OK, I know you talked about the Trumps in your past two columns, but one last question: what to make of Melania?
Michael, by email
“One last question”? Oh, I think we’ll return to this subject plenty over the next few years. But I agree, I’ll try to give it a rest after this, at least until the inauguration. Although I am the person who reassured their best friend on 7 November, “I promise Hillary Clinton will be president,” so don’t set too much store by my promises.
Yes, indeedy, what to make of Melania? Before this campaign, I assumed she was yet another Manhattan trophy wife. Goodness, she looked happy to strike absurd poses in absurd clothes in magazine shoots in which she and her husband showed off their revoltingly ostentatious Manhattan penthouse, which is decorated in a style best described as Dictator Chic (really, we should all have been more on our guard all this time). Honestly, if Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe ever saw this penthouse, they would exchange glances and be immediate converts to minimalism.
And Melania seemed very happy with this life. She reassured journalists that Donald is, actually, despite his long history of infidelities, a perfect husband: “If I say, ‘I need an hour, I’m going to take a bath,’ or ‘I’m having a massage,’ he doesn’t have anything against it. He’s very understanding that way.” As for the perfect husband himself, he was once asked by Howard Stern what he would do if Melania were disfigured in a car accident – would he stay with her?
“How do the breasts look?” asked Mr Perfect.
Sadly, we have no time to talk about the time Donald’s first wife, Ivana, said during her sworn divorce deposition in 1990 that, after this perfect husband had a “scalp reduction” operation to reduce a bald spot – which he found more painful than he liked – he raped her in retribution. Trump has denied the allegation and, hey, surely he would never resort to rehashing old and denied accusations from the past, so let’s follow his lead.
Back to Melania. Well, it’s hard to make the transition from Park Avenue princess to American angel, and I can’t say Melania has yet proven herself to be Mother Teresa, but there’s time. In 2000, Melania told the New York Times that – ha ha! – if her husband were ever elected president – ha ha! – she would be “very traditional – like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy”. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Melania’s grasp of first-lady history, but neither Ford nor Kennedy were, by any stretch of the imagination, “traditional”. I think she may be confusing “traditional” with “famous”. Jackie was seen as a breath of attention-grabbing modernity in her time and Betty … shall we have a little chat about Betty, Melania? Because I’d just love it if you were like Betty Ford, given that she was a leading figure in the feminist movement and passionately pro-choice and pro-equal pay. Let us take a moment, shall we, to imagine how Ford would have got along with Trump’s chosen chief strategist, Steve Bannon, whose website has published articles with headlines such as “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews”. Ah, we all need a laugh in these strange days, don’t we?
Most famously, Ford spoke openly about her breast cancer, mastectomy and her struggles with addiction and, when her husband’s presidency ended, she established the Betty Ford Center, forever linking her name to those who need help and receive it.
Now, let’s look at what Melania is up to. Well, last time we heard from her is when she announced that, as first lady, she would make it her business to focus on cyberbullying, because she has noticed there is too much meanness in the world. And how right Melania is! Why, that very day, one well-known cyberbully was singling out a female journalist, encouraging his millions of his fans to harangue her. And since this same cyberbully won a little election earlier this month, he seems to have spent most of his time haranguing the New York Times on Twitter. Did you get what I did there? Geddit? Geddit??
Well, Melania doesn’t, because unless Gerald Ford was personally turning the whole of America into alcoholics, the comparison between Melania and Betty doesn’t quite stand. If Melania is looking for a first lady analogy, I guess she could look towards Nancy Reagan, who dutifully parroted her husband’s conservative lines and gazed at him adoringly. But, honestly, this feels like an insult to the Reagans who – as the late president’s son Michael Reagan Jr has made clear – would have loathed Trump.
But I am intrigued by Melania. She has, of late, tried to tone down her usual fembot style – all bodycon dresses and pointed shoulders – with more interesting looks: a jumpsuit here, a pussybow there, a fluted sleeve there. So, perhaps Melania will yet break away from her husband’s mould and do something more interesting as first lady. Of course, if she did that, Trump might well then make swift moves to make her the ex-first lady. But then, I hadn’t realised how supportive Donald is of his aspiring Betty Ford. So as long as Melania’s breasts don’t change, he’d be fine with her doing her thing. He’s that kind of supportive guy.