In ‘Raising Trump’ and ‘The Kardashians,’ Two Portraits of Modern American Matriarchy

In ‘Raising Trump’ and ‘The Kardashians,’ Two Portraits of Modern American Matriarchy


“Raising Trump” does offer a glimpse into the trivial tyrant power Trump’s father, Fred, exercised, expecting everyone at the lunch table to order steak after he does, miffed when Ivana alone breaks ranks and orders fish. “No, she’ll have the steak,” Fred tells the waiter, but Ivana holds firm. Donald doesn’t back Ivana up then or afterward, but rather is displeased that she didn’t knuckle under: “Why didn’t you just have a friggin’ steak?” “Raising Trump” also provides a window into Donald’s pettiness when he pulls on Ivanka’s ski pole during a family race down the slope in order to win — cheating to beat his own young daughter! Pranks, deceptions and convenient absences come to a head in Aspen, when a young hussy swoops down on Ivana’s restaurant table and introduces herself. “I’m Marla and I love your husband. Do you?”

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Eric Yahnker

Meet Marla Maples, the mistress Ivana refers to as “the showgirl.” Ivana divulges nothing of what was said in the heat of the ensuing battle with her husband back at the chalet, one of the many frustrating cloth-drops over the parrot cage in this book. The marital rupture inflicted a string of indignities on Ivana as the New York tabloids engaged in dueling headlines, the most infamous being Maples’s “Best Sex I Ever Had” boast on the front page of The Post. With her faint air of Zsa Zsa Gabor and madcap aplomb, Ivana aerated Trump’s persona during their marriage — gave his brash, crass excess a dash of dynasty dazzle and camp. Once their partnership was sundered, Ivana took her blithe esprit and comic malaprops to enjoy the high life elsewhere (“In 2006, my yacht was parked at Cannes for the film festival, and I was having a party with two hundred people on it”), a pity since she might have been a more inspiriting first lady than the inscrutable, animatronic Melania. As someone who grew up in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia and witnessed Russian tanks crushing the Prague Spring, Ivana would have been more sensitive and perhaps even resistant to Russian interference than our current White House has been. Hurt and humiliated as she was by Donald’s infidelity, however, Ivana remains a loyalist, proclaiming, “I believe he’ll be a great president,” perhaps the first in a family dynasty. Of Ivanka, she suggests, “Who knows? One day, she might be the first female — and Jewish — POTUS.” I’vana throw up.

The subtitle to Jerry Oppenheimer’s “The Kardashians: An American Drama” evokes the panoramic scope and muted trumpets of a Ken Burns epic, but crack open the book and the whiff of cheese is unmistakable. It’s almost comforting knowing that we are in the able, busy hands of a veteran journeyman with few pretensions to subtlety, scene-painting and the stately march of history. The author of biographies of the Clintons, Rock Hudson, Anna Wintour, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters and other two-legged notables, Oppenheimer doesn’t doodle around — he hacks away. The prologue kicks off with a classic bit of ooga-booga involving a Christian prophetess who told the then-obscure lawyer Robert Kardashian that, in his words, “one day my name, the Kardashian name, would be known around the world.” And, lo, the curse came to pass. On June 17, 1994, the day that the white Ford Bronco chase covered live from coast to coast entered American lore, Robert Kardashian — friend, legal defender and personal exculpator of the former football great and “Naked Gun” co-star O.J. Simpson — read aloud his client’s rambling letter of professed innocence concerning the slashing homicides of his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman to a locust swarm of international press. He was identified on TV screens as “Robert Kardashian, Simpson Friend,” and from that moment the “Kardashian” name has become pop culture’s most persistent rash. Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Rob and their half sisters, Kendall and Kylie … all those freaking Kardashians, but the K who counts the most is, of course, Robert’s then-wife, Kris: Kristen Houghton Kardashian and the future Kris Jenner — schemer, dreamer, mother, impresario and “cougar extraordinaire.” It was she who would convert Kardashian from an instant household name into a self-perpetuating media brand and meme.

It can’t be said that Oppenheimer is in Kris’s corner as she bops her way to the top. Even as a high schooler she’s tagged as a “shallow opportunist,” and the chapter where the teenage Kris meets her first lover, a 28-year-old professional golfer, is titled “Hole in One.” Her marriage to Robert in 1978 would have been a parodic misalliance under balmier circumstances. For most readers, Ira Levin’s 1972 best-selling novel “The Stepford Wives” was a satire and cautionary tale; for the future Mrs. Kardashian, the 1975 thriller movie it inspired was a training manual. While dating Kris, Robert insisted that she listen to instructional audiocassettes to stock the bare pantry of her mind with knowledge, mistakenly assuming she would be an obedient helpmate. Unfortunately for this, Kris’s favorite mini-series was “The Thorn Birds,” that passion-tossed ’80s show about forbidden love in the kangaroo outback.

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Despite these premarital misgivings, they wed and dutifully reproduced, but this Beverly Hills housewife was never going to relegate herself to hostess duty. Living large and spending big, Kris outfitted herself with fake boobs after seeing Nicole Simpson’s new pair (“I thought, I want two of those, please!”), and cheated on her husband with a young soccer player (“You can be a good mother and still be a tramp,” as one interested bystander puts it, words to live by). Divorce follows, and Robert Kardashian’s life becomes one sad, long, dribbling anticlimax. Basking in the celebrity glory of membership in O. J.’s dream team, after the shocking acquittal he found himself shunned, mocked and blackballed, and a couple of marriages later he died at age 59 from esophageal cancer. Meanwhile, Kris flourishes still, her subsequent union with the former Olympian Bruce Jenner (later Caitlyn) supplying a second-stage booster rocket to the Kardashian brand.

Kim’s infamous sex tape with her then-boyfriend Ray J provided the initial liftoff. Modestly titled “Kim Kardashian, Superstar,” it surfaced in 2007, the same year that the reality series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” debuted on E!, executive-produced by the inescapable Ryan Seacrest and with Kris presiding as the “momager” of this ever-expanding family enterprise. One sympathizes with Oppenheimer as he tries to keep track of all these loose marbles, but his chronicle of the Kardashian Kids carries unpleasant racial overtones to which he appears tone-deaf. He mentions Khloe’s marriage to “the 6-foot-10 black pro basketball player Lamar Odom,” cites Kim’s divorce from Damon Thomas, “the first of her three African-American husbands,” and later circles back to Khloe, who “apparently had a real thing about romancing giant-size African-American hoop stars” (my agog italics). Composing himself, Oppenheimer covers the controversy over the Kardashians’ appropriation of black culture and iconography, as epitomized by Kim’s bare-backsided cover shot for Paper magazine (the one that “broke the internet”), but by then it’s too late in the book to be affecting a furrowed brow and going all Charlie Rose on us.

In the epilogue, Oppenheimer notes that all is not ducky in Kardashiana. The ratings for “Keeping Up” (now in its 14th season) are eroding and Kardashian mugs on the covers of slick magazines have become newsstand underperformers. During Fashion Week in 2016 Kim was robbed of $11 million-worth of jewelry by masked gunmen who broke into her Paris hotel suite and left her gagged — a crime that aroused suspicion that it was all a publicity stunt (it wasn’t, according to follow-up reports) and a hardy chorus of schadenfreude across social media. Oppenheimer floats the scenario that the wily Kris has one last shazam! act to pull: a daredevil leap for the biggest prize of all, the presidency. Citing Trump’s 2016 victory, he draws the obvious, dreary parallels between their reality-TV roots and social media reach, and explains that Kris and her family “have a big following among young African-American men, a bloc that eluded Trump, and have huge support among millennial women 18 to 34, and support in the transgender community — especially if Caitlyn, a staunch Republican, plays ball and stumps for her ex-wife if she, indeed, runs for elective office as she’s suggested.”

Please, stop. First Ivanka’s name is floated, now Kris’s, as if the most powerful office in the shrinking free world is a glorious bauble awarded after long devotion to celebrity, self-enrichment and the family brand, public service be damned. Why keep feeding their ravenous egos? Shouldn’t their brazen success be enough for them? It’d be nice if the first woman president were someone who’d actually done some good.

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