Something is fishy about Donald Trump. After all that has been said these last months, you might roll your eyes or sigh in exhaustion. But hear my case. I may have something fresh. On this post-Mother's Day week, I wanted to talk about Donald Trump and his mother, and what it means for the presidential election.
I have always been cautious of grown men, past midlife and later, still deeply involved with their mothers, especially when they have passed away. The slightest opportunity, the intimacy around a drink, the pregnant pause between sentences in an office meeting, a direct eye contact, becomes an invitation to open wide the sluice of remembrance, as if the pressure to hold it back is unbearable. These confessional moments run the whole gamut of emotions: regrets, anger, melancholy, sorrow, all mixing very well with watery eyes. I know a dozen well-established aging authors whose writing in nuanced degrees circles their mothers, à la Proust, as if the process constitutes a genuine ongoing dialogue with the departed mother. The lesson is that mothers are mightily important to shape the future well-being of their sons . . .
Donald Trump sets a high mark here. He never talks about his mother, never mentions her in his speeches. In fact, Mrs. Trump senior seems shrouded in secrecy. On Mother's Day, true to form, Mr. Trump denied his mother a nudge of recognition. He posted a generic picture of tulips on Twitter wishing all the mothers "out there" a happy time with family. Good, you may add: "Unlike the whiny authors, Donald is private. A strong man. He's been busy building a real estate empire and isn't interested in indulging in the crippling business of self-reflection, remorse, melancholia, and the like." Fair enough. But does this silence towards his own mother make sense given Donald Trump's predilection for over-exposing himself around the clock? When he has the opportunity, he never fails to acknowledge his father, Fred, and his defunct brother, Fred junior, and to thank his direct family, wife and children, who always surround him. His generosity has no limit in recognizing just about anyone who has helped him. So what to make about the silence prevailing over his mother?
Googling her name informs us that there is not much to be said about Mary Ann MacLeod, Mr. Trump's mother. From Irish descent, she was known to be a philanthropist, active around Queens and Jamaica, NY, and of limited education, not past 8th grade. Her achievements compare to those of her family and offspring seem subpar. Though she could well have been the self-sacrificing matriarch, holding the fort to allow her children and husband to pursue their meteoric careers. Of course, it's true that what constitutes a good mother has nothing to do with social achievements and education. Poor, uneducated mothers are as capable of fostering healthy children, making them feel special, heard and loved, as successful and educated ones. Exceptions exist obviously, and it could be argued that most male authors become so because of the deficient nature of the relationship with their mother. Writing provides the excuse to revisit, recast, a lost past to make better sense of present wounds that still cripple the present.
Donald Trump is also an author but of the business kind. This is where things get really strange. In the face of not knowing what type of relationship he had with his mother, we cannot accuse him of suffering from conflicting nostalgia and a sharp yearning to recapture the lost impression of a pure form of love. But could we claim that his silence towards his mother reveals the flip side of a difference type of conversation? A sort of repressed, unconscious, dialogue, say, of the psycho-emotive kind. A big daring statement, but I have never heard someone having so much who, yet, feels the urge to constantly prove how much he has achieved. His wealth and successes seem to have no impact on subduing this voice. No matter the magnitude, he has to justify how important he is. He seems to walk around thinking or feeling as if no one takes him seriously or acknowledges his wealth or power. Or else he must feel like a nobody at heart. His surreal speeches have the tone of a cringe-worthy over-compensation, for a lack of something. And, to reinforce his lacking conviction, he surrounds himself with the most beautiful women. His lifestyle is regal. His towers, casinos, and houses palatial. Even his steaks are the most succulent . . . Mr. Trump is over the top to the point of coming across as tragic, verging on inciting pity.
When you teach writing, the first rule is to show and not tell. It is a factor of story credibility. Donald Trump is all about telling. From his own display, one must consider what a psychological thermometer would reveal? Did his mother ignore him? Was she unable to understand his needs, his smartness? Did she make him feel invisible, despite her best intentions? Perhaps Mr. Trump felt like he was not getting what he needed from her? Given his personality, perhaps his demands were just too vast to satisfy any appetite? Could it be that he simply did not like her? Or she lacked too many traits he cherished, grandeur, risk-taking, and so on? Perhaps a tough childhood left her aloof and distant, incapable of giving love? . . . Regardless of the rightness of this specious equation, the disconnect between his standing on earth and his words is so vast that Mr. Trump comes across as if he is engaged in a daily struggle with his own imaginary demons, where his self-reassuring statements become weapons to fight them off. What is the nature of these demons? I have done enough speculating and leave the deductions to you. But the absence of any mention of his mother, coupled with his well-known, explicit, and frequent misogynistic outburst, strike a suspicious note.
Which leads me to the most nagging question: why does he want to become president? For this makes no logical sense. The practicality of business people makes lousy politicians. Listening and watching him on TV is an assault on reason. Why this self-proclaimed billionaire would be so bothered by the things he denounces: trade deficit, trade treaties, immigration, abortion, the Chinese, Mexicans, and so on, is a mystery. He wants to retain companies in America but is building towers all over the world, and perhaps getting cheaper Chinese steel than that the US and EU's for his towers, and probably benefiting from cheap labor in the process. He wants to build a wall in the south, to deport 11 million illegal people, while the more people who live in this country, the more accommodations, casinos, golf courses, restaurants, will be needed to accommodate their needs. Where is the rationale? Is he planning on building accommodations for them in Mexico?
To add strangeness to this puzzling candidacy, Donald Trump talks like a reactionary, someone who sees in the past the valuable lessons for a brighter future. He sounds like an outcast who lives on the fringe of society and who has lost much and who wants to fight for a better life, putting himself first in line. Demonizing the present is a powerful tool to unify the disenfranchised. While Warren Buffett preaches the opposite, "Best time for Babies to be alive is now," Mr. Trump, in true reactionary form, believes the past to be better, "Making America Great Again." The "Again" implies that America was great at some point in its history. When was that time exactly? A conundrum given the profusion of rights and available technology.
So what is so wrong with Trump's present when he has succeeded in getting so much? No one threatens him to take his wealth away. Does he really care about the plights of the have-nots, when all he talks about is how important, rich and smart he is? So is he a demagogue sandman? Someone selling values to a desperate population while he himself does not believe in them just to get power? A daring shrink would tell him flat out that he is suffering from an inferiority complex, and no matter how much he accumulates, successes, trophies, assets, and exploits, nothing will ever satisfy him. What is his ego still missing? What is the part of him that still needs to be fulfilled in order to feel complete? Will becoming president be enough? If he gets to the White House, we will find out.
The Republican base feels confident he will. And he may get there for there is a quality truly amazing about Donald Trump. His immunity to the mythology of Man. Despite life reversals: bankruptcies, divorce, family deaths, fierce business competition and political opposition, Donald Trump has prevailed. No comeuppance for him, to the dissatisfaction of his detractors. He defies gravity, the universe. All Greek and Roman gods, and their heroes, put in motion the wheel of their own demise. Excessive pride or arrogance resulted sooner or later in the hero suffering the consequences of his own self-inflicted wounds, often enduring crushing humiliation. Mr. Trump has been immune to it. Or is he? Perhaps it has not happened yet. What if he had some sort of unconscious desire to climb to the highest level of power only to use that power to bully the world, and unleash his own comeuppance, taking down the entire country with him, in the process? Given the type of grandiosity he projects, a comeuppance of this magnitude would be grandly destructive. If you believe in the Wheel of Fortune, there are honest reasons to be afraid of him becoming our next president.
Talking about fate and fortune, the greatest history of the Western cannon is the story of Oedipus. Let's leave aside the irritating Freudian version where a son has sexual desires for his mother. The ending of Oedipus strips away this fictional psychoanalytical spin and endows it with the transcendental claims it deserves. Oedipus understands the depth of his own thirst and drives for power only after he loses his sight. He himself punctures his eyes after realizing that he was guilty of killing his father and marrying his mother. It is this blindness that forces him to look within himself and accept the nature of his blind actions. Modern novelists are minor versions of Oedipus. They do not wonder whether they should marry their mothers or kill their fathers, though some may, but they reflect on the nature and drives of their lives. How life works; why they are in the circumstances they are in, feeling the way they feel, and through the process they learn a thing or two about themselves, which loosens the noose around their neck. They change course, behavior. Though we never talk about Jocasta's pain, we know that Oedipus killed his father because his father humiliated him. And the crushing humiliation set fate in motion. Oedipus's downfall had nothing to do with his mother. So perhaps Mr. Trump's voracious quest for power has nothing to do with his mother, but everything to do with a humiliating father? The only way we are going to find out is when he confronts his own downfall, after having brought the US to its knees. A word of advice: let's not tempt fate to find out.