In the wake of Donald Trump’s rather upsetting electoral victory, those Americans (and global citizens) who are not happy with this result have been urged by many in the political left and centre to “give Trump a chance.”
Being Canadian, and having watched in horror as Trump’s racism, bigotry, and misogyny has inspired verbal and physical violence (which has only increased since his election), I say that Donald Trump has had his chance. He doesn’t deserve another one. What he does deserve is vigilance and increasingly organized and effected opposition to the politically backward policies his administration promises to advance. (This opposition will need to exist both in and outside of the conventional political structures and be very well-organized indeed—with a Republican House and Senate, Trump doesn’t really need “a chance” from anyone; he already has a blank cheque).
But do you know who does deserve a chance? Trump’s wife Melania (née Knauss), a Slovenian immigrant, Donald’s third wife, and mother of their ten-year-old son, Barron. Since her husband’s election, several folks on social media (mostly women, in my experience) have compared Mrs. Trump unfavourably to the “classy” Michelle Obama and have poked fun at her for being airheaded, or an immigrant, or for her “racy” photos from her modeling past. (I agree, the fact that Michelle Obama will no longer be the First Lady of the United States is certainly lamentable, but that was going to be the case no matter who won).
Melania has certainly had her own share of snafus during the Trump campaign. Parts of her speech at the Republican National Convention, for example, certainly did sound an awful lot like the speech given by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention eight years earlier. But since it is unlikely that Melania wrote the speech herself, and since it is highly possible she’d never heard Michelle’s 2008 speech (I hadn’t), without knowing which staff members on her husband’s campaign worked on and vetted her RNC remarks, it’s hard to hold Melania Trump specifically responsible. Melania Trump was not the aspiring politician; that was her husband. And yes, it seems she and the Trump campaign did lie about her having a university degree from Slovenia (note that this lie doesn’t really do any harm except make Mrs. Trump herself look foolish, possibly insecure). She certainly wouldn’t be the first person to fib about their level of education (not that it’s right, but it’s really more pitiful than it is sinister). In short, it wasn’t Donald Trump’s wife’s job to hit all the right notes while he swashbuckled across the country calling women fat and Mexicans rapists. His campaign should have known better.
In light of these cock-ups, perhaps the future First Lady comes across as a bit foolish, certainly a bit lacking in comparison to the dignified and highly educated woman who came before her. Given her relatively powerless but still highly visible new position, it is tempting to vent some of our post-election outrage by ripping Mrs. Trump apart. But before we do, let’s please remember a few things:
- Melania Trump is NOT to blame for the actions of her husband, his campaign, or his administration. Just as it was sexist to judge Hillary Clinton by her husband’s political track record (instead of her own) and his alleged assaults, it is equally sexist to hold Melania Trump responsible for what her husband Donald thinks, says, and does. Sure, she married him, but a lot of women marry narcissistic, egomaniacal misogynists. If anything, these women deserve our compassion.
- Melania Trump did not campaign for, and was NOT elected to, public office. She was and is expected, like many politician’s wives before her, to appear at her husband’s side and call him a good man, to parrot scripted lines in media encounters, and if possible, to engage in some sort of non-partisan do-gooding (like adopting stray puppies or supporting food banks). Melania is part of the Trump machine, but she does not push any of the buttons. Judging her as somehow “unqualified” and unfit for a position that is not an official part of government and is based solely on which man she is married to is ridiculous.
- Melania Trump did not marry then divorce the two women who were married to Donald Trump before her. That she is Trump’s third wife says more about him than it does about her. So enough with these “She’s going to be the THIRD Lady of the United States, ha ha” jokes. They’re stupid.
- There is nothing inherently shameful about having posed nude for a photograph. Maybe Melania Knauss felt really good about her body, wanted to show it off, and enjoyed being sexualized. That is her choice, and her right. Or maybe she wanted to advance her modeling career and thought, “a job’s a job.” There are worse (and certainly far less honest) jobs you can do. Or maybe she was pressured, tricked, needed the money, or otherwise exploited. In which case none of the shame should lie with her. Whatever Melania’s reasons for baring her (objectively gorgeous) body for the cameras, North Americans need to stop being so damn prudish. Carla Bruni (former model and wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy) has nude shots too. Big damn deal.
I really don’t know all that much about Melania Trump. She could be a horrible person. She might be an idiot. She could be an asshole. She could be, as the kids say, The Worst. And if her words and actions demonstrate this, it is fair for us to criticize her (for those things specifically).
But attacking Mrs. Trump just because you don’t like her husband is petty. It is not legitimate to protest a misogynist by slut-shaming his wife. Furthermore, it is a completely misguided use of your anger and energy. Donald Trump is supremely ignorant, unqualified, and on track to green-light some pretty disastrously regressive policies. He’s also a short-tempered, thin-skinned, toddler in a man’s body who will be given the U.S. nuclear codes. His WIFE is absolutely the least of your problems.