Trumps, reality show like no other

In this episode, Trump’s sister says ‘He’s a Fraud’ – exactly zero eyebrows raised

US President Donald Trump. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yuri Gripas)

Following the Democratic Party’s successful nominating convention, with the revelation that the president’s older sister had taped hours of frighteningly frank conversation about her younger brother, the Trumps are now revealed as the US’s most dysfunctional family. Trump’s niece and sister clearly imbibed the meaning of Oscar Wilde’s famous comment that revenge is a dish best served (or consumed) cold.

Just 48 hours before the Republican National Nominating Convention opens on Monday evening (24 August), The Washington Post – and inevitably a host of other media right on its heels – carried a story about the actual tape recordings that President Donald Trump’s sister, retired federal judge Maryanne Trump Barry, had made. The tapes were apparently some of the source material used by Trump’s niece Mary Trump for her incendiary book on her uncle.

That book, reviewed here in July, Mary Trump’s dissection of her Uncle Donald: Painful, Surgical, Revealing, had already set out for everyone to read just how much of a psychopathic or perhaps sociopathic narcissist the president really was. In fact, such a judgment was already pretty much apparent to anyone who has had the misfortune to watch him in action, live and close-up, or via television.

But this newest story has shown just how much his family felt about him as well. Yes, of course, every family has its skeletons and secrets, but this is, truly, astonishing stuff. And it comes just after the Democratic Nominating Convention had showcased a Joe Biden who clearly loved his family and was loved by them in return; just as vice-presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris — “Momala” to her step-daughters — was comfortable in the embrace of her own blended family.

This story of Trump’s sister’s real feelings about the president have come at the end of a period where yet other things have thoroughly scrambled the president’s week  — and not for the better. The president had been mocking Biden as already having one foot in the grave, or at least being dependent on memory cue cards, a Zimmer frame, and probably adult diapers as well.

Unfortunately for Trump, even according to Republican commentators, in addition to solid speechifying by former president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, Biden’s nomination competitor Bernie Sanders and others, Biden delivered a solid, even riveting performance that was solid in virtually all respects. By contrast, the pandemic’s infection and fatality numbers continue to go up; the economy has the vitality of a comatose cat; and the racial turmoil that evolved out of police killings of men like George Floyd and the advocacy of Black Lives Matter all continue – even as the president keeps ranting about this trifecta of issues as if he were the challenger, not the incumbent.

But there was more. In addition to battling court decisions such as the one where the president’s accountants have to surrender key financial documents relating to Trump’s taxes and income, a plan to shrink-wrap the postal system sufficiently such that it could not handle voting by mail ballots and its regular workload has come under withering congressional criticism. (This remains true even if the Republican-controlled Senate will be very unlikely to support the bill passed by the House.)

One wonders just who decided to pick a fight over the post office, particularly since millions of usually Republican voters also get prescriptions by mail, and about a million elderly people still get Social Security checks by mail (or through those preloaded ATM cards), and also hope to vote by mail to avoid contagion from Covid-19. Just as a footnote,  most members of the military vote by mail – and have since at least the 1864 presidential election – and the president and vice-president do so as well.

If that were not sufficient to ruin the president’s week, Donald Trump’s “Rasputin”, Steve Bannon, was arrested by postal inspectors (the ironies are wonderful) for running a mail and wire fraud ring, bilking millions of dollars out of a fund that had ostensibly been set up to solicit contributions from private citizens to build sections of that US-Mexico border wall that the president had initially promised would be paid for by Mexico.

Bannon was picked up while lazing about on a yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire, and he and others involved in this scam have now been charged with federal felonies. This brings the roster of Trump friends and associates arrested, charged or sentenced to a rather dizzying total, by contrast to any other administration, except, perhaps, that of Warren Harding and Ulysses Grant combined.

And all of these events had come along before the president’s niece (or perhaps the sister, or perhaps both of them) had decided to dump on him but good. Now a retired federal judge, Maryanne Trump Barry tore into her brother in those tape recordings. She said her brother “is cruel”; he “has no principles”; and people “can’t trust him”. As if she hadn’t been tough enough, she added, “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.” 

Speaking about immigration issues and the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border, she said: “All he wants to do is appeal to his base.” And, “he doesn’t read”. On those points, this has been rather clear for years, she added.

Here’s The Washington Post reporting on what she had said:

“Lamenting ‘what they’re doing with kids at the border,’ she guessed her brother ‘hasn’t read my immigration opinions’ in court cases. In one case, she berated a judge for failing to treat an asylum applicant respectfully.”

Turning her howitzer on her brother’s childhood and youth, the retired judge determined, “He was a brat,” that she often did his homework for him, and that he paid a friend to take his SAT (the nation-wide university entrance Scholastic Aptitude Test) for admission to the University of Pennsylvania as a transfer student. Not too surprisingly, she summed up his character, “You can’t trust him,” especially given that his companies have filed for bankruptcy six times.

Working that vein, the judge went on to say he had even tried to take credit for her success. 

As Politico reported it, “Barry said this in reference to her appointment by then-President Ronald Reagan to a federal judgeship in New Jersey. Barry had asked Trump to tell his personal attorney, Roy Cohn [yes, the same guy who was a key aide for communists under the bed, in Hollywood, and in the state department of Senator Joseph McCarthy back in the 1950s], a friend of Reagan’s, to plead her case for the appointment, but maintains she had risen to the position on merit.”

And as reported in The New York Times, “Ms. Barry, who was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald W. Reagan, says in one conversation that the [current] president helped her get that appointment by asking his lawyer, Roy Cohn, to urge Mr. Reagan to appoint more female judges. Ms. Barry says the president once said to her, ‘Where would you be without me?’

“ ‘You say that one more time and I will level you,’ Ms. Barry said she told her younger brother at the time. She said she was angry that he was trying to ‘take credit’ for her accomplishments as a judge.” 

For sure, this will be amazing in the biopic about him, once it becomes a TV miniseries.

Turning more personal still, and demonstrating her feelings about Trump the family man, on the tapes, speaking about their father’s funeral in 1999: “Donald was the only one who didn’t speak about Dad.” Not surprisingly, neither she nor the author’s niece, Mary Trump, were at the funeral for Trump’s brother, Robert, which Trump held at the White House a few days ago.

Mary Trump began taping conversations with her aunt subsequent to the realisation the Trump family had connived to unfairly cheat Mary and her brother out of the inheritance they believed due them after her father and grandfather had both died. According to the Post:

“The inheritance dispute was settled privately in 2001, but Mary Trump has said she was duped into an agreement because the family said the estate was worth $30 million and she later believed the value was closer to $1 billion.”

The Washington Post’s story reported that Chris Bastardi, spokesman for Mary Trump, said:

“ ‘Mary realized members of her family had lied in prior depositions. Anticipating litigation, she felt it prudent to tape conversations in order to protect herself. She never expected to learn much of what she heard, including the President’s sister, Federal Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, state that Donald Trump had paid someone to take an SAT exam for him.’

“In response to a question from The Washington Post about how she knew the president paid someone to take the SATs, Mary Trump revealed that she had surreptitiously taped 15 hours of face-to-face conversations with Barry in 2018 and 2019. She provided the Post with previously unreleased transcripts and audio excerpts, which include exchanges that are not in her book. It is important to note that under New York State law, it is legal to tape a conversation with the consent of one party, which in this case was Mary Trump.”

As CNN reported it, “Barry’s view of her brother also lines up closely to others who have known Trump well. A litany of former aides have also described Trump in similar terms – including the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, the former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor and others.” 

This Trump family really belongs in one of those vast Russian novels, except perhaps for a story-ending death via a suicide on a railroad track like Anna Karenina does, or perhaps one of those TV tele-novellas, complete with overacting and bizarre coincidences.

In response to this set of startling revelations, the president replied via Twitter, “Every day it’s something else, who cares. I miss my brother [who had recently died], and I’ll continue to work hard for the American people. Not everyone agrees, but the results are obvious. Our country will soon be stronger than ever before.”

Trump still has an opportunity to beat back some of this extraordinary criticism and to attempt to portray himself as equally beloved by his family as are both Biden or Harris, what with Trump’s four adult children listed as speakers at the Republican National Convention. Together with the president and the first lady, the family represents fully half of all the speakers so far announced for the upcoming convention. 

But, now, this anodyne portrayal of a loving family that cuddles kittens together (the president is well known to hate pets) will be rather complicated by these scorching comments from the president’s older sister – someone who has known him, after all, since he was born. DM


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