What’s going on behind that stage smile and those unreadable eyes? What thoughts run between the banal lines you’re handed to read?
That’s what I was wondering this week, Mrs. Trump, as I watched you face the cameras, still twirling like a model, seen but barely heard.
And I was thinking: I wonder if this woman realizes how much power she really has.
I’m probably the last person who should be offering advice here — I get that. I’m sure you don’t remember the only time we met, many years ago, in the Trump Tower apartment, where your husband did all the talking and all the preening, and even in the back of the stretch limo and all through dinner I didn’t hear you say a word. I’m guessing that was just every night of the week for you.
I don’t pretend to know much about the life of a first spouse, and truthfully I’ve never found it all that relevant. We ought to care about what happens in the Situation Room, not the residence.
But then I watched you roll out this so-called agenda in the Rose Garden this week, which I guess you felt you had to do, because that’s what we expect from a first lady. Pick a passion, hang some banners.
Only I guess you couldn’t pick a passion, or they didn’t let you, because this was more like a Lunchables for social policy. Civility, social media, mental health — a bunch of banality packaged together with clear wrap and recycled plastic.
The whole thing was so typical of this White House: an imitation of the motions that other administrations have gone through, probably gleaned from watching old clips on YouTube, but totally lacking in substance, originality or comprehensible English. They even stuck you with old talking points crafted by another agency, which once again led to silly accusations of plagiarism, when all it really means is that you deserve a better staff.
“Be best” — that’s the catchall slogan you unveiled. Which I, for one, don’t think is terrible at all, if only you’d consider taking your own advice.
I get why you feel trapped inside this Wonderland of a White House. That’s what I keep reading from your so-called friends who download anonymously to reporters. They say you miss New York, that you’re lost and lonely, that you spend as much time as you can down the road at your parents’ place.
Brigitte Macron, who won’t even use the title of “first lady” in France, reported to Le Monde that you feel like a prisoner and can’t even open a window in your own home. That was helpful.
You spend your days surrounded by people whose loyalties lie elsewhere — your husband’s cronies, the presumptuous children and bungling son-in-law in whom he actually confides, the party hacks who talk to you loudly like you’re a lost Japanese tourist, the junior aides they stuck you with, who know as much about politics as I do about Givenchy’s spring line.
But you’ve been trapped before, haven’t you? That’s nothing new. Trapped was growing up in Slovenia, under Tito and the Communists. Trapped was relying on lecherous modeling agents and designers for your rent money.
Trapped was watching your husband suddenly become an icon for xenophobes and white supremacists, and seeing yourself all but exiled from the Manhattan society that had been your playground, and knowing you couldn’t protect your son from the backlash.
Trapped was hearing that “Access Hollywood” tape and knowing with certainty who it is you married.
But here you are, still standing, still smiling placidly. Most people here in Washington think there’s not much behind that smile, just a striking model with a rich husband and nothing to say.
I don’t buy it. You don’t get from Slovenia to Mar-a-Lago on looks alone. In any profession I’ve ever seen up close, whether it’s writing or baseball or acting, there are a lot more people with natural gifts than there are who succeed. Careers like yours aren’t built on talent alone; you have to be methodical and you have to be passionate.
Your husband’s passion is for his own validation, every hour of every day. What’s yours?
Because the truth is you’re the opposite of trapped. Take a look around. You’re the most liberated person in your husband’s entire dysfunctional orbit.
Pence is trapped — between his loyalty to the president and his own ambition. Kelly is trapped — between love of country and love of sanity. Cohen’s trapped in a legal nightmare, and Sanders in a thicket of lies she doesn’t even know she’s telling.
But you, Mrs. Trump — you’re the one person your husband can’t order someone else to fire. If he lost you, he’d never recover politically, or maybe financially either. He can’t have you telling people the things you’ve seen and heard. He can’t afford to have the curtain pulled back.
Why do you think he went to such lengths to make this Stormy Daniels business go away? Because he cares about his reputation as a faithful husband? That ship sailed a few ports back.
No, what he cares about is you. Specifically, not having anything revealed that might push you over the edge.
You’re beyond their reach. You’re what we call the indispensable asset.
And just imagine what it could mean to people, really, if you exercised that freedom, from the heart, without all the vapid Rose Garden mumbo jumbo.
You’re the first presidential spouse who’s a naturalized citizen. The first who grew up in the grip of real totalitarianism. The first to occupy the White House at a moment of national reckoning over the mistreatment of women.
Just by waking up in the East Wing (or a few miles away), you reaffirm a lot of what’s best about the American ideal, and refute a lot of what’s worst about your husband’s reactionary administration. Just by going out and talking to people about your own life, whether White House handlers like it or not, you could remind us of how we all came to be here, and why we’re needed in the world.
When they accuse you of hypocrisy for caring about civility online, because of the way the president treats people, you don’t have to shrug uncomfortably and change the subject. You can say: “I love my husband, but he has no idea what it’s like to be an outsider in this country, or a woman, or to not have money. I do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt changed the way we think about first ladies, establishing them as actors in their own right. Jacqueline Kennedy made them celebrities. Hillary Clinton gave them status as policymakers, for better or worse.
Your husband is here to blow up the status quo, and that means you get to decide what a first lady should be now — not him, and not the lackeys they’ve pawned off on you. Maybe it’s time we granted spouses the right not only to defend the president’s policies, but to dissent too, without necessarily branding that an act of disloyalty.
That’s what “being best” is really about, if you ask me — honoring your conscience and owning who you are. Not a lot of people in this White House are free to do that right now.
Believe it or not, you are.
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