In August 2020, when the world was still in the desperate throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump was still the POTUS, I read and reviewed his niece, Mary Trump’s, book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I remember feeling vindicated as I read her words about her uncle, Donald Trump, whom I had correctly identified as a malignant narcissist or sociopath. Mary Trump wrote about what it was like to grow up in the Trump family, and how much she suffered, even though she was a member of a very wealthy, powerful, and celebrated clan. Unlike her uncle, Mary Trump is a basically normal person with an excellent intellect and a fully functioning id and superego. Mary’s first book was very interesting, but it was also terrifying. At the time I read it, I was genuinely frightened of what was going to happen if Trump won in 2020. Thankfully, that is not what came to pass, in spite of Trump’s relentless and nonsensical insistence that the presidential election was stolen from him.
I liked Mary Trump’s first book, so when she published her second book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal in August 2021, I was quick to download it. It’s taken me a year to finally read Mary Trump’s book, because it kept getting supplanted by other books. This morning, I finished it; it was a refreshingly short read, long on history and theories as to how the United States finds itself in the horribly polarized, angry, unhinged state it is in right now. Some of The Reckoning was uncomfortable to read, as Mary Trump unflinchingly writes of how Black people were treated before and during the Civil War era, as well as in the decades that followed it. She reminds her readers that slavery officially ended in 1865, but the persecution of Black people has continued since then, and only in very recent years have people of color had a chance to succeed in the country they helped build against their wills.
Mary Trump rightfully points out that American high schoolers are not taught enough about American history. What they are taught is the “white” perspective of American history, and now that people are insisting that more of the whole truth is taught, many white people are fighting to prevent it from happening. Trump explains that every white person is born with inherent privilege, simply for having white skin. However, she also mentions poor white people, who also suffer due to classism that also exists in our society, and the mistaken belief that sharing resources means having less for themselves. And she reminds readers that there are many people who, consciously or unconsciously, are doing all they can to maintain things the way they’ve always been. Her uncle, after all, won the highest election on his platform, “Make America Great Again”, having never before held public office. Lots of people in the United States are terrified of evolving into a nation that plays on more level ground for everyone. Below are a couple of key quotes from Mary Trump’s book that really summed up things nicely, in my view:
I remember when I was an English major at Longwood University (then Longwood College), my advisor gave me a hard time because I didn’t want to take a Shakespeare class. Instead, I was interested in the Women’s Literature and African American Literature courses that were being offered. I thought I would be more interested in the subject matter, having already been exposed to Shakespeare in high school and college. Good ol’ Dr. Stinson, who also used to tease me about all the music classes I insisted on taking for fun, sighed and signed me up for both classes. I took both courses during the same semester, and got a huge dose of studying lesser known books by women and people of color.
I didn’t do particularly well in either of the lit courses; because to be honest, I was kind of a lazy English major. I wanted to write things, not read and analyze literature. But I learned new things in spite of myself. Both courses exposed me to works written by Black authors, Black women’s writings, as well as slave narratives, which were bits of history that had been withheld from me in the years leading up to college. I now believe that high school students should read at least one slave narrative. The subject matter is tough, but it definitely inspires empathy and a broadened perspective from writers who should get a lot more recognition.
I mention my college experience and the attitude surrounding the importance of Shakespeare, because Mary Trump repeatedly explains that most Americans have a poor understanding of history. And today, in high schools across the country, there are legislators, school boards, and parents who are lambasting against “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, and trying desperately to suppress the truth about America’s past. I never thought I’d see the day when so many school systems were being pressured to ban certain books, and teachers, already overworked and underpaid, were being forced to catalog their libraries and submit them to scrutiny by third parties. I was heartened to see the outraged response to one Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel, Maus. I had not read that book myself, before it made the news. But because Maus was in the news, I decided to read the book. It was life changing. I now know that simply by writing a few blog posts about Maus, I helped inspire other people to read the book.
Mary Trump’s comments were unpleasant to read at times. She states outright that it’s “impossible” to be a white person who grew up in the United States and not be racist. She’s probably right, although I hesitate to use words like “all, every, or impossible”, because experience has shown me that there are almost always exceptions to every rule. And given the family that raised her and what her family spawned, I was caught between disbelief that she was making such a statement, and relief that she could acknowledge racism in a way that was surprisingly humble.
I also found this book a little bit depressing and hopeless. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge problems. That’s the first step in correcting them. It’s important to atone for wrongs committed. That’s the best way to promote healing. BUT… she makes the problem seem so entrenched and deep seated that fixing it seems extremely difficult. It won’t happen in my lifetime, although the more optimistic side of me acknowledges that in my 50 years, there’s already been some substantial progress made. I was born in an era when things were a lot more “black and white”, so to speak. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people casually toss around the “n word”, for instance, especially on television. But that progress is hindered, because of Trump’s uprising and the many emboldened racists who are desperately trying to stop progress, and resorting to cheating and violence to get what they want.
Anyway… The Reckoning offers a lot of food for thought. It’s a short book, and easy to read. Mary Trump’s writing is engaging and informative. Maybe some readers will be uncomfortable, or even offended, by her comments. Some people might have trouble believing that someone with her background can have true empathy for the downtrodden; she is a Trump, after all. But in spite of that, I found Mary Trump’s commentary steeped in truth, and eye-opening. I think this is a good book. But don’t come to it looking for dirt on Donald Trump. She wrote about him in her first book, and The Reckoning is about a different topic entirely. The Reckoning isn’t about Trump; it’s about what led us to Trump. And it offers an important warning to us all to open our eyes and our minds and vote accordingly… or else.
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