Donald Trump's estranged niece, Mary Trump, has long been uncomfortable with her last name.
"It's not a very common name," she said in an interview with Fresh Air on Tuesday. "If I paid with a credit card, I invariably got asked if I was related [to Donald]. And I always said no."
Before her uncle entered politics, that's usually where the conversation ended. But Donald Trump's political career changed things. "It was a bit of a shock, you know, to hear my name being mentioned dozens of times a day," Mary Trump said.
Mary Trump said she was devastated when her uncle was elected president: "I knew he was unfit," she said. "And whether other people knew that aspect of the situation or not, they certainly had ample evidence that he was sexist, if not misogynist, racist and not truthful about his alleged success in business."
Mary Trump's father, Fred Trump Jr., was Donald Trump's older brother and the black sheep of the family. After Fred Jr.'s death in 1981, Mary Trump's grandfather changed his will to exclude Mary and her brother. She writes about her family's tangled history in the new memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man.
Mary Trump described Donald Trump as a "belligerent and uncontrollable" youth whose sister did homework for him when he was a student at Fordham University. Years later, Mary Trump realized how toxic the relationship was between her uncle and her father.
Writing the book, she said, helped her better understand her father's place in the family. In the interview, Mary Trump described her dad as a man whose kindness was seen as weakness in a power-driven family. "The tale they spun [was] that he was just this failed guy who just couldn't accomplish anything," she says. "When my family did talk about my father, it was to say that, essentially he was handsome and kind — and 'kind' was always said as if it were not really a compliment."
As for her uncle, Mary Trump said: "One thing we can say about Donald is he has been consistently himself for decades. ... I can't really think of any way in which he's evolved or changed from the person he was when he was a teenager."
On getting access to the Trump family finances when she and her brother sued her grandfather's estate
After my brother and I were disinherited, we, after several fruitless months of negotiation, decided to sue my grandfather's estate. In the course of that lawsuit ... we were entitled to all of the documents pertaining to his [Fred Trump Sr.'s] personal finances, his personal tax returns, and all of the financial documents relating to all of his entities, which would have been in excess of four dozen buildings in Queens and Brooklyn.
On her decision to hand over the documents to The New York Times, which published an exposé of the Trump family finances in 2018
[Times reporter Susanne Craig] over time, despite my intransigence, made a very good case that I might actually have something that could help concretely, as she put it, "rewrite the financial history of Donald and my family." Before then, I had completely forgotten about the existence of those documents. It had been almost 20 years in the past. I didn't think about it anymore. It had ended very badly for me and there was no reason to revisit it. But when she made it clear that those documents, if they were still in the possession of the attorney who had handled the lawsuit for me, could be analyzed properly, there could be a lot of really valuable information.
So finally, for the first time, I felt like I could do something tangible. So within a few weeks of deciding to call [Craig], I had gone to my former attorney's office and gotten all 19 boxes, which included 40,000 pages or so of all of the documents. ... In the next year, the investigative team did this extraordinary job of forensic accounting and hardcore digging into all sorts of other sources and contacts. And they came up with what I think is one of the most brilliant pieces of investigative journalism I've ever seen. ...
They put it in numerical terms that were quite honestly mind-boggling to me. When my grandfather died, we were told that his estate was worth about $30 million and it turns out it was closer to a billion. So that's hardly a rounding error. For the first time in my life I understood just how much money my family had and just how much money my grandfather's business and properties were worth.
On why she believes her trustees, Maryanne, Robert and Donald Trump, weren't looking out for her best interest after her father died
They had used egregiously misrepresented valuations of properties I had a share in to craft a settlement agreement [in her lawsuit against the Fred Trump Sr. estate] that, as it turns out, was much to my disadvantage. ... That's been one of the more eye-opening things, because Maryanne, Robert and Donald weren't just my aunts and uncles — which should have been enough for them to look out for my interests, considering my dad, their brother, died when I was 16 — but they were also, after my father died, my trustees. So they had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure not only that I didn't get taken advantage of, but that I understood what I had so that I could make informed decisions going forward, and, of course, neither of those things actually happened.
On Fred Trump Sr.'s disappointment in his eldest son, Fred Jr.
I think that the truth is that my dad was just sort of constitutionally sensitive. He took things to heart. He took criticism, especially from my grandfather, very hard. Because he was the oldest son [and] my grandfather's namesake, my grandfather was very invested in my dad's being the son my grandfather wanted him to be ... a tough guy, who had no moral compunction about lying, cheating and doing whatever to promote the business. When he realized that my father was not that person, he treated him very harshly and humiliated him and essentially made sure that my father would be exactly the opposite of the kind of person he wanted him to be.
On her father's decision to leave the Trump family business to become a pilot
He had every intention of graduating from college and working for his dad, working his way up through the company and taking over someday and perpetuating the empire. That was his plan. It wasn't a burden. It wasn't something he felt was thrust upon him. He actively wanted to do this. It wasn't until he actually started working for my grandfather, however, that he realized that my grandfather wasn't going to give him any real responsibility or respect. And after three years, it became unbearable.
So my dad, who had earned his private and professional pilot's licenses when he was in college, decided that he needed to make a change. In 1963, [he was] accepted into a training class at TWA, which was the second-largest carrier at the dawn of the jet age, was a really big deal. He was one of the few people to make it who was not trained in the military. So it was an even bigger deal to go from flying prop planes on your own to flying jets. He was also given the very coveted Logan Airport in Boston to LAX route. But after four months of incessant torment and humiliation from his father and his siblings, he just couldn't do it anymore, because unfortunately, when one of the great tragedies of my father's life is that his father's opinion meant more to him than I think anything, and it broke him.
On Donald Trump seeing his niece in her bathing suit at Mar-a-Lago and saying, "You're really stacked"
Now I would say it's really creepy, but at the time it shocked me, partially because ... it was like he'd never seen me before. And to be fair, it [was] the first time anybody outside of my immediate family had seen me in a bathing suit, anybody who I was related to, because we weren't that kind of family. We didn't go on vacations together. We didn't go to the beach together. So he'd never seen me in a bathing suit before. But I was 29. I wasn't a kid. And I was pretty unflappable, I think, but it was really embarrassing and I just wanted to hide. ... It's just what he does. He says these outrageous things that are hurtful or insulting or wildly inappropriate and people laugh it off and don't hold him to account and he feels total impunity to continue doing such things — and he does.
On being surprised by the positive response to the book
It's incredibly gratifying that people seem to be responding to it. I never expected this kind of reception — and I'm not talking about the sales. I'm talking about the positive reviews and people seem grateful, and that's just amazing. I did not expect that, certainly not to this degree. But what really matters is that this book make an impact and make a difference. And I'm not entirely sure how that gets quantified, but that was the point and that's what I'm hoping for.
Amy Salit and Joel Wolfram produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Mary Trump, has broken her silence about her uncle, President Donald Trump, in her new memoir "Too Much And Never Enough." Her father, the late Freddy Trump, was Donald's oldest brother. You can tell by the title of her book what she thinks of her uncle's presidency. The book is subtitled "How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man."
She secretly served as a source for a 2018 New York Times investigation into Trump family finances, including schemes to avoid paying millions in taxes. The article also contradicted the story that Donald Trump has always told about being a brilliant deal-maker and a self-made billionaire and showed how much of his success he owed to his father, Fred Trump, and how he relied on his father to help bail him out of financial trouble. Fred Trump presided over a real estate empire.
Mary Trump is a clinical psychologist by training who has taught graduate courses as an adjunct professor. Mary Trump, welcome to FRESH AIR. Donald Trump has called your book a lie. Have you spoken to him since publication?
MARY TRUMP: No. And I don't expect I will.
GROSS: When was the last time you did speak?
TRUMP: At my aunt's birthday party at the White House in April of 2017.
GROSS: Your father worked for his father, your grandfather, Fred Trump. And he worked for Trump Management, but he never rose in the organization. It sounds like he was always given fairly low-level positions like overseeing maintenance and things like that. And what he really wanted to do was be a pilot. And when he became a pilot, your grandfather apparently acted like this was, like, a really embarrassing, humiliating job for his son to have. It was like having a son who was a bus driver in the sky. Did your father feel really diminished by that?
TRUMP: Yes. I think he never recovered from it, actually. You know, it started out - he had every intention of graduating from college and working for his dad, working his way up through the company, and taking over someday and, you know, perpetuating the empire. That was his plan. It wasn't a burden. It wasn't something he felt was thrust upon him. He actively wanted to do this. It wasn't until he actually started working for my grandfather, however, that he realized that my grandfather wasn't going to give him any real responsibility or respect. And after three years, it became unbearable.
So my dad, who had earned his private and professional pilots' licenses when he was in college, decided that he needed to make a change. And in 1963, being accepted into a training class at TWA, which was the second-largest carrier at the dawn of the jet age, was a really big deal. And he was one of the few people to make it who was not trained in the military. So it was an even bigger deal to go from, you know, flying prop planes on your own to flying jets.
He was also given the very coveted Logan Airport in Boston to LAX route. But after four months of incessant torment and humiliation from his father and his siblings, he just couldn't do it anymore because unfortunately, one of the great tragedies of my father's life is that his father's opinion meant more to him than, I think, anything. And it broke him.
GROSS: Well, also, I mean, he was forced to leave the job as a commercial pilot because of his drinking. They basically told him, either resign, or we'll fire you, and then you'll lose your license to fly, and you'll never be able to fly again. And it sounds like that really broke him, having to give up being a pilot. But, of course, he knew, apparently, that he couldn't function anymore as a pilot because of his drinking. And the drinking was really a problem. I mean, you write about seeing him, drunk, point a rifle at your mother, laughing the whole time. And she was terrified. What was that experience like for you?
TRUMP: It's actually my first memory. I was really young. I was 2 1/2 when that happened. So I don't remember the experience of the emotions that I may have felt in the moment, but I see it very clearly. And I know that that was, you know, the beginning of the end for my parents. And it's also honestly - I mean, not that I ever saw my father be violent in that way again, but I never saw him not be an alcoholic - or, sorry - an active alcoholic. I missed all the good stuff.
And he didn't - his drinking didn't really start until he became a pilot and got no support from his family and was completely undermined by him. So, you know, they - I think it's fair to say that his drinking ended his career as a pilot, but my grandfather caused the drinking. Obviously, the genetic component of alcoholism didn't help. But I think if treated differently and allowed to experience his incredible accomplishments and, you know, if he had had parents who were proud of him, I think that might've made a world of difference.
GROSS: Were you afraid of your father because your first memory was of him pointing a rifle at your mother?
TRUMP: No, again, because I didn't really process it in the moment 'cause I was so young, and it was - I'm sure - very traumatic. So it was one of those things I just kind of forgot about. So no, I wasn't afraid of him even though he could be really moody. And, you know, there got - there came to be a point where it was better if he was drunk than he was sober because when he was sober, he was - it was - he was so dark and depressed.
But I - no, I never felt afraid of him after that. But what I will say is that it's pretty shocking that other adults thought it was OK for me and my brother to be alone with him for, you know, days at a time - probably, in retrospect, not.
GROSS: Yeah. It's a confusing story in the sense that, like, you blame your grandfather's kind of shunning and diminishing of your father with your father's alcoholism. But it sounds like your father maybe wasn't that well-equipped to deal with stress. And that might've alienated your grandfather more, who was so, like, achievement-oriented. So it's a kind of confusing cycle for a bystander like me to read about.
TRUMP: Yeah. And I think that the truth is that my dad was just sort of constitutionally sensitive. He took things to heart. He took things - he took criticism, especially from my grandfather, very hard. And I - because he was the oldest son of the name - my grandfather's namesake, my grandfather was very invested in my dad's being the son my grandfather wanted him to be - you know, a killer who could take over and, you know, just be completely phased by anything and a tough guy - right? - you know, who had no moral compunction about lying, cheating and doing whatever to promote the business. When he realized that my father was not that person, he treated him very harshly and, you know, humiliated him and essentially made sure that my father would be exactly the opposite of the kind of person he wanted him to be. Yeah. It was just - he just went about it entirely the wrong way. And it - you know, it couldn't have ended worse than it did because my dad just wasn't that person. And my grandfather didn't respect that and didn't know how to deal with it.
GROSS: You feel like your father couldn't be that person and Donald Trump acted the role of that person, acted the role of the really competent, successful, self-made guy.
TRUMP: I think it's more that, initially, he took on the persona of the killer. And the myth about the other stuff happened later. But it's always been a role he's played.
GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mary Trump, Donald Trump's only niece. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mary Trump. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough."
In your memoir, you confess that you were one of the sources for the New York Times' investigation into Donald Trump's finances and the whole Trump family finances. What documents did you give to the New York Times reporters?
TRUMP: After my brother and I were disinherited, we - you know, after several fruitless months of negotiation - decided to sue my grandfather's estate. In the course of that lawsuit, we were entitled to documents that were subject to what they call the 2-3 rule. So it's two years before and three years after or vice versa - I always forget - the date of my grandfather's will. We were entitled to all of the documents pertaining to his personal finances, his personal tax returns and all of the financial documents relating to all of his entities, which would have been in excess of four dozen buildings in Queens and Brooklyn.
GROSS: So you mentioned that you and your brother were disinherited. And just as a little bit of backstory, you considered your father the black sheep of the family. You know, he became an alcoholic. He died in his early 40s. And after his death, when your grandfather died, your grandfather changed the will and wrote you and your brother out of the will, which you both thought was very unfair, felt it was as if like your father never existed in the Trump family.
So picking up where we left off - Susanne Craig, one of the reporters on the story, knocked on your door and asked to talk to you when she was writing the story. And you turned her away. But she gave you her card. And you eventually thought you should contact her. Why did you decide - after turning away the reporter from The Times, why did you decide to contact her and hand over some of the, you know - some or all of the documents that you had gotten?
TRUMP: She, over time - despite my intransigence - made a very good case that I might actually have something that could help concretely, as she put it, rewrite the financial history of Donald and my family. Before then, I had completely forgotten about the existence of those documents. It had been almost 20 years in the past. I didn't think about it anymore. It had ended very badly for me. And there was no reason to revisit it. But when she made it clear that those documents, if they were still in the possession of the attorney who had handled the lawsuit for me, could be analyzed properly, there could be a lot of really valuable information. So finally, for the first time, I felt like I could do something tangible.
So within a few weeks of deciding to call her, I had gone to my attorney - my former attorney's office and gotten all 19 boxes, which included 40,000 pages or so of all of the documents I mentioned earlier. And in the next year, the investigative team did this extraordinary job of forensic accounting and hardcore digging into all sorts of other sources and contacts. And they came up with what I think is one of the most brilliant pieces of investigative journalism I've ever seen - certainly, the longest.
GROSS: Do you know what the reaction in the family has been now that everybody knows that you were the one who handed over the documents?
TRUMP: The only response I've seen is the tweet that Donald sent last week referring to me as the seldom-seen niece whom both of my grandparents couldn't stand, apparently. So that's all I know. So I'm assuming that they're not pleased. And the lawsuit is also probably an indication of that as well.
GROSS: Right. Was it your impression that your grandparents couldn't stand you?
TRUMP: My grandfather couldn't stand either one of my parents. So he didn't - well, I don't think he felt warmly towards anybody. But I wasn't somebody he particularly considered. And, you know, I don't take that personally because I think the only person in my family he really cared about after his own fashion was Donald. I was very close with my grandmother, however. So I don't believe for a second that what Donald said is true, at least up until the lawsuit. And then I don't know how she felt about me after that.
GROSS: During the investigation, the reporters for The Times drove you around to all of your grandfather's properties, all of his buildings. I think there were around 90 of them. You had no idea that many of these buildings were part of his real estate empire. Tell us a little bit about that trip, visiting all these places and what your reaction was and what you learned about your family from being taken to these places.
TRUMP: Yeah. It was extraordinary. And actually, we spent about nine hours driving all over Queens and Brooklyn. And we did not actually get to see all of the properties. There were so many of them. I had always known that my family had money. Although, you know, I grew up in Jamaica. So we didn't - I had the...
GROSS: Jamaica, Queens, just for anybody who doesn't know.
TRUMP: Right. I'm sorry.
GROSS: Yeah (laughter).
TRUMP: Jamaica, Queens, which is a town next to Jamaica Estates, where my grandparents lived. It's an entirely different kind of town. It's working class, lower middle class, much more racially diverse back in the '70s. So seeing just the vastness of his holdings made me realize in a way I never had just how much money this man must have had. And it changed my perspective about the pettiness of their treatment of me and my brother.
GROSS: So what are some of the things you learned from the New York Times' investigation into Trump family finances that you didn't know and that really surprised you and maybe changed your impression of what was going on with your family?
TRUMP: First of all, related to what I said earlier about just seeing how many properties my grandfather owned, they put it in numerical terms that were quite, honestly, mind-boggling to me. You know, when my grandfather died, we were told that his estate was worth about $30 million. And it turns out it was closer to a billion. So that's hardly a rounding error. For the first time in my life, I understood just how much money my family had and just how much money my grandfather was - grandfather's business and properties were worth.
GROSS: And did you feel cheated when you found out?
TRUMP: Yeah. They had used egregiously misrepresented valuations of properties I had a share in to craft a settlement agreement that, as it turns out, was much to my disadvantage. So that was fraudulent.
GROSS: If I'm not mistaken, you owned shares in some properties you didn't even know you owned shares in.
TRUMP: That's true. Yeah. And that - you know, that's been one of the more eye-opening things because Maryanne, Robert and Donald weren't just my aunt and uncles, you know, which should've been enough for them to look out for my interests, considering my dad - their brother - died when I was 16. But they were also, after my father died, my trustees. So they had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure not only that I didn't get taken advantage of, but that I understood what I had so that I could make informed decisions going forward. And, of course, neither of those things actually happened.
GROSS: As I recall, some of the things that were done in the family were, like, less than legal. And did that change your impression of the family's financial success?
TRUMP: Yeah. I, along with everybody else, had bought into the myth of Donald being a self-made man and being a brilliant developer. I had no idea that none of that was true because everybody acted like it was true. So that was - I mean, I had started to learn that, you know, over time, certainly in the late '80s and the '90s when he was starting to get into trouble. But I'd never realized it had been like that since the beginning. So that was interesting. In terms of their willingness - the lengths they were willing to go to hide funds, evade, commit fraud, it didn't, honestly, surprise me because, you know, I never really thought of them as being the most upright people on the planet.
For example, the entity called All County was a huge part of what the New York Times was able to discover through my - I think predominantly through the documents I gave them. And it was, essentially, a shell corporation that - the sole purpose of which seemed to be siphoning money out of my grandfather's legitimately successful company to lower its value so they could just hide all of this cash and then, simultaneously, lower their tax burden. It's just breathtaking to me.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mary Trump, Donald Trump's only niece. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough." We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is Mary Trump. She's written a new memoir about life in the Trump family. She says she's written this family history in part to get a complete picture of her uncle Donald Trump's psychopathologies and dysfunctional behavior. She has a Ph.D. from the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies and has taught graduate courses in psychology.
You've said that there were things you learned writing this book that you may have been better off not knowing. What things?
TRUMP: I believe that was mostly in reference to my dad. I'm grateful to have learned some things. I honestly knew very little about his - the successes in his life. You know, he was always presented as an alcoholic loser, which, you know, to my enduring shame, I bought into that assessment of him. So I was really happy to learn more. I mean, it was bittersweet, of course, but I was happy to learn about his career as a pilot. I spoke to some of his friends who remember him so fondly. He was so loved by his friends, if not by his family, that that was really gratifying.
On the other hand, it was devastating to revisit or learn for the first time just how he suffered at my grandfather's hands and how little, if at all, his siblings, you know, helped him or stood up for him. It's - I had already known that they had allowed him to die alone in a hospital he'd never been in before, which is something I will never forget or ever be able to shake. But to know that he had suffered alone before that for years, yeah, it's still difficult for me to process.
GROSS: Regarding your father, toward the end of his life, he was kind of broke and - well, at least you thought he was. And he was very sick because of the alcoholism and other health issues. He ended up living with his parents, which are also Donald Trump's parents. And when he got really sick and needed a hospital, like, the family called for an ambulance; nobody went with him to the hospital. And you also write that, like, you know, Fred Trump and his wife had connections to the hospital. I think there was a wing named after Trump. So, like, they could have placed a call and said that, you know, their son was being taken in an ambulance. But, like, nothing - no support. And you were very upset learning that.
TRUMP: Of course. It's unforgivable, inexcusable and cruel beyond words because, as you said, my parent - my grandparents donated millions of dollars to Jamaica Hospital and also a lot of money to Booth Memorial Hospital, which was in Flushing. And my grandmother had spent a lot of time at both of those places because she was very often injured because of her osteoporosis. So yeah, there is a building named for them. I have to pass by it every time I take the Long Island Rail Road train into Manhattan.
And yet, yeah, they called an ambulance, and the ambulance took them to a hospital that was five minutes from where - the building where I grew up. I was in boarding school at the time. And nobody in my family had ever been to that hospital before. So there were no connections. And, you know, I don't know what my grandparents were thinking. It's very possible they knew it was too late because my dad had been very ill at their house for weeks without their doing anything about it. So the indifference to - he was 42 years old. And I didn't understand - I mean, I knew that was - of course, it's way too young to die. But I didn't understand just how young it was until I reached 42.
So the fact that they just didn't feel that he was worth the effort - and, honestly, now - at this time in particular, it's resonating in a completely different way because one of the horrors of the disease we're all grappling with now and trying to escape is that people have to die alone because it's so contagious. And that connection and the fact that Donald is doing nothing - not only nothing to mitigate or solve it, but he's doing - it seems like he's doing everything in his power to make it worse, so that more people are going to die alone without their families with them. It's kind of hard to process.
GROSS: Your great-grandfather, President Trump's grandfather, died of the flu during the 1918 flu pandemic. How much of that death of the flu during the pandemic was a part of family history?
TRUMP: I actually didn't know about my great-grandfather's death and the circumstances of it until I read about it a couple of years ago. And, in fact, I never heard anybody in my family talk about my great grandfather in any way when I was growing up. So there's no way for me to know what Donald may have heard, but I always found that kind of odd.
GROSS: Donald Trump was sent to military school, the New York Military Academy. And this was against his protests. Why was he sent there, and who do you have that information from? Who told you why he was sent there?
TRUMP: My grandmother told me stories. And, you know, I think it was a combination of things. He was a student at a school in Forest Hills that my grandfather was a trustee for. He was on the board of trustees. And Donald's behavior, as he grew up, became increasingly belligerent and uncontrollable. So I think that was causing some problems. I think my grandfather probably found it, if not embarrassing then inconvenient that one of his children was getting into all sorts of trouble at a school he was associated with.
At home - where my grandmother certainly had to deal with Donald more than my grandfather did because he was at work all the time - he was incredibly disrespectful to her. He didn't listen to her. He was a slob. He tormented - in one way or another, I think he tormented all of his siblings. But certainly, by then, you know, the older kids were out of the house, and Robert was the most frequent target of his bullying.
And the situation with my grandfather - my grandmother, sorry, and the situation at school kind of came to a head at the same time. And my grandfather, who had not yet entirely given up on my father and who had not yet really started to notice Donald very much, decided it would make his life easier, and my grandmother was not about to stop him. She told me she was relieved when Donald went away because he had made her life so difficult.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mary Trump, Donald Trump's only niece. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mary Trump. Her new memoir about the Trump family is called "Too Much And Never Enough." Donald Trump is Mary's uncle.
Your father had such a hard time working with his father within Trump Management, and your father also - I think also had a hard time watching his brother, Donald Trump, rise in the organization while your father couldn't rise in the organization. After your father's death - I mean, I guess years after your father's death, Donald Trump asked you - when he was still, you know, a businessman and in real estate, he asked you to write his book "The Art Of The Comeback." This was his sequel to "The Art Of The Deal." And you accepted the job of helping him write it.
Why did you want to work with him after having seen what you thought was a very dysfunctional family business and a very dysfunctional relationship between your father and Donald Trump?
TRUMP: I, as a kid, basically bought into the family line about my dad, you know? I hate saying this 'cause it makes me feel so horrible, but, you know, I - because I didn't really know much or much detail about his past, I believed the tale they spun, that he was just this failed guy, you know, who just couldn't accomplish anything. And I thought it was his fault. So after he died - or, you know, years after he died, we just kind of continued as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. We didn't talk about him, really.
You know, when my family did talk about my father, it was to say that, you know, essentially, he was handsome and kind. And kind was always said as if it were, you know, not really a compliment, you know, that that would explain why he failed in life - because he was kind. But, you know, I wasn't aware at the time of the truth behind what had happened between my dad and my grandfather and between my dad and Donald.
GROSS: How did you find that out?
TRUMP: Well, part of it was just distance and, you know, hearing more about the things he had accomplished and also just, like, getting older and understanding psychology more and understanding Donald more and realizing that a lot of the stories that had been spun weren't really true, like the stories about Donald's success, for example, or my father's failings. And then, more recently, it was in conversation with my Aunt Maryanne, who was quite adamant about correcting the record to me about my dad. I wish she had done something when he was alive. But, you know, it was at least helpful to hear it from her now, I guess - you know, better late than ever.
GROSS: You had no experience writing books. Why do you think your uncle asked you to help him write "The Art Of The Comeback?" Were you going to be the official ghostwriter?
TRUMP: Yeah, that was his plan. Unfortunately (laughter), I can't say that he hired me because he thought I was a brilliant writer. He hired me because Tufts University had sent him a letter that I had written in support of a professor of mine who was up for tenure. And I think I wrote it maybe my senior year, right before I graduated. And they were sending it to him as a fundraising ploy - like, look how much Mary loves Tufts and look how great our professors are at Tufts; she wrote this letter.
And I realized later that he hired me partially because I was his niece, and he felt like, you know, he didn't really have to pay that much attention to me or, you know, take my requests for his time seriously, and also - at the time, I didn't realize - he was hiring me and his publisher had no idea he was doing it. But, mostly, he hired me because he thought I was really good at making other people look good in writing (laughter).
GROSS: So once the editor found out that you were going to be Donald Trump's collaborator on his book, they took you off the project because you had no experience. Were you offended by that? Or did you think, like, yeah, that's a good idea? I really shouldn't be doing this. I don't have the experience.
TRUMP: You know, it's interesting. I didn't think my not having experience was an issue because, you know, I had a master's degree in English. I'd been studying English literature my whole life. I'd been writing academic papers, you know, since high school. I had a master's degree. And it wasn't - you know, it was Donald's book. It wasn't like I was writing a Eugene O'Neill play or something. So the only thing that bothered me was when I was told that you can't sit down at the piano for the first time and play a Mozart concerto. It's like, well, you know, I have been writing in the English language for some time now. And I hardly would compare Donald's book to a Mozart concerto. But, you know, whatever.
It wasn't going anywhere because Donald wasn't sitting down with me for an interview. And it's very possible that I wouldn't - I didn't have the relevant writing - I mean, I didn't have the relevant writing experience. And maybe that would have made a difference in the long run. But it was - for me, it was much more about just not having access. I saw him every day. I spoke to him every day. He wouldn't sit down for an interview. It made it impossible.
GROSS: He did give you some pages that he had written, which were not exactly germane. Tell us what was on the pages.
TRUMP: Yeah. You know, the awful thing is I was so excited because I thought, finally, I'm going to have something to go on. And it just turned out to be about 10 pages, a transcript from a recording he had made, you know, speaking into a microphone. And it was page after page of his ideas about women, you know, his evaluation of them, almost entirely of their physical appearance or their bearing. And most of it was just - it was so dripping with misogyny. I just - it was hard to read. And I never looked at it again and certainly didn't plan to use any of it.
GROSS: That reminds me of once when you visited him in Mar-a-Lago. And you were wearing a bathing suit. He said, hey, you're really stacked. That's not a good thing to say to any woman, but to say to your niece, that is - I don't know. What was your reaction when your uncle said that to you?
TRUMP: Yeah. Well, now I would say, it's really creepy. But at the time, it just - it shocked me partially because it was the first time - it was like he'd never seen me before, you know? And to be fair, it is probably - it is the first time anybody outside of my immediate family had seen me in a bathing suit - you know, anybody who I was related to - because we weren't that kind of family, you know? We didn't go on vacations together. We didn't go to the beach together. So he'd never seen me in a bathing suit before. But, you know, I was 29. I wasn't a kid. And I was pretty, you know, unflappable, I think. But it was really embarrassing. And I just wanted to hide.
GROSS: Did it affect your relationship?
TRUMP: Oh, no.
GROSS: (Laughter) OK.
TRUMP: No, because, you know - and this is one of the problems. It's just what he does. He says these outrageous things that are hurtful or insulting or wildly inappropriate. And people laugh it off and don't hold him to account. And he feels total impunity to continue doing such things. And he does.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here. And then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mary Trump, Donald Trump's only niece. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mary Trump. Her new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough."
Donald Trump is so fixated on numbers when he can use it to prove that he's best. And he'll sometimes change the numbers or not know what the real numbers are and put that in service of proving that he's best. And he's done that with money, overstating how much he has, bragging about test scores, about his cognitive test, about the size of crowds at his inauguration, about the size of crowds at his rallies, his TV ratings - all numbers to prove, like, I am the best. What I do is the best. Was he that way before? Like, did you notice that before he became president?
TRUMP: Oh, yeah. That's - one thing we can say about Donald is he has been consistently himself for decades. I can't really think of any way in which he's evolved or changed from the person he was when he was a teenager. Now, obviously, I wasn't alive when he was a teenager. But there's a reason my dad nicknamed him The Great I Am when Donald was 12.
GROSS: What did he mean by that?
TRUMP: He meant that, you know, nobody could be as good. Donald was always the best and claimed to be the best at everything and the greatest and et cetera. So yeah, it started very early on. And I believe that, initially, it was just a way to make sure that my grandfather never for one second mistook Donald for being like my dad.
GROSS: So one of the things I think you kept from your family - correct me if I'm wrong here - is that you're a lesbian. There's two - like, one or two references to it in the book. And you refer to how you realized you couldn't tell your grandmother because she was going all homophobic on the fact that Elton John was going to be performing at Princess Diana's funeral or memorial. So is that something you had to keep a secret from your family?
TRUMP: Yeah, you know, it didn't really feel that way because by then I was in my 30s. I was really close with my grandmother and saw her a lot. But, you know, everybody else had kind of gone their separate ways, and we saw each other at holidays. And, you know, it wasn't that big a deal that they didn't know. Like, it didn't affect my life that much. And with my grandmother, I just figured, you know what? She's older. She's set in her ways. Like, why bother, you know? Which (laughter) probably says a lot about where I was at the time, and it also says a lot about, you know, how I was willing to bend over backwards to give these people a break that they didn't deserve.
But yeah, at the time, it just - it didn't seem like it mattered that much. I was just living my life separately from all of that, and she didn't need to know.
GROSS: What are some of the anti-gay policies or legislation advocated by your uncle and his administration that have affected you, that you feel strongly about?
TRUMP: You know, they all affect me, whether they affect me personally or not. But I believe it started with no longer allowing trans men and women to serve in the military. And I have to be honest - I kind of lose track because he's - and, again, I don't necessarily think it's him; I think it's people he's elevated to positions they shouldn't have who are, you know, either whispering in his ear that this needs to happen or who are just crafting policy and just having him go along with it because he thinks it'll play well with his base.
So - but, you know, beyond policy, it's also - and the same can be said for how he's handling the racial division in this country - it's his rhetoric or his acting as if certain things don't matter, you know? I mean, there's an epidemic of hate crimes against Black trans women in this country in particular. There is - you know, totally innocent Black men, women and children are being murdered with impunity every day in this country. And it's just - it's either his silence on these matters or his siding with the transgressors - so, you know, I - honestly, I've lost track of the policies because one's worse than the next, and it becomes kind of mind-numbing.
You know, I am in a position of great privilege, where I don't have to be personally impacted by a lot of what's going on or what's been done by this administration. And yet it's just so obvious that as - just as a human being, you know, even if I'm not directly being threatened, it's just awful to witness how many people are being harmed in one way or another by what's been going on since January 2017.
GROSS: Mary Trump, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
TRUMP: Terry, thank you so much for having me. It's been a real honor speaking with you, and I really appreciate all your time.
GROSS: Mary Trump's new memoir is called "Too Much And Never Enough." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed - like this week's interview with Michaela Coel, the creator, writer, director and star of the HBO series "I May Destroy You," or the interview from our archive with the late civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis - check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Seth Kelley directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.
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