I am not sure that Melania Trump had the introduction of Henry IV Part 2 in mind when she sat down for her free and frank discussion with the jackals of the — er, with a respected ABC correspondent during her recent trip to Africa. But time and again she dilated upon the ‘unpleasant’, erring and intrusive ‘speculation’ of the media.
In Shakespeare’s play, the action starts with a warning: ‘Rumour is a pipe/ Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures/ And of so easy and so plain a stop/ That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,/ The still-discordant wavering multitude,/ Can play upon it.’
There are a lot of chattering, still discordant heads on view in Tom Llamas’s sit-down with the First Lady. ‘Once, a private woman,’ the two-L Llamas declares in his opening voice-over. ‘Now, the most deeply personal details of her life on full display.’
Well, not really. ‘No topic is off limits,’ Llamas excitedly bleated. But although there were several embarrassing questions — the Access Hollywood tape made an appearance, as did Stormy Daniels — somehow the embarrassment pooled at the feet of the interviewer, not the interviewee. ‘Why are you asking her that?’ was a question I found myself posing frequently when wading through the muck of this interview.
The Slovenia-born Melania was a fashion model before meeting Donald Trump, and she is easily the most glamorous First Lady since Jackie Kennedy. Indeed, once you scrape off the fetid glint of Kennedy mystique, she is probably the most glamorous ever. Yet when she wears a white pith helmet on her trip to Africa the press goes wild. Isn’t a pith helmet a ‘symbol of colonialism’ and (alleged) European exploitation of Africa?
No. It’s a pith helmet. She wore a safari hat on a safari, as one of Melania’s spokeswomen tartly observed. Get over it.
‘But she posed in front of the Sphinx dressed like some character out of Raiders of the Lost Ark!’ ‘There’s fashion and there’s costume,’ intoned one talking head, ‘and this is costume.’
Melania had the perfect comeback: ‘I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear.’
I suppose it is not surprising that clothes should loom large in a discussion of Melania Trump. She is a beautiful woman with a striking sense of fashion and a closet full of fetching duds. Really, she is just following Polonius’s advice: ‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy/ But not expressed in fancy, rich not gaudy…’ But of course the media interest in Melania Trump’s wardrobe is an extension of their hatred of her husband.
Heading down to Texas to meet the children of illegal immigrants, she wears a coat with the legend ‘I really don’t care, do you?’
‘Oh my God! Is that a callous message to the poor children, cruelly separated from their criminal parents by the mean man in the White House?’
No. As Melania explained, the message was intended for the purveyors of fake news, the left-wing media who spend their time spinning webs of hostile innuendo.
Melania Trump wears a white pantsuit to the State of the Union Address. But…but isn’t the white pantsuit Hillary Clinton’s emblem? Is Melania covertly dissenting from her husband and declaring her solidarity with Hillary?
First of all, not to be cruel about it, no one would mistake Melania Trump in a pantsuit for Hillary Clinton in similar attire. Contrast the Venus of Urbino and the Venus of Willendorf. Second, the skein of what Melania calls ‘speculation’ is so patently catty bloviation intended not to illuminate but to wound. Why pay it any attention?
In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I rarely watch television news any more than I am in the habit of bathing in polluted water. But a journalist’s lot can be demanding. Asked to comment on the kerfuffle over Melania Trump’s ABC interview, I decided to forego the advice proffered by Sydney Smith — he never read a book before reviewing it, he said, because he found that it prejudiced his opinion — and actually watch the interview.
For someone like Sydney Smith who enjoys having his prejudices confirmed, it was in some respects a pleasant experience. The many clips of carping, malicious newscasters amply bolstered my low opinion of that tribe. And Melania Trump, calm, cool and collected, was a model of patient dignity.
The interview was supposed to be a racy game of ‘Gotcha!’ ‘What about that Access Hollywood tape, eh? What about his rumoured infidelities? Did the President apologise to you?’
I liked the White House response: yes, the President often apologises to Melania — ‘for all the media nonsense and scrutiny she has been under since entering the White House’. Good for him.
Melania Trump set the tone for her entire hour-long interview at the beginning. Tom Llamas began with the question ‘Melania Trump is …’ and asked her to complete the sentence. Here, too, she ended by following the sage advice of Polonius. That’s a hard one, Melania said, and then provided the perfect inventory: ‘a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, the First Lady of the United States, caring, compassionate, strong, independent, very detail-oriented, and staying true to herself.’
This interview was meant to demean Melania Trump and damage her husband. Like so many press gambits these days, it backfired and reflected brilliantly on them both.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.