Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.
When Mary L. Trump set out to write a follow-up to her bestselling memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, she wasn’t really thinking about her uncle. At the very least, he wasn’t supposed to be the focus of another book.
Not directly. When the niece of former president Donald Trump began writing The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, it was October 2020 and she was thinking about COVID-19 and her country’s overlapping economic crisis. As a psychologist who has taught graduate courses in trauma and suffered from her own experiences with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, she was interested in how the country was going to heal from what was surely a looming mental health crisis.
Then the election happened. Then the Jan. 6 insurrection happened.
“Directly before and directly after the 2020 election, it’s hard to overstate how bad things were here,” says Trump in an interview with Postmedia. “In addition to dealing with our second or third massive wave of COVID, we were dealing with the fact that COVID was as bad as it was because of us, because our government failed so miserably and made a conscious decision, essentially, to put people at risk. The economy was in a free fall and even though President Biden was elected, there was that 78-day period between the election and the inauguration where the Trump administration was still able to do a lot of damage because they still had a lot of power and we see how that played out on Jan. 6.”
The Reckoning does deal with the subjects Mary Trump was interested in pursuing, but it doesn’t take long for the former president — referred to throughout the book as Donald and occasionally Uncle Donald — to find his way into the pages. He appears in the first sentence of the introduction, with Mary Trump writing about how the violent Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection should not have come as a surprise since her uncle had been “sowing the seeds of discontent for two months and promoting division and grievance for four years.” Nevertheless, she called it a watershed moment that had been “deliberate, planned, incited, yet another assault aimed squarely at everything I had always thought this country stood for.”
How America would emerge from this trauma may have been the first question that sparked the book, but it was followed by a deeper one.
“One question I had was how could we have possibly ended up in this place, where American democracy is on the brink,” says Trump. “For the first time in our history, the incumbent did not accept the results of a free and fair election and then Donald incited an insurrection against his own government. How could this possibly have happened? I realized along the way that the trauma question was difficult because everybody experiences these things differently and it’s hard to make blanket observations about those experiences. So I focused on the second part: How does this happen? It became quite clear and probably is something self-evident. It’s because we just never grappled with the ways in which white supremacy continues to operate in our society.”
The first book written by Mary Trump, who will be appearing at Calgary’s Wordfest Imaginairium on Oct. 14 and 15, was described by the Washington Post as an “anguished memoir about her dysfunctional family.” But if the first book examined how a family could produce a Donald Trump, The Reckoning is more concerned with how a country could produce a Donald Trump. While he appears throughout the pages, he is seen as more of a symptom of broader problems as she delves into America’s psyche and history. Along the way, she takes on some of her country’s sacred cows such as the Founding Fathers and American exceptionalism. She outlines historic atrocities and continued demonization of immigrants and minorities. She looks at slavery, and the struggle for civil rights and lambasts the Republican Party for what it has become. She studies the re-emergence since 2016 of white supremacy found in anti-Black policies such as voter suppression and gerrymandering.
“We treat our past as if it’s just a story of triumph, which ignores the reality of generations of people who suffered horribly because of the choices that were made by the people who came here initially and by our founders,” she says. “One quick observation is when we talk about the Founding Fathers, we talk about how brilliant they were and what they wrote and how they brought about democracy. What we don’t mention and we should, it should be the first thing we mention, is that a significant percent of them — something like 75 per cent of them — enslaved other human beings.
When it comes to “finding a way to heal,” Trump says America will “not survive this moment if the people who are trying to turn America into a fascist autocracy aren’t held accountable.
“It’s not just Donald, it’s his enablers, it’s his sycophants,” says Trump. “The problem here is we focus on a small number of people. The truth of the matter is we currently have people not just in our government but running our government in our Senate, in our House of Representatives, who are seditionists, who participated in the insurrection. We don’t seem to have the mechanisms to deal with that. Although that is scary and we are going to have to figure that out down the road, at least we have seen some grappling towards accountability happening with Donald’s four indictments and the 91 criminal charges against him and the more sweeping case in Georgia in which Donald has 18 co-defendants. We can only hope it plays out the way it should. The other absolutely necessary thing here is that we start holding people accountable at the ballot box and not re-elect them. It is absolutely necessary for the future of this country that the Republicans don’t re-take the White House.”
In person and in the book, Mary Trump’s anger is palpable. She writes about her own trauma and receiving treatment in 2017 for PTSD, where she would spend weeks “excavating decades-old wounds and trying to figure out why my uncle Donald’s elevation to the White House had so undone me.”
One of the Wordfest events Trump will be participating in is the Oct. 15 Group Therapy at the DJD Dance Centre, where Trump will join authors Alexandra Auder, Cherie Dimaline and Susin Nielsen. They will all be tasked with addressing audience members’ issues with “your family, your ex, your co-workers, your boss, your neighbours, your politicians, humanity in general.”
Her country, in general, however, has a “gargantuan task” ahead of it to properly heal.
“The only way to go about it is to bring us back from the brink and start building a functioning democracy that is a democracy for everybody and hope that, over time, when we begin to feel and get over the damage that has been done the last six to eight years, people will begin to understand this period in American history has been a nightmare,” she says.
Mary L. Trump will appear at Wordfest on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. and Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. at the DJD Dance Centre. Visit wordfest.com.