Politics

Goodbye, Melania

Melania Trump waves as she approaches a black SUV
Melania Trump in Biarritz, France, on Aug. 24, 2019. Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

Melania Trump will be best remembered for her icy expressions, her glossy outfits and enormous belts, and, perhaps, her anti-bullying campaign. As her husband hurled schoolyard insults at anyone who opposed him and led chants to lock up his political opponents, the first lady developed a motto that sounds like a bleat. Her term began with a speech that plagiarized former first lady Michelle Obama and ended with taped remarks revealing that she thought the children in detention centers who’d been separated from their families were “taken care of nicely there.” The tape also revealed that she loathed decorating the White House for Christmas, which came as a surprise to admirers of the looming blood-red conifers with which she lined the merry halls.

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Melania Trump was in no rush to get to the White House. When Trump became president, she remained in New York for weeks. Her stated reason was motherly: She didn’t want to interrupt her 10-year-old son Barron’s schooling. In fact, it appears she was allegedly using her leverage as first lady to renegotiate her prenuptial agreement with Donald Trump. At times, it was hard not to feel for her: She had to keep smiling and waving while news cycles dealt with rumors about Trump’s affairs with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. But it’s hard to rely on anything she says; Melania has lied about everything from getting a bachelor’s degree to speaking five languages to the significance of her “I Really Don’t Care Do U” jacket—which she wore as a publicity stunt while visiting desperate children whom the Trump administration had separated from their families. Her press secretary first said that it meant nothing at all and was “just a jacket.” Melania would later contradict her own staff: “It was for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. I want to show them I don’t care,” she said. This was a baffling interpretation of her intent; it appeared the first lady was fine appearing not to care about the suffering of children if it meant sending an oblique and garbled message to news outlets she had beef with. Thanks to revelations made by her former friend Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, we do know the sorts of things Melania did care about: calculating camera angles so as to keep Ivanka Trump out of frame during Donald Trump’s inauguration in what they called “Operation Block Ivanka.”

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Small-minded, petulant, and petty, the best thing we can say about the first lady is that she occasionally appears to dislike her husband almost as much as the rest of us do. We will remember her for wearing a white pith helmet to Kenya and for smiling so rarely that shots of her grinning created “Fake Melania” conspiracy theories. We will recall her sunglasses, her defense of birtherism on The View, and the impression she occasionally created that her sour demeanor reflected her resentment at becoming a public figure. This last part wasn’t true: Back in 1999, when Trump ran for president, Melania Trump fantasized in interviews about being the next Jackie Kennedy. She would settle for ripping the crab apple trees out of Jackie Kennedy’s rose garden.

This is part of a series of goodbyes to Trumpworld figures. Read the rest here.

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