Maureen Dowd: Who can blame Melania Trump for resisting her Easter egg role?
As the first lady vanishes, her absence from her husband’s side is making her a folk hero
Rarely seen: Melania Trump with her husband on inauguration day. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times
Now, stacked on the Trump tower of petrifying things we have to worry about – war with Iran, war with China, war with Mexico, war with Islam, war with koala bears – there is yet another looming disaster. The East Wing is perilously behind in planning for the Easter egg roll.
Is the White House dropping the ball? Or rather, the ovoid? As our omnipresent new president hijacked our reality, the first lady vanished, sparking headlines for providing nary a glimpse in DC since the inaugural. Just as there is a gush of leaks from the resistance in the federal government about President Donald Trump’s erratic and impulsive behaviour, there are whispers about Melania’s elusive and sphinx-like behaviour.
The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis wrote about the anguish of anonymous DC sources who fear that the annual egg roll and other “elaborate White House events that are among the heaviest tasks for first ladies” are languishing in the deserted East Wing, as are unanswered requests for White House tours.
While Melania plays Rapunzel in her Fifth Avenue tower, Steve Bannon is revelling in his role as the troll under the bridge. Beauty and the Beast. At least Dick Cheney, another mad scientist who hated multilateral relations and preached hegemony, waited until he had started a bogus war and smashed the globe before he embraced the nickname Darth Vader. Bannon calls himself that while he stirs the pot, noting that “darkness is good” and that Darth and Satan had real power.
As the elegant Melania scorns the East Wing, the grungy Bannon reigns in the West Wing, where late into the night he plots his Manichaean schemes to blow up everything with trade wars, real wars and battles against the Islamic “caliphate”. He blithely sits at the centre like Jabba the Hutt as the slapdash White House sews strife, chaos and cruelty, putting out executive orders restricting im*migration and rolling back financial regulations on Wall Street – a move that will hurt the very blue-collar Americans Trump pledged to protect.
I’m more worried about Trump’s presence in the White House than Melania’s absence. Whether or not she intends it, the woman who calls herself “a full-time mom” is making a modern statement about the role of the first lady. She’s saying: I’ll do it on my terms.
“Never since Abigail Adams has a first lady not lived in the White House from day one – if they were alive and well,” said Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.
Melania may just be enjoying some proper rest in her golden eyrie without the distracting light of Donald’s devices as he taps his wee-hour tweets that set the world afire.
The reason it would have been so delicious to see Bill Clinton in the first-lady role is that it would have illustrated starkly just how antiquated the white satin music box is. The man who knew every detail of the Irish and Middle East peace processes would not have been expected simply to read books to schoolchildren on trips abroad or deal with flowers for state dinners.
“Bill Clinton would have upended the role and changed all the gender stereotypes,” Brower said. “Melania Trump is going to do something equally interesting by refusing to accept our expectations of what a first lady should be. Her refusal to fulfil this thirst that people have for the first-lady role to be held by an ideal wife and mother who is everything to everyone is a really unfair expectation for anyone.
“We do not know if she would call herself a feminist, but in a weird way it’s a strangely feminist thing to do. It’s gutsy not to move there until she’s ready.”
Political wives serve as character witnesses and can soften their husbands’ images. Melania did this for Donald after the Billy Bush scandal, telling Anderson Cooper that Bush had “egged on” her husband and that it was merely “boys’ talk”.
She could have done more such protective interviews in the insanity of her husband’s first week in office. But she chose not to, a silence that left political insiders speculating whether there were raw feelings from the Billy Bush tape that had not healed. Her opacity, weirdly, has made her a folk hero of the left, which likes to imagine that she is a hostage to her embarrassing husband.
A #FreeMelania meme thrives, and Paul Rudnick is conjuring “Melania’s Diary” in the New Yorker, in which she went to the Women’s March incognito and chanted: “Keep your tiny hands off my reproductive rights!” They even wonder if her first-lady project choice, fighting cyberbullies, is a sly slap at her cyberbullying husband.
First ladies have also often played critical roles when they thought advisers were overreaching. Nancy Reagan gave chief of staff Donald Regan a push, and Laura Bush did the same with Donald Rumsfeld. Melania has never played that role with Donald. It was daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner who helped purge Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort.
It seemed like Ivanka was going to assume some of the first-lady portfolio, but right now she is too busy saving her brand from her father’s careening debut.
For this administration, there’s a better use for the empty East Wing: move in the first First Shrink.
– New York Times