Review: Mary Trump is Back With Revealing 'The Reckoning'

by Kyle Thomas Smith

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 23, 2021

Mary Trump's new book, "The Reckoning" (St. Martin's Press, 2021), begins in much the same place as her first book, "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man" (Simon & Schuster, 2020). She explains how, in April 2017, she had reluctantly accepted an invitation to the birthday party that her uncle Donald threw for her aunt at the White House. Only now, she reveals that she was in "the worst psychological shape" of her life when she attended.

The 2016 election results had left her "demeaned, diminished, debased," as they had so many others. She vacillated between states of "dissociation, rage and befuddlement." Add to this the cruelty with which Donald had undermined her father during his waning years, and how he grifted her and her brother out of their rightful inheritance, all of which are so painfully described in her 2020 memoir.

Not long after her aunt's party, Mary checked herself into a treatment center for post-traumatic stress disorder. As she diligently peeled back the layers of her condition in treatment, it became clear to her that many, if not most, of the unresolved traumas she struggled with were not hers alone. They belong to all of us, to the nation — to our collective consciousness or, rather, our collective conscience. Racism, the legacies of slavery, and the genocide and displacement of indigenous people: If we really care to look, we'll discover these traumas slithering under every rock of our culture, government, and law enforcement. They pre-date her uncle by hundreds of years, yet it became blindingly clear to her that they had been greatly exacerbated under his influence as he continued to absolve his followers of any guilt for acting on their worst impulses:

Donald is the symptom of a disease that exists in the body politic from this country's inception, which has, because of our failures to root it out, let alone acknowledge it, metastasized...

In "The Reckoning," Mary argues that we will not be able to recover from this disease or operate in any way remotely resembling a functional society until we (A) overcome our habit of not holding powerful white men accountable, a habit that goes all the way back to our letting traitors like Robert E. Lee and his confederate conspirators walk free for the sake of "national unity," and (B) acknowledge the fact that we have never acknowledged, much less atoned for, the white supremacy at work in our history and institutions. She makes an especially compelling case for how paying reparations is a crucial means of leveling the playing field and redressing our most painful historical wound.

In "The Reckoning," the author does not spend exorbitant time diagnosing her uncle or rehashing her personal grievances with him. Rather, she steeps herself in a scholarly study of the Reconstruction, everyday psychopathology in the Jim Crow South, segregation and discrimination in the North, critical race theory, epigenetics, the Calvinist contribution to racism and classism, Euro-American fascism, and how the effects of all of these factors are coming to a head at this political moment.

Will we do it? Will we take this kind of fearless moral inventory, both individually and collectively? Will we atone? A quick look at the news is enough to cast doubt. Yet, until we do, these specters of our past will be waiting at our doors, no matter what we or the next demagogue might do to deny them or try to drive them away.

"The Reckoning," by Mary Trump, is out now.

Kyle Thomas Smith is author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and two cats.