Brow Beat

In Her Memoir, Stormy Daniels Trumps the President

The actress and director offers Full Disclosure about more than their sexual encounters.

Stormy Daniels pointing and speaking into a scrum of microphones.
Stormy Daniels (Stephanie Clifford) speaks to reporters as she exits the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York after a hearing related to Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney and confidante, on April 16. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Okay, so did you just skip to this chapter?” That’s how the adult-film actress and director Stormy Daniels starts Chapter 3 of her new memoir, Full Disclosure, a book rushed out at impressive speed since the story of Daniels’ 2006 sexual liaison with Donald Trump broke wide earlier this year. Chapter 3 will tell you more than you’d ever want to know about Trump’s low-energy sexual performance and low-end toiletries (“there was something so right and so wrong about a purported billionaire using a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner”). But the part that tells you what you really need to know about Daniels herself comes later, in Chapter 6, when she and her second husband, a rock drummer, decide to have a child together. She insists that before they do he must rack up at least a modest résumé as a porn performer. That way, “if we ever split up,” she explains, “you can’t use it against me in court.” Stormy Daniels is smart, and she plays the long game.

Daniels has garnered her share of hate mail and death threats since Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement about their relationship, leading to an FBI raid on Cohen’s office and his conviction on eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. But she’s also won herself over 800,000 Twitter followers and the kind of fans who usually don’t frequent the strip clubs where she performs on tour. Gay men, groups of single women in their 40s, people who urge her on in her very public struggles against Trump and his minions—these are the newly minted admirers who tell Stormy, “You’re going to save the world.”

Many an opinion writer has proclaimed Daniels a “feminist hero,” from Jill Filipovic in the New York Times to Sady Doyle in Elle, who marveled at the possibility that a “lone woman’s voice will bring down the Goliath of structural sexism that is the Trump administration.” As both Filipovic and Doyle have pointed out, Trump supporters often attempt to discredit Daniels by simply stating her profession. Republican lawmakers even tried to dismiss allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh because the woman making them is also a client of Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, contemptuously referring to him as a “porn star lawyer” during last week’s hearings. Daniels, Filipovic wrote, is expected to curl up and die from the humiliation of all this name-calling. Instead, she shrugs it off, usually with a clever quip that makes her attacker look like an impotent cretin. No matter how often people try to cast her as Hester Prynne, she insists on playing another American archetype: the unflappable, wisecracking dame. Her Twitter feed is littered with deleted tweets she responded to so devastatingly that the trolls were the ones obliged to crawl away, licking their wounds and erasing their tracks. Sadly, you have to reverse-engineer most of her best jokes.

Daniels makes the ideal nemesis for Trump, Full Disclosure reveals, because she really is what he mostly just pretends to be. Her red-state cred is solid. Raised in squalor by a depressed, narcissistic, neglectful mother (her father never showed much interest in her and deserted the family when she was 5), she recalls overhearing adults write her off as “white trash” during her childhood in Baton Rouge. She resolved to prove them wrong by earning straight A’s and becoming the editor of her high school newspaper. She loves head-banging heavy metal and horses, but she’s also a prudent striver, supporting herself by dancing in strip clubs from the age of 17, scrupulously cultivating well-behaved, consistent regulars over flash-in-the-pan big spenders—there’s that long game again. She doesn’t drink (one of the few ways in which she bonded with Trump) because “I can’t tell you how many clubs I’ve been in where girls get drunk and lose their money.” Unlike every other porn star memoir, Full Disclosure doesn’t traffic in inane industry clichés about Daniels getting into the business because she “loves sex.” She portrays herself as a responsible professional who shows up on time, does the best job she can, and is well-compensated for it. She briskly moved from acting in adult films into writing and directing, becoming the most acclaimed female director in the business.

Daniels also identifies as a Republican, although she writes that she sat out the 2016 presidential election because she couldn’t decide between Clinton and Trump—which is a bit perplexing, given her support for women’s rights, abortion rights, sex education, and gay marriage. (She refers to a close friend of over 20 years as her “gay dad.”) She doesn’t explain what attracted her to the GOP, but she does make clear her enthusiasm for capitalism in Full Disclosure. Perhaps she takes a bootstrapper’s pride in her self-made success—a marked contrast to Trump’s inherited wealth. She’s a witty, scrappy underdog who stood up to a fat cat and his big-city lawyers, to all the snooty hypocrites who turn their noses up at her in public while eagerly consuming her movies in private.

Trump’s crassness has endeared him to his base, who like him because he appalls the coastal urbanites they believe look down on them. This makes it tricky for him and his advocates to sneer at Daniels for her supposedly low-class origins and profession; his own wife, after all, once posed for nude photos. Both Trump and Daniels like to trumpet their own achievements, but she’s actually earned hers the hard way. If he’s a fearless “straight-shooter,” Full Disclosure amply proves that she’s a far superior one—with much better aim.

Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels. St. Martin’s Press.

See all the pieces in the Slate Book Review.

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