Literature Society: Omarosa's Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House
There are two anecdotes in Unhinged, Omarosa Manigault Newman’s deeply unsatisfying new tell-all about her fifteen years inside Donald Trump’s world, first as a breakout star on The Apprentice and later in his waking nightmare of an administration that separately and collectively say everything that needs to be said about the author and how she sees the world.
In the first, Omarosa takes perverse credit for giving the odious world of reality television one of its most obnoxious and ubiquitous catchphrases when she writes, with exquisitely misguided pride, “I had many famous lines to come out of the first season (of The Apprentice). For instance, I was the first person to say on a reality TV show the now-famous phrase “I’m not here to make friends.” My objective was to methodically eliminate each contestant, one by one, so why would I want an emotional attachment to any of them? How could you lobby “Trump” to fire your “friend” on national TV with millions of people watching?”
Why would someone want to claim credit for introducing such a toxic, insufferable piece of reality-competition bluster into the world? That seems like something one of Jon Wurster’s hilariously narcissistic and myopic fictional characters on The Best Show would brag about, not something a genuine human being might point to with pride as one of their many, many contributions to a culture and a society that, to be brutally honest, are not quite worthy of them.
Omarosa is an ordained Baptist minister. Yet her memoir suggests that the Gospel of Donald Trump has informed the way she sees the world and her place in it far more than those books about Jesus and stuff.
In the second damning anecdote, the author writes about how disgusted she was that the The National Enquirer secretly sent a reporter to her murdered brother’s funeral without telling anyone for the sake of an “exclusive.” The author was so apoplectic that she threatened to sue until Donald Trump arranged a deal where Omarosa would refrain from suing the parent company of The National Enquirer in exchange for a job working for the tabloid that had recently slandered her.
Omarosa seemingly had no problem becoming part of an organization so sleazy and dishonest and, well, deplorable, that she planned on suing them. So it’s not terribly surprising that a strong black Democratic woman who looks up to Barack Obama as a heroic, inspirational figure found herself working for a campaign, and later an administration, that has done a terrible job of concealing its visceral contempt for strong women, Democrats, African-Americans and Obama.
Like Trump, Omarosa’s conception of politics is intensely ego and slight-driven. The lifelong Democrat, who previously worked in Clinton/Gore administration before ascending to reality television infamy hoped to score a prominent position in the election campaign of Hillary Clinton. When that didn’t happen, she segued into being one of Trump’s most ubiquitous surrogates. It was an unlikely but mutually symbiotic/parasitic partnership of convenience that benefitted both parties until it didn’t.
Trump, an inveterate creature of media, loved having a strong, polished, media and press-savvy black woman on cable news gushing about his greatness and countering, through both her words and her mere presence, the widespread, fundamentally correct impression that Donald Trump is a deeply racist misogynist who fears and despises minorities and women and dreams of an all-white world where men like himself can say and do anything they like without fear of consequences or reprisals.
Omarosa, meanwhile, went from being a half-remembered walking punchline to being a top advisor to the Republican nominee for president and then the most powerful man in the world.
In her endlessly self-aggrandizing, self-serving account, Omarosa depicts herself as the real very stable genius, an experienced, ruthlessly disciplined political professional who brought order and stability to a campaign utterly lacking in both.
Unhinged is a book-length response to the oft-asked question, “What the hell did Omarosa even do within the Trump campaign/administration?” with, “Pretty much everything, except for all of the bad stuff.”
The author finds a million different ways to rationalize working for a man she sees as an invaluable friend and mentor, a man who fundamentally understood her the same way she felt she understood the president before he becomes a tragic mystery to her, and represents everything she despises in part by drawing a bogus-seeming distinction between the Trump she knew and revered at the beginning of The Apprentice, who, in her telling at least, was svelte and focussed, brilliant and sharp and the morbidly obese, doddering, seemingly senile and/or dementia-riddled man-baby currently occupying the White House, who seemingly can’t understand anything more complicated and nuanced than Garfield cartoons.
Over the course of the book, Omarosa comes to a slow, gradual, creeping and hilariously fake realization that something might be seriously wrong with the president’s brain. Even more alarmingly, Omarosa comes to suspect that a man with a long, humiliating and utterly damning record of saying and doing egregiously racist and sexist things might not be the strong advocate for women and minorities he pretended to be for Omarosa’s sake.
In a section of the book where the author accuses nemesis Kellyanne Conway of overstating her importance to Trump’s administration and the world at large, she writes, without a hint of irony or self-consciousness, “If news got out that I thought the president was delusional or mentally impaired, the impact on national or global stability could be cataclysmic.”
Call me cynical, but if widely mocked reality television villain Omarosa were to join the massive chorus of critics and former supporters casting judgment on the president’s mental state it would not rock the globe, causing riots throughout Asia and Africa, tanking the stock market and sending the global economy into a tailspin. It would not spark a civil war, or an impeachment, or cause the very foundations of Western civilization to crumble, as Omarosa seems to fervently believe.
I suspect that if the news that Omarosa thought the president was delusional or mentally impaired came out, no one would care. It would inspire the same non-response her book has.
Unhinged is a book-length exercise in damage control and re-framing the narrative. The author wants to replace the “Wacky Omarosa” caricature of the public imagination, a ruthless, ambitious drama queen with a Trump-worthy flair for the dramatics with a revisionist portrayal of herself as a smart, accomplished, inspirational figure of faith and righteousness who overcame incredible obstacles, including a childhood haunted by violence and poverty, to reach the highest corridors of power.
Omarosa justifies working for a figure who stands in stark, angry opposition to everything that she believes in, other than crushing your opponents and victory at all costs, by dramatically exaggerating her cultural importance (in a typically self-effacing passage she speaks of an “epic responsibility to be the voice of my community and women of color in the White House”) and arguing that she could accomplish more working within a system (a dirty, rigged, ferociously racist and women-hating system to be sure) than outside of it.
In that respect, Omarosa was doomed to fail from the beginning. She presents herself as the voice of women and African-Americans in a campaign and an administration with barely concealed contempt for both. Much of the book is consequently bogged down with dry, self-serving accounts of all the admirable things the author tried to do to bring together Trump and pillars of the African-American community that were undone by the Trump’s administration’s disdain for a black community that voted overwhelmingly against him, and the African-American community’ widespread and richly merited hatred of the president
In Omarosa’s telling, she tried to scold and school Trump on why he was so desperately, tragically and unforgivably wrong on matters ranging from the Central Park Five to his “beef” with beloved Civil Rights hero John Lewis but the baby-grandpa in the White House just pouted and dismissed her. Omarosa depicts herself as the Resistance within the White House, a bold maverick fighting for minorities and women in the face of unrelenting opposition and vicious racism and sexism but she mostly seems to have fought for her own interests.
Time and time again, Omarosa coaches the seemingly senile president on what to say and do in order to not humiliate himself in front of a group of African-Americans or women, only to have him pull a Donald Trump and ignore her talking points and scripted lines in favor of showing up and ad-libbing something racist, offensive yet incomprehensible.
This is the type of book you write when you want to set the record straight. But it’s also the kind of book you write when your reputation is in tatters and you want a job or to eventually run for political office on the basis of your relevant experience. This is a resume in book form, designed to convince you that while Trump World was aflame with insanity and in-fighting, stoic, hard-working, dependable Omarosa kept her head down and did what needed to be done, even if seemingly everyone else in the world insists otherwise.
I’m glad that I was sitting down while reading Unhinged because otherwise I would have fainted from shock at the book’s never ending stream of explosive revelations. Trump ran his White House like a reality competition! Mike Pence is a dead-eyed, sycophantic ghoul who can’t wait to be president! Donald and Melania’s marriage is joyless and cold! Betsy DeVos is an intellectual lightweight and an astonishingly poor choice for Secretary of Education! After promising to drain the swamp and bring hell to the moneyed Republican establishment, Trump sure filled his cabinet with a fuck-ton of billionaire investment slimeballs! The Trump administration is mighty white, and mighty wrong! Donald Trump sure doesn’t have much of an attention span, and he ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, either!
Some of the revelations about Trump and his evil minions in Unhinged are of the “No duh!” variety while others will make you say, “Christ, doesn’t everyone already know that?”
Unhinged may or may not be fake news but it certainly feels like old news. Unless you consider Omarosa’s contention that Trump’s possible dementia may be linked to his compulsive consumption of Diet Coke a Watergate-level bombshell, then it’s really not even news at all. It’s just gossip, and not even particularly juicy gossip at that.
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