From denial to passive lack of interest, the only person whose pandemic response has been even more botched than the president’s is the president’s third wife and mother of his fifth child: Melania Trump. Perhaps we should not have been surprised that Flotus greeted the pandemic with denial not unlike that which she displayed toward her husband’s many affairs—she told ABC in October 2018 that she had “much more important things to think about” than her husband’s affair with an adult entertainer four months after the birth of her first and only child. Though what she did think about, Flotus didn’t specify.
On March 5, the First Lady of the United States tweeted a picture of herself in a hardhat with the caption, “I am excited to share the progress of the Tennis Pavilion at @WhiteHouse. Thank you to the talented team for their hard work and dedication.” On March 5, Italy had already gone into lockdown. But that was not the end of Flotus’ many coronavirus gaffes. On March 10, the day Las Vegas shuttered all its buffets and Massachusetts declared a state of emergency, the first lady continued her coronavirus denial tour, giving a speech to National PTA Legislative Conference.
She mentioned a lot of things during that meandering speech but she did not mention the pandemic that was raging across the country. It wasn’t until March 11 that Flotus even acknowledged coronavirus, by tweeting, “Our great country is fighting hard against the #Coronavirus. This nation is strong & ready & we will overcome. Please take action to prevent further spread. Visit http://cdc.gov for updated health info & updates.” That was the day the NBA shut down and the virus was declared a pandemic. By then there were already more than 1,267 cases in the United States. So it had gotten kinda hard to ignore.
It was a stark contrast to how other first ladies behaved in similar situations. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Laura Bush organized a series of children’s concerts to raise money for the survivors at the Kennedy Center. Eleanor Roosevelt served her husband low-cost meals during the Depression, was a union member, campaigned for workers’ rights, and helped build new communities. After World War II, she visited displaced person camps. Even Pat Nixon visited a leper colony in 1955. But Melania Trump is no Pat Nixon, and Donald Trump makes Dick Nixon look like Abe Lincoln.
And even though the first lady is no feminist (she both-sided #MeToo with, “We need to support them and also men, not just women”), neither is she much of a conversationalist (rarely seen or heard, it took her five months to even move to Washington).
This pandemic would have been an incredible opportunity for her. Think of the photo ops! She could have been sewing masks, visiting children of doctors, nurses, victims of the virus. Melania could have been raising money for personal protective equipment for frontline workers. She could have worked in a food bank, she could have delivered meals to the homebound the way AOC did.
But the only thing she’s done, for which she received a disproportionate amount of praise, was her Instagram post of herself in a mask. The only reason this was meaningful was because her husband had said he wouldn’t wear a face mask: “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it, wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens—I just don’t see it.” So yes, Flotus managed to look good in comparison to her husband the president, whose handling of the pandemic has been at best a total disaster.
We don’t know why Flotus is so incredibly bad at this. She may be concerned about her fairly loose grasp of English, though that has not stopped her husband. She may be under the wing of an overprotective staff, but so what? She is a fully grown adult woman of 49. She should be able to handle it. Frances Cleveland was 21 when she became first lady, and she managed it, and there’s a sex with Grover Cleveland joke to be made here but I’m too classy to make it.
Despite the fact that Flotus has done nothing but a few limp Instagram posts she was the beneficiary of an incredibly lame puff piece in the Associated Press, which deemed that she was “having a moment during the coronavirus.” The piece then went on to name all the things that Flotus could conceivably do, but is not actually doing. It did laud her for sharing “links to sites where astronauts on the International Space Station read story books to children.” Wow, she shared links!
But that’s not all Flotus did. She also called the first lady of Germany Elke Büdenbender on the phone (she’s the wife of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier; Angela Merkel is the chancellor). And she wore all green to read a book in a video, including a pair of $625 Manolo Blahnik BB pumps because nothing says sensitivity to a 13 percent unemployment rate like shoes that cost the same as a month’s rent in many parts of the country.
Perhaps Flotus’ horrendous indifference toward her country’s suffering should be expected; this is the woman who wore an “I don’t really care do you?” jacket to visit migrant children at the border. Melania never wanted this job, and from her body language, one can glean that she can barely tolerate her husband of 15 years. Perhaps she regrets the marriage, though she did get citizenship from it, so you know, there’s that.
And it’s important to remember that the recipient of that Einstein visa isn’t actually Einstein. But that said, it would be nice if she could pantomime the bare minimum. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was one person in this administration who wasn’t a horrible villain or a hapless moron or (usually) both?