Golden Handcuffs

The Secret History of Trump’s Women

By Nina Burleigh

Gallery Books. 368 pp. $28

Reviewed by Jackie S. Atkins

This book focuses on Donald Trump’s women, the life of luxury, and the cost behind it. The bill is steep, the gossip priceless. Author Nina Burleigh, national politics correspondent for Newsweek, is no Trump fan and has fun dishing out the Fifth Avenue rumors. It’s a romp through the bedrooms and beauty parlor gossip of the ladies who lunch.

The phrase golden handshake denotes payment to an executive to keep him or her at a company. Burleigh extends this idea to include payment to the current and past wives, daughters, and liaisons of powerful, rich men. And folks line up to be handcuffed, because … well, because money.

Chapters are devoted to the six most important women in Donald Trump’s life: grandmother Elizabeth Christ Trump; mother Mary Ann MacLeod Trump; wives Ivanna, Marla, and Melania; and daughter Ivanka. An epilogue glances at his two sisters, his daughter Tiffany, some female employees, and a few of the women who have accused him of sexual assault. All these are assessed in relation to wealth.

It’s almost as though Trump’s glittering present were built on purpose to obscure his own origins. Both grandmother and mother were immigrants, the first from Germany and the second from Scotland. Each had trouble at first; each returned to her homeland, then back to America.

Elizabeth Christ Trump was a poor German immigrant when her husband died, leaving her with three children to support in a foreign land. Illiterate, with no knowledge of English or advanced degree, she possessed none of the skills Trump now says he wants to see in “merit immigration.” A total “loser,” as a particular family member might say. Yet somehow she managed, from her kitchen, to start a real estate/construction firm Trump now says was begun by his father.

The second uneducated, no-talent immigrant in his life was his mother, Mary Ann MacLeod Trump, a poverty-stricken girl from a dusty fishing village in Scotland. She was fond of putting on airs and watching royal weddings.

Trump seems to dismiss all mention of his grandmother. In official biographies of this self-titled self-made man, little or no mention arises of her contribution to the Trump brand (like starting it). His mother’s main legacy? Making him read the Bible, and, after years of serving as a maid in the Carnegie New York household, instilling in him bad taste by gold-leafing everything.

This ambivalent (to put it mildly) relation to immigrant beginnings in a president whose policies have hardly favored immigration continues in two of his marriages. As is well known, Ivanna is Czech and Melania Slovenian. As is also well known, they are denizens of the high life, high fashion, high living. They came here to make it; nothing wrong with that. Their marriages were part of the climb. His project with both has been to turn them into superstars. Ivanna became a businesswoman superstar on almost equal footing. Melania’s undeniable glamour, married with her somewhat mysterious EB-1 “genius” visa, filled the bill, and her frequent unhappy appearance suggests she’s trying hard.

The only American-bred was Marla (who called sex with Trump the best she ever had). She got the heave-ho, and a notably parsimonious prenuptial agreement, because, among other things (like frolicking with a lover underneath a lifeguard stand in Florida), she refused to wear high heels with her shorts and pants. Details like these make Burleigh’s book especially piquant. Stiletto heels figure prominently in Trump world: The women surrounding him wear them in public, and, for all we know (Burleigh tries hard to find out), to bed.

First daughter Ivanka (“little Ivanna”) is, as it turns out, an enthusiastic and talented capitalist, on board with the Trump program; Trump freely admits she is more acceptable socially than he is. Daughter Tiffany (named after the jewelry store on the first floor of Trump Tower) is comparatively retiring, shunning the spotlight (as grandmother, mother, and Melania have done) and tending to law school.

King Midas saw his demise because everything he touched turned to gold, including his food. Which might explain why Trump women are so thin. Then again, as the Duchess of Windsor said, “One can never be too rich or too thin.”

Jackie S. Atkins is a retired jockey and current screenwriter living in Cape May.