“He's capable of anything”: Arrest and humiliation won’t stop Trump, says niece Mary Trump

Mary Trump, the bestselling author — and niece of a certain ex-president — on why he must be prosecuted

Published April 25, 2023 9:00AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Mar-a-Lago April 4, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at Mar-a-Lago April 4, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Mary Trump, clinical psychologist, bestselling author and niece of Donald Trump, warned everyone about the threat her uncle posed to our republic well before his attempted coup and the Jan. 6 attack. She repeated those warnings this week on "Salon Talks," while also criticizing Attorney General Merrick Garland for his failure to swiftly prosecute her uncle for his various alleged or likely crimes in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as detailed in the House Jan. 6 committee's final report. 

"Historians will look at Merrick Garland's unwillingness to act in a timely fashion as a massive failure," Mary Trump told me. If the former president is not ultimately held accountable by the Department of Justice, she added, "I think Merrick Garland will go down in history as the person who most failed America."

Mary Trump, whose bestseller "Too Much and Never Enough" spilled many family secrets and made her uncle very unhappy, about her family, understands what Donald Trump is capable of, especially now that he has finally been charged with crimes. She warned that "as the stakes get higher for him, they get higher for us because … there is no bottom and there is nothing at which he will stop to get his way." 

She's especially worried because she believes Donald Trump will definitely be the 2024 Republican nominee, since he has given GOP voters and elected officials the "permission to be their worst selves." As Mary stated when reflecting on the 2020 election, "I never thought that I would be saying three years later that this country is in worse shape now than it was then." Nonetheless, that's where she believes we find ourselves.  Watch the "Salon Talks" episode with Mary Trump here, or read our conversation below.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

As someone who knew Donald Trump for years and interacted with him, what do you think his real reaction was to being indicted on 34 felony counts? How do you think he took that intellectually and emotionally, when he was alone in a room?

Badly. I think it's something that, intellectually, Donald could never have possibly imagined. Why would he? Past is prologue. He's never been held accountable for anything. He's gotten away with so much wrongdoing and so much alleged criminality that there was literally no reason for him to think that anything would ever catch up with him. It's been 76 years. 

I don't understand why anybody for a second bought into his false bravado about how he would face the fact that he was suffering the deep humiliation of being arrested, being fingerprinted, and all those other things that happened. Being in a courtroom at the whim of a judge. Having absolutely no power or control over the situation you find yourself in. Having a door slammed in your face because, for the first time in your life, somebody didn't hold the door for you. We can't overstate how humiliating that situation was, and for Donald Trump, the absolute worst thing he can feel is humiliation. So it was a bad day for him and a good day for the rest of us.

We've talked about accountability for Donald Trump for years. What is your reaction?

A small step, but a step nonetheless.

We are two years and about three months since the Jan. 6 attack. What's your reaction to the fact that it's been this long? What's the message sent by the Justice Department that they still have not charged Donald Trump, two years and three and a half months later? 

"Every day he is allowed to roam free, he gets more dangerous."

It's infuriating. It should worry all of us that the people in places of power who actually can do something about fixing this country and saving American democracy don't seem to understand the threat facing us. No matter what happens — hopefully Jack Smith will get the evidence he needs to indict the right people and hopefully Merrick Garland will see the wisdom in letting that happen and allow things to play out — even if that happens, historians will look at Merrick Garland's unwillingness to act in a timely fashion as a massive failure. If, however, we don't succeed in holding those people accountable and we are not able to hang on to the American experiment, I think Merrick Garland will go down in history as the person who most failed America.

Do you think Garland's failure to charge Trump promptly has helped further normalize Trump's actions?

It's been quite the spectacle to see both Garland and the media do everything in their power to continue normalizing this man. Even when it became clear that to do so would be to endanger us further. There's no explanation for what's going on that I'm aware of that makes sense. Listen, he is not just running to be the Republican candidate for president. He is the Republican candidate for president. That's insane. We have active seditionists continuing to serve in our government. That's insane. If our system is incapable of protecting itself from those who seek to dismantle it, what's the point of the system in the first place?

Trump is far and away the leader for the GOP nomination, but on some level doesn't he perfectly sum up the Republican Party? A movement that's embraced violence, white supremacy, cruelty, bigotry and hate, and now is trying to impose their religion as law. Even though Trump himself is not religious, he made this possible by appointing three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade and may well also throw out the abortion pill.

On religious grounds. You and I have been saying some version of this for a long time. Donald Trump didn't change the Republican Party; he just revealed the Republican Party. The one unique thing he did was give them permission to be their worst selves. They're not disappointing, are they? They have shown us exactly who they are and the lengths they will go to impose their Christian nationalism, their white supremacy and their tyranny of the minority, which is, again, why I'm still mystified that people in power, whether at the DOJ or in the Democratic Party, aren't running around with their hair on fire.

Recently Congressman Jamaal Bowman was on CNN with Congressman Byron Donalds, who is a big-time Trump supporter. Donalds was talking about how he's endorsing Trump and — on air, to his face — Bowman said, "You are endorsing an insurrectionist," and he laid out the receipts. Why don't we hear other Democrats doing that?

"For Donald Trump, the absolute worst thing he can feel is humiliation."

Well, it's a really good question. The other thing about Byron Donalds' response is that at this point, he isn't wrong. Because nobody who planned and incited the insurrection has been charged. So you can get away, at this point, with saying that Donald Trump is not an insurrectionist because he hasn't been proven to be by the powers that be. So that's disturbing enough and that adds to the normalization. Can Congressman Bowman give seminars to Democrats about how to handle this? I mean, these people are liars. They're bullies and they're anti-democratic, pro-autocratic fascists. Why is it so difficult to summon the courage to say that out loud in a way that is as blunt as Congressman Bowman? Again, it's mystifying.

There's a CBS poll from last year that found 51% of Republicans viewing Jan. 6 not as terrorism, but as an act of patriotism. That was up four points from six months before that. The trajectory is to further embrace Jan. 6. My frustration is, this is not about politics — it's about keeping this democratic republic. Do you share the concern that this is an existential threat to democracy? 

It's been an existential threat since 2016. I never thought, after the election was called for President Biden in November 2020, that I would be saying three years later that this country is in worse shape now than it was then. But, again, it's down to the fact that Donald was allowed to run as a normal candidate in 2020 despite the fact that he'd been impeached twice and he had tanked the American economy. To that point, he was directly responsible for the deaths of over 250,000 Americans. OK so, I guess, what's an insurrection? Why is that such a big deal? 

Here we are, and the danger increases because the longer these lies go unchallenged, the more it becomes part of their narrative. People start to believe the Big Lie. People start to believe that the insurrectionists were actually true patriots because Biden stole the election, and here we are. It's not even mentioned when they're talking about Donald and his style on the campaign trail. His crimes against this country, against the Constitution and against the American people aren't even mentioned.

It seems as if some Democrats have just moved on as well, like, "Well, let's talk about other issues." 

"If he ever gets to the point where he feels like he's going down, he will bring all of us down with him."

It's the same thing with COVID. Well, people are tired of it. Really? Maybe you're not explaining it to them properly. Maybe there's something missing in the narrative about these things. I think for Democrats to approach this politically and to deal with Republicans as if they're honest brokers is a huge mistake. First of all, neither thing is true. This isn't about politics. This is about the future of the country. Secondly, making common cause with Republicans at this point is to make common cause with fascists. You do not negotiate with hostage-takers, which is what they also are, if you think about with the debt ceiling insanity.

They are literally trying to impose a Christian nationalist minority rule on a country that rejects it. Vast majorities of American people reject most of the Republican Party's agenda, but they don't care because they've got gerrymandering, they've got the Electoral College and they've got the most corrupt Supreme Court, potentially ever, but certainly in modern history.

Clarence Thomas is redefining corruption. I mean it's something we've never seen.

So is Chief Justice John Roberts, by refusing to do anything. A so is Dick Durbin [chair of the Senate Judiciary Committeee], who really needs to be replaced immediately along with ... Well, let's not go there. But Dick Durbin is not up to this task either.

If Donald Trump ends up getting charged in Fulton County and by the DOJ, he may understand that the only potential way to stay out of prison is to win the election in 2024. What do you think he's capable of, and how dangerous has he become?

Every day he is allowed to roam free, he gets more dangerous. He gets more — not unhinged, I mean he's never been hinged, but as the stakes get higher for him, they get higher for us. Because he will reveal to people who for some bizarre reason don't believe it yet that he's capable of anything, that there is no bottom and there is nothing at which he will stop either to get his way or, if he ever gets to the point where he feels like he's going down, he will bring all of us down with him. There is no arguing that point. So in some ways it's not just about the election or the future of democracy. It's also about safety. Nobody's safe as long as Donald has the power that he continues to be allowed to have because the Republican Party is afraid of his base.

Have you had conversation with friends who have begun exploring dual citizenship, if they're eligible in other countries?

"These people who serve in our government hate our government. They care for nothing except raw power. ... A lot of them are deeply stupid people."

More of my friends are exploring that option than not, which should tell us something. Especially friends who are in communities that don't have a lot of representation. My Jewish friends, my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, anybody who's basically not a straight white Christian Republican at this point has every reason to be deeply concerned about what happens in 2024. I don't think I would be able to stay here.

When you were writing your book, "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man," did you think that this many years later we would still be talking about him? Did you think it could get this bad?

At first I didn't, because I didn't understand how far the Republican Party would be willing to go to accommodate Donald and then enable him. I still hung on to hope that if Biden won, there would be a shift. I thought, "Maybe I can write novels now." Clearly this is not where we are.

You mentioned the debt ceiling.  Do you think that Republicans are going to hurt the economy on purpose so it damages Biden for 2024?

These people who serve in our government hate our government. They care for nothing except raw power. And in order to get power, they have to undermine the Democrats and President Biden at every single opportunity. A lot of them are deeply stupid people. They don't understand that a constitutional republic is a form of democracy. I personally think that somebody representing this country should know what kind of government we have. They either don't know or don't care about the devastating consequences of defaulting on our debt. Even if it's for five minutes, it has massive implications that are global. Again, I think most of them don't know or don't care. I think the only hope we have is we get a handful of somewhat sane Republicans in the House, to the extent that that's even a thing anymore, who just are unwilling to go that far.

Jim Jordan is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He came here to New York to undermine the prosecution of Donald Trump. He was the most active member of Congress involved in Jan. 6. He has been called a significant player in the effort to overturn the election. Again, does this go back to DOJ and the fact that he's emboldened by the fact that he's not even rumored to be under investigation?

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Yeah. Honestly, I don't know enough about how our government works to know what steps Democrats could have taken, but they at least should have been highlighting the issue and pointing it out at every turn. I think that's one area where the Jan. 6 committee fell down, possibly because Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger didn't allow certain avenues to be explored. I don't know. But Republicans who actively participated in planning, inciting and carrying out the insurrection should have been name-checked every day from Jan. 7 on.

When I spoke to members of Congress, they would tell me the Democratic leadership had made a choice: "Let's not focus on Jan. 6. Let's focus on a vision forward on policy." At the time we were in the midst of COVID, so it made sense. They were like, "Let's deliver on COVID. America's suffering. Americans are dying. DOJ will do whatever they're going to do." In retrospect, it was a horrific mistake. But at that time, when Joe Biden took office, thousands of people a day were dying. Unemployment was at around 7%. We were still struggling.

"I think for Democrats to approach this politically and to deal with Republicans as if they're honest brokers is a huge mistake."

Right. In January 2021, 5,000 Americans were dying every day, so it is understandable. If you think about what Biden inherited, it's extraordinary what he's been able to accomplish. That's not an excuse, though, for Democrats in Congress not to see what their colleagues were up to. How long did it take for the Republicans in Congress who were as much victims as anybody else that day to turn around and start saying that either it was somebody else, like antifa or Black Lives Matter, who carried out the insurrection, or it was just a peaceful protest of regular tourists? That they let that slide may turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes ever made in American history.

Based on our knowledge of Republicans and Fox News and everything, if a Democratic president did exactly what Donald Trump had done and a Republican attorney general came into power weeks later, do you think two years and 100 days later, we'd be talking about, "How come those Republicans haven't charged that former Democratic president yet?"

Dean, even if a Republican president picked a Democratic A.G., the Democratic president who had incited an insurrection would have been in prison within five minutes. It's stunning. See, I'm speechless. I don't even know what to say about it anymore because it's not like any of it should have surprised us. Of course he was capable of that kind of thing. As soon as he realized that he was going to lose, a lot of us were saying, "It is going to get so much worse." And it did. And everybody's like, "Whoa, didn't see that coming." Why?

Which was bad enough, but then for the thing to have happened and to go unpunished, except for the people who actually participated that day, which by the way is great and they should be held accountable, but it's not going to help us. It's not going to help us if the real power players are still free either to incite another insurrection in the event Biden wins in 2024 or even more frightening, I think, just to make sure that Biden loses.

If somehow Donald Trump ends up not being around to run next year, what do you think of Ron DeSantis?  

"These people are liars. They're bullies and they're anti-democratic, pro-autocratic fascists."

Yeah, look, poor little meatball, but he's not somebody that we can dismiss entirely. I also want to say something really quickly. You and I didn't even talk about the thousands of classified documents Donald stole. That's another thing that is getting swept under the rug.

Ron DeSantis is an incredibly dangerous politician. He's basically turning Florida into a closed fascist state. The only good news is that I don't believe for a second that he could succeed nationally. I don't want to leave anything to chance though. I think that if he announces a candidacy for 2024, he's stupider than I thought. I mean, I hope he does, because it would basically destroy his political future, which is already in doubt, quite honestly. As long as Donald is leading and has the power, no Republican is safe running against him. I don't know why anybody has enough hubris as to think they can escape the onslaught that Donald is going to unleash on them.

But we'll see. I'm more worried that Florida is a test case for other states, and that DeSantis is drawing a roadmap for other states to follow. We might get to the point where there are so many Republican-led states who have supermajorities in the legislature that what happens nationally won't really matter as much anymore.

By Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah hosts the daily national SiriusXM radio program, "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on the network's progressive political channel. He is also a columnist for The Daily Beast and contributor to Opinion. He co-directed the comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" and is co-creator of the annual New York Arab American Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter @DeanObeidallah and Facebook @DeanofRadio

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