In an interview, Mary Trump, the only niece of the former American president, talks about an uncle she describes as dangerous, his enduring power and the growing hate in America.
Interview Conducted By Marc Pitzke
Mary Trump, Donald Trump’s only niece, has just finished a talk show appearance by video chat from her kitchen. She’s sitting in the library of her apartment building, trying to relax. The ceiling-high shelves behind her are filled with carefully curated coffee table books. Through the wall of windows, one can see Manhattan’s thick traffic below.
Trump, however, seems irritated. “This was the first time I’ve been treated badly in an interview,” she says.
She had just appeared on “The View,” a popular morning chat show, where they discussed politics, the pandemic and racism. Yet one co-host checked out of the conversation without even greeting her: Meghan McCain, daughter of the late senator John McCain, who had been reviled and insulted by Donald Trump even as he went to his grave.
The younger McCain is famous – infamous – for her own conservative tirades. After the show with Mary Trump, she tweeted: “There is no ‘good’ Trump family member to me.”
About Mary Trump
Mary Trump, 56, holds a doctorate in psychology and has known the former president since childhood. Her father Fred Trump, Jr., Donald Trump’s older brother, died in 1981. Her first book, “Too Much and Never Enough,” about her uncle became a bestseller in the United States in 2020.
And there it is, Mary Trump’s burden: her last name.
She will be forever linked to her uncle, his lies, is hubris, his incompetence, his autocratic tendencies – and the damaging fallout from his one term as president.
Last year, the psychologist published her memoirs: “Too Much and Never Enough.” The book revealed the horrific family history of the Trumps – and made her a target of Trump fanatics, who still worship the former president. For months, she hardly left the house – because of COVID-19, but also out of fear of being recognized and vilified.
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Now Trump, 56, has written a second book, “The Reckoning: America’s Trauma and Finding a Way To Heal.” It addresses the darkest period of U.S. history, with the nation’s enduring racism, and, of course, her uncle.
DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Trump, last summer you called your uncle the world’s most dangerous man. Now that he’s out of office, do you still feel that way?
Trump: After the election, I was happy for about a minute. I was very relieved, of course, but the number of people who voted for him was just heartbreaking. Seventy-four million! Yes, Joe Biden won. But the Democrats in general didn’t win enough. We needed a total repudiation of Donald and his party, and we didn’t get one.
DER SPIEGEL: So, you think he still presents a danger?
Trump: We’re not out of the woods. It became clear right after the election that he was going to do everything in his power to undermine the legitimacy of the results and that the Republicans were just going to let him do it. For him, losing is not acceptable and winning doesn’t mean legitimately winning, it just means getting the win. He knows he didn’t win, but I don’t believe he knows he lost, either.
DER SPIEGEL: How so?
Trump: He’s been trying for two years to steal this election. I don’t believe he can wrap his head around the fact that everything he did, all the stops he pulled out, all the stops the Republican Party pulled out for him, haven’t worked. So, he’s still trying to steal this election.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you see Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol Building, as such an attempt?
Trump: He is very good at finding people weaker than he is, which is shocking because he’s literally the weakest person I’ve ever known. But they’re out there obviously, in large numbers. Then, there are people who are much smarter and powerful than he is, who know how to use him. So, it’s a very dangerous combination. Were there people around him who knew that it could very possibly lead to that moment? Absolutely. Was he completely willing and comfortable to take advantage of the situation and make it worse for his benefit? Absolutely.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you think he welcomed what he saw on Jan. 6?
Trump: Oh, my gosh, yeah. It was probably one of the best days of his life. The worse it got, the happier he was. It wasn’t an accident when he told the mob that if he wasn’t granted the victory, it was Mike Pence’s fault. So, should we be surprised that people were running around with nooses wanting to string Mike Pence up? It would have been perfectly fine with him. Absolutely. The only thing he probably regrets about that is that there wasn’t more violence.
DER SPIEGEL: What went through your mind that day?
Trump: I hadn’t listened to his speech beforehand, because I’ve tried whenever possible not to listen to him or look at him, because I don’t care what he has to say. At first, like everybody else, I found it really hard to know what precisely was going on. It just looked like a mess. The first word that came to mind was tawdry. But then it became obvious to me that it was much worse than that. This is our Capitol! This is the center of – well, I don’t like to say American democracy, because I don’t think America has ever completely been a democracy like we aspire to be.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you think he will run again in 2024?
Trump: I don’t know. But because he’s being enabled, he sees an opening. He feels the power. He also knows that the only way he stays out of legal trouble is to get back into power.
DER SPIEGEL: Does it weigh on you to be so personally connected to his world? In your new book you reveal that in 2017, a few months after your uncle’s inauguration, you went into inpatient treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. What happened?
Trump: I just remember feeling so out of control. I remember spinning out and didn’t know how to stop. I lived in a very Republican town then, so I was really isolated. For the first time in my life, I lost friends because of an election, and I knew I needed to do something. But despite the fact that I’m a psychologist, I didn’t know there were treatment programs for that. I knew there were for addictions, but I didn’t know there was such a thing for post-traumatic stress.
DER SPIEGEL: Your uncle traumatized half the nation.
Trump: Every once in a while, I think about how this country will be forever stained by what he did. That’s really hard. We never recover from that. Maybe in 200 years, but not while I’m alive.
DER SPIEGEL: Don’t you think his spell is broken? Joe Biden’s policies are pretty popular, and Trump’s “Big Lie” hasn’t amounted to anything.
Trump: The Democrats don’t understand the seriousness of the threat. They are playing by rules in a rulebook that the Republicans lit on fire. There are no rules anymore. They need to start fighting like their lives depend on it. But they’re just not willing to do that. There is an unwillingness – also in the U.S. media – to use the kind of language that is accurate and necessary to get people to understand the seriousness of the threat.
DER SPIEGEL: How serious is it?
Trump: Donald is a fascist, and the Republicans are an autocratic, anti-democratic, counter-majoritarian party that would be perfectly happy to establish some kind of apartheid in this country. They are actively trying to destroy our democracy. If they win back the House in 2022, it would be fatal to the American experiment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make Donald, two years before the presidential election, speaker of the house. And then there will never be another Democrat allowed to win an election.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you really believe that?
Trump: We see it happening already. Last year, there were 155 million presidential votes cast in this country. There have been maybe 36 cases of voter fraud, which is a vanishingly small number. And yet, we’ve got hundreds of voter suppression laws in place or being pushed by the Republicans. If the Democrats lose the House and/or the Senate in the 2022 midterms, it’s over. It is over.
DER SPIEGEL: You don’t think the U.S. democracy is resilient?
Trump: The way this country is structured is inherently anti-democratic.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?
Trump: The U.S. Constitution is not a democratic document. For example, we currently have a 50-50 split in the Senate, but the 50 Republican senators represent 40 million less people than the 50 Democratic senators – because the constitution gives every state two senate seats, no matter how populous.
DER SPIEGEL: In your new book, you write: “The ugly history of our country is filled with sordid, barbaric and inhuman acts committed by average citizens which were encouraged or at least condoned by the highest levels of government. To deny this history means to deny our national trauma.” That’s a devastating judgement – how did you come to that conclusion?
Trump: If there’s one thing Americans are very good at, it’s perpetuating myths about ourselves.
DER SPIEGEL: For instance?
Trump: One of the most astonishing things this country got away with was portraying itself as a beacon of democracy during World War II, while at the same time an entire population of people was being held in what was essentially a closed, fascist state in the South. Black Americans who served their country came home only to be lynched because they had the audacity to wear the uniform. Part of that is also that people think that the North were the good guys. But a large percentage of Northerners were really racist, too, and perfectly happy to have Blacks freed, but did not want them to have any political power, so they decided that it was more expedient to make common cause with the former Confederates than with the freed men and women.
DER SPIEGEL: Isn’t the way of looking at U.S. history changing rapidly?
Trump: The right is doing everything to make sure that Americans continue to stay ignorant about their own history. Imagine if post-World War II Germany hadn’t taken the steps that it has taken.
DER SPIEGEL: Not all Germans back then were too excited about that, either.
Trump: That’s a good point. It requires the political will. We let people off the hook for flying the Confederate flag because they claim it’s just about their Southern history. But they know what it means. It means that they are completely on board with white people owning black people.
DER SPIEGEL: Is the U.S. still a racist country?
Trump: If you’re a white adult American, it’s almost impossible not to be racist because of the media environment we grow up in, our families or our friends’ families, the influences of our education. But when you become an adult, you need to take responsibility for that stuff. If we don’t acknowledge it, then it’s never going to change. But it’s very hard to acknowledge that.
DER SPIEGEL: How much do you blame your uncle for that?
Trump: I blame him for the fact that it’s becoming more and more acceptable to be openly racist. What Donald did was prove that racism is a successful platform when you run for office in this country. People like him are out there very openly being racist and white supremacist, and they’re getting tens of millions of people to vote for them because either they agree with them or they don’t have a problem with it because lower taxes are more important. We’re in a really dangerous place.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you also blame him for the disastrous COVID-17 situation here last year?
Trump: That’s been one of the worst things for me to deal with. Knowing that your uncle is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is not a good feeling. That many died in exactly the same circumstances my father did, alone, because my uncle, who could have gone to the hospital to be with my dad, rather went to the movies. So, that’s been really, really hard. Because of his incompetence and his cruelty we’re still struggling with this. Because of his encouragement of the unvaccinated and his failure to model decent behavior, which he is incapable of doing. It’s just a kick in the teeth.
DER SPIEGEL: Wasn’t he one of the first to get vaccinated?
Trump: Secretly! Everybody in the family got vaccinated. They’re all vaccinated. Imagine how people are going to react when they find out that they’ve all been betrayed and the people they put their faith in lied to them for political expediency.
DER SPIEGEL: Psychologically, how do you get people to admit they’ve lived a lie for so long?
Trump: It’s hard. I don’t hold out hope for most of these people. I really don’t.
DER SPIEGEL: That sounds rather pessimistic.
Trump: I am bizarrely a quite optimistic person. Maybe that took a hit over the last couple of years. But I am pretty much an optimist. I haven’t given up hope.
DER SPIEGEL: Yet the next Trump generation seems ready. Do you expect your cousin, Donald Jr., or your cousin Ivanka, to run for political office?
DER SPIEGEL: Why not?
Trump: My uncle is such a buffoon, but he does have charisma. If you met him, for the first 10 seconds you would see it. After that, you would realize that he’s a total psychopath, but a lot of people are very susceptible to his kind of charisma. Donald Jr. and Ivanka don’t have any of that. They don’t survive politically without him. They don’t survive in business without him. No, I don’t see that. Hopefully, they’ll all end up in jail.
DER SPIEGEL: What’s next for you?
Trump: My next book will not be about my uncle. I’m taking a break. Never write a book about trauma while you’re still being actively traumatized.
DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Trump, we thank you for this interview.
Mary Trump’s latest book, “The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way To Heal,” was published in August by St. Martin’s Press. The book has also been published in German translation by Heyne Verlag.