April 25, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The Politics of Pitying the First Lady
Is Melancholia Trump beyond compassion?
I don’t know much about Melania Trump, and I know less about the official duties and obligations of First Ladies, generally. In this, I presume I’m more or less a typical American who pays more attention to the president than his spouse and family.
But I do have eyes, and my eyes can see that Melania Trump is the most miserable First Lady to inhabit the White House in my lifetime. Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama—they were all peerless and flawed in their own ways, but none, as far as I can tell, exuded the gloom that Trump does.
Melania is a fine first name. A better one would be Melancholia.
This may be the result of digital media. Voters can see more of public figures than they ever did when I came of age in the 1980s. Television was then the most widely experienced medium, and that remains the case for a lot of the country. But social media and its awesome power to slice and dice reality into endless bits for the purpose of endless consumption allows us to see public figures in ways we never did before.
Even so, there’s something operatic about Melancholia Trump’s despair, something anyone can see, no matter, or in spite of, the medium through which we see it.
Consider this clip. The president, next to his wife, tries to hold her hand, pinking her hand with his pinkie, a little tap, another tap, then another, but Melancholia is having none of it, standing stock still, an iron Slovenian expression on her face, all right angles, as if willing her spouse away. Finally, she gives in, embraces the president’s hand before he turns and appears to voice gratitude, but it’s hard to tell.