Mary Trump Says Trump Family Saw Illness As 'Unforgivable Weakness'

Oct 4, 2020
Originally published on October 5, 2020 11:20 am

Attitude about illness is looming large over the president's coronavirus treatment. White House physician Sean Conley said on Sunday that he didn't initially disclose that the president was given oxygen on Friday, despite multiple questions about it from reporters, because he was trying to "reflect the upbeat attitude" of the president.

Trump's estranged niece, Mary Trump, says members of the Trump family have viewed illness as "a display of unforgivable weakness."

Mary Trump — who is suing the family for money and recently wrote Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man — told NPR's Michel Martin that illness was seen as "unacceptable" by Donald Trump and his father, Fred Trump. "Which sounds incredibly cruel, but happens to be true."

"That's why [the U.S. is] in the horrible place we're in, because he cannot admit to the weakness of being ill or of other people being ill," Mary Trump says. There have been more than 7 million cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 200,000 people have died.

Mary Trump's father, Fred Trump Jr., was an alcoholic. "In my family [it] was treated like a moral failing," she says.

In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Mary Trump reflected on her family's history of illness and their attitude about being sick.


Interview Highlights

On how the reaction to illness was expressed in her family

First of all, what's fascinating is I had no idea that my great-grandfather had died during the 1918 flu pandemic from the flu until I read about it somewhere a couple of years ago. And Donald also seems to have forgotten about that, which is incredible, considering it's a pretty fascinating historical detail in the family.

But, you know, it depended on who it was. And it was also driven by the fact that my grandfather was never sick. Ever. Until in the late '80s, he had a tumor removed, but then he was completely fine. And then many years later when he was suffering from Alzheimer's, he had a hip replacement but wasn't really aware of much of what was going on.

So between that and my grandfather's adherence to Norman Vincent Peale's power of positive thinking, which he took to such an extreme level that it was toxic because it left no room for expressions of what he considered negativity of any kind, you know, sadness, despair, being physically ill.

So my grandmother, with her osteoporosis, would come home from the hospital and need more care and physical therapy. And my grandfather was unable to tolerate it. You know, he'd be in the room with her. And as soon as she started showing that she was in physical pain, he would say "everything's great, right. Everything's great." And he'd leave the room.

With my dad, it was worse, as you can imagine, because the alcoholism was considered his fault.

On whether she has heard anything through her family about Trump's care

I have not and unfortunately, it seems like we can't exactly rely upon the information we're getting directly from the medical team at Walter Reed, which is unfortunate because we really do need as much accurate information as possible in a case like this.

: 10/05/20

A previous version of the Web story misidentified the White House physician. Sean Conley is his name, not Connelly.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to go now to a question prompted by the White House medical team's public dissembling of the president's health status. As we heard earlier, White House physician Sean Conley said today he didn't initially disclose that the president was given oxygen on Friday despite multiple questions about it from reporters because he was, quote, "trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president and his course of illness has had" - end quote.

We wanted to explore that notion a bit further about the president's attitude, not just about the coronavirus, but about illness in general and what that could mean for his approach to the health crisis that the world is confronting. So we called Mary Trump for this, the president's niece and author of "Too Much And Never Enough: How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man." Needless to say, she has never treated the president, but I do want to point out that Mary Trump holds a doctorate in psychology. And she is with us now.

Mary Trump, thanks so much for talking to us.

MARY TRUMP: Oh, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So I - of course, I want to add my voice to others who wish your uncle and others in his circle a path to recovery. Have you heard anything through your family about how the president's doing?

TRUMP: I have not. And unfortunately, it seems like we can't exactly rely upon the information we're getting directly from the medical team at Walter Reed, which is unfortunate because we really do need as much accurate information as possible in a case like this.

MARTIN: And I can tell you that the reason we called you is that your book is in part about your family's attitude about money, but it is also about the family's attitudes about health and well-being. I mean, you go into great detail about the way your uncle, the president, was influenced by his father, Fred. How would you describe their overall attitude about illness and being sick?

TRUMP: It was unacceptable and a display of unforgivable weakness - which sounds incredible and cruel but happens to be true. And when I say illness, I mean both physical illness, over which, you know, nobody has any control, necessarily, but also - so in the case of my grandmother, who had osteoporosis, that was not really tolerated or dealt with in any direct way. And it also had to do with things like addictions. And my dad was an alcoholic, and in my family, it was treated like a moral failing.

MARTIN: How was the reaction to illness expressed? Was it expressed with just being ignored, acting as if it didn't happen? Was it expressed with criticism for the time spent in recovery? And I just want to point out, you know, your great-grandfather, Frederick Trump, died in 1918. The cause of death was reportedly listed as pneumonia, but now I understand it's believed that he was a victim of what would come to be known as the Spanish flu.

And you also go into some other traumatic health crises experienced by your family, as many families do. So how was illness dealt with? Was it basically ignored? were people supposed to ignore - how was it dealt with, in your view?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, what's fascinating is I had no idea that my great-grandfather had died during the 1918 flu pandemic from the flu until I read about it somewhere a couple of years ago. And Donald also seems to have forgotten about that, which is incredible considering it's a pretty fascinating historical detail in the family. But, you know, it depended on who it was.

And it was also driven by the fact that my grandfather was never sick - ever - until in the late '80s, he had a tumor removed. But then he was completely fine. And then, many years later, when he was suffering from Alzheimer's, he had a hip replacement but wasn't really aware of much of what was going on.

So between that and my grandfather's adherence to Norman Vincent Peale's "Power Of Positive Thinking" (ph), which he took to such an extreme level that it was toxic because it left no room for expressions of what he considered negativity of any kind - you know, sadness, despair, being physically ill.

So my grandmother with her osteoporosis would come home from the hospital and need more care and physical therapy. And my grandfather was unable to tolerate it. You know, he'd be in the room with her, and as soon as she started, you know, showing that she was in physical pain, he would say, everything's great, right? Everything's great. And he'd leave the room. With my dad, it was worse, if you can imagine, because the alcoholism was considered his fault.

MARTIN: So just - apologies that we're so brief here, but do you think any of this has influenced the president's response to the pandemic - and to his own illness, for that matter?

TRUMP: Of course. And that's why we're in the horrible place we're in - because he cannot admit to the weakness of being ill or of other people's being ill.

MARTIN: That was Mary Trump, President Trump's niece and author of "Too Much And Never Enough."

Mary Trump, thank you for your insights here. And I do hope we'll speak again.

TRUMP: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.