America asks a lot of its first couples. Fairly or not, they become national marital role models. We don’t really care if they have separate bedrooms, but we do expect them to demonstrate a certain amount of mutual respect and fondness for each other.
We like it when they seem to be in love, like George and Laura Bush, or Barack and Michelle Obama. Even Bill and Hillary Clinton, for all their woes, seem to take pleasure in each other’s intellects and achievements. We also want them to be devoted parents.
We get no good vibes from the Trump marriage.
Trump, who demands adoration, would no doubt love for Melania to gaze upon him the way Nancy Reagan gazed upon her Ronnie. But Ronnie didn’t cheat on Nancy with porn stars and Playmates.
What’s distressing to many Americans is that Melania seems like a prop in her husband’s reality show. During his inauguration last year, when the new president turned around to say something to his wife, her face lit up for a second. As soon as he turned away, her happy mask fell away. Months later, she slapped away his hand as they walked on the tarmac in Israel.
Our first lady does not seem to be having a good time. In the last month alone, amid the daily chaos that is the Trump White House, stories about the president’s womanizing, and his techniques for suppressing stories about his womanizing, have become fodder for the daily news report.
Porn star Stormy Daniels said she was paid to stay quiet about an affair she alleges she had with Trump shortly after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney and self-described “fix-it guy” for the president, announced he had paid the actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000, but has not said why.
Last week, the New Yorker reported that former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal kept a diary of the nine-month affair she began with Trump in 2006, around the same time he was seeing Clifford. McDougal has said that the National Enquirer, whose publisher is a friend and protector of Trump, paid her $150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story, then never ran it. (Trump has denied both affairs.)
Melania had already skipped the billionaire confab in Davos after the Stormy Daniels payment story broke. Then came McDougal, and more wifely passive-aggression followed: On Friday, Melania’s office, citing a scheduling issue, announced she would drive alone to Andrews Air Force Base rather than helicopter there with her husband from the White House.
Maybe Melania passed on the copter ride because she is getting tired of walking across the White House lawn in her stilettos, but she was also a no-show at a Mar-a-Lago dinner her husband hosted with Geraldo Rivera and her stepsons, according to the Washington Post.
Melania seems to be punishing Donald, but for what?
The punishment, in that case, must be for the relentless humiliation.
Surely, Melania Trump knew what she was getting into when she married the man who would become our 45th president.
Twenty-four years her senior, Donald Trump had already been divorced twice. He was a famous adulterer, womanizer and sexist, and a regular on shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show, making proclamations about then-girlfriend Melania’s breasts, the hotness of his own daughter, his belief that when a woman turns 35, it’s “checkout time.”
She rallied to his defense after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape became public during the 2016 presidential campaign. America’s future first lady dismissed her husband’s boast about being able to grab women’s genitals as just “boy talk,” and said her husband had been “egged on” by host Billy Bush.
And then, when more than a dozen women came forward to allege that Trump had sexually harassed or assaulted them over a period of four decades, the former model attacked the women. Their stories, she said, were “lies.”
Well, you certainly can’t blame a wife for supporting her husband.
In the last year, there has been a lot of speculation about the durability of the Trumps’ marriage, mostly focusing on Melania’s tolerance levels. Tongue-in-cheek memes include “#FreeMelania.”
Thirteen months ago, at the first Women’s March, there were numerous handmade posters, riffing on the first lady’s generally stone-faced expression, with variations of “Melania, blink twice if you need help!” And that was long before details about the porn star and the Playmate emerged.
A Marist poll released on Valentine’s Day (!), found that 43 percent of Americans think the Trumps should stay together, 34 percent said Melania should leave and 23 percent were unsure. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have your marriage put to a popular vote.
Over the course of the last year, Melania’s approval rating has inched up. She is now far more popular than her husband. This is not much of a surprise; most first ladies are more popular than their mates. In Melania’s case, the bar was pretty low given Trump’s low ratings, but good for her.
Last fall, during a White House dinner, President Trump acknowledged his wife’s popularity, calling her “the star of the Trump family,” according to news reports. “They love her out there, I’ll tell you. We walked all over Florida. We walked all over Texas, and they’re loving Melania.”
Since he has a history of walking all over his marriage, it’s good to know that someone is loving Melania.
Robin Abcarian is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times. -- Ed.