Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Whatever else you can say about her, Melania Trump has an impeccable eye for aesthetics.
She is always perfectly turned out, favoring cinched waists, bold colors, and coats draped in the “shoulder-robe” style favored by the fashion world. The first state dinner she hosted in April, for French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, was widely praised for its style.
That’s why it’s odd that Melania’s official Instagram account, @flotus, is so hideous, disorganized, and half-assed. When you look at an experienced Instagrammer’s grid (c.f. Ivanka)—the at-a-glance view of all their posts on one home page—it looks like a cohesive product, something like a magazine. Angles, filters, color palettes, and subjects reappear and cohere into a unified vision.
If a successful Instagram account is like a magazine, Melania’s is like the inside of a paper-recycling bin. Here is a close-up of a rose. Here is a screenshot of a press release. Here is a church, which appears to be a photograph of a photograph. Here is a photograph of a painting, with a glare obscuring its center. Melania uses filters and editing tools inconsistently, which gives the grid an even more haphazard look. This is simply a much uglier place than one might expect from a woman who has polished every trace of ugliness from her everyday life (with the possible exception of her bedroom—zing!).
The account features the usual shots of official visits to science centers and hospitals, and bland little promotional videos set to instrumental music. But some of the images are arresting in their strangeness and sadness. Melania, standing alone in a room extravagantly decorated for Christmas, staring at a faceless male dancer hoisting a beaming ballerina into the air. Melania walking the Great Wall of China, utterly alone. Melania and her husband seated in front of a towering Christmas tree in a dark room, facing opposite walls and talking on separate phones. It’s as if the artist Gregory Crewdson, renowned for his gloomy, uncanny American tableaux, had taken the job of White House photographer.
A related recurring theme is accidental horror. A red-saturated image of the empty White House movie theater is positively Kubrickian. In one Halloween photograph I keep returning to, the president stoops to talk to a terrifying masked child in a full skeleton costume and MAGA hat, while Melania grins behind them. Now look at that photo again. Was the figure on the far right there when you first looked? Are you sure?
I’m most taken, however, by Melania’s text-based posts, which have an aesthetic all their own.
If there is one theme of Melania Trump’s tenure as first lady of the United States, it is her matchless dedication to putting in the absolute least effort possible into the role. Her mission statement seems to be “You want me to perform X duty? Fine, I will technically perform X duty.” She moved to the White House after the inauguration—but she waited months to do so. She showed up at the State of the Union address as Stormy Daniels rumors swirled—but she took a separate motorcade from her husband and scowled during the speech. She launched an official public agenda—but it was a muddled mess with a nonsense title. Then she disappeared for 24 days.
The text posts are mesmerizing in their flatness. They use standard fonts, often Helvetica. The day of the State of the Union, she posted a square with the characters “#SOTU” running across the middle. (The caption did not mention her husband.) On Feb. 1, she posted a black square with the words “BLACK HISTORY MONTH.”
For a while, she (or whoever controls the account) was in the habit of posting the text of her tweets. Here’s one about Hurricane Harvey relief efforts set against what could be a stock image of gently rippling water. The text is strangely blurry.
These posts stop short of outright defiance, of course. Bloody rebellion isn’t Melania’s style of sabotage, should she be so inclined. But they positively vibrate with a bored, resentful loathing. In their passive-aggressive sulkiness, they are the perfect emblem of Melania’s first lady–dom thus far. The text might say “Happy International Women’s Day!” but the message is: “Fine, I did it, are you happy now?”
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