When Melania Trump appears at the State of the Union address Tuesday evening, the most notable thing about her presence will be — well, her presence.
Melania Trump, who has never had the most visible of public profiles, has all but vanished since the Wall Street Journal broke the news earlier this month that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s lawyer, paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the weeks before the 2016 election so Daniels would not talk about her rumored relations with Donald Trump.
Melania Trump cancelled plans to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and instead headed to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Her sole public appearance prior to this evening: an unannounced stop at the Holocaust Memorial Museum before she skipped town.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say the odds are Melania Trump doesn’t really want to attend this evening’s address but feels she needs to — after all, it’s expected of the first lady. But why? It doesn’t change the speech or how anyone reacts to it. Her presence is highly unlikely to increase or decrease support for the presidency of Donald Trump.
So here’s my modest proposal: Let’s take advantage of Melania Trump’s obvious discomfort with the retrograde role of first lady to do away with the position once and for all.
Melania Trump hardly performed the role expected of either a candidate’s or president’s wife from the get-go. She was a low-key presence during the 2016 campaign. And that was before the “Access Hollywood” tape — in which Donald Trump used extremely vulgar language to suggest that it was okay to grab women by their private parts — came to public attention. After the election, Melania Trump remained in Trump Tower for months, refusing to move to Washington until the end of Barron Trump’s school year.
In the White House, Melania Trump has maintained a seen-but-not-heard policy compared with other recent first ladies. In fact, it seems at times that Melania Trump is conducting a quiet, unpublicized, on-again-off-again, sit-down strike. Her attitude about what she clearly views as her plight has been the subject of numerous articles over the past year. Just this past weekend, Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies,” wrote in the New York Times about the current first lady’s “quiet rebellion.”
It’s 2018. In the real world — I mean, the world outside of the White House — we no longer expect women to be adjuncts of their husbands. Married women have — get this — their own lives and their own careers. No one expects them to host dinner parties to help their husbands get ahead or to turn up on their arms at company events, a la “Mad Men.” (The same is true for men, but because no one ever expected that of them, it’s not worth mentioning.)
But in the White House, it’s still the 1950s. We continue to expect the first lady not just to stand by her man but to put her life on hold for him. Her presence is thought to give ballast to the man — yes, it is still always a man — seemingly making the argument that if she supports him, why shouldn’t the rest of us?
Everyone buckles down and does it. Notoriously private Laura Bush took on literacy and education, emerging as a public cheerleader for the No Child Left Behind initiative. Michelle Obama, previously a lawyer and hospital administrator, took a leave of absence from her job during the 2008 presidential race.
Yet it’s hard to argue with a straight face that in 2018, any man — even Donald Trump – needs a woman to stand by his side so we think he is of good character and worthy of the office. You either support him or you don’t. Did anyone ever say they didn’t support Barack Obama’s position on the Affordable Care Act, but because that nice lady Michelle Obama stood by his side, they would go along with it? Don’t make me laugh.
Let me be clear. I am not discussing the state of the Trump marriage. I don’t care if Donald and Melania Trump are ecstatically happy with one another, or, if, as has been widely reported over the past few weeks, Melania is “furious” with her husband over the Daniels payoff. I don’t care if it’s true, as Michael Wolff reported in “Fire and Fury,” that Melania Trump wept with unhappiness when she realized her husband had won the presidential election.
I am not arguing that the Trumps should either renew their vows or separate or get divorced, though, for the record, should they want to do any of that, I would not consider it my business in anything more than a prurient, gossipy way. (Yes, I would enjoy the gossip. Forgive me, but I’m only human.) Nor do I care if Melania Trump finds a worthy career, continues on with her anti-bullying crusade or simply sits in her Fifth Avenue apartment.
What I care about is that in the era of #MeToo, we should tackle all the things that keep women in a second-class position. That includes the role of first lady. Melania, show the courage of your convictions. Stop playing along with this retrograde role, and do what you want with your life — whatever that might be. You’re doing it for all of us.