Authors: Mary L. Trump;
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For my daughter, Avary, and my dad
If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.
Much of this book comes from my own memory. For events during which I was not present, I relied on conversations and interviews, many of which are recorded, with members of my family, family friends, neighbors, and associates. I've reconstructed some dialogue according to what I personally remember and what others have told me. Where dialogue appears, my intention was to re-create the essence of conversations rather than provide verbatim quotes. I have also relied on legal documents, bank statements, tax returns, private journals, family documents, correspondence, emails, texts, photographs, and other records.
For general background, I relied on the
New York Times
, in particular the investigative article by David Barstow, Susanne Craig, and Russ Buettner that was published on October 2, 2018; the
Washington Post; Vanity Fair
; the TWA Museum website; and Norman Vincent Peale's
The Power of Positive Thinking
. For background on Steeplechase Park, I thank the Coney Island History Project website,
, and a May 14, 2018, article on 6sqft.com by Dana Schulz. For his insights into “the episodic man,” thank you to Dan P. McAdams. For family history and information regarding Trump family businesses and alleged crimes, I am grateful for the reporting of the late Wayne Barrett, David Corn, Michael D'Antonio, David Cay Johnston, Tim O'Brien, Charles P. Pierce, and Adam Serwer. Thanks also to Gwenda Blair, and Michael Kranish and Marc Fisherâbut my dad was forty-two, not forty-three, when he died.
I'd always liked my name. As a kid at sailing camp in the 1970s, everybody called me Trump. It was a source of pride, not because the name was associated with power and real estate (back then my family was unknown outside of Brooklyn and Queens) but because something about the sound of it suited me, a tough six-year-old, afraid of nothing. In the 1980s, when I was in college and my uncle Donald had started branding all of his buildings in Manhattan, my feelings about my name became more complicated.
Thirty years later, on April 4, 2017, I was in the quiet car of an Amtrak train headed to Washington, DC, for a family dinner at the White House. Ten days earlier I had received an email inviting me to a birthday celebration for my aunts Maryanne, turning eighty, and Elizabeth, turning seventy-five. Their younger brother Donald had occupied the Oval Office since January.
After I emerged into Union Station, with its vaulted ceilings and black-and-white marble floors, I passed a vendor who had set up an easel with buttons for sale: my name in a red circle with a red slash through it, “
,” and “
TRUMP IS A WITCH
.” I put on my sunglasses and picked up my pace.
I took a cab to the Trump International Hotel, which was comping my family for one night. After checking in, I walked through the atrium and looked up at the glass ceiling and the blue sky beyond. The three-tiered crystal chandeliers that hung from the central beam of interconnected girders arching overhead cast a soft light. On one side,
armchairs, settees, and couchesâroyal blue, robin's-egg blue, ivoryâwere arranged in small groups; on the other, tables and chairs circled a large bar where I was later scheduled to meet my brother. I had expected the hotel to be vulgar and gilded. It wasn't.
My room was also tasteful. But my name was plastered everywhere, on everything: TRUMP shampoo, TRUMP conditioner, TRUMP slippers, TRUMP shower cap, TRUMP shoe polish, TRUMP sewing kit, and TRUMP bathrobe. I opened the refrigerator, grabbed a split of TRUMP white wine, and poured it down my Trump throat so it could course through my Trump bloodstream and hit the pleasure center of my Trump brain.
An hour later I met my brother, Frederick Crist Trump, III, whom I've called Fritz since we were kids, and his wife, Lisa. Soon we were joined by the rest of our party: my aunt Maryanne, the eldest of Fred and Mary Trump's five children and a respected federal appeals court judge; my uncle Robert, the baby of the family, who for a short time had been one of Donald's employees in Atlantic City before leaving on bad terms in the early 1990s, and his girlfriend; my aunt Elizabeth, the middle Trump child, and her husband, Jim; my cousin David Desmond (Maryanne's only child and the oldest Trump grandchild) and his wife; and a few of my aunts' closest friends. The only Trump sibling who would be missing from the celebration was my father, Frederick Crist Trump, Jr., the oldest son, whom everybody had called Freddy. He had died more than thirty-five years before.
When we were finally all together, we checked in with the White House security agents outside, then piled haphazardly into the two White House vans like a JV lacrosse team. Some of the older guests had trouble negotiating the steps. Nobody was comfortable squeezing onto the bench seats. I wondered why the White House hadn't thought to send at least one limo for my aunts.
As we pulled into the South Lawn driveway ten minutes later, two guards came out of the security hut to inspect the underside of the van before we drove through the front gate. After a short drive we stopped
at a small security building adjacent to the East Wing and disembarked. We went inside one by one as our names were called, handed over our phones and bags, and walked through a metal detector.
Once inside the White House, we walked in twos and threes through the long corridors, past windows looking out on gardens and lawns, past life-sized paintings of former first ladies. I stopped in front of Hillary Clinton's portrait and stood silently for a minute. I wondered again how this could have happened.
There was no reason for me ever to have imagined that I'd visit the White House, certainly not under these circumstances. The whole thing felt surreal. I looked around. The White House was elegant, grand, and stately, and I was about to see my uncle, the man who lived here, for the first time in eight years.
We emerged from the shadows of the hallway onto the portico surrounding the Rose Garden and stopped outside the Oval Office. Through the French doors, I could see that a meeting was still in progress. Vice President Mike Pence stood off to the side, but Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senator Chuck Schumer, and a dozen other congresspeople and staffers were gathered around Donald, who sat behind the Resolute Desk.
The tableau reminded me of one of my grandfather's tactics: he always made his supplicants come to him, either at his Brooklyn office or his house in Queens, and he remained seated while they stood. In late autumn 1985, a year after I had taken a leave of absence from Tufts University, I took my place in front of him and asked his permission to return to school. He looked up at me and said, “That's stupid. What do you want to do that for? Just go to trade school and become a receptionist.”
“Because I want to get my degree.” I must have said it with a hint of annoyance, because my grandfather narrowed his eyes and looked at me for a second as if reevaluating me. The corner of his mouth lifted in a sneer, and he laughed. “That's nasty,” he said.
A few minutes later, the meeting broke up.
The Oval Office was both smaller and less intimate than I'd imagined. My cousin Eric and his wife, Lara, whom I'd never met, were standing right by the door, so I said, “Hi, Eric. It's your cousin Mary.”
“Of course I know who you are,” he said.
“Well, it's been a while,” I said. “I think the last time we saw each other, you were still in high school.”
He shrugged and said, “That's probably true.” He and Lara walked away without his introducing us. I looked around. Melania, Ivanka, Jared, and Donny had arrived and were standing next to Donald, who remained seated. Mike Pence continued to lurk on the other side of the room with a half-dead smile on his face, like the chaperone everybody wanted to avoid.
I stared at him, hoping to make eye contact, but he never looked my way.
“Excuse me, everyone,” the White House photographer, a petite young woman in a dark pantsuit, announced in an upbeat voice. “Let's get you all together so I can take some pictures before we go upstairs.” She instructed us to surround Donald, who still had not gotten up from the desk.
The photographer raised her camera. “One, two, three, smile,” she said.
After the pictures had been taken, Donald stood up and pointed to a framed black-and-white photograph of my grandfather, which was propped up on a table behind the desk. “Maryanne, isn't that a great picture of Dad?” It was the same photograph that had sat on the side table in the library of my grandparents' house. In it, my grandfather was still a young man, with receding dark hair, a mustache, and a look of command that I had never seen falter until his dementia set in. We'd all seen it thousands of times.
“Maybe you should have a picture of Mom, too,” Maryanne suggested.
“That's a great idea,” Donald said as though it had never occurred to him. “Somebody get me a picture of Mom.”
We spent a few more minutes in the Oval Office, taking turns sitting
behind the Resolute Desk. My brother took a picture of me, and when I looked at it later, I noticed my grandfather hovering behind me like a ghost.
The White House historian joined us just outside the Oval Office, and we proceeded to the Executive Residence on the second floor for a tour to be followed by dinner. Once upstairs, we proceeded to the Lincoln Bedroom. I took a quick look inside and was surprised to see a half-eaten apple on the bedside table. As the historian told us stories about what had happened in the room through the years, Donald pointed vaguely once in a while and declared, “This place has never looked better since George Washington lived here.” The historian was too polite to point out that the house hadn't been opened until after Washington had died. The group moved down the hall toward the Treaty Room and the Executive Dining Room.
Donald stood in the doorway, greeting people as they entered. I was one of the last to arrive. I hadn't yet said hello, and when he saw me, he pointed at me with a surprised look on his face, then said, “I specifically asked for you to be here.” That was the kind of thing he often said to charm people, and he had a knack for tailoring his comment to the occasion, which was all the more impressive because I knew it wasn't true. He opened his arms, and then, for the first time in my life, he hugged me.
The first thing I noticed about the Executive Dining Room was its beauty: the dark wood polished to perfection, the exquisite place settings, and the hand-drawn calligraphy on the place cards and menus (iceberg lettuce salad, mashed potatoesâTrump family staplesâand Wagyu beef filet). The second thing I noticed after sitting down was the seating arrangement. In my family, you could always gauge your worth by where you were seated, but I didn't mind: all of the people I felt comfortable withâmy brother and sister-in-law, Maryanne's stepdaughter and her husbandâwere seated near me.
Each of the waiters carried a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white.
Real wine, not TRUMP wine. That was unexpected. In my entire life, there had never been any alcohol at a family function. Only Coke and apple juice had been served at my grandparents' house.
Halfway through the meal, Jared walked into the dining room. “Oh, look,” Ivanka said, clapping her hands, “Jared's back from his trip to the Middle East,” as if we hadn't just seen him in the Oval Office. He walked over to his wife, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then bent over Donald, who was seated next to Ivanka. They spoke quietly for a couple of minutes. And then Jared left. He didn't acknowledge anybody else, not even my aunts. As he crossed the threshold, Donny leapt out of his chair and bounded after him like an excited puppy.
As dessert was being served, Robert stood up, wineglass in hand. “It is such an honor to be here with the president of the United States,” he said. “Thank you, Mr. President, for allowing us to be here to celebrate our sisters' birthdays.”
I thought back to the last time the family had celebrated Father's Day at Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn. Then, as now, Donald and Rob had been sitting next to each other with me directly across from them. Without any explanation, Donald had turned to Rob and said, “Look.” He'd bared his teeth and pointed at his mouth.
“What?” Rob had asked.
Donald had simply pulled his lips back farther and pointed more emphatically.
Rob had started to look nervous. I had no idea what was going on but watched with amusement while I sipped my Coke.
“Look!” Donald had said through his gritted teeth. “What do you think?”
“What do you mean?” Rob's embarrassment was palpable. He had glanced around him to make sure nobody was looking at him and whispered, “Is there something in my teeth?” The bowls of creamed spinach scattered around the table rendered that a distinct possibility.
Donald had relaxed his mouth and stopped pointing. The contemptuous look on his face summed up the entire history of their relationship. “I got my teeth whitened. What do you think?” he had asked dryly.
After Rob's remarks, Donald shot him the same dismissive look I'd seen at Peter Luger's almost twenty years before. Then, Diet Coke glass in hand, Donald made some perfunctory remarks about my aunts' birthdays, after which he gestured toward his daughter-in-law. “Lara, there,” he said. “I barely even knew who the fuck she was, honestly, but then she gave a great speech during the campaign in Georgia supporting me.” By then, Lara and Eric had been together for almost eight years, so presumably Donald had at least met her at their wedding. But it sounded as if he hadn't known who she was until she had said something nice about him at a campaign rally during the election. As usual with Donald, the story mattered more than the truth, which was easily sacrificed, especially if a lie made the story sound better.
When Maryanne's turn came, she said, “I want to thank you for making the trip to celebrate our birthdays. We've come a long way since that night when Freddy dumped a bowl of mashed potatoes on Donald's head because he was being such a brat.” Everybody familiar with the legendary mashed potato story laughedâeveryone except Donald, who listened with his arms tightly crossed and a scowl on his face, as he did whenever Maryanne mentioned it. It upset him, as if he were that seven-year-old boy. He clearly still felt the sting of that long-ago humiliation.
Unprompted, my cousin Donny, who'd returned from chasing down Jared, stood up to speak. Instead of toasting our aunts, he gave a sort of campaign speech. “Last November, the American people saw something special and voted for a president who they knew understood them. They saw what a great family this is, and they connected with our values.” I glanced at my brother and rolled my eyes.
I flagged down one of the waiters. “Can I have some more wine?” I asked.
He returned quickly with two bottles and asked if I preferred red or white.
“Yes, please,” I said.
As soon as we finished dessert, everybody rose. Only two hours had elapsed since we'd entered the Oval Office, but the meal was over, and it was time to leave. From beginning to end we had spent about twice as much time at the White House as we ever had at my grandparents' house for Thanksgiving or Christmas but still less time with Donald than Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent would two weeks later.
Somebody suggested that we all take individual pictures with Donald (though not with the guests of honor). When it was my turn, Donald smiled for the camera and gave a thumbs-up, but I could see the exhaustion behind the smile. It seemed that keeping up the cheerful facade was wearing on him.