book reviews, narcissists, politicians, politics

A review of I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House, by Stephanie Grisham…

When Bill isn’t home, our dogs– usually Arran– often wake me up in the middle of the night. After they have their midnight pee or poo break, they come back in and go back to bed. I, then, spend another hour or so, trying to get back to sleep. That’s what happened to me in the wee hours of this morning, when Arran got me up TWICE— once to pee, and once to poo, and both times, demanded a cookie reward for doing his business. Noyzi, on the other hand, didn’t bark at me through the bedroom door early this morning, as he has the past two mornings, nor did he want to join Arran on his nocturnal potty runs.

It’s because of Arran’s second potty break that I finally finished Stephanie Grisham’s 2021 book, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House. While it wasn’t a particularly difficult book to read, it did take me some time to plow through, mainly because I’m not capable of reading as fast as I once was. Nowadays, if I’m reading in bed, I fall asleep. I have to be careful, too, because I usually read on an iPad. I don’t want to get hit in the nose or teeth, or roll over on the iPad and break it. It also took time because I happened to be reading it while we were on vacation, and I was busy doing other things… like watching Netflix and hanging out with Bill.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Stephanie Grisham’s book. I remember reading her comments defending the Trumps when Donald Trump was 45. Many of my regular readers know I despise Donald Trump, and I’d like to forget about him. Still, I have found myself drawn to books written by people who worked for him at the White House (there is no working with him— the man is a raging narcissist and thinks he is the most important person alive). I did read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. I figured I might as well give Stephanie Grisham’s book a chance.

So now I’ve read it… and I have to say, for the most part, it wasn’t terrible.

Ambitious Stephanie Grisham had always dreamt of being the White House Press Secretary. In 2016, when Trump was running for president, she was a “junior press wrangler”. By 2020, she had worked for both Donald Trump, and his wife, Melania. For a time she simultaneously worked for BOTH Trumps, when Trump hired her to be the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, and Melania Trump’s Communications Director. Grisham was an extremely rare high profile Trump employee, in that she was there for almost the entire time Trump was in office. She finally quit on January 6, 2021, in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, as pro Trump rioters breached one of our country’s most beautiful and recognizable government buildings in an attempt to prevent the 2020 presidential election results from being certified.

Having read Grisham’s book, and about all of the frustrations and mistreatment she no doubt faced, particularly at the hands of some of her male co-workers, I’m surprised it took her so long to finally throw in the towel. But Grisham has an explanation. She, like so many of us, was “trained” to take abuse from people, and she got unusually good at doing that. And she also claims that she’s a Republican and believed in what Trump was doing. She writes that he had some good policies, although she doesn’t really spell out which specific policies she thought were so good.

This book isn’t really about Donald Trump’s policies, though. It’s about what it was like to work for the Trumps. Grisham writes about what it was like to fly on Air Force One, which took the Trumps and their entourage on exotic foreign trips– at one point, meeting the British Royal Family, at another, visiting four countries in Africa. Much of what Grisham writes seems to be more about working for Melania, which I got the impression she did longer than working for Trump himself.

There were a few instances in the book in which Grisham seemed to want to be friends with Melania, but Melania apparently wasn’t interested. For instance, one day Melania seemed kind of depressed. Grisham invited her to take a walk on the beach, as if they were friends. Melania wanted to know if there would be photographers there. Grisham then found herself trying to arrange an impromptu photo shoot with real photographers. Throughout the book, Grisham mentions how beautiful and stylish Melania is, as if she really admires her, in spite of Melania’s hot and cold treatment of her and eventually being completely discarded by the former First Lady when the Trump era ended.

Incidentally, Grisham mentions Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book on more than one occasion. I get the sense there’s no love lost between those two. However, I also get the sense that both of them fancied themselves “close friends” of Melania’s. It’s almost as if they’re jealous of each other (Wolkoff also mentions Grisham in her book). Wolkoff eventually realizes that Melania is no friend to anyone. Grisham, conversely, seems to hold out hope that she and Melania could one day be besties or something. Spoiler alert– it ain’t happening. Melania is into herself, and maybe her son, Barron. That’s about it.

I’m being honest when I write that Grisham comes off as a likable person to me, probably because she uses a lot of profanity. I mean… she uses a LOT of cuss words, including the “f” word. As much as I like cussing myself, that was one aspect of her writing that I noticed and thought detracted a bit from her manuscript, especially given that she’s a journalist. On the other hand, she writes as if she’s having a conversation, which I also tend to do. And if cursing is something she does in her natural voice, maybe it IS appropriate, in terms of her authentic voice. I think if I had to work for either of the Trumps to make a living, I would cuss a lot too. And I would probably drink a lot more… which would not be a good thing. However, while the profanity makes Grisham seem more relatable to me, it also makes her seem less polished and professional. I guess that makes sense in Trump’s White House, given his penchant for “pussy grabbing”.

Grisham offers some details about some of the Trumps’ most notorious moments in the press, as well as Jared and Ivanka, whom she collectively refers to as Javanka. Like Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, she refers to Ivanka alone as “the princess”. Barron gets one mention at the end of the book, and she paints him in a good light. The other Trump kids are described as entitled brats, for the most part– but especially Ivanka. Grisham doesn’t seem impressed with Jared Kushner, either.

Toward the end of Grisham’s book, she writes about an abusive romantic relationship she was involved in with another Trump staffer. She doesn’t identify the man, but she does describe him, and her description of him certainly paints the picture of a classic abuser. This was a man she’d lived with, and even adopted a dog with, and at the end of their relationship, he turned out to be a total dick. One night, she got very upset and hung out with some friends. Another friend brought over some wine and encouraged Grisham to take an Ambien, which she did. It promptly knocked her out cold. Next thing she knew, she was being asked if she was okay by two guys in her bedroom. They were from the Secret Service. Her friend got worried and called the White House. They got the idea that she was suicidal.

At the same time she was reeling from her breakup, Grisham was also dealing with Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s many former Chiefs of Staff. Meadows made Grisham’s life hellish, and basically fired her from working with Trump. Although Grisham had supposedly wanted to keep the Ambien incident quiet, word got out, which is probably why she addresses it in her book. Meadows also got wind of it and was apparently quite the bastard about it, and a lot of other things. Make no mistake about it; Grisham and Mark Meadows are definitely not on good terms.

As she sums up her time fulfilling her ambitions of being the White House Press Secretary, among other things, Grisham discloses her own personal epiphany. She realizes that she has been well-trained to tolerate abuse, especially from men. She says she was abused by her White House boyfriend, by Mark Meadows, and even by Trump. She wrote that she’d gotten used to men being mean to her, calling her names, and treating her like a doormat. I must say, I was a little surprised that she hadn’t seen Trump as an abuser ages ago, especially since she’s a journalist. One of the main reasons why I despise Trump so much is because it’s so OBVIOUS to me that he’s abusive. It was very clear that Trump was an abuser, even in the 1980s, which is when I first heard of Trump.

I remember, in 2016, reading an article about the 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III. Within that article, there was an excerpt from the book about an incident that occurred between Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana. It basically described Trump as having raped his first wife. I was horrified, and decided to read and review the book for myself, which I did, back in April 2017. You can find my repost here. Below is a screenshot of the passage in the article from The New Yorker that I read about Trump’s little domestic violence episode. This attack is also described in Hurt’s book.

Name calling… yet another one of Trump’s least attractive qualities that is constantly on display. I think the fact that he blatantly abuses women should have disqualified Trump from running. He should have been arrested, instead.

Stephanie Grisham seems to like Melania, even though Melania hasn’t said a word to her since the day Grisham quit her job. She does state that both Donald and Melania basically use people and discard them when they are no longer useful. In that sense, they’re both narcissists. However, Melania apparently comes off as a more “human” and less extreme version of a narcissist. Melania is probably more of a garden variety narcissist, while Trump is an obvious, off-the-chain, malignant narcissist. He was put into power by people who are probably actual sociopaths and are a hell of a lot more intelligent and cunning than Trump will ever be. I know there are snakes on both sides of the political spectrum, but the Republicans have really shown their asses in a dangerous way. It saddens me that so many Americans have fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.

At the end of the book, Grisham does concede that she wished another Republican, other than Donald Trump, could have run for president in 2020. I can understand that. Before Trump took office, I had some sympathy for the conservative cause. However… as far as I am concerned, Trump has ruined the Republican Party. I think it’s unlikely I will vote Republican ever again. Grisham, on the other hand, still says she’s a Republican, and at times, even seems to apologize for the Trumps– including Donald, but especially Melania.

Below are a couple of insightful excerpts from Grisham’s epilogue (bolded emphases are mine):

IT HAS OCCURRED TO me as I’ve been writing that I seem to be blaming everyone but myself for how things turned out for me in the White House, especially in the last six months. According to me I was the victim of covid, of Meadows and his people, of my ex, of the former East Wing chief of staff, of some of my own East Wing staff, of some West Wing senior staff, of the president, and even of the first lady at the very end. And although the stories I have laid out are all true and it was very much a perfect storm of certain personalities coming together in opposition to me, I don’t feel that I am a victim who did no wrong. It is my fervent belief that when you are the common denominator in situations like this, you need to look within and determine where your own responsibility lies. People need to hold themselves accountable to situations so that they can learn from them and apply them in the next chapter of life, and that includes me.

I think the first part is obvious: I became heady with power. I got cocky. You get inside the walls of the White House, the most important building in the country and arguably the world, and you are catered to like nowhere else. You go in wanting to help the people of the United States, but I don’t think many people in the Trump administration left there as the best versions of themselves; I know I did not.

Grisham, Stephanie. I’ll Take Your Questions Now (p. 326). Harper. Kindle Edition.

AND

I did think somebody needed to stick around to look out for Mrs. Trump. I was loyal to her personally, and I didn’t want her to be staffed by incompetent or untrustworthy people who didn’t have her best interests at heart. And as she had most always been good to me, I felt gratitude. But her apathy in response to the January 6 riots made it hard for me to stay at the very end.

I also turned a blind eye toward my own falling into a trap I saw over and over again: believing I was a trusted and valued member of Trump World. The plain truth is that most of the Trump family dismisses and cuts people from their lives on a whim. They demand total loyalty, but they are loyal to no one. I don’t blame them, to be honest. They are businesspeople, and business should not be personal. Some people learned that once and walked away; others kept going back for more, and there are many who are still doing it. I allowed my ego to grow in such a way that I never considered that the Trumps would allow me to be treated poorly. I put myself onto the same level as Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, even Javanka, and that was ludicrous. Mrs. Trump did defend me when she could, and privately she always told me of her anger on my behalf, but I’m not sure it ever went farther than that, and I wrongly expected that it should have.

Finally, and most importantly, I should have spoken up more.

Grisham, Stephanie. I’ll Take Your Questions Now (pp. 326-327). Harper. Kindle Edition.

A lot of narcissistic, abusive people rise to meteoric heights and great fame, with many loyal, hardworking people like Stephanie Grisham working tirelessly and thanklessly to put, and keep, them in power. But not every successful person is like this, nor should they be. These are not qualities that are healthy or desirable in world leaders. Until Stephanie Grisham recognizes and acknowledges that, I fear that she’ll keep making the same mistakes… and allow her ambition to blind her to toxic behaviors from others that will simply make her miserable. More importantly, these behaviors also make innocent people miserable… including the folks who went to the Capitol in January of this year, mistakenly thinking Trump would reward their loyalty by pardoning them for the crimes they committed on his behalf.

Grisham said it herself– the Trumps expect loyalty, “but they are loyal to no one.” Trump even ominously told this to Grisham straight up, when he said to her “I am the only one who matters.” I really think Stephanie Grisham should think about that, and reevaluate her idea of what makes appropriate and effective leaders… or even appropriate people to have in her private life. In order to be a great leader, the leader must care about other people and be a decent person themselves. Otherwise, they’re just power hungry toxic people who use others and spit them out when they’re deemed worthless. They’re just like parasites. And they aren’t even polite or kind about it. At one point, Grisham writes that Trump asked her Grisham’s ex boyfriend if Grisham was “good in bed.” When they later broke up, Trump wanted the details, and didn’t seem to care that Grisham was obviously upset and crying about her pain. Trump has no empathy, and that makes him unworthy of anyone’s vote or attention or anything else.

The fact that Grisham recognizes that the Trumps dismiss and cut people from their lives is a positive step in the right direction. However, I think she still has some work to do, because in the next sentence, she writes that she doesn’t blame them. In fact, there are several times in her book that Grisham makes excuses, not just for the Trumps, but for herself. I recall reading more than once that Grisham had gotten DUIs– maybe it was only one, but I know there was at least one– but she basically explains that she got caught drinking and driving after hanging out with her girlfriends, and blows it off as if it’s not a big deal. Then, there was the Ambien incident, apparently after she’d enjoyed some wine. Maybe she should also seek some professional attention regarding her use of substances.

So… that about does it for my review. I’m not sorry I read I’ll Take Your Questions Now, even though I initially wasn’t inclined to read the book. I don’t agree with Stephanie Grisham’s politics, but I appreciate her decision to share her story. I think Stephanie Grisham is, deep down, an okay, but deeply flawed person… maybe even someone I’d enjoy talking to, in spite of her politics and deep flaws. After all, most of us are deeply flawed. What can I say? I still have Republican friends and family members.

I just hope Stephanie Grisham finds herself a good therapist and explores her own self worth more. My friend Audra shared these two thoughts on Facebook yesterday. If Stephanie Grisham ever reads my review, I hope she’ll read them and take them to heart. Based on her book, I think these are lessons she should practice a bit more.

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book reviews, politics

A review of Melania and Me, by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Just in time for the election, former Melania Trump bestie, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, has published her tell all about what it was like to be friends with Donald Trump’s third wife. As you might surmise by the timing of this book’s release, as well as the title, the friendship has ended, and not on a positive note. In any case, I decided to read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Melania is the quiet half of the Trump power couple and I was curious about her. Also, I figured I could relate to the author. I “broke up” with my former bestie, too, and haven’t had a best “girl” friend in many years.

So who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, anyway?

Before she got tangled up with the Trumps, the author of Melania and Me was the director of special events at Vogue. She lived in New York City and was still working at Vogue when she met a Slovenian model then known as Melania Knauss. When Melania and Stephanie met, it was Stephanie who was better known. Melania was moderately successful, but not really super famous when she caught Donald Trump’s roving eye. Winston Wolkoff writes that when she and Melania first met, Melania was quiet and unassuming, but caring. Or, at least that’s how she seemed.

Donald Trump married his third wife, Melania, in 2005, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was there to see the eastern European model shaped into the First Lady she is today. Melania and Stephanie were ladies who frequently lunched. That was the way Melania preferred it, although Stephanie writes that lunching wasn’t so good because it really cut out a portion of the work day. Throughout the book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff makes it clear that she’s a “work horse”. She works very hard, and has always had to make her own way, in part because her parents had a bad marriage and wanted their kids on their own as soon as possible (something else I can relate to, as my parents had a good marriage, but wanted me to skedaddle ASAP, too). Winston Wolkoff went to boarding school. She’s also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and has three much beloved children, one of whom has severe food allergies. She describes herself as a “helicopter parent”, even though she spent a couple of years working for Melania Trump… FOR FREE.

Yes, you read that right. This “hardworking”, “helicopter parent”, “Holocaust granddaughter”, “lady who lunched” did not draw an official salary as she spent about two years thanklessly slaving away for the First Lady, a woman she thought was her “best friend”. She was away from her family in New York, spending her own money on Ubers, lunches at Trump properties, and hotel rooms, helping Melania Trump choose staff members that were not budgeted for, and planning events such as the Presidential Inauguration. Winston Wolkoff complains that she was barely paid anything for her work. She received $480,000 for work she did on the inauguration, which was, on its own, a bit of a cluster fuck. Other than that, zip… as she writes it, anyway.

Why did Stephanie Winston Wolkoff work for free?

She did it for her country, as the old song from Grease 2 goes. Although Winston Wolkoff writes that she was never a voter before the Trump era, claiming she didn’t know enough about politics or the candidates, she decided to vote for Trump in 2016. She did it because Melania was her friend, and because she thought she was being a good patriot by trying to help her friend be a good First Lady.

Through it all, Stephanie and Melania traded texts full of emojis, many of which are included in this book. Melania never had any problem asking Stephanie or anyone else for favors, but when the shoe was on the other foot, she “didn’t have time” (see my post from a couple of days ago). What Melania wants, Melania gets, according to Winston Wolkoff, who writes that she worked so hard for so long that she actually wound up in the hospital.

Want a little whine with your lunch?

While I can commiserate with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who claims she gave up a very successful, high-powered career for someone she thought was a real friend, I did think she came off as a bit of a martyr at times. Her writing has a somewhat self-pitying, shaming tone that I found kind of off-putting. I don’t doubt that Winston Wolkoff worked her ass off, but it’s not like she didn’t have a choice. She must have known deep down that her “friendship” with Melania wasn’t very genuine and if she ever said “no” to the First Lady, the “friendship” would end. But if those are the conditions of the relationship and one voluntarily settles for that, then one is also complicit in perpetuating the fake friendship. Therefore, one can assume that one’s motivations aren’t as pure as one makes them out to be.

I do understand how it feels to be used and betrayed by someone who doesn’t share the same level of regard for you that you have for them. I also know what it’s like to work for free, seemingly for the greater good, only to have it all turn to shit.

What I don’t understand is why Winston Wolkoff– who is purportedly as family-oriented and successful as she claims to be– tolerated that treatment for as long as she did. But then… we are talking about the most powerful couple in America and perhaps one of the most powerful couples in the whole world. I’m sure that was a lure that kept Stephanie so close to Melania, even though she was never given a contract and had to enter the White House like any flunkie who never got vetted. Yes, she slept in a guest room right over the White House residence, but Melania never saw to it that her friend could get fast tracked past White House security. Best friend indeed.

Winston Wolkoff writes of being relegated to “lawn standing” at Trump’s swearing in. She managed to get a better view only because an official staffer spotted her and got her a better seat. This, even though she had helped plan the event. Melania didn’t care… and in fact, frequently took advantage of her “friend” while dissing her. Melania did send flowers on Stephanie’s birthday, at least until last year or so, when Stephanie finally told her friend, Melania, that she was resigning. After that, it seems their fifteen year old friendship was kaput. Now, all she has to show for it is this book, which really could have been better than it is.

Overall

I have a hard time feeling really sorry for Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, although I guess I can understand on a human level how she ended up in her predicament. It’s easy for someone like me to look at someone like her– close to famous people like Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley– and think she should have known better than to get involved with the Trumps (or politics in general). But although she protests to the contrary, that she really was a “true friend” to Melania and other people who helped the Trumps get to where they are right now and were kind of stiffed for their efforts, I have a feeling that the work she was doing was not just out of friendship. Surely she believed she’d get paid somehow. I’m sure she thought it would be more than whatever she makes from the sales of Melania and Me.

Some of the author’s handiwork… Judge for yourself.

I did kind of enjoy Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s commentary on Ivanka Trump (the princess), as well as some of the other Trump staffers. I thought some of her insights into famous gaffes and fashion missteps were interesting, too. Apparently, Melania doesn’t care what anyone thinks and simply does whatever is best for her and maybe her son, Barron, who is reportedly a bit of a prankster.

On the other hand, I also got the sense from reading this book that Winston Wolkoff still has some affection and admiration for her old friend, Melania. At times, she is complimentary of her and seems to miss her, which makes the book a little bit confusing. I kind of got the sense that maybe she hopes she and Melania can bury the hatchet someday and, once again, be besties who lunch. Maybe she thinks Melania will read this book and send her flowers and an apology? Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

Anyway, I’m not sorry I read Melania and Me, but I am glad I’m finished with it. I hope Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has had a nice rest, recovered her health, and is enjoying those three children and her husband that she left over for over a year to work for free, serving the worst U.S. president in recent history (in my opinion, anyway). I do somewhat empathize with her. It’s bewildering when someone you thought was a close friend turns out to be a selfish asshole. But then, when you’re not directly blinded by the magical glare of a shameless narcissistic manipulator, it’s a lot easier to see wolves dressed in baby blue Ralph Lauren frocks.

I think Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and her ilk would do well to read more fables and learn some of life’s basic lessons, starting with this one. Or maybe she should learn the cardinal rule that everyone hears when they fly on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help other people. Maybe with a little more oxygen to the brain, Winston Wolkoff might have more clarity in determining who her real friends are.

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