Melania Trump is an enigmatic character: a modern-day Mona Lisa, you might say. As one of the world’s most famous woman, her every action and facial expression is picked over by the media – and yet she remains a total mystery.
What can it be like to have a string of glamorous women claiming to have had sex with your husband in 2006 just after you had given birth to your only son? To have visited your apartment in his company? To have gone to a hotel room where he met them in a bathrobe? I can’t imagine it’s pleasant, even if you already knew some of the details. Even if your husband had a well-documented fondness for the female form, those sorts of allegations must be horrible to hear.
Now Melania has gingerly put her toe into the spotlight, giving a revealing interview to ABC News (her first for over a year) in which she claims she “could be the most bullied person in the world”, and, when pressed if that was true, she reiterated that she believed she was indeed “one of them, if you really see what people are saying about me”.
In the past, Melania has claimed she has a “thick skin” and could handle uncomplimentary remarks – but now, something has changed. She says she has been “chronically harassed” and no longer bothers to check Twitter.
There has been a constant stream of snotty attacks about her appearance (speculation about cosmetic surgery, for instance), her choice of designer clothing and her body language around the president. When she swatted away his hand in public, it made headline news. Comedians routinely joke about the fact they sleep in separate beds, and recently, the former porn star Stormy Daniels told the world about the size of the Trump manhood, describing their sexual encounter in embarrassing details and claiming it was “a total disappointment”.
Is it OK for one famous woman (Daniels, in this case) to bully another by default? Melania is guilty of no crime as far as I know, other than a few fashion faux pas – that jacket with the slogan “I don’t really care, do u?” she wore to visit the Mexican border was a dodgy choice, but who can say they’ve never put on the wrong frock for a big occasion? Melania is always courteous to everyone she encounters, never less than professional in the role she was projected into when her husband (to her great discomfort) was elected to the highest office in the land.
I hope she has a secret exit strategy when his term of office is over and has planned a quiet life out of the spotlight. Maybe even another husband, one who would not be quite so patronising.
Melania’s claim that she’s the most bullied person the world is not altogether without merit – she’s clearly bossed about to within an inch of her life by White House staff, who run around like headless chickens trying to please Trump while at the same time defusing and toning down his most dangerous initiatives. According to New York magazine, Trump has repeatedly tried to fire his chief of staff John Kelly, but Kelly “just ignores him”. Bob Woodward’s new book Fear: Trump in the White House reveals what a chaotic, toxic place it is, with claims that staffers secretly go into the president’s office and remove paperwork off his desk so he can’t action it.
Yesterday the world was granted an astonishing insight into how business is conducted under Trump, when the rapper and megalomaniac Kanye West was filmed bursting into a 10-minute monologue in the Oval Office, ostensibly at a lunch to discuss gang violence and manufacturing jobs in his home town of Chicago.
West started mouthing off and swearing while Trump just sat there, not sure how to respond. One giant ego out-trumping another. In this febrile environment – one where her husband rises early and goes to bed late, glued to the TV news, tweeting a torrent of bombastic abuse directed at anyone who dares question his judgement – is it surprising that Melania should feel under siege?
Contrast her predicament with that of Brigitte Macron, wife of the French president, who has insisted she continues her daily walks around Paris, even if she has to be accompanied by bodyguards. Brigitte’s husband might be increasingly unpopular, but the former teacher is a huge hit, the most popular first lady in years. Poor Melania is a modern prisoner, serving out a sentence in a high-security unit, every step of her day under surveillance.
Melania is clearly no pushover – she has occasionally spoken out to support causes or people her husband doesn’t agree with. Recently, she stuck up for basketball star LeBron James after her husband had described him as “the dumbest man on television”. She has launched a campaign called “Be Best” focusing on cyberbullying – not a comfortable fit with her husband’s volatile behaviour. She’s revealed that some charities have refused to support her because of her husband’s policies. Surely that’s another form of punishment for crimes she’s not guilty of.
As for #MeToo, Melania says that women who claim they have been assaulted deserve to be heard, but they must provide “really hard evidence” to support their claims.
Melania says she gives the president her honest opinions – and then he does what he wants to do. You could read anything into that statement: resignation, weariness, or inner strength. As usual with Melania, it’s annoyingly opaque. The first lady is not the most bullied person in the world, but she is getting a raw deal from liberals and other women. She deserves better.