Whatever strange prospects the coming presidential race may serve up, the possibility that Melania Trump will be forced into a presidential cookie bake-off against Bill Clinton is certainly tantalizing.
This is an election-year event in which intelligent, capable (up to now) women have been forced to show themselves masters of a traditional domestic art so Middle America doesn’t mis-assume they are focused on anything else but hearth, home, and the political glory of their menfolk.
This grimly “fun” event is its own presidential election in jokey maternal drag, and stops the wives from being seen as—heaven forbid—career-focused, or at least—what a crime—not interested in the overly fetishized business of baking.
If Melania Trump is forced into this sexist pantomime—and every day of the race proves the maxim, “stranger things have happened”—it must take place in her palatial Trump Tower apartment.
And Mrs. Trump should have her chef make the cookie as she stands serenely, looking on.
Note: She told Harper’s Bazaar that she has a chef and an assistant, but no nanny to help raise her son Barron. We should apparently regard this low-level staffing as a sign of normality.
Mrs. Trump’s recent Morning Joe interview with Mika Brzezinski was, presumably, intended to introduce her, and normalize her, in some way to America.
One wonders if it is her accent—a very obvious reminder she isn’t American—that has led the Trump PR team to keep her away from the microphones until these two profiles.
Brzezinski said, “We want to understand who Melania is.”
That may be right, but why should we? She is not running for public office, after all. Why should Mrs. Trump play along with it? Well, politics is politics, so it was on with a great frock, the concealer and lip-gloss, and submit herself to the Make Melania Relatable questionnaire.
It is quite plain from the mini-Versailles of her and Donald Trump’s apartment, on the top three floors of the 68-story Trump Tower, that Melania Trump does not live the life of the much-mythologized “ordinary woman.”
She lives a luxury-steeped life of conspicuous wealth. She spoke to Brzezinski on a throne-looking chair, in front of something massive and golden. Melania Trump is not relatable, and hasn’t ever tried to be.
Especially regarding her, this desire for politicians’ spouses to be “relatable” is as absurd a pantomime as the cookie bake-off.
The participants are not housewives in a conventional sense—even if they are based at home they are wealthy, have help, and know the perverse rollercoaster of political life all too well.
They know the ruthlessness of power-play, and the showbiz expected of them—whether, if female, that be standing supportively next to their husbands on the podium, and submitting themselves to a grilling on The View, where they will be quizzed on motherhood, things that annoy them about their partner, the kids’ packed lunches and such. The idea: The wives humanize the men.
But this is defunct when it comes to Donald Trump: His outsizedness is central to his public image.
Trying to bring Melania Trump down to conceivable earth is insulting both to her and any other women who have to simulate an approximation of whatever image-crafters consider a “typical” woman to be. It is also insulting to voters, who know that Mr. Trump and his wife are far from ordinary.
Still, Mrs. Trump sat dutifully down for her Morning Joe interview, insisting, “I am a full-time mom and I love it.” She had decided not to campaign much, but supported her husband “100 percent.”
She gave a brief run-down of growing up in Slovenia, studying design, then heading to Paris and Milan to model.
“I always loved fashion—and I was always the tallest one and the skinniest one, so that helped,” she told Harper’s Bazaar.
She came to New York in 1996. When asked by Brzezinski—as an immigrant—what Mrs. Trump had made of her husband’s remarks about immigration, she responded that she had followed the rules in gaining her green card—simple. She said the same to Harper’s Bazaar.
She and Trump had “a great relationship,” with each respecting the other’s independence. Name-calling didn’t bother her—“we have thick skin”—but she was angry people didn’t give her husband “enough credit.”
Had she been coached in her answers? Maybe: They repeated the content and tone of his, including the unspecified notion that he wanted to keep the country safe as “what is going in the world is dangerous.”
In both interviews, she repeated: “I don’t want to change him. And he doesn’t want to change me.”
Mrs. Trump also told both Brzezinski and the magazine that she disagrees with her husband vocally—“sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn’t”—and that women were treated equally at the Trump Organization. “You’re human,” she said, indicating there were no divisions of gender at her husband’s company.
If her Morning Joe interview was non-revelatory, it also didn’t serve its purpose of “getting to know” Melania Trump. Her answers were recited dutifully, and weren’t damaging in that sense. But neither TV nor magazine interview made her relatable or warmer. She retained an inscrutability.
Harper’s Bazaar, perhaps like many watching her, was wowed by her stunning beauty. “In person, Melania is incandescently beautiful, her skin a dusty bronze, and her eyes wider and less squinchy-posed than they can appear in red-carpet pictures.”
Does her extreme beauty make Melania Trump even less relatable than her wealth? Maybe. Should the Trump campaign even bother making her seem relatable? Probably not.
The advantage of having Bill Clinton in the spousal corner of this campaign is that he quite clearly isn’t a baking-crazed spouse. He is supportive of his wife’s candidacy in the way that makes public sense—on a stage, rabble-rousing, and shaking hands on the campaign trail.
In 2016, we shouldn’t need the presence of a man among the women to help redefine the role of a spouse on the campaign trail, but there you go.
Jane Sanders, too, is intelligent, eloquent, and has not been (yet at least) mumsified in her public appearances. She has spoken in support of her husband, Bernie, with the tone not simply of wife but also passionate, respectful advocate, as Bill Clinton is for Hillary.
Melania Trump is much quieter, and apparently not keen to be more than visually present at events.
If the role of spouses in presidential election theatrics is maturing away from purely domesticating and decorative, then Melania Trump is also asking something more audacious: to be accepted as super-wealthy and not that easily understood, but present.
To make her more “relatable,” seating her at a midtown diner might work better than the gold-and-more-gold interior explosion of the 68th floor of Trump Tower.
But Mr. and Mrs. Trump would unlikely go for that. Even if you find his politics, and the family’s display of wealth, excessive and even repulsive, there is also something notable about their resolute, unapologetic inhabitation of both. I’m nothing like you, Melania Trump seems to be saying. You might not be able to “relate” to me—and that’s fine. Go ahead, judge away.