Now she’s back with her second book, titled The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, in which she examines the state of the country after living through four years of the Trump administration.
“Never write a book about trauma while you are being actually traumatized,” the Trump niece said in a wide-ranging chat with The Daily Beast in which she discussed life after Trump, her feud with Meghan McCain (whom she described as “awful” and a “coward”), the media’s double standard in its coverage of Andrew Cuomo’s and her uncle’s sexual-misconduct scandals, and the fallout from having secretly recorded her aunt Maryanne Trump.
The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
THE DAILY BEAST: This book is somewhat different from your first book Too Much and Never Enough. You’ve widened the lens from the patient—your uncle Donald—that you were examining in the first book to a wider look at things. Why did you want to do that?
TRUMP: I started thinking about writing this book back in September/October, when it became really clear that the last administration wasn’t going to do anything to stop the spread of COVID and was going to worsen the fallout. And it was also really close to the election and as I was writing my book proposal, I realized that I had to sort of like a choose your own adventure. Things were really up in the air. Just the fact that Donald had a 0.01 percent chance of staying in office was terrifying. What I didn’t tell publishers was if Biden had lost, I would be disappearing to some undisclosed location in the Caribbean.
So then I broadened my focus away from the fallout of COVID, from a mental health perspective, because how am I going to speak to that in a way that’s helpful? I can’t write 330 million individual treatment plans. So it really then came down to ‘How did we get here?’ Seriously, what happened that made this country so vulnerable to people like him, Donald, and to a political party that has done nothing over the last 40 years but convince people to vote against their own self interests?
And very much like the first book, I found these through lines that helped make sense of how this is all unfolded, and why we’re still in a lot of trouble.
The book argues the U.S. is suffering a national trauma, that the country is literally and metaphorically on fire—that’s how you write it. And we have seen that manifest in rising levels of racism and domestic terrorism, even an advance of fascism. Can this country heal? It seems bitterly divided following your uncle’s presidency.
That depends in large part on two things. Are the Democrats going to understand just how serious this is? Are the Democrats in the media going to start using words accurately? Fascism is not an overstatement. It’s not melodramatic. It’s not to stir stuff up. It’s an accurate description of what’s going on with the Republican Party right now...
Republicans run around all the time calling us communists, socialists, Marxists. And nobody asked them to explain how we are. I can explain [how they are fascists] exactly. Many, many people who know more or less a lot more about this stuff than I do can explain why that’s a legitimate label to hang on them. And the Democrats aren’t—by playing politics, by being polite, by pretending the bipartisanship still exists, by pretending that there’s a rulebook anymore.
They are doing a huge disservice to the American people, because honestly—and I mean, I’m not calling out the Democrats, like it’s their fault. It’s not. It’s pretty much down to the Republicans at this point.
I think that we’re literally on the brink of the end of American democracy to the extent that it's ever existed, but [the Democrats] are the only people who can do anything about it. So if they keep pulling punches by pretending that the filibuster is a good thing, or that the Republicans are interested in governance of any kind, then it’s over.
When we think about Trump, some people actually don’t really see him as strong, perhaps they connect somehow to his weakness, which is covered up by bravado—that’s why they get so emotional about him, it’s almost a sense of protectiveness. How do you sever the emotional ties people have to him?
The first step is understanding that it’s not—and I’ve struggled with this, too—it’s not that they admire things in him that we just can’t see, but would admire if we could find them. There's nothing to admire in him from my perspective. The things they admired in him are things I revile: his mendacity, his willingness to cheat.
One of the things they most admire about him is the fact that he gets away with everything. And they identify with his weakness. This is a weak man who has still managed—I don’t like to use the word accomplished, because he has cheated at every turn and been enabled at every turn—but he got away with it. And I think people love it. They also love his cruelty. So I don't know.
The problem is that at the beginning, it would probably have been like 22 to 25 percent of the population. But the disease metastasized when the Republicans controlled everything from ’17 to ’19. So it’s more people now. I think the only way to do it, short of having families send them for deprogramming, is for the Democrats and the Biden administration to make it possible to govern and to demonstrate to people that government's not the problem. The problem is people in government who want to undermine its ability to be effective, because, you know, people have been convinced that the government is some hostile alien force.
You write in the book about Donald returning to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after he had COVID, and that really struck me, because you said you recognize the facial expressions that he put on from your grandmother. You wrote that he was “Doing his best Mussolini imitation, he took off his mask in a macho display of invulnerability. He clenched his teeth and jetted out his jaw just as my grandmother did when she was baiting back anger or clamping down on her pain. In Donald, I saw the latter.” Why do you think it was so important to him at that moment, when he was clearly gasping for air, not to admit to the American people that he's in pain?
Pain, experiencing pain, is expressing weakness. And that to me is probably the best demonstration of my grandfather’s sociopathy. You can make some allowances because of the way things were culturally back then, for thinking an alcoholic is weak. That was it for decades, it’s like you’re an alcoholic, you’re weak-willed or you're lacking in moral fiber. But physical pain, physical illness that was beyond the pale, too…
A lot of stuff with Donald happens unconsciously. But for him to be in a situation that mirrored a situation he’s seen his mother and his brother in considering how weak the family considered [them] must have been mortifying, and it meant that he had to counteract any perception of weakness with some grandiose display.
He also walked up the stairs, which was probably really painful. I have asthma, I know what it looks like when somebody is having trouble breathing. I know what it’s like to have to do something physical. It’s agony. So that whole thing just showed the depth of the desperation and the pathological fear of being seen as weak. And how fucked up it is.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last week over allegations from at least 11 women that he engaged in unwanted groping, kissing, or making inappropriate comments. Your uncle faced allegations of sexual harassment and assault from at least 26 women and didn’t miss a beat. Why do you think there is this double standard?
The New York Times never asked for Donald’s resignation under any circumstances. And he basically tried to overthrow the frickin’ government. I mean, I think the double standard exists partially because of the media. You know it’s insane that the paper of record did not see fit at any point along the way to call for his resignation.
But Cuomo, yes, must resign immediately. He’s horrible. But I think Donald’s worse, he’s killed a lot more people. So the double standard is because the Republicans accept that the Republicans—and again, I think there’s this, you know, identifying with the aggressor, identifying with the perpetrator kind of reminds me of the Catholic Church. How can you allow these people to keep getting away with it if you don’t, on some level, identify with them?
You touched on the media there. What responsibility do journalists like myself or those at The New York Times or CNN have for the rise of Trump?
You can’t say across the board, of course, but it often seems like the more powerful outlets are often the most wrong, and often the most on the most wrong side of things. Like, the Times and Iraq, the Times and the Pentagon Papers—you know, it’s mostly just the Times. Kidding.
But even cable news: how long did it take MSNBC, CNN, broadcast news, to call a lie a lie and to call racism racism? I’m going to have great grandchildren before they start using the word ‘fascism,’ even though it’s perfectly applicable and it’s their responsibility to explain why.
I think it’s intimidation from the right, but it’s also because, and I don’t know when this happened, because I’m not an expert in media, but sometime in the last few decades, being fair meant giving both sides equal time, no matter how much one side might be lying…
If you’re letting insurrectionists on the Sunday shows to deny that there was an insurrection, what purpose does that serve? How is that constructive? And how does that help the American people make sense of things? It doesn’t.
In your first book there was a lot of material that relied on recordings that have since come to light—recordings you surreptitiously made of your aunt Maryanne Trump Barry. Have you spoken to any member of the family since then?
Sorry, sorry Maryanne [laughing]. I was on the Upper East Side, she lives up there. I was blocks from her. I was like, Huh, I think I’ll go stop by and say hello. They would never have me. I’m suing them, too, so that’s a no-no.
But part of me, if I ever have the chance to see her I would say, “Come on, we’re all playing the same game here. Did you seriously think that I could keep letting this go? When nobody else was doing anything about it? And you had the power to do something and you did it? And did you seriously think I was just gonna let you keep getting away with having stolen my money? Come on!”
Do you think Donald will face criminal prosecution?
He should. I mean he needs to. The problem is, it’s like the least bad thing he's done. He's directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. We are going to be over a million [deaths from COVID]. Why is he not in leg irons and an orange jumpsuit in The Hague?
If he gets away with that, if he gets away with trying to overthrow the government in a violent insurrection by inciting it, then we will have to be satisfied with financial crimes and if he’s not actually charged, and goes to trial, and convicted—because this country seems really incapable of doing that kind of thing—then we might have to settle for his being impoverished, which would be lovely. But it’s not enough.
And it sets yet another horrific precedent. And then you get somebody like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, getting in there and being smarter and just having learned from Donald. The one thing, I think, that he brought to the table—the only thing probably—was the strategy of pushing the envelope and not caring about lying and not caring about the decorum and not caring about institutions. You get somebody like Hawley, Cruz, whatever, it’s over.
Do you think he will run again in 2024?
When I was asked this question back in November/December, I would have said absolutely not. Because he got so humiliated by his massive loss to Joe Biden. Notice how I’m emphasizing just the historically enormous failure of his, and how much of a loser he is. He never would have put himself in a position like that.
Again, I wasn’t anticipating that the Republicans were going to let him spread the Big Lie—spreading it for him, pretending that the insurrection was a good thing. I didn’t anticipate that we would be looking at hundreds of voter suppression bills that are being pushed through.
So because Donald’s a coward who’s never won anything legitimately in his life, if he gets the message that if you run, you’re guaranteed to win—which I think is what happened in 2016—why wouldn’t he?
What do you think he was saying in the White House last summer when your first book hit and the revelations started pouring out in The Daily Beast and other outlets?
I mean, maybe one of the first things he said was “Mary, who?” [laughs] because he’s Donald. I'm pretty sure he remembers who I am, or even at the time remembered who I was. His first thought was probably how ungrateful I am. And how disloyal I am. Because in his mind he’s always done everything for everybody. And he deserves their undying loyalty. I'm sure he was quite angry about it.
When all this blew up last summer, how were you dealing with all the attention? How did you deal with threats on social media? I think you hired security and took other precautions, for example. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Probably the only good thing about COVID is that it kept everybody inside. So I wasn't really out in the world dealing with anything. The reason I took security was because I know my family are very vicious people. What they did is they sued me, however I was not so sanguine about his followers. And I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I got security around the clock. And after a month, I mean, I had it until my daughter went back to school, and I made sure everything was OK at school. I had one death threat, it was fairly serious one, but it was only one and it got cleared up pretty quickly.
Why did Meghan McCain seem to avoid appearing on The View whenever you were booked on the program?
I think she’s just really kind and wanted to help me sell more books. [Laughs]. No, that’s not it. I think she’s a coward. And she’s afraid of people who are not only willing but able to call her out. I’m pretty sure she probably remembers our first meeting. It was the first time in an interview somebody had been rude to me, and pushed back. And that’s great for me, that really helps me be sharper. And it was also sort of a confidence booster because I realized that I can do that. I can deal with stuff like that. I literally can’t remember the last time somebody was that disrespectful to me. I've done nothing to her. And I just thought I’m going to eviscerate her somehow. And then I find out she’s not going to be on my segment even though I’d spoken to her producer for like half an hour. I thought I needed to find a way to drag her into this. Because, you know, she's awful. I mean, she’s just a nonentity.
If your father, Fred Jr., was still around, what do you think he would say about his brother Donald?
I think my dad would say “No kidding. This is exactly who this person is and has been since he was a child.” I think it would make him really sad. But it wouldn’t surprise him. I think somehow I intuited that because that’s how I felt. It didn’t surprise me, but wow, it’s heartbreaking that it got this far.