Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Even in the sunshine, puppies, and vacation–soaked phantasmagoria that is Instagram in summertime, political messages have a way of bursting through. Chrissy Teigen asks her followers to donate to the ACLU; Amy Schumer sets her link in bio to direct to the Everytown for Gun Safety campaign; Melania wears that jacket and suddenly protest coats are everywhere. There’s no escaping politics in America right now—except, oddly enough, for one of the women who used to be married to the man responsible for much of our present strife. She is Marla Maples, Trump wife No. 2, and her Instagram feed may be the most strangely Zen place on the internet.
Much like Tiffany is the forgotten Trump child, her mother, Marla, is the forgotten Trump wife. After the brief period of infamy her affair and marriage brought on in the ’90s, Maples faded into the obscurity(ish) of Southern California to raise Tiffany. Though she re-emerged via a Dancing With the Stars run in spring 2016, she has stayed mostly out of the Trump fray and remained mum politically, leaving her Instagram, which has been going strong since 2012, as the best window into her soul we have.
So who is Marla? If wife No. 3, Melania, is an enigma, rarely seen and even more rarely heard, Maples is the opposite: After spending a bit of time with her Instagram feed, I feel convinced that I know her completely. You do, too: She’s your kooky yoga teacher, who is convinced the world would be a happier place if everyone could just pause to partake in downward dog every once in a while. This is evident not only in the fact that she sometimes posts snaps of herself doing yoga or meditating, but also in her predilection for erupting into handstands (or headstands, or cartwheels), which she does with the frequency and verve of a tween who lives for gymnastics. That’s Maples: fun-loving, soul-searching, a little out there, but more or less harmless.
At 54, Maples looks preternaturally good for her age, which seems to be the result of all that yoga and a healthy and occasionally frankly ridiculous diet, one that has her mooning over a gluten-free, vegan avocado pop and extolling the benefits of “daily portions of sunflower, pea, broccoli, adzuki spouts and more” (both a far cry from her ex-husband’s taste for well-done steak). She recently referred to “my funny little journey with wheatgrass” in a caption, which is a string of words that I can hardly begin to decipher. (Is wheatgrass good in this journey? Bad? Or is this one of those journeys that is less about the destination?)
In addition to the actual yoga she practices, Maples has developed a penchant for psychobabble that, while not officially part of the yogic discipline, often goes hand in hand with it for her demographic (upper-class white women older than 50). It frequently is accompanied by irregular hashtagging and a grammatical style that results in occasional, accidental poetry (“#IstimeAnillusion,” she once wrote next to a picture of herself with Ricky Schroder) but that overall marks her as a fairly typical, technologically clumsy baby boomer. She likes to post quotes from gurus like Wayne Dyer and Thich Nhat Hanh, sometimes adding them to pictures of herself (and leaving me with the somewhat heartbreaking image of her futzing with photo-editing software on her phone). She is well-practiced in finding beauty in the everyday, such as the time earlier this month when she spotted an angel in her latte and wrote a lengthy caption about it—“Even in unexpected places… all we have to do is open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our senses to feel… What gifts will you find today?” She has never met an airplane window she hasn’t taken a picture of the sky out of and given an inspiring caption to. And yet her love of rousing quotes and counting her blessings somehow manages to come off as genuine, even sweet. She doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously when she’s going on about how much she loves snow or what a beautiful day in Central Park it is. On Christmas 2016, she wrote that her “elf name” was “Snickerdoodle Twinkleton.” Marla, you total weirdo!
Throughout her years on Instagram, Maples has been a frequent poster of pictures of her friends and family, and a careful study of her feed will mean getting to know her Dingdaddy (grandfather, age 99), Mom Mom Ann (her beloved late mother), many soul friends, and of course her daughter, Tiffany. Vintage pictures of both Tiffany as a little girl and Marla in previous decades are common sights. Maples is at her most endearing when talking about her “girl,” whom she is clearly very proud of but whose last name is the most visible reminder of what is going on back in the big, bad world outside her feed. Indeed, you’ll have to scroll back a ways to find any mention at all of the elder Trump, and even then it’s politically neutral—in March 2017, Maples mentioned in a caption that Donald Trump had given her a wind chime to remember her mother by.
But the reminders of 45 do pile up if you continue scrolling. In January 2017, there is an unavoidable cluster of photos from the Trump inauguration. In July 2016, during the Republican National Convention, Maples posted a picture of Tiffany and her posing together and wrote, “Whatever your political beliefs, I am proud of my courageous daughter @TiffanyTrump speaking Tonite@9:50 PM.” Though she’s defended him in the past, it’s also been reported that Maples doesn’t share her ex-husband’s politics; on Instagram, the cues are few and far between but there if you care to read into them: She has expressed condolences for victims of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida, and even as recently as this week, she ’grammed the Empire State Building lit up rainbow in support of gay pride—causes that aren’t exactly progressive but are not un-political in our polarized age.
If you’re determined to think so, it’s possible to come away from Maples’ Instagram with the impression that Maples only supports Donald Trump publicly for the sake of her daughter—and that she still, secretly, could have been the one who leaked those tax returns. But a deep-cut post from 2015, in which Maples expresses support for Trump’s stance that vaccines are linked to autism, is enough to make anyone question whether we really want to know more about her political beliefs. It could very well be that Maples doesn’t care much about politics and that her privilege protects her from having to. If that’s the case, is it wrong to maintain a Zen feed in a time when Zen feels impossible for everyone else? Can we really begrudge her for having accomplished what many of us so desperately crave, escape from the shackles of Donald Trump?
That’s just one more frustrating thing to add to the list of what’s so demoralizing about living in the age of Trump: He makes it so you sort of can’t just enjoy a feed as light and pleasantly inane as Maples’ without wondering if she’s complicit, and if secretly adoring her sunset pics and inspirational quotes makes you complicit too. Marla may have escaped her ex-husband and gone on to post a parade of gratitude, rainbows, and #OnlyLove, but the rest of us still have to live outside of the cozy Instagram bubble she’s built.
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