Trump and Women: Another Writer Looks for Answers

WASHINGTON — Should Americans be shocked that President Trump called a woman “Horseface” this week?

Not if they know anything about Mr. Trump’s words and behavior over the past four decades, according to a growing subgenre of books that have chronicled in wincing detail the president’s relationships with the women in his life.

The books — written by authors from Ivana Trump, the president’s first wife, to Michael Wolff — have unearthed and chronicled the disparaging comments Mr. Trump has made to the women around him about their appearances and behavior and his often-expressed belief that women can’t be trusted.

The latest entry, “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women,” by the journalist Nina Burleigh, traces how the consequence-free (so far) comments about women continue a running theme that started early in Mr. Trump’s life. Ms. Burleigh details his relationships with women, from the austere German grandmother who left her workhorse imprint on the Trump family to the president’s two adversarial former wives.

Does he like women?

Ms. Burleigh pondered the question in an interview on Friday.

“Of course he likes some women,” Ms. Burleigh said, “and some women like him.”

It’s the ones who don’t, she added, who see a different side of him.

“It piques a certain primordial rage in him,” Ms. Burleigh said.

That seemed to be what happened this week when Mr. Trump revisited his habit of using disparaging and somewhat juvenile terms to strike out at women who have spoken out against him. He not only described Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels, as “Horseface,” but he also called Senator Elizabeth Warren by his nickname for her, “Pocahontas.” Both have had less than flattering words to say about Mr. Trump.

When asked by The Associated Press if his comments about Ms. Clifford were appropriate, he responded, “Take it any way you want.”

With the midterm elections looming, Mr. Trump had in recent days been trying to emphasize how much he has to offer to female voters — primarily a healthy economy and a vague promise of “safety.” But Ms. Burleigh’s book is now a timely reminder that Mr. Trump’s comments about women didn’t start with the presidential campaign.

Unlike other books detailing Mr. Trump’s personal relationships, “Golden Handcuffs” lacks the explosive details of Mr. Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which resulted in a series of presidential Twitter explosions; the juicy Trump-children nuggets in Emily Jane Fox’s “Born Trump”; or the firsthand details relayed in Ivana Trump’s memoir “Raising Trump.”

“I kicked Donald out of the room,” the first Mrs. Trump wrote about giving birth, touching on her husband’s reproductive squeamishness. “Let him witness the birth? Never. My sex life would be finished after that.”

But “Golden Handcuffs” still unearths stark details of the forces that shaped Mr. Trump’s thinking about women — Mr. Trump’s father, for example, forbade the word “pregnant” from being uttered in a household that would grow to five children, the book notes.

It also underscores how different Mr. Trump’s first marriage was compared with his second and third — each new Mrs. Trump, Ms. Burleigh writes, was more malleable and ultimately more amenable to his behavior than the last. As one of Melania Trump’s childhood friends tells the author, “It’s about all that power and protection.”

A growing subgenre of books have chronicled the president’s relationships with the women in his life.CreditGallery Books, via Associated Press

Like authors before her, Ms. Burleigh has sifted through decades of publicly available materials — including Mr. Trump’s own words in memoirs and interviews — to animate the central point of the book: that Mr. Trump has long believed women, particularly if they are not able to be molded to his liking, are not to be trusted.

“Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers,” Mr. Trump wrote shortly after his second divorce in “Trump: The Art of the Comeback,” one of several Trump memoirs highlighted in the book. “The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naïve or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”

When women don’t exit his life without a fight, Ms. Burleigh notes, they are threatened with silence. The practice goes back decades: Plans for a memoir written by Marla Maples, Mr. Trump’s second wife, were scuttled because “a confidentiality clause Trump inserted into the divorce decree effectively sewed up Marla’s lips for life.”

The instinct to deal with problems with women in court has been a theme throughout Mr. Trump’s time in office, and was demonstrated by the “Horseface” comment he leveled against Ms. Clifford, the president’s onetime paid-off paramour. It came as he gloated about a federal judge’s decision to dismiss a defamation suit she had brought. Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he now had the green light to “go after Horseface” in court.

Ms. Clifford’s lawyer responded by calling the president “a disgusting misogynist.”

The White House did not respond to questions about Ms. Burleigh’s book or the president’s comments about women on Friday. In the past, the West Wing has disparaged similar books as publicity-seeking stunts.

Ms. Burleigh resurfaces Mr. Trump’s abusive behavior toward women, including pouring red wine down the back of an “unattractive reporter” and being accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct. She also traced Mr. Trump’s familial roots and explored the women in the president’s life whose lives remain a mystery.

The first chapters examine Mr. Trump’s grandmother, Elisabeth Christ Trump, a German immigrant who raised her children in isolation from her homeland. She Americanized the spelling of her name to Elizabeth, and used her husband’s inheritance to incorporate the real estate company that would come to be known as the Trump Organization — a fact that, Ms. Burleigh argues in the book, was disputed and ultimately erased from history with help from her grandson, who gave all credit to his father, Fred.

Next comes Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, the fisherman’s daughter from a Scottish village whose past as a maid in the 64-room Carnegie Mansion Ms. Burleigh uncovered in census files at the New York Public Library. That brush with New York high society, Ms. Burleigh writes, engendered an outsider’s love of ceremony and pomp inherited by Mrs. Trump’s fourth child, the future president of the United States.

Mr. Trump wrote in his 1987 memoir that he got his sense of showmanship from her. But he also grew up watching his father and grandmother scoff at his mother’s obsession with social status.

“Mary’s airs were the antithesis of her mother-in-law Elisabeth Trump’s — and Fred’s — way of life,” Ms. Burleigh wrote.

“Golden Handcuffs” also touches on the living: Melania Trump, the enigmatic homebody, and Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter and marketing juggernaut, are two central characters.

A glimpse of those two on election night provided the inspiration for Ms. Burleigh’s book. When she saw the president-elect flanked by “four or five gazelles all kind of looking alike” — the daughters, the daughters-in-law and the third Mrs. Trump — Ms. Burleigh felt as though the women behind the man were ultimately more interesting.

“‘What does it mean to American women that these women are participating in the commodification and branding of the feminine?’” she said she asked herself. “The presence of these women around him made me understand there is a whole demographic of American women who think that this” — meaning the beautiful women flanking a man who has attacked others — “is pretty much O.K.”

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