We’ve seen this grift before. Armed with nothing but the Trump family name and a gross sense of entitlement, the con artist plies a ready public with myths, misdirection and outright lies. You’ve got problems — big ones — but don’t worry, ’cause there’s a solution. There’s only one place you can get it, though. “I alone can fix it,” the con artist says, and the crowd, addled by a heady mix of fear, loathing and latent insecurity, goes wild. And opens its wallets.
Donald Trump used this tactic to sell an unwitting public on everything from steaks to vodka to reality television; then it became his presidential campaign strategy. But now he’s gone, and there’s a new grifter in town. This one is named Trump, too. And she’s got a book to sell.
Until recently, Mary Trump was known mainly for being the black sheep of the Trump family and a thorn in the side of its presidential patriarch. She was “the good Trump”; a lesbian with a PhD who was openly critical of Donald even as the rest of the family backed his campaign. It was from her that the New York Times got the tax documents that formed the backbone of its 2019 bombshell reporting on Donald’s finances, which showed that the now-president had paid just $750 in federal income tax the year he was elected to office. She was the author of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, the tell-all book about her uncle that his lawyers famously (and unsuccessfully) tried to quash. She was the one who went on national TV and called the president a sociopath. If the Trump family was a well-guarded mob, Mary was the closest thing the political Left had to an informant from the inside.
Mary’s unique position as the sole dissident member of the Trump clan was always her biggest selling point, and that remains true with the publication of The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal. The author claims to both loathe her family and shun the association, even telling strangers who ask about her last name that she’s not related — “I found it unthinkable that anyone should find out who I was.”
But she claims, too, to understand Donald in particular in the way only a family member could. She is the perfect, no, only person who can spearhead her titular Reckoning. (She never actually says “I alone can fix it,” but she doesn’t have to; the sentiment oozes from every page.) The book positions itself as a sort of literary therapy session: together we’ll unravel our national trauma, with Mary as our spiritual guide.
But this is where things get tricky — and decidedly, familiarly Trumpian. To sell us on the necessity of this book, Trump must first sell us (or at least, the 50% of Americans who didn’t vote for her uncle) on the notion that we are still capital-T-traumatised — until or unless we read it:
“I’m going to talk about the trail of impunity, silence, and complicity that winds its way through every generation of our history, from the economic, social, and moral justifications for slavery and Native American genocide, through the failures of Reconstruction, the horrific legal, quasi-legal, and extralegal quagmire in which Jim Crow expanded alongside the cultural expectations and disappearing of oral history that followed both world wars and the 1918 pandemic.”
This is a promise made in the book’s introduction. But this exhaustive and profound exploration of our country’s legacy of failure never materialises: it’s the literary equivalent of one of those rambling, incoherent campaign promises that Donald Trump made and then barely even tried, in the most half-assed way, to keep. In practice, Mary Trump’s deep dive into the multi-generational trail of impunity, silence, and complicity that touches every part of American life lasts a scant 27 pages and reads like it was cobbled together from the summary portion of various Wikipedia entries.
To be clear, there is a book to be written about the face of populism throughout American history, and how it evolved over two and a half centuries to culminate in the weird, sad, dangerous, single-term presidency of one Donald Trump. There’s also a book to be written that draws a through line from the devastation of the Civil War through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the clarion call of “Black lives matter!” that set our nation literally and figuratively aflame during the summer of 2020.
But this is not that book. Indeed, this is a collection of barely literate, half-baked, underdeveloped ideas that never would have been given the imprimatur of a publisher if not for the name on the cover.
The immense Trumpiness of this endeavour would seem to be at odds with the stated purpose of The Reckoning, but in truth this is basically Mary Trump’s entire brand. For someone who professes to be repulsed by her association with the 45th President, she seems to know she’d be nothing without it. Her business is called the Trump Life Coaching Group. Her name is the first thing that appears on the book cover, in just slightly smaller font than the title.
Even her access to those bombshell tax documents stemmed from a legal dispute over her grandfather’s will — in which Fred Trump, Sr. apparently intentionally cut Mary and her brother off from the family’s wealth. (The details of both that lawsuit and another filed by Mary against Donald in 2020 leave little doubt that the Trump family is full of enormous jerks, but might also prompt the discerning reader to take Mary’s “sociopath” claims with a grain of salt.) There are multiple possible ways to interpret this information — some more flattering to Mary, and some less so. Can she still be praised for her bravery in rejecting the Trump family if they, in fact, rejected her first?
Either way, it’s always been the spectacle of a Trump family fallout — rather than the substance of Mary’s commentary — that has made her a figure of interest. We just want to watch something like HBO’s Succession playing out in real life. And there lies a useful comparison: some of the characters on Succession are better people than others, but only in the sense that some of them are not quite completely evil. There is no such thing as a “good” person in the Roy family; there is only the least bad.
The Reckoning ultimately fails to make the case for its own existence. Trump can insist (and she does, repeatedly) that America’s return to relative normality since the election of Joe Biden is nothing but a farce, an illusion, a way of distracting ourselves from the national trauma buried bone-deep inside us and the ever-present threat of fascism lurking just outside the door. But this is just the classic patter of the snake-oil salesman: a quest to persuade people that they’re secretly sick so she can sell them the cure.
And while this sort of shallow therapising about the brokenness of America is merely grating under ordinary circumstances, the idea that we should indulge in it now — as Kabul falls to the Taliban; as Afghan citizens risk their lives in the hope of escaping to the U.S. before it’s too late; as we see horrifying reminder after horrifying reminder of what life under oppressive authoritarianism actually looks like — is truly obscene. The events of this week throw the grasping solipsism of books like this, and indeed the entire woke self-help industrial complex, into particularly sharp relief.
But the truth is, even if the thesis of The Reckoning were sound, it wouldn’t matter. If America was in pain — if we needed a moral authority to lead us back into the light — Mary Trump is the last person we’d want to guide us forward. Indeed, the best possible sign of our nation’s healing would be for us to collectively let go, and for the 45th president and all his family members to fade out of the public consciousness and into irrelevance.
Mary Trump’s first book, released on the eve of the 2020 election, sold like wildfire right out of the gate. But this one almost certainly will not, and that’s not because it’s not good (although it isn’t), or because it’s a shameless cash grab (although it is), but because she’s outlived her usefulness to the Left. The enthusiasm for Trump’s wayward niece was all about Trump himself — like dancing with your ex-boyfriend’s nebbish-y nemesis, not because you like the nemesis, but because you like how angry it’ll make your ex to see you canoodling.
But the ex is gone now, and we’re pretty much over him, even as Mary Trump keeps shouting from behind us that we’re traumatised and that she alone can lead us out of the dark. This book was meant for a moment that is already past — that started coming to its messy end as soon as the election results were in.
And while there may be little love lost between Mary Trump and her disgruntled uncle, here they form an unwitting alliance: each, in their own way, rejects the results and implications of the 2020 election. Both refuse to admit that the people have spoken, that the country has moved on, and that despite the challenges of the past four years, our democracy ultimately worked as intended. She demands a reckoning. He demands a recount. It is the Trumps, not America, that can’t let go.