distinction between having a German heritage and being a Nazi.
SPIEGEL: Your father, Fred Jr., was supposed to inherit the family's real
estate business. Instead, your grandfather anointed Donald as his heir and set
in motion a series of events that has led us to where we are today. What was
your grandfather like?
There was no emotional bond or affection between my grandfather and his
children. He had no real human feelings. More crucially, he saw people as
extensions of himself to be used for his own purposes. If you failed to fulfill
that purpose, you would be excised, as my dad was. In my family there could
only be one winner. As time passed, it became very clear it wasn't going to be
my father Freddy. So Donald did everything to make sure that the winner was
going to be him. No matter who he had to step on.
SPIEGEL: Instead of going into the family business, your father became a pilot.
What was your grandfather's reaction?
My dad was getting torn down on an almost daily basis. He was a professional
pilot at the dawn of the jet age, but my grandfather told him he was no better
than a glorified bus driver. My dad was constitutionally incapable of being the
kind of son my grandfather wanted him to be. My grandfather was willing to do
whatever it takes to advance his own agenda. When I was finally able to make
sense of what I witnessed, and just by being an adult and by my training as a
psychiatrist, I realized my grandfather was a sociopath. I'm perfectly
comfortable saying that. I'm not being hyperbolic, I mean that in a clinical
SPIEGEL: Your dad became an alcoholic. How did your family deal with that?
When alcoholism is not understood as a disease with this strong genetic
component but is treated like a moral failing, the sick person will never be
able to recover if there's no outside help, which there wasn't for my dad.
Donald, who was seven and a half years younger, witnessed the abuse and dismantling
of my dad and had the benefit of seeing what not to do and how not to be.
SPIEGEL: Donald emulated his father?
The character similarities between him and my grandfather don't run as deep as
they might seem. My grandfather was a very competent person. He was a
successful businessman. Donald is neither of those things. He's not competent
and he's never been good at business. However, my grandfather saw Donald's
savvy with the media. He also saw Donald as somebody who was totally willing to
do whatever it took to win, whatever that meant in their universe. Get the
deal, screw somebody over, lie, cheat, steal.
SPIEGEL: Was there no moderating influence? Your grandmother?
That's one of the fascinating things about this story. There was no moderating
influence. As a kid, Donald was abandoned by his mother, my grandmother. It
wasn't her fault. She was very sick and absent at an extremely crucial
developmental point in his life. From that age on, Donald experienced
devastating loneliness, terror. His only real human connection was taken away
from him. It was just devastating from a character point of view. While my
grandfather had pushed my father to be the best, the killer, the tough guy, the
winner, Donald took that a step further. Not only was he going to be the best,
he was never wrong, because that was something you'd never admit. You never
SPIEGEL: Is that how the myth of Trump took hold?
Donald needed to find a way to survive, and I mean that literally. It's astonishing
to see how many different people and entities were willing to take over my
grandfather's project of propping up and putting forward this man who had
nothing to recommend him, starting with the media in the late 1970s and '80s
and then the banks, and then Mark Burnett (the creator of "The
Apprentice"), and then the Republican Party.
SPIEGEL: Did your grandfather realize what he was setting in motion?
don't think my grandfather understood right away just how bad Donald was going
to be. It probably wasn't until Atlantic City that even my grandfather could no
longer deny what a disaster Donald was in the world of business.
SPIEGEL: You are referring to when he drove several Atlantic City casinos into
Donald didn't seem to understand how casinos work. Instead of operating one
casino that could have been wildly successful, he had three, which cannibalized
each other's profits. And he was running them so poorly. Very shortly after his
third casino, the Taj Mahal, opened, he was already in enormous trouble. My
grandfather had a chauffeur drive to Atlantic City with a registered check for
$3.35 million to buy chips and leave the casino with them. That was illegal,
because it was an unregistered loan. My grandfather actually ended up having to
pay a fine. But a couple of days after that, he did it again.
SPIEGEL: But he let your father die broke and alone. How did that come to pass?
My grandfather resented the reminder of my father's existence and just how much
of a failure he was in his view. After my father lost his job as a pilot, he
put him on a maintenance crew at Trump Management, which was this empire worth
hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that my dad was supposed to take
over. But he had him doing maintenance with a bunch of guys driving around in
the truck. Nothing wrong with that per se, but given the tremendous symbolism,
it was one of the biggest cruelties, but not the last. When my dad was 39, he
got very ill and had to have open-heart surgery. Eventually he just got sicker
and weaker. My grandfather had a lot of connections to local hospitals. Jamaica
Hospital actually named a wing after my grandmother because they had donated so
many millions of dollars. But my father ended up in a random hospital in
Queens, where he died. And nobody was with him.
SPIEGEL: Not even his brother?
Donald and his sister Elizabeth went to the movies.
SPIEGEL: Trump has voiced regret for having pressured your father, but not for
having abandoned him on his deathbed.
don't think it mattered to him that his brother died alone. Look what's
happening in this country right now. People are dying alone because of Donald's
failure to lead.
SPIEGEL: Where was Donald Trump in his career as your father got sick?
He was working on Trump Tower, or should I say, he was taking advantage of my
grandfather's money, power and connections to get Trump Tower pushed through.
Donald always seemed incredibly wealthy, but until then, everything was
financed by my grandfather.
SPIEGEL: Doesn't your uncle have any redeeming qualities?
long time ago, he had some impulses towards kindness. But the idea of kindness
had become so perverted that he doesn't even know how to do it properly.
SPIEGEL: Did he go to church? Many Evangelicals love him.
He has no religious impulses. And that's not even the problem. The problem is
the hypocrisy. The problem is his willingness to use other people's beliefs to
convince them that he has their best interests at heart. It is like a cult.
SPIEGEL: You have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. What's your professional
assessment of your uncle?
It was important to me not to diagnose him directly in my book. I wanted to
give people insight into understanding what was going on. To give them tools to
make sense of his behavior. A lot of people have presented these definitive
diagnoses - narcissistic personality disorder, malignant narcissism, etc. But
we also have to consider other things outside of personality disorders, like
sleep disorder and learning disability.
SPIEGEL: Learning disability?
He seems to have a very difficult time processing information. It's very
possible that he had a learning disorder when he was a kid that was just never
diagnosed and therefore not properly addressed.
SPIEGEL: In your book you call him a racist but offer no definite evidence. Did
you ever hear him, or any other family members, say anything racist while
Yes. I'm not suggesting that my family was particularly more racist or
anti-Semitic than other people in New York City back in the 1940s and 50s. The
use of the N-word and of anti-Semitic slurs was just part of the way it was. It
SPIEGEL: You kept your relationship to another woman from your family. Why?
My family was spectacularly uncurious about my personal life. In my home,
homophobia wasn't a thing to be spoken about because people didn't really talk
about homosexuality. There was no direct evidence that my family was
homophobic. It wasn't until my grandmother made a really disparaging comment
about Elton John, calling him a "little faggot," that I realized, OK,
this is really something I need to keep to myself.
SPIEGEL: The New York Times revealed in 2018 that the Trumps cheated you out of
had known something was wrong. But didn't know what it was. It just had seemed
unlikely that my grandfather's estate was worth only $30 million when he died.
The Times revealed that it was worth more than $970 million. It was really
devastating to find out that my aunts and uncles, who were made my trustees
after my dad had died when I was 16, were using their power to get away with
SPIEGEL: This hasn't been rectified?
Throughout Donald's entire life, nothing is cumulative for him. One horrible
thing replaces the earlier horrible thing, and in the end, he's held to account
for none of it. That's been going on from the time he was a teenager.
SPIEGEL: Do you think your book will hold him accountable?
had wanted to speak up before the 2016 elections, but it wouldn't have
mattered. Nobody would have listened to me. He was getting away with
everything. Nobody has ever been willing to speak out about this. Certainly
nobody close to him and the family.
SPIEGEL: Why now?
wanted for voters to avoid what happened in 2016. I don't want anybody going to
the polls this November and pretending they don't understand what's going on.
SPIEGEL: You write that if Trump gets a second term, it would be "the end
of American democracy."
We're so weakened by his incompetence and his enablers. We're on a knife's
edge. It's terrifying. Unfortunately, it's not even hyperbole anymore.
SPIEGEL: Some critics accuse you of profiting off the family name. Your uncle
called you a "seldom seen niece," claiming he didn't have a
relationship with you when you were younger. Is that true?
That's not entirely true. I wasn't some random stranger.
SPIEGEL: Once the idea of a book tour becomes possible again, would you travel
to Germany, the land of your ancestors?
It would be nice to visit my old stomping grounds. I studied in Tübingen for a
semester. I love Munich. Hopefully next year Americans won't be pariahs
SPIEGEL: Ms. Trump, thank you very much for this interview.