President Donald Trump's father set in motion the emotional pathologies that may ultimately destroy American democracy, according to Ronald Reagan's daughter.
Patti Davis said her father, like any other powerful man, remained a son who longed for his father's approval and lessons in manhood, and she describes in a new column for The Daily Beast how the presidents she's known personally were shaped by their paternal relationships.
"My father was the son of an alcoholic, whose drinking binges often left the family without money to pay bills," Davis wrote. "I have long felt that to understand Ronald Reagan, you have to understand that everything he was and did bounced off the fact that he was the child of an alcoholic. When he became a successful actor, he hired his father to answer his fan mail, wanting to give his father something to occupy himself with so that hopefully he wouldn’t drink. It worked for a while, until it didn’t."
Fred Trump was a different type of father, as described by family member Mary Trump in her new memoir, and Davis said he twisted the future president in his own ghastly image.
"Donald Trump’s father was a study in cruelty and tyranny, producing a son who, in order to get paternal approval, or even be noticed, had to be at least as cruel," Davis wrote.
"Fred Trump still pulls on his son from beyond the grave, still hovers over him, whispering to him that emotions and empathy are shameful signs of weakness," she added. "None of us should underestimate the force of that relationship. Fred Trump may be gone, but his son still feels the sting of his rebuke, is still roiled by a desperate desire to have his father like him more than anyone else. He is still the kid at the dinner table trying to get daddy to like him best."
That psychodrama carries enormous risk to Americans and their democratic institutions.
"If our democracy goes down in flames, and there is no guarantee that it won’t, it will be at the hands of a boy who learned early on to be the meanest kid in the neighborhood, to pull the wings off every angel," Davis wrote. "Boys like that grow up, but they don’t grow out of the cruelty that became their lifeblood. They just take their skills to a bigger neighborhood, sometimes a country."