Barack Obama says Donald Trump isn't solving the country's most pressing problems — and the former president has a theory as to why

By Maura Hohman and Tierney McAfee
November 20, 2018 03:53 PM
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President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama
| Credit: Steve Pope/Getty; Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty

Barack Obama says Donald Trump isn’t solving the country’s most pressing problems — and the former president has a theory as to why.

During a speech at the Obama Foundation’s second annual summit in Chicago on Monday, Obama argued that progress is hindered in the U.S. because “we are still confused, blind, shrouded with hate, anger, racism, mommy issues,” according to NBC News. In response, the crowd laughed and Obama continued, “We are fraught with stuff, and so if that is the case, then the single most important thing we have to invest in is … people. We have got to get people to figure out how they work together in a cooperative, thoughtful, constructive way.”

Now that the midterms are over, Obama has apparently returned to his strategy of refusing to refer to the current commander in chief by name — so while there was no mention of him or his mother, Mary Trump, many interpreted the remarks as a jab at Trump.

According to The New Yorker, Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was a Sottish immigrant who moved to the U.S. in the early 1930s in the wake of WWI. Shortly after that, she met Frederick Christ Trump, whom she married in 1936. They settled in Jamaica, Queens, where, with the help of their Scottish nanny, they raised five children. Trump’s mother died in 2000.

Donald and Mary Trump
| Credit: Davidoff Studios/Getty Images

In a recent Politico article examining Trump’s relationship with his mother through the lens of the attachment theory, author and journalist Peter Lovenheim — who wrote a book on the popular psychology theory — argues that Trump’s apparent failure to bond with his mother may have played a direct role in his tumultuous personal and professional life, creating what Obama seems to view as Trump’s “mommy issues.”

The article, titled “Donald Trump’s Mommy Issues”, notes that Trump’s mother had a sustained, life-threatening illness when he was a toddler. With his mother incapacitated due to illness and his father, Fred, never home because he was focused on building his real estate empire, the author posits that Trump never successfully bonded with a primary caregiver as a child.

The author goes on to explain that there are two common psychological outcomes for this: the individual either develops “attachment anxiety — leading them as adults to crave intimacy but have difficulty trusting others and constantly seeking reassurance — or they have attachment avoidance, where as adults they generally distrust others and convince themselves they don’t need close relationships.”

The author categorizes Trump as avoidant, pointing to what he describes as Trump’s powerful sense of self-reliance and inability to acknowledge self-doubt; his frequent boasting about his sexual encounters; and the fact that he has multiple marriages under his belt and very few close friends — not to mention, his headline-making unstable relationships with White House staff, Cabinet members and congressional leaders of both parties.

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The author also cites Trump’s many flattering comments through the years about his mother (he’s called her “fantastic” and “tremendous”, “very warm” and “very loving” — but a lack of early childhood anecdotes that support these sentiments, noting that it’s a tendency of adults with avoidant attachment to idolize their parents without evidence.

Another Politico article describes Trump as giving his mother “afterthought status”, pointing to the fact that Trump has always proudly displayed a photo of his father on his desk at Trump Tower, while a photo of his mother, in the words of a former staffer, was “noticeably absent.”

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According to sources close to the president, those words could be used to describe her presence — or lack thereof — throughout Trump’s life as well.

One childhood friend told Politico, “We rarely saw Mrs. Trump,” while another said, “When I would play with Donald, his father would be around and watch him play. His mom didn’t interact in that way.”

A friend and former close business associate from Trump’s later years said the dynamic never changed between Trump and his mother.

“Donald was in awe of his father,” the source said, “and very detached from his mother.”