The Real Melania Trump

Melania Trump’s RNC speech got unjustified praise when in reality it was a microcosm of her hypocritical complicity in Donald Trump’s depravity.
First Lady Melania Trump speaking at the White House during the Republican National Convention – August 25, 2020. (C-SPAN)

First Lady Melania Trump speaking at the White House during the Republican National Convention – August 25, 2020. (C-SPAN)

Looking like a character sprung from the imagination of George Orwell, on August 25, 2020, Melania Trump, third wife of President Donald Trump, addressed the Republican National Convention (RNC) in a political speech from the White House’s recently austere Rose Garden. The stump speech, a possible Hatch Act violation for the many staffers who made it happen, was greeted with fluffy fawning over, as CBC News put it, Melania’s “humble and grateful tone.”

Politico asserted that Melania “pushed for racial unity” and claimed she brought normalcy:

CNN called her speech “extraordinary,” and David Brooks waggled his New York Times columnist finger at naysayers:

Like a mythical creature endowed with the power to make us forget, few people get to shed their pasts at the rate and frequency of Melania Trump. She is, after all, the person married to America’s Bully who claimed to have started an anti-bullying campaign she called “Be Best,” a grammatically-questionable one-upping of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Be better” entreaty to men.

It wasn’t the first time Melania appeared to plagiarize Michelle; in her previous RNC speech in 2016, Melania allegedly lifted lines wholesale.

In direct contradiction to her RNC assertions about racial justice, Melania Trump is also a “birther,” which is an odd line for the Slovenian-born immigrant to take. Birtherism, an attack steeped in racism, claimed, without any actual evidence, that former President Barack Obama was not born in the US and was not a citizen. It’s ironic coming from Melania given her own path to citizenship has been questioned.

Also on the praise pedestal is Melania’s acknowledgment of the nearly 180,000 Americans dead due to her husband’s mishandling of the pandemic, perhaps the most direct so far from anyone within any proximity of the White House. Yet somehow, at this late, late point as the pandemic still rages as hot as the California wildfires, that moment in a political speech is meant to erase Donald Trump, the one in a position to do something about it, dismissing the huge death toll with, “It is what is.”

Melania is often treated like a victim or a hostage, with an “unauthorized” biography even bearing the title Free Melania. She is neither. She is a willing accomplice to Trump, one who supports his words and his deeds; one who uses her clothing to send messages she later denies; one who provides the cover by pretending to contradict that which Trump does. But that’s all that it is: pretense. Let’s discuss the real Melania.

Melania Promoted Birtherism

In 2011, Melania Trump, just like her husband Donald, pushed the completely fictional, utterly meritless claim that President Obama was born in Kenya.

Birtherism is racism, pure and simple. The futile attempt to spread it to California native Senator Kamala Harris underscores that purpose. Her duplicitous RNC speech was not the first time this year Melania was confronted with her own history when she unironically marked Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery.

And yet the mythology of Melania and Ivanka as “moderating forces” on Trump persists, with stories of how Trump “took heat” from them because of racist chants. As CNN points out, publicly, Melania stays silent on her husband’s overt racism. Though she claims to be anti-bullying, we’ve yet to see any effect on the bombastic Donald Trump.

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Melania’s Abuse Of Taxpayer Dollars

After Trump’s inauguration, Melania Trump stayed in New York instead of moving to Washington DC with her husband, at incredible expense to taxpayers. The Secret Service, for example, paid at least $2.4 million in rent to Trump Tower. Melania reportedly spent $675,000 in flights, Politifact claims, “to care for her son” in the first three months of this administration.

We were told that was the reason she stayed in New York. It turns out, like so many warmly fuzzy things we are told about Melania, this one was also untrue. It recently came to light that Melania reportedly stayed in New York not because she wanted to keep Barron’s life stable, but because she was renegotiating her prenup.

Melania reportedly spent nearly $100,000 on a hotel in Cairo where she stayed for six hours in 2018. She drew comparisons to Marie Antoinette for tearing out and replanting the Rose Garden in the midst of the pandemic and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Arwa Mahdawi writes in The Guardian while arguing that Melania sees the White House as a money grab, just like Trump:

“As well as retiring the #FreeMelania hashtag, I think it’s time to retire the idea that, just because she doesn’t say much, there’s anything remotely mysterious or interesting about Melania. A biography of the first lady published last year (title: Free, Melania) describes her as “an enigma” and that language has been echoed repeatedly elsewhere. But Melania is not a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. She’s just an opportunist wrapped in Chanel.”

Melania’s Immigration Hypocrisy

Melania Trump gained her path to citizenship from an “Einstein Visa,” or one reserved for people who demonstrate extraordinary ability. From the BBC:

“To obtain an EB-1 for extraordinary ability, an immigrant has to provide evidence of a major award or meet three of 10 criteria proving excellence in their field. The criteria include coverage of the applicant in major publications, original and significant contributions to a field, and work displayed at artistic exhibitions.”

As the article points out, narrowing the field of excellence can lower the bar tremendously, but it is unclear over what low bar Melana stepped, as her applications are not public. Still, she was one of merely five Slovenians to receive the visa in 2001. Melania was a model, but not one with any real international status. While some use her nude portraits as means to discredit or devalue her, such attacks are misogyny, no matter where they’re aimed. Melania devalues Melania; no woman’s worth or immigration status depends upon her state of dress.

It turns out, under the immigration rules her husband implemented, Melania would have been a priority for deportation for allegedly working without the proper visa to do so. The Right might call her American-born son her “anchor baby,” a dehumanizing phrase that should be used by no one, and her parents recently became citizens through “chain-migration,” a formerly scholarly term now tainted with xenophobia. It refers to new citizens bringing their relatives into the US to also become citizens, another practice that Trump wants to end.

While there are questions about whether Melania was properly documented in her journey to citizenship, one thing she never was is “illegal,” as no human, no matter how onerous, self-serving or hypocritical, is illegal.

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Melania’s Clothing Messages

Pointing out the contradiction between her words and her choice of military-style outfit for her RNC speech, the New York Times described Melania “ready for battle.” Melania’s fashion serves as her most passive-aggressive means of sending messages, and one she frequently deploys. At Trump’s inauguration, Melania wore an outfit media outlets described as “channeling” former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Trump himself claimed Melania was the “new Jackie O,” about a year before Melania destroyed all traces of the wife of President John Kennedy in the Rose Garden, ripping out the trees Jackie herself planted.

After the story of Access Hollywood tape of Trump describing where he liked to grab women with or without their consent broke, Melania wore a shirt described by Gucci as a pink “pussy-bow shirt,” to one of the debates in 2016.

Kate Bennet, author of Free Melania says of her clothing: “Having covered her for as long as I have, each thing she does has meaning to it, even the clothing she wears.” Business Insider reported: “Bennett wrote that the blouse was a peak example of no coincidences in Melania’s wardrobe choices.”

Melania sent perhaps her most unambiguous message with her green jacket that read “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” when she went to visit immigrant children separated from their families and kept in detention by her husband. She initially claimed she meant nothing by the jacket. Her then-spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said: “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message.”

A statement with a tinge of honesty, as the message was not at all hidden. Melania later completely changed her story, claiming it was a message to the media. Said Melania: “I would prefer that they focus on what I do and my initiatives than what I wear.”

Esquire reported:

“One easy way to prevent the media from closely analyzing her fashion choices would be to stop wearing clothes with messages in them. We wouldn’t be talking about her jacket if she didn’t wear it with the express intention of taking a jab at the press! We wouldn’t be talking about what she wore to Africa if she didn’t go for the “colonizer chic” look. It’s truly that simple.”

And therein lies the crux of Melania’s use of fashion. It’s its own form of gaslighting, a way of making statements while cloaking them in a very sheer cape of deniability. It’s not what she means; we are at fault for taking it that way. It is the hallmark of bullies, the idea that the responsibility for offense lies with the offended. As Bennet says, it’s no accident.

The Rantt Rundown

Melania Trump, America’s perpetual damsel in distress, married Donald Trump of her own free will and reportedly renegotiated her prenup on our dime. Somehow, through a haze of forgetting and a very, very expensive wardrobe, Melania is like a blank slate onto which people project their chosen image, despite ample evidence she is not who she intermittently professes to be.

Perhaps the unmitigated lack of decency at the RNC and within the Republican party as a whole in this terrible point in time makes even the pretense of it tantalizing, a source of hope. But it, and a Melania Trump who cares about racial equality or bullying or people dead of a pandemic fueled by her husband’s pathetic response, is a carefully cultivated mirage. Melania Trump is an unrepentant birther who has never apologized for her stance.

Melania Trump wears her message on her sleeve metaphorically and her back literally, and then denies she has any idea how we could possibly think she doesn’t care about children separated from their families when she wears a jacket that plainly says she doesn’t care. Melania Trump is a naturalized immigrant with an American son who secured citizenship for her parents while married to a man who wants to severely limit or end all of those things.

She tries on the skins of other First Ladies, wearing the clothes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis or the words of Michelle Obama, devoid of any real projected “self.” And perhaps that’s why these constant remodels of her character work; there’s not much there to overwrite.

But most of all, she is treated as though she somehow pulls Trump back from the worst of himself, despite zero evidence that she’s done so. And that if that prevents us from seeing the true danger that is the Trumps, then shame on us. The truth is here for us to see.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Melania Trump / Republican Party / RNC