Melania Trump stands by her man, a thankless task
The wife of the Republican candidate has been ill served in the brutal presidential campaign
‘Melania has been bounced down the Republican campaigning ranks from player to mere decorative human accessory.’
The Guardian 5 November 2016
Melania Trump appears to have spent the entire US election as a sort of anti-Michelle Obama – whatever she does, however hard she tries. Not that she’s been that visible – her husband has mainly put his daughter, Ivanka, in the first lady spot on his campaigning chain-gang. When Melania has been thrust into the spotlight, it’s been to do a manifestly sub-par nerve-racked turn, before scurrying back into the shadows, amid accusations (at the mildest) of speech-plagiarism.
Now Melania has made another so-so speech (keeping to the relatively safe topic of childhood bullying). There have also been further allegations about Melania working as a model before officially obtaining her US work visa. Does it matter? Of course it does (it makes a mockery of her husband’s relentless anti-immigrant rhetoric). Another question could be: does Melania matter? After all this time, does she even exist as a legitimate separate entity outside of her husband’s swirling toxic orbit?
Throughout the Trump campaign, Melania has been simultaneously defined and eclipsed by her husband, which, considering his well-documented views on women, probably suits him just fine.
With a man like Trump (an ego driven by a sonic blast of narcissistic personality disorder), it makes a weird kind of sense that his daughter (his issue, his blood) is given pole female position, validating his genetic grandiloquence (subtext: everything that is of Trump is magnificent!), while his third wife (with her “chequered” past) is given tasks and duties almost as an afterthought.
Melania has been bounced down the Republican campaigning ranks from player to mere decorative human accessory, given as much significance and influence as Trump’s choice of tie at a rally. At the same time, in every negative, dehumanising way possible, Melania has been completely defined by her husband. Of course, something similar also happened to Hillary Clinton – an actual candidate – who’s spent her entire campaign being pelted by rocks for the “sins of Bill”.
The difference is that Hillary has at least (small mercies) also been attacked for who she is and what she’s done. Then there’s Michelle Obama, whose charisma seems at once amplified by her husband, while also robustly being independent of him. By contrast, from start to finish, the pressure has been on Melania to atone publicly for all her husband is and everything he represents, her every word and deed viewed and judged entirely via the omnipresent prism of the Donald.
So what? you might ask. As the saying goes, if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. But although associations are important, ultimately, only Donald Trump should be attacked for being Donald Trump.
Certainly, it seems too easy and dangerous to assess women solely via the medium of their men. You can already see it happening with Prince Harry and his new partner, Meghan Markel, a successful, attractive biracial actress being systematically reduced to how she, her heritage and achievements fit in with The Almighty Him. As a feminist, it makes me feel uneasy watching Markel being defined via her “suitability” for Harry, as if this were her only pertinent characteristic, all other nuance and agency of a living, breathing, thirtysomething individual cheapened or obliterated.
If this makes a soul uneasy, then perhaps the same courtesy should be extended to Melania Trump. Melania probably wouldn’t make a great first lady. (Not so much the anti-Michelle, as simply inadequate). However, the fact remains that during a wild, dirty election, Hillary Clinton emerged hurt by Bill, but not felled by him, Michelle gloriously stepped out of Barack’s shadow and even Ivanka is relatively unscathed. Only Melania wafts around like an election phantom whose only function is to be viewed and judged entirely via the medium of her husband. While it’s not surprising that this happened, it’s telling that nobody seems to mind a bit.