Ivana, in Czechoslovakia, trained as a competitive skier—she almost made it to the Olympics, she says—and, in turn, she encouraged her kids to embrace athletic pursuits, not on the grounds that sports teach cooperation, but on the grounds that they teach competition. “Playing sports gives you the desire to be the best,” she notes. “If you develop a competitive drive early in life, it’ll stay with you forever.” She describes one skiing excursion in which all three kids, tired and cold and generally miserable, worked up the courage to ask her if they could leave the slopes. She refused. “I had my reasons for pushing them so hard,” she writes. “If you quit at the first twinge of discomfort, you become weak.” And, she adds: “By enduring, they learned just how good it feels to push past preconceived limits.”
Nietzsche, in a fur-lined ski parka: Ivana Trump, she suggests, like her ex-husband, is extremely interested in strength, in endurance, in notions of excellence both genetically endowed and fostered through stubborn force of will. Again and again in Raising Trump, via the woman who refers to herself unironically as “our family’s supreme leader,” is the Trumpian vision laid bare: a world of zero-sum stakes—a world populated by winners and losers, by those who work hard and get what they deserve and those who do not and get the same. Ivana was raised (secretly) Catholic; in her person, however—and in the values she shares with her ex-husband, and proudly claims to have instilled in her children—swirls the exhaust of the Protestant ethic. Success, in this vision, is a moral state. So is its opposite.
What’s perhaps most striking about Raising Trump, in that sense, is how thoroughly familiar it is in its words and its worldview. The author of this book may be Ivana Trump; it pulses, however, with the language more commonly associated with her ex-husband. Describing the Darwinian dynamics of the private-school selection process in New York City, Ivana notes matter-of-factly that “some schools were for the little dummies of rich parents.” She groups her own friends into categories: true friends, social climbers, users, abusers, and nobodies. She refers to Washington as a “crooked, boring city.” She mocks Marla Maples—she refers to Donald’s second wife, for most of the book, as “the showgirl”—for appearing on Dancing With the Stars, denigrating her for having “no class.” (“I never would have embarrassed Donald that way,” Ivana sniffs.) She makes repeated jabs, as per the recent family tradition, at Hillary Clinton.
Despite her easy insults, however, Ivana Trump is also a compelling narrator: She is often witty and even more often delightful, by turns unapologetically egotistical and whimsically self-effacing. Her outlandish decorating style, she writes, is “how Louis XVI would have lived if he had had money.” Her parenting style probably is, too. (“My version of helicopter parenting was to bring the kids to work with me in the Trump chopper.”) She refers to small talk as “coochi coochi moochi moochi.” She mocks “upper-crusty horsey people.” She loves dogs, tolerates cats, and hates mice on the basis of their “red devil eyes.” She has a really good anecdote about a tent springing a leak while she was camping with the kids: The mom-turned-MacGyver used the tampons she’d brought for the trip to absorb the water. The author of Raising Trump—Ivana wrote the book with Valerie Frankel, who has also served as a co-writer for Joan Rivers—is wacky and ostentatious and, on the whole, extremely fun to spend time with.