Mary Trump’s Reckoning

The title of the book is The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal.

It’s to be understood as a reckoning for America, but perhaps also a personal one for the author.

After watching the Royal Funeral today, September 19th 2022, I want to connect the personal & the political, the macrocosm seeming to reflect the microcosm. Just as Elizabeth’s dutiful vow expands outward from her family to the myriad contacts she made, shown in the worldwide outpouring of love for her, so too in the two ways of understanding Mary Trump’s ongoing project (within her family and writ large for her country).

But of course there is a huge contrast between the two. The past ten days since Elizabeth’s passing have been a constant affirmation of the rule of law, and dare I say it, a transfer of power so orderly that the protocol can be planned long in advance. As a Canadian I rejoice in these serene & peaceful rituals, even as I recall recent transgressions such as the convoy in Ottawa or January 6 in Washington DC, reminding us of the fragility of the American experiment in democracy.

I raced through The Reckoning, this latest book from Mary Trump, within a day: unable to put it down.

Her previous book Too Much and Never Enough was a careful dissection of her uncle’s personality, laid bare as only she could do, a psychologist writing about the pathology of a family member.

Back flap photo of Mary Trump

This time? I was surprised to discover that she was writing much less about her uncle and more about his context. It reminds me of the second Godfather movie, when much of the film resembles a prequel to show the history that led Vito Corleone to become the Godfather. Similarly Mary Trump gives us a brutally honest history of America: to explain the background context for Donald Trump.

I should caution you that reading the first 50 pages hits you like a blunt object. This is a history of America pulling no punches, while explaining how her uncle fits into the ongoing project of white supremacy. I will give you one tiny safe sample.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I knew more about the Holocaust than I did about the genocide of Native Americans and the complete oppression of enslaved Africans and their subsequent generations in my own country. The message I’d received through most of my years at school, and my life in general, was that Black American history was not my history, and it was not “our” history, but something separate, other. Toni Morrison wrote “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” (Trump 140)

But it isn’t really telling us how that reckoning will happen. I say this having breathlessly raced through Mary Trump’s book, hoping for some glimpse of redemption or salvation. Nope. Perhaps I need to recall how therapy works, that the therapist listens, while the patient figures it out & hopefully grows, heals, reckons with who they are. While we’re given a fair bit of history there isn’t anything to explain how we can get from here, our current mess, to some kind of solution or reconciliation. There is more diagnosis of the problem(s) than any idea of a prescription, a pathway to healing.

Indeed, I’m not sure whether she understands her title to mean the resolution of historical injustice by righting wrongs or in the destruction of democracy itself and the ripping away of the illusion of American exceptionalism. I did not finish with any sense that Mary Trump’s book could lead us to “finding a Way to Heal,” as the title seems to promise. In fairness the first step must be recognizing the problem, so in that sense I suppose that it’s a step in the right direction.

But when I finished I felt lost.

Let me repeat, I’m glad to be in Canada.

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