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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Book review: Trauma is part of America’s DNA

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You can barely stand to look.

You open your eyes quick, though, and scan because you need to be informed but the news is sometimes hard to take lately. Consuming in small bites may be best, or devour it if you can, but take care. In “The Reckoning,” Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. says you may’ve been the victim of trauma, and she offers a way to work beyond it.

“This country was born on trauma …” says Trump, through war, hardship, theft of land, slavery, and betrayals of all sorts — not to mention disease. As a psychologist, she wondered what things “might be like” for America after months of divisive politics and pandemic.

Trump, who was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, blames much of her PTSD on her uncle but for America as a whole, she says we’ve been through something deeper and wider-ranging: the trauma of slavery, injustice, and ongoing inequality — mostly for Blacks but also for Native Americans and LGBTQ people — that continues to permeate every corner of American life.

White people inherently enjoy white privilege, Trump says plainly, and they might try to deny it, but the fact is that the world Whites walk in so blithely is not the same one Black citizens live. That causes trauma to extend both ways because “Trauma shapes us in ways we may not be aware of and will always do so unless we face what has happened to us…[and] what we’ve done to each other.”

And that’s where politics enter, especially since the end of the Civil War: Politicians have become adept at convincing white America, subtly or overtly, that Black people are lesser; that “moving on” without reckoning is possible; and that we should put transgressions aside by whitewashing them, minimizing them and by refusing to demand accountability.

“But as seductive as it is, wiping out chapters in our history,” says Trump, “… leaves future generations vulnerable. We know this. Only remembering will heal us. Maybe it will even set us free.”

“The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal” by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

195 pages


St. Martin’s Press

c. 2021

Let’s start here: readers who come to “The Reckoning” for another dose of author Mary L. Trump’s family story will not be disappointed. She has plenty of acid left to spray on the last presidential administration’s years, but that’s not this book’s primary focus.

White privilege and the dismantling of racism is, and that comes as some surprise, in both the history Trump uses to make her points and in the obvious passion in her arguments. What she writes, however, and the lofty ideals she espouses are nothing new, yet here they feel like small terriers at your feet, nipping for unwavering attention, demanding focus and deep consideration.

You may not like what you read but it’s going to force you to think, hard, about the future, individually and nationally.

Unfortunately, “The Reckoning” is going to be politicized, when it’s not, not entirely. Though it shouldn’t, that may chase away politics-weary readers who would otherwise get a lot out of a book like this, one that may be an absolute eye-opener.

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