Though Omarosa Manigault Newman’s gossipy tell-all, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, has taken over August headlines, there is nothing in its salacious pages that offers valuable insight on the dysfunctional Trump administration or the man at its center. Instead, the book is another in a string of opportunistic memoirs written by former Trump cronies, capitalizing on the disaster wrought by a hideous man and told by a woman who exited what she describes as the cult of Trumpworld. Often the sole woman of color in Trump’s milk-white orbit, Manigault Newman seeks empathy as a flawed but morally righteous person duped by a vengeful and omnipotent millionaire, but ultimately, she comes across, as she did on the Apprentice, as a woman willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Memoirs are only as reliable as their narrator, and everyone in this administration is unreliable. While many subjects have objected to specific anecdotes in Unhinged (White House correspondent April Ryan, a former friend, called Manigault Newman a liar), there’s no real reason to doubt the sum of Manigault Newman’s stories, because they don’t amount to much of anything new. Instead, they simply tell us much what we already know: that Trump is a thin-skinned narcissist who demands loyalty from all of his underlings; that he has strained relationships with his family members (he “covets” his daughter Ivanka, humiliates son Don Jr., and disrespects Melania); that Mike Pence is an ultra-conservative creep angling for his boss’s job; and that Trump is a racist deeply offended by Barack Obama’s presidency.
While the specific anecdotes—that he allegedly uses a tanning bed in the White House daily, that he guzzles around eight Diet Cokes a day, or that he has never read a single piece of legislation he’s signed—may amuse readers and embarrass Trump, none of this is news or, frankly, rises above gossip. But gossip is perhaps best suited to depict the Trump White House.
Ultimately, Manigault Newman has written a burn book, an exposé meant to hit back at those who hit her, and profit from them while doing so. As a short con, this makes enough sense; as part of a longer con, a way to keep her getting paid and listened to, it makes much less. Her best chance to regain a base level of credibility would have involved, if not converting, at least presenting the convincing conversion narrative that makes the most compelling memoirs.
In Unhinged, Manigault Newman recounts her difficult and improbable path to fame. She grew up on food stamps in a poor community in Ohio. When she was a child her father was murdered. From a young age, she was determined to make a name for herself; she was a competitive volleyball player and former beauty pageant winner. After college, she expanded her network and eventually landed a job in the Clinton White House.
Not long after her stint there, she joined the cast of the Apprentice, where she met Trump. There, she was determined to win but understood the challenges she faced: “Realistically, I knew that the very first Apprentice winner would not be a black woman,” she writes. “It was not that I lacked the confidence to win; I just understood how things worked. But even with the odds against me, I still wanted to win. The question was, could I win the show without being the actual winner?”
Manigualt Newman, who sought to become “the lady version of Trump,” appears to be obsessed with winning no matter what the cost and developed a reputation as a “tough political aide with a cutthroat attitude.” But as a black woman in America, she needed a strategy to win against odds that favor white people. “I gave him ratings, and he gave me, a woman of color, opportunities, again and again, which, in turn, gave him someone to point to and say, ‘I’m not a racist misogynist! Look at all I’ve done for Omarosa!’” she writes.
“Winning is a prerequisite for entering Trump’s orbit,” she notes, “populated, almost exclusively, by people like him, entertainers who said things to get a reaction or garner attention.” But winning alongside Trump requires a deep, willful naivety bordering on delusion. In 2015, after a volunteer position with a Hillary Clinton PAC didn’t transition into a campaign role, a spurned Manigault Newman switched teams and joined her old pal Trump without any hesitation. On her decision to jump ship to Trump’s campaign, she writes: “I had picked my team, and I wanted my team to win.”
His platform did not matter. She dismissed his opening campaign speech, when he called Mexicans rapists, as simply “strategically controversial,” the way so many white Trump allies did (and still do). Though Trump mounted a birther campaign against Obama, she writes, “Until the day he entered the race, I’d never heard anybody say, ‘Donald Trump is a racist.’” Instead, she thought of Trump as “racial,” meaning that he used “race and racial relations to manipulate people.” As if, somehow, this were better or different.
“In hindsight, I see the flaws in my thinking,” she reflects. “But as I’ve mentioned, I had a blind spot where Trump was concerned.”
When civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis protested Trump’s inauguration, Trump shot back that Lewis’s district is “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).” Manigault Newman writes that she was in disbelief: “I could not believe that Trump would insult a man who’d had his head bashed in for civil rights and who was attacked by police dogs and fire hoses,” she wrote. Again and again, Manigault Newman feigns shock at Trump’s overt racism, writing this about the wake of Charlottesville: “Given our relationship, I couldn’t believe he was a racist—but the people at this protest obviously were!”
That black leaders condemned her or urged her to quit Trump’s administration did not deter Manigualt Newman—in her telling, anyway. Instead, she blames civil rights leaders for being shortsighted, and positions herself as a broker for meetings like the ones between Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon B. Johnson, a racist who nonetheless signed the Civil Rights Act into law. In Manigault Newman’s case, of course, such meetings did not materialize. “I wished more black leaders would have come in and talked to Trump so we could get the dialogue started,” she writes of the beginning of the presidency. After numerous black panelists dropped out from another event she attended, she bemoans, “I was disappointed with another missed opportunity to connect with the civil rights community.”
While Manigault Newman possesses enough self-awareness to own up to a having “blind spot” against Trump’s racism and sexism, she continues to insist that her work to promote diversity under his administration was noble. Ultimately her appraisal of herself boils down to this: “Say what you will about my standing by Trump for way too long (which I agree with!), I was the only African American woman in the room, the only one speaking up for a community that, in the Trump White House, had not one other voice.”
It’s difficult to take this all that seriously. She must have realized that, for any number of reasons, she was not in a position to broker historic legislation or lessen the damage done by the racism at the heart of the Trump administration—racism that, she simultaneously claims, she didn’t even see. Still, this is what she’s selling in Unhinged.
Manigault Newman claims that the “last ‘last straw’” came after Trump failed to condemn the neo-Nazis that marched in Charlottesville and killed Heather Heyer after one white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. She says she began to plan her departure soon after that. But given her track record, it seems more likely that the low point simply clued Manigault Newman into the fact that the Trump’s administration was a sinking ship; that he was no longer a winner.
One month before she could exit gracefully, she writes, John Kelly fired her. Manigault Newman speculates the firing was over a tape she was trying to track down of Trump saying the N-word on the set of the Apprentice. (Manigault Newman conveniently leaked audio of staffers discussing the tape the same week as her book’s release). In a revelatory moment, it dawned on her that the slurs might specifically refer to her, one of only two black cast members during that season: “I would look like the biggest imbecile alive for supporting a man who used that word,” she writes. “And if he’d used it about me, the betrayal would be devastating.”
It’s hard to believe that Manigault Newman could really be shocked that Trump, whom she alleges called Kellyanne Conway’s half-Filipino husband George a racial slur, could ever utter the N-word. It raises the question: Had she not felt that the alleged tape was possibly referring to her, would Manigault Newman have been able to wave Trump’s racism aside yet again?
It’s hard not to wonder whether, had she not felt betrayed by the alleged tape or the firing (or both), she would have continued to blindly follow a bad man who made her rich and powerful. That such a question remains after all she describes here constitutes her memoir’s true, if inadvertent, lesson: Manigault Newman thought proximity to Trump, a man whose only interests are self-serving, would make her a winner. But the deck was inevitably stacked. The house always wins.