Leonard Pitts: What ruined Donald Trump?

This combination photo shows the cover art for "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man", left, and a portrait of author Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. The book, written by the niece of President Donald J. Trump, was originally set for release on July 28, but will now arrive on July 14. (Simon & Schuster, left, and Peter Serling/Simon & Schuster via AP)

If the Trump family had never existed, someone would have invented them.

Indeed, they’d have been right at home in some over-the-top TV soap produced by Aaron Spelling. As depicted in “Too Much and Never Enough,” Mary L. Trump’s lacerating new portrait of her uncle Donald and the loveless clan that produced him, they are nearly operatic in their villainy.

Many stories from the book might suffice to paint the picture. There is, for instance, the Thanksgiving meal where grandma was choking and the Trumps glanced up, then kept eating. There's the part where they canceled health insurance on a great-grandson who suffered from seizures and required 24-hour nursing care. There's the time grandma justified Mary's exclusion from her grandfather's will by telling her that her late father was worth "a whole lot of nothing."

And then there’s the day her father died. Frederick “Freddy” Trump Jr. was the oldest son, the heir apparent to the Trump real-estate empire until his failure to prove himself a “killer” in business, his love for deep-sea fishing, his work as an airline pilot — a “bus driver in the sky,” sneered his old man — and his descent into alcohol and despair caused the father to move on to his second son, Donald.

Freddy's downward spiral ended on Sept. 26, 1981, when an ambulance took him to the hospital. "The doctors think Freddy probably won't make it," Donald is said to have told Freddy's ex-wife. She rushed to the family home to wait by the phone. Mary says Donald and his sister Elizabeth weren't there. They had gone to the movies.

Who does that? Who goes to the movies when their brother is on his deathbed?

Mary's book arrives as controversy swirls over reports that Russia paid a bounty for American deaths while the White House did nothing, Ivanka Trump is under fire for posing with a can of beans and ICE is training civilians to arrest undocumented immigrants. In other words, a typical week in the chaos that is the Trump presidency.

Meantime, the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic Trump once assured us would magically disappear is approaching 140,000. In response, the White House launches an attack on Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert and its most credible pandemic spokesperson, while Trump retweets a theory that "everyone is lying" about the virus to hurt him politically. It's from Chuck Woolery, whose claim to fame is that he used to host "Love Connection."

And again, seriously: Who does that?

The answer, of course, is no mystery to anyone who's been paying attention. Still, Mary Trump performs a service by bringing to that answer both the authority of a psychologist — she holds a Ph.D. — and the insight of an insider.

Donald Trump is what you get when childhood is a zero-sum competition for the approval of "a high-functioning sociopath" whose values are expressible in dollars and cents. He is what happens when a boy is allowed to bluff, brag and bully his way through life, no one ever tells him No and everyone acts as if his waste products are without odor. He is what's left when you subtract compassion, accountability, humility and the ability to laugh at yourself.

"Donald is not simply weak," writes his niece, "his ego is a fragile thing that must be bolstered every moment because he knows deep down that he is nothing of what he claims to be. He knows he has never been loved."

That ruined young Donald Trump.

It may yet ruin us all.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com