Mary Trump, the niece of Donald Trump, has said the United States is “in the horrible place we’re in” because members of the family, including the president, see illness as “a display of unforgivable weakness”, whether it is in themselves or others.
Speaking on NPR’s Fresh Air, Mary Trump, who recently published a tell-all book about her family, said: “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 being ill.”
She spoke as the US president was criticised by doctors for unnecessarily exposing his staff and his security detail to coronavirus by performing a drive-by to wave to supporters outside Walter Reed military medical center where he is being treated for the disease.
Mary Trump is suing the president and two of his siblings, alleging that they cheated her out of millions of dollars over several decades while squeezing her out of the family business.
On Sunday, Mary Trump said both the president and his father, Fred Trump, held the view that illness was “unacceptable”. “Which sounds incredibly cruel, but happens to be true,” she said.
She recounted the way this belief affected her grandmother, who had osteoporosis, saying that she would return from the hospital and need care and physical therapy, but that her grandfather, Fred Trump, “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.”
Watch: President Trump’s Niece Shares Family Secrets
Asked how the reaction to illness was expressed, Mary Trump said that the attitude was driven by the fact that her grandfather was “never sick. Ever.”
Donald Trump entered the 2020 pandemic already practising many of the measures that epidemiologists have been calling for – avoiding ill people, frequent handwashing and use of alcohol gels, and eschewing handshakes.
As far back at 1993, he told radio host Howard Stern that he suffered “germ phobia”, admitting it “could be a psychological problem”. A year ago, the president’s mindset was thrust into the open when he was filmed reacting strongly to coughing in the Oval Office. “I don’t like that. If you’re going to cough, please, leave the room,” Trump said, shaking his head.
According to Politico, during the 2016 election campaign it was his then-spokeswoman Hope Hicks – who possibly transmitted Covid-19 to Trump last week – who would be on standby to offer Trump squirts of hand sanitiser.
Fred Trump’s adherence to the philosophies of Norman Vincent Peale, an American minister and motivational speaker who was close to the Trump family and officiated at Trump’s first marriage, was taken 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,” Mary Trump said.
Friedrich Trump, Mary Trump’s great grandfather and the president’s grandfather, was killed by Spanish influenza in the 1918 pandemic, something Mary Trump said her uncle “seems to have forgotten”.
Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes