When Donald Trump moved into the Oval Office in January, he placed on the table behind the Resolute Desk a single family photo—of Fred Trump, his father. Sometime in the spring, White House communications director Hope Hicks told me recently, the president added one of his mother, Mary Trump. When, exactly, and why, Hicks couldn’t or wouldn’t say. This scenario, as uneven as it may seem, was a continuation of the setup in Trump’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, where a photo of his father always was proudly, prominently situated on his desk—and a photo of his mother, in the words of a former staffer, was “noticeably absent.” It can be risky to read too much into the placement of family pictures—except with Trump, it confirms a disparity that has been evident for decades: the looming, constant presence of his father, and the afterthought status of his mother.
For so long, Donald Trump has talked often about the profound influence of Fred Trump. “That’s why I’m so screwed up, because I had a father that pushed me pretty hard,” he wrote in his 2007 book, Think Big. Mary Trump, by contrast, has been more of a ghost in his voluminous public record, a cardboard cutout of a character. She was, we have been told, an acquiescent housewife, a spouse who didn’t hassle her dour, driven husband, a mother who relished pomp and planted the seeds of her second son’s acumen for showmanship and promotion. Judging by the biographical material, created largely by an aggressively unreliable narrator and those in his employ, the 45th president of the United States would seem to be the product of one domineering parent. But Trump’s relationship with his mother, while less explored, is just as consequential.
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