Avner Falk
Clinical and political psychologist and psychohistorian

Trump and His Elder Brother: Unconscious Fratricide

Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump and his wife Mary Anne did not shirk from lying. In 1940, with the Second World War raging in Europe, in Africa, and in Asia, but with the U.S. still staying out of the war, the Roosevelt administration conducted a population census in the United States. By then the Trumps had two children, Maryanne (born 1937) and Freddy (born 1938). The Scottish journalist Martin Hannan, who carefully studied the life of the Scottish-born Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, wrote “Fred and Mary Anne Trump played fast and loose with the American authorities on their census return in 1940, stating that Mary Anne Trump was a naturalized citizen when records openly available to researchers show that she was not naturalized until 1942.”

Why was Trump’s mother an immigrant for twelve years without becoming a citizen? Was there a legal problem that needed to be fixed? As we shall see, his early relationship with his mother, and his emotional abandonment by her at a very early age, after the birth of his younger  brother, when he was two-year-old toddler, and she had almost died in childbirth, may help explain Trump’s irrational hatred for and persecution of poor illegal immigrants.

Fred Trump Sr. (1905-1999) was a hard-working businessman, a real-estate tycoon, and a strict disciplinarian. He did not like his elder son, Freddy and, like Isaac in the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau, gave his chief rival, Donald, his elder brother’s birthright. Donald had pressured Freddy about his career, saying, “Come on, Freddy, what are you doing? You’re wasting your time.” He told Freddy that flying an airplane was like driving a bus. A friend of the family recalled the father berating Freddy, saying that he wanted to be nothing more than “a chauffeur in the sky” instead of running the Trump company. David Miller, a Lehigh University fraternity brother of Freddy’s who later became his lawyer, remembered that “It was a lot of pressure. He did what he could to run away from it.” Freddy became an airline pilot but drank heavily and died of alcoholism-related heart disease in 1981, in his forty-third year. In 2019 Donald Trump told his biographer Michael Kranish that he regretted having pressured his elder brother about his career. In fact, Donald may have felt guilty for having caused his elder brother’s death.

Donald’s father, Frederick Christ Trump (1905-1999), lived into his nineties. During the last six years of his life, from 1993 to 1999, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was demented. In June 1999,  at the age of ninety-three, he fell ill with pneumonia. He was admitted to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, where he died on June 25. Before he died, his son Donald got him to write a will leaving all his fortune, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to his four surviving children, Maryanne, Elizabeth, Donald and Robert. Trump’s estate was estimated by his family at 250 million to 300 million dollars. His grandchildren by his elder son, Freddy, were disinherited. This naturally riled Freddy’s children, Fred Trump III and Mary Lea Trump.

Freddy’s daughter, Mary Lea Trump (born 1965), never knew her maternal grandparents, who had stayed in Scotland when her young mother left for the United States. The only grandparents she knew were her paternal ones. Mary Lea was sixteen years old when her father died in 1981. The loss was very painful. She felt abandoned by her father, and she blamed her uncle Donald for usurping her father’s place and for causing his death. As a young woman, Mary Lea Trump studied literature at New York’s Columbia University, getting a Master’s degree. She embraced left-wing political views, the very opposite of her uncle’s, and she may be a lesbian, as she has the LGBTQ rainbow flag on her Twitter account and she is a single mother with only one daughter.

To deal with her painful emotional baggage, including her rage at her uncle Donald, Mary Lea Trump has written a damning book about her uncle, which is about to be published. Its title, Too Much and Never Enough, alludes to Michael D’Antonio’s biography of Trump, titled Never Enough. Mary Lea Trump’s publisher introduced and summed up her book as follows: “Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Freddy and Donald. A firsthand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding family events. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.”

In a preview of Mary Lea Trump’s book, written before having read it, Trump’s foremost biographer, Michael D’Antonio, described the tragic relationship between Freddy and his younger brother Donald: “Warm and easygoing, [Freddy] was, by all accounts, ill-suited to play the role of cutthroat real estate baron, which was what his father expected of him. Happy to step in, Donald did all he could to prove that he was the more deserving son. When Fred Jr. [Freddy] finally ceded first position among the heirs to the family business, he became an airline pilot. Donald mocked his profession. “What’s the difference between what you do,” he would ask, “and driving a bus?” After Fred Jr. died at age 42 from complications of alcoholism, Donald turned his death into an object lesson that reflected well on himself. Donald pointedly abstained from tobacco and alcohol because of his brother’s struggle, saying, “I watched him. And I learned from him.” But watching Freddy and learning from him hardly described all of Donald’s feelings about his elder brother. Trump had told his biographer Michael Kranish that he “regretted” having pressured his elder brother and castigated him. In his unconscious mind Donald feels that had killed his elder brother Freddy and taken his place. Perhaps one of the causes of his self-destructive behavior is unconscious self-punishment for this crime.

In 1999-2000, at the age of thirty-four to thirty-five, during a bitter legal feud with her uncle Donald and with his siblings, Mary Lee Trump changed the course of her life, moving from literature to clinical psychology. She began working with schizophrenic patients at Long Island’s Hillside Hospital. It was the very hospital where her paternal grandfather had been treated for his dementia and where she had visited him many times when she was in her late twenties and early thirties, while he was demented. Mary Lea  studied clinical psychology at Long Island’s Adelphi University, receiving a Ph.D. degree. As Kranish wrote, “she deepened her studies of [schizophrenia], contributed to a book on treating schizophrenia, [and] wrote a [doctoral] dissertation on stalkers.” Mary Lea Trump now lives with her only daughter in New York City. She harbors deep rage at her uncle Donald for his cruelties, for having displaced her father, and perhaps even for having, as she saw it, indirectly caused his alcoholism and his death.

In 2000 Mary Lea Trump, her brother Fred Trump III and the latter’s wife filed a lawsuit against Mary Lea’s uncle Donald Trump and against his three siblings over her grandfather’s inheritance. The deeper reason was her rage over her father’s alcoholism and death. In a modern version of the chastisement of King Ahab by the prophet Elijah, Mary Lea felt that her uncle Donald had murdered her father and also inherited him. Fred Trump III’s son, William Trump (born 1999), suffers from a rare neurological disorder, which costs hundred of thousands of dollars to treat. His grand-uncle Donald Trump, who has no empathy for the feelings of others, and who can only maintain his sense of self-worth by denigrating, defeating, or hurting others, cruelly canceled his medical insurance “in retaliation for the lawsuit.”

A British journalist recently wrote that “the bad blood” between Mary Lea Trump and her uncle Donald went back “at least 20 years to a lawsuit filed by her and her brother against their uncle and his siblings.” In fact it went back thirty-nine years, to the death in 1981 of Freddy, Mary Lea’s father, which she blamed on Donald, who had displaced Freddy in the family business and in their father’s affection. It may go back even fifty years to Mary Lea’s traumatic childhood in the dysfunctional family mansion in the heart of the borough of the New York borough of Queens. It was that family, as the subtitle of her book says, that produced the world’s most dangerous man.

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