Melania Trump is anything but relatable.
If you are able to overlook her many, deeply problematic political moments, including but hardly limited to her support of Trump's racist birther claims on national TV, her apparent plagiarism of Michelle Obama's convention speech, and the almost baffling hypocrisy in her quest to stop bullying, there's her lifestyle. This is a woman who jets off to her preferred Florida spa to the tune of about $64,600 in taxpayer money, like she’s just popping out to her corner Starbucks for a Saturday morning latte. She wears Dior ready-to-wear, and casually throws a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana jacket over her shoulders to stave off a slight chill on a sunny day. She wore $1,000 stilettos to a hurricane. She’s married to, not just a president, but world’s most famous buffoon, Donald Trump.
And yet when I saw her emerge in what some thought of as full suffragist white at the State of the Union, and sit there in a pall of apparent misery during the entire 80-minute speech, I thought there was something about her I could understand, even if it was as trivial as a facial expression. I am sure I sat before my television with a similar look of discontent.
Over the 9 days that followed, as reports of her alleged unhappiness only intensified, I found myself rooting not for her misery, but for her public show of anti-Trumpness to continue. It’s all so circumstantial — I have no idea what Melania Trump is truly thinking or feeling about her husband because she hasn’t come out and said so. But, like much of the internet, I am cheering her every literal wrist slap because I have to believe that someone close to the administration is unafraid to openly defy the president, unlike Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and their ilk.
Here are some of the recent reports: Shortly before the State of the Union, Melania cancelled her planned appearance with Trump at Davos. She was reportedly mad about the recent news that porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged night of “textbook generic” sex she had with the president shortly after Barron was born. The night of the State of the Union, the Cut wrote that she “look[ed] thrilled” to be there. Days later she was seen apparently scampering away from Trump on a Florida tarmac, prompting Hollywood Life to wonder in its headline, “Are They Even Talking?” The day after the Super Bowl, People reported on Trump “warmly” saying hello to college cheerleaders while “leaving his wife behind.” They had another bad moment while walking to their Ohio-bound plane on Monday (nothing good seems to happen when these two walk to or from a plane), when Twitter users pointed out that it looked like Melania, arms tucked within a citrine wool coat, had yet again rebuffed her husband’s hand-holding attempts.
Since Trump took office, every so often a spate of stories will come out about how unhappy Melania seems. The incidents of the last two weeks were hardly the first evidence we’d seen of her refusing his hand on a tarmac. As the former editor of a massive women’s website who obsessively monitored reader behaviour, I can tell you why these stories persist: because millions of us click on and share them. Swipe over to your Apple News feed, and you can usually bet that if Melania has allegedly slapped her husband’s wrist in a driveway within the past 24 hours, it’ll be a trending news item.
There is more to this obsession than a fascination with Melania, first ladies, and a celebrity attempting to be a celebrity in private. Members of the very same feminist collective choosing to stay up late knitting pink pussy hats so they can spend one Saturday morning a year marching in the cold in a plea to protect our constitutionally granted rights are also rooting for Melania. After many thought Melania looked unhappy during her dance with Trump on the night of his inauguration, #SaveMelania trended on Twitter. Photos and GIFs of Melania looking “sad” flooded the internet, and BuzzFeed told us people were “worried.” Recently, a “fashion fixture” and longtime Trump acquaintance told Vanity Fair, “My dream is that Michelle Obama will convince her to leave him, and she’ll become this great feminist icon. She will walk into the middle of everything and say, ‘He’s crazy. This is nuts. I don’t know what I was doing!’ ”
Though Melania is hardly a figurehead of the current feminist movement — and arguably has been just complicit as her step-daughter in feulling Trump’s trashfire of a presidency — is there anyone else close to the man who seems remotely likely to have an “I don’t know what I was doing” revelation? Trump has curated a Republican squad of sycophants to reinforce his overblown yet immensely fragile ego. In his first televised cabinet meeting over the summer, members did little but tell Trump, whose disapproval rating was at a record high, how great he is. At the meeting he held after the tax bill’s passage, Vice President Mike Pence issued Trump no fewer than 14 effusive compliments, and congresswoman Diane Black actually said, “Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our President.” Trump himself is so desperate for and expectant of such praise, that he called Democrats who didn’t clap for his every word at the State of the Union “treasonous” (the White House later walked back the remark by explaining he was just kidding).
So if the only show of resistance within Trump World comes in the form of a wrist slap in a driveway or a frown from the rafters? It’s at least a tiny dose of inter-White House anti-Trumpness the world so desperately needs.