Leave Melania out of it

Fear, spelled with dice letters

I’ve made no secret of my visceral disgust with Donald Trump and his effort to inaugurate American fascism and I can get behind nearly any non-violent protest of Trump’s policies and behavior … except one.

I’m very uncomfortable with complaints about paying for Melania Trump’s decision to stay in New York with her son. I’ve seen reports that her security detail will cost twice the budget for the National Endowment the Arts (unproven) or could pay for the re-settlement of dozens of refugees. While we might quibble about the actual size of the expenditure, there’s no question that it will be substantial.

We ought to give serious thought the meaning of the devastating inaugural clip.

My discomfort stems from my belief that we must think very carefully about why a woman, under considerable public pressure to live in the White House, might choose to live apart from her husband: she might be afraid. Let me stress that I have no specific knowledge about the Trump’s marriage. Nonetheless I found the following clip from the inauguration utterly chilling:

As Slate noted:

In a dark and mesmerizing clip that’s been circulating on social media today, Donald Trump turns to face his wife Melania at the inauguration ceremony, and she smiles back at him widely. When Trump faces forward again, we get a split-second glimpse of Melania’s inner turmoil as her face melts into a frown.

No matter how corrupt, ignorant and irresponsible Trump is, and he is all those things, we should not take out our anger on his wife.

In the first place, it wasn’t her decision to run for President; it was his. It has been apparent from the earliest days of Trump’s campaign that she has been reticent to be a part of it. She is rarely seen, and far more rarely heard, both quite unusual for a presidential spouse. And the one time she agreed to a major public appearance, she was humiliated when she was given a speech to read that had been plagiarized from Michelle Obama.

Second, it is not her decision to receive Secret Service protection; it’s a Federal mandate. She could easily pay for her own security but has not been given that choice.

Third, we ought to consider the possibility that she is protecting her child. Both the Clintons and Obamas went to extraordinary lengths to protect their young children when they occupied the White House even though they never had to wonder if they were up to the demands of public appearances. Melania may feel that her son needs the additional protection that will be afforded by living elsewhere so that he cannot be forced to participate in public displays. If that’s the case, she is showing tremendous resolve to put her son’s wellbeing above politics and that deserves our admiration, not contempt.

Fourth, and most important, we ought to give serious thought the meaning of the devastating inaugural clip. I don’t presume to know what Melania was thinking, but I do know what I can see.

As Slate explains:

Jezebel, which posted the Melania/Melancholia video on Monday, shows the exchange taking place during Franklin Graham’s speech on Inauguration Day, then zooms in further on Melania’s devastating grimace…

If you watch the video of Graham’s speech from another angle, it looks like Trump may have been saying something to his son Barron. Perhaps, then, Melania is frowning as a reaction to her son being scolded. You could interpret that look a lot of ways, to be honest. But there’s something about her complete about-face that seems to reveal a deeper truth.

If the clip of Donald Trump ripping up his notes after one of the presidential debates distilled the essence of a man who knew he’d screwed up big time, this clip is its sad sequel, a vision of what that “perverted version of charisma” does to all the people who have to live with it.

As a physician, the clip raises multiple red flags for me. The contrast between the smile when her husband is looking at her, and the apparently intense sadness as soon as he looks away is agonizing.

The “Free Melania” signs at the Women’s Marches were supposed to be a humorous allusion to the Trump marriage, but they may contain more truth than we will ever know. For that reason, both Melania and Barron Trump should be off limits for political protests and jokes. What we are witnessing may not be the least bit funny.

  • VeritasLiberat

    Here’s another explanation for the clip/Melania’s facial expression:
    I think Barron is on the spectrum, probably very high functioning but prone to meltdowns when under pressure. A lot like my daughter, who is the same age. So the kid is starting to get a little stressed, maybe the crowd or the rain or the noise is bugging him, some sensory issue. Maybe his mom’s attention wanders for a moment, so his dad says something to him, and then Melania is drawn back into the realization that it’s not over yet and her son might yet have a meltdown on live TV. I have probably had the same expression on my face through church services, formal dinners… please please dear God let my kid stay calm and not lose it, not here where nobody understands and will just go home thinking my kid is a brat and I’m an incompetent mother…

    • VeritasLiberat

      …. and the kid having the meltdown is embarassed about it later. My kid actually refused for a while to go places, even fun ones, for fear of having a meltdown and having everyone stare at her or getting in trouble for breaking something.

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    Melania is not a passive victim here. She is a business partner at the very least. When Trump makes money, so does she. Trump’s business deals pay for her clothes and fancy house and her son’s private school. She does interviews excusing his bad behavior. She can leave with her son but she would have to give up access to her husband’s wealth…and she chooses to stay.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/17/politics/melania-trump-interview/

    p.s. Donald is very much like her father. A man she admires and loves. I have serious doubts she loves Donald ( he seems like a very difficult person to like or love) but he provides her with a lifestyle she could not afford otherwise.

    http://metro.co.uk/2015/10/30/donald-trumps-father-in-law-is-a-communist-who-looks-exactly-like-him-5470817/

    p.p.s. The same could be said about Ivanka and the other adult Trump kids.

  • Eater of Worlds

    The clip of Trump twisting Melania’s hand and her saying “stop” is scary too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUCfkzqGRYs There are better videos, I’ve seen them but this is all i can find right now. You can see her pull her hand away with force.

    Supposedly she’s not moving to the White House at all, she’s staying in NYC which is very telling.

  • niteseer

    The First Lady is always on the front line for public attention and commentary. I agree that minor children should not be criticized or speculated about, but I don’t think Melania deserves any special passes just because her husband is such an a$$hole.

    She has WAY more resources available to her than 99.9% of the women in this country, if she feels abused or threatened. Divorce lawyers would salivate at the idea of representing her. Feminist advocates would embrace her. I don’t agree with making any attacks on her, but she is not immune to public opinion just because she chooses to stay with Donald. I don’t see her expressions and body language as fear; more along the lines of revulsion at having to interact with him.

  • indigosky

    She chose to marry him, knowing his reputation. She saw him as her meal ticket and hopped on board. So too bad, she’s fair game now. I don’t have sympathy for pathetic women like her that latch on to disgusting old men because they want an easy ride. Yes, she’s a “model” but her modeling career currently is nonexistent, and she has done nothing to plan past her career except become a sugar baby.

    Plenty of models have found careers after modeling and have been even more successful at those then their modeling years. It’s not rocket science, it just takes a little motivation, which Melania has none. Get a little education, have some dignity. There are community colleges everywhere as well as other adult classes. I have a degree and still take CC ad adult classes to expand my learning.

    But I agree to leave Barron alone.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Nearly every abused woman chose to marry or date her abuser. What’s your point?

      • tempus

        Well, let’s see here, Amy. You have ZERO evidence, and only a bunch of very silly speculations, suppositions, and anecdotal nonsense (‘red flags?’ Puhleaaase. This from the woman who thinks number-crunching with cherry-picked data proves breastfeeding doesn’t work?) that the First Whore is anything resembling an ‘abused woman.’ She sold herself to the highest bidder she could find, and now she refuses to live with the man who, after all, bought and paid for her. WTF could YOUR point possibly be?

  • AnnaPDE

    Yeah, without context it looks scary.
    With context and a wider angle including the surrounding faces too, it’s not: The moment is during the prayer bits at the inauguration. The rabbi has just finished and the next guy has cracked a semi funny joke. All the faces lighten up for a moment, Trump turns around, then they all go back to “appropriately serious prayer face” mode.
    I agree that most of the time Melania’s body language is unenthusiastic at best and disgusted at worst, but this is not an occasion like that.

    • Ash101

      This makes sense.

      Going forward, I hope this community can approach 8-second video clips with the same rigor as we approach media headlines on the latest new study.

    • Ayr

      Not to mention it was very, very cold and windy outside that day. She was probably freezing.

  • myrewyn

    I was married to a man who shares many similarities with Trump. I know it’s purely feeling and speculation but watching him and Melania has triggered me from the very beginning. if she is truly afraid, I hope she gets the help she needs even if her politics differ from mine.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      Probably makes it even harder when you’re a stranger in a strange land.

  • Roadstergal

    Yeah, I see no evidence that she’s not a willing participant other than that she has a RBF that’s more B than folk here like. Why are we so eager to assume she’s some child who can’t think and act for herself?

    In the absence of any more information, I’m going to assume she’s a fully competent human being who is just as narcissistic, shallow, grifty, xenophobic, racist, and an overall horrible person as her husband is, which is exactly as she appears when she pops out to get a little publicity now and then. Sometimes, like attracts like. She really enjoys having access to Trump’s money, fame, property, and possessions without having him around, and we’re paying out of the ass for her to do so. Nice work if you can get it.

    As I said below, I’m going to reserve my sympathy for all of the women without her means who are being hurt, devastatingly, by the policies that her husband – who she helped elect – is putting into place. Loss of the ACA and Planned Parenthood, lack of protection for reproductive rights, busting unions that can advocate for working mothers, stripping away protections for clean air and water.

    Many of whom actually _are_ in dangerously abusive relationships. They’re not less important because they’re poor and not models, they’re more important because they have less power to change their situation, and there are far too many of them.

    • Who?

      Absolutely.

      That’s all.

    • fishcake

      Lawsuit looks at Melania Trump’s intentions to use her position as FLOTUS to grow her “brand”
      http://wpo.st/l91a2

      • Amy Tuteur, MD

        Who do you think plans the lawsuits and branding opportunities in that family?

        • fishcake

          I don’t know. I think she’s interested in taking care of her brand.

        • Lena

          It’s extremely sexist to assume that Melania is some poor victim without agency. I bet you also think that Ivanka Trump really cares about working families.

          • Sexism doesn’t come into it.
            It’s an entirely reasonable assumption given what we know about Trump’s character.

  • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

    I worry that she gets in trouble for things like this. In his mind she’s probably embarrassed him publicly with this, and the plagiarized speech. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors but Ivana’s account of him raping her as punishment is chilling.

    • MaineJen

      I had the same thought. The less said, the better.

  • Lena

    His wife has, for years now, publicly supported her husband, including the racist and and absurd claim that he was born in Kenya. She’s fair game.

  • J.B.

    We don’t know what’s going on here and I don’t care where Melania lives and whether she doesn’t fill the traditional first lady role. (If Invanka does it that’s creepy but that’s this family.) There’s no way we can conclude the smile/frown thing means anything more than women being told to smile. I caught a minute of Trump and Republican leaders walking in to the inauguration. All but Ryan were scowling. Ryan realized the cameras were there and put a smile on his face. That is the reaction of someone who is conditioned – by who and what we don’t know.

    I have RBF and live in my head. My parents would commonly ask me why I was frowning so. No, I was just in my own little world. Everyone needs to cut out the Melania hand wringing and analysis – smile, not smile, first lady role, etc.

    • Ash101

      Plus, plenty of women who were not wives of presidents have served as first lady (usually DIL, Daughter, Sister, Niece…). Usually it was because the wife was dead/POTUS had never married, but those scenarios did not apply for Taylor, Johnson, and Truman (who I believe was paid for a different position during his presidency, though I’m not positive on that).

  • Squirrelly

    As an adult who defends and enables her husband I think Melania is fair game for criticism. It may indeed turn out that she is being coerced and she certainly appears unhappy, but that is speculative for now. What we know for sure is that she IS costing taxpayers a lot of extra money. As a public figure I would not give her a free pass. Her son, definitely, but not her.

  • Namaste

    Oh, on another note, I’ve come up with the perfect nickname for him: Agent Orange!

    • namaste

      Goddamn it straight to hell, someone beat me to it! And here I thought it was so original!

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Nope, not allowed. He wasn’t with the Green Berets in Vietnam.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02sAYGl6uew

      • namaste

        Yeah, but judging by his skin tone, Agent Orange is the active ingredient in his spray tanner. And he’s every bit as toxic.

    • OkayFine

      My favorite so far “Lord Business”. My kids ripped it from the Lego Movie of course. Lol.

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        I like Orangenfuhrer, the Mango in Chief, our *glorious* leader, Der Gropenfuhrer, and That Blithering Idiot.

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          Dolt 45

          • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

            Cheeto Benito

          • Nick Sanders

            We have a winner!

          • Chi

            Twitler

          • mabelcruet

            We have ‘Wotsit wanker’, or ‘Wotsit Hitler’. Wotsits are bright orange cheesy corn puffs in the UK, probably very similar to Cheetos. They certainly are a very unnatural orange colour!

        • fishcake

          I feel strange giving him a nickname. Nickname-giving is usually a sweet thing I do for a person I’m fond of, and they make him seem less dangerous than he is.

          In natural conversation, I usually say “the…….”president”…tweeted/said ________.” Not saying it’s the best way. I struggle for the right words daily.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            When my classmates called me The Cow or Lizardgizzard or Loser, it was not a sweet nickname. When my students called me “that wall-eyed bitch” it was not a sweet nickname.

  • Megan

    Not sure how bad to feel for her when I read stuff like this:
    http://www.rawstory.com/2017/02/melania-trumps-lawyers-admit-she-hoped-to-cash-in-on-being-first-lady-by-selling-clothes-and-fragrances/
    I do, however, agree Barron should be left alone.

    • Sean Jungian

      Agreed, no minor children should ever be dragged into this kind of thing.

      Adult children, however…(looking at YOU, Eric, Jr, and Ivanka)

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        Depends on the kids; The Bush twins, Jeb and George’s other brothers, and the Orangenfuhrer’s other daughter stay well out of the limelight and should be left alone

        • J.B.

          I agree. (Except for the “Hidden Fences” comment, and that was funny and fair game)

    • Linden

      I had a great deal of sympathy with MT, and none with the Daily Mail. Then she goes and sues them for not being able to cash out sufficiently on her FLOTUS position, because they implied she might have been an escort. This is despicable. I wouldn’t lose respect for her if she actually *was* an escort (I don’t think she was, I don’t care if she was). It would be more honest than this. She can do whatever she likes with her body, but this besmirches the position of FLOTUS.

  • Namaste

    Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone. We’re scientists here at The Skeptical OB. What is being implied here is a pretty extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A scowl just doesnt cut it. It just doesn’t. I fully agree that there’s plenty to be frightened of, but we aren’t going to be able to do squat about it if we allow ourselves to descend to his level and give in to hysteria and panic.

  • Pck

    Just to be clear, you are suggesting that Trump is abusing his wife right?

    • Gæst

      She’s only suggesting that it’s possible, and noting that since we lack all the facts, we should withhold judgement about her choice to live in NYC instead of Washington.

  • Jenny

    I think it’s good that she’s not taking up the unpaid role of First Lady. It’s ridiculous that White House tours or anything else to do with the running of that national building were ever considered the responsibility of one unpaid, non-elected woman. A “director of White House Social Activities” or something like that should be hired and the president’s spouse should be considered a private person. This would have happened anyway as soon as a woman with a husband was elected president. Nobody expects a man to do unpaid work.

    I’m a liberal Democrat, but I support Melania’s right to live her own life.

  • Paula
    • Mel

      That’s my “best-case” scenario for life as a wife of Donald Trump – mindless neglect at the hands of your self-important, self-absorbed husband.

      • Roadstergal

        Why assume mindless neglect isn’t exactly what she was banking on? Emphasis on bank…

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          maybe, but a decade in may’ve proved harder than than she anticipated. Being a narcisstic grandfather’s trophy cannot be easy

          • Roadstergal

            It worked for Anna Nichole Smith…

    • Are you nuts

      Always the gentleman!

    • fishcake

      When I watch this, I’m just filled with love and appreciation for the Obamas. And, I feel terribly for Melania.

  • fiftyfifty1

    Meh. It’s one clip. Large social smiles are a thing that most women (and many men) are socialized to do. Going back to a resting serious face immediately after is normal too. I bet if any of us has a camera trained on us for hours, that there would at some point exist a 5 second clip containing both a large social smile and a frown.

    • Meerkat

      That’s not a resting face. She is very clearly upset. I have never seen this in real life before, but it’s a perfect illustration of the expression: “Wiping the smile off her face.” He clearly said something nasty to her.

    • Are you nuts

      I agree. I’m inclined to believe she’s just very accustomed to feigning affection for The Cheeto. Smile to his face, frown and roll your eyes when he turns his back.

  • Roadstergal

    Hmm. Melania Trump was an outspoken ‘birther’ during Obama’s presidency; she took the time to go on TV and talk the ‘show us the birth certificate’ talk. If she was comfortable putting herself into politics in such a mean and destructive way then, why should we let her off of the hook now?

    • fiftyfifty1

      Exactly. People are sympathetic to Melania because people generally are sympathetic to beautiful, charming people. For Trump haters, this causes a dilemma: “A friend of my enemy should be my enemy, but actually I can’t help but like her.” So then to ease the cognitive dissonance they invent Melania is Secretly Being Abused fantasies.

      • Amy Tuteur, MD

        Aren’t you behaving just like Trump, making up fanciful explanations when people don’t agree with you?

        • fiftyfifty1

          Well we do have evidence that people are sympathetic to beautiful charming people. We do do have evidence that friend/enemy/friend discrepancies cause cognitive dissonance. We do have evidence that people make up stories when faced with cognitive dissonance. We do have evidence that a lot of liberals have made assertions that Melania is probably being abused despite having no evidence.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            No, doubt some people are sympathetic to beauty, but you are accusing me of being swayed by her appearance and you have no evidence for that.

          • fiftyfifty1

            I do find the level of conjecturing around Melania’s supposed abuse to be interesting. And I do believe it has to do with her appearance. If she were middle aged and lumpy and tacky looking, liberals would never let her off the hook for her support of her husband and her birther talk show appearances. But because she looks like Bambi, well she’s the damsel in distress we all fantasize about protecting. Barf.

          • Ennis Demeter

            Nope. She is middle aged, but if she were unattractive, I’d still have compassion for her. I always have had a soft spot for the wives of men like her husband.

          • Roadstergal

            I might have a soft spot if she weren’t leaping into it with both feet. The aforementioned birther-ism with all of the attendant racism, her plagerized speech at the convention, her falsified academic credentials. She enabled her husband’s bigoted, xenophobic rise to power – actively, wholeheartedly. What has she done to merit compassion?

          • Ennis Demeter

            All of those transgressions just makes her look like a foolish and unprepared woman to me ad I pity her. She is in way over her head. She is undereducated, and yes, she has been racist. She is not an enabler to his rise to power- everyone can see she is being dragged along. I doubt his fans would give two rips if she divorced him right this second.

          • Roadstergal

            I don’t see any evidence of her being dragged along. She’s Trump’s third wife. She knew what she was getting into. And now she’s happily distant from Trump, comfortably enjoying his riches without his proximity, while we pay to keep her in the most exclusive of clubs. She’s profiting while abused women across America have aid for them slashed by her family – food stamps, WIC, Planned Parenthood.

      • Meerkat

        I disagree. Melania is as charming as my cast iron skillet, so there is no cognitive dissonance. She just looks extremely unhappy, uncomfortable and, at times, scared.

      • Eeyore

        Judgments and reactions to beauty are not always favorable. Beautiful people are at times treated with contempt, jealousy, and skepticism. I would say sympathy is especially harder to achieve for people perceived as beautiful.

        I agree that basing the assessment on their relationship based on one bad expression is a leap. But we don’t need that. We already know who he is and how he treats people – especially women – and especially women who married him. This is just another piece in the puzzle.

        • fiftyfifty1

          “I would say sympathy is especially harder to achieve for people perceived as beautiful.”

          Research shows the exact opposite.

          • Eeyore

            I would love to see it. Online they are hit hard with criticizm and judgement.

    • Ennis Demeter

      She wasn’t putting herself into politics, though. She was being foolish. She is probably a very foolish woman for many reasons. But I do have compassion for her. There are people who fall short because of the people around them, and I think she’s one of them. A different husband, and she probably would be a perfectly decent person living an upstanding life.

      • Roadstergal

        I disagree. She put herself into politics as far back as 2011, well before Trump’s run.

        • Ennis Demeter

          I think Trump was the political one. I don’t see Melania opining about politics spontaneously without his involvement. I’m projecting my beliefs, we all are. But that video is really unsettling, and I prefer to view her compassionately.

          • Roadstergal

            Trump talked her into going on the View and spouting off on how she’s a citizen and Obama isn’t? Six years ago?

            I just see way too much stretching, here, to give her the benefit of a doubt she hasn’t earned. Her actions in abetting her husband’s run have caused misery for hundreds of thousands, and will cause more. I reserve my sympathy for them.

          • Ennis Demeter

            Yes, he probably did. Why would you put that past him? Anyway, I can sympathize with her and with her husband’s victims. We have to resist holding women accountable for the transgressions of their men. I am 100% sure Trump is consulting her about nothing when it comes to his policies.

          • Roadstergal

            I’m holding her accountable for her own transgressions. I’m not going to make up conspiracies to absolve her. Why are we so eager to paint her as _not_ a xenophobic narcissistic racist with a love for gaudy riches, when her actions are perfectly consistent with that? Why isn’t she simply a really good match for Trump?

          • Dinolindor

            My question is, why can’t she be both a xenophobe and abused/used by him? She could hold those views but have no desire to go public with them, until forced.

            I dunno, I feel heartless for saying this, but whatever on Melania. We have bigger fish to fry than to worry about whatever she does or why.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “We have to resist holding women accountable for the transgressions of their men.”

            But at what point can we hold women responsible for their own actions? She made birther claims. She supported his campaign. Are women no more responsible than children?

          • fiftyfifty1

            ” I don’t see Melania opining about politics spontaneously ”

            I wonder why that it. I wonder why so many of us find it difficult to believe that Melania can hold opinions and make normal adult decisions. Why are we so invested in believing she is a captive with her own views silenced?

            How is this different from what Trump said about Ghazala Khan and how eagerly the Republicans believed him?

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Why? Because she is only trotted out rarely and when it suits DT’s purposes. Did Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, etc. etc. behave this way?

            Ghazals Khan appeared only once in the public eye for only several minutes at the Democratic Convention. Melania has been around for years.

    • Sean Jungian

      I don’t know. On the one hand, I empathize with women who have had limited choices and opportunities in life that have forced them, economically, into abusive and exploitative situations.

      Buuuuut on the other hand – it’s almost certain Melania didn’t marry the Donald for love, or companionship. Theirs was almost certainly a business transaction. I seriously doubt she was a wide-eyed naif completely unaware of that.

      She also has her own money – she’s been shilling her jewelry and skin-care snake oil for several years now.

      I seriously doubt Melania is being abused. Stuck in a loveless, transactional marriage to a buffoonish oaf, sure. And no doubt she saw an opportunity to not have to put up with him on a day-to-day basis and jumped on it.

      But I don’t think we should have to foot the bill for her increased security expenses. That should definitely come out of the Drumpf’s personal fortunes.

      • Ennis Demeter

        I always feel sorry for goldiggers, though, I just do. Who taught them that success was a transactional, loveless marriage to a man who will hold all the cards? Who among us would want a beloved daughter to marry a man like Trump, no mater how rich?

        • Sean Jungian

          I just – don’t. I mean, I feel some compassion for Melania, it can’t be easy or fun to be married to the Orange one. And like I said, I do feel empathy for women who have had limited opportunities that have forced them economically into abusive situation.

          And I don’t know Melania, so I don’t know what led her to marry the Drumpf. However, I think it is somewhat infantilizing and a little bit sexist to assume that she is not and was not responsible for her own decision in the matter. I think she was well into her 30s when she married him; she knew he’d been married twice and fooled around on both wives; and she knew he was wealthy. I don’t see why we can’t give her credit for having walked into her marriage with her eyes wide open. I don’t know *who* may have convinced her that success was a loveless transaction marriage but I really doubt anyone did; why is she assumed not competent enough to have made that choice herself?

          • RMY

            I don’t feel that sorry for her, she had gotten into a university, but left it to go be a model. It’d be one thing if she had been forced to drop out of school, but she left her education voluntarily.

      • Roadstergal

        I agree.

  • Madtowngirl

    I’ve seen that clip a few times, and it is indeed chilling. It is my sincere hope that she is not afraid to be in the White House, and that there’s a benign explanation for her expression.

    But it definitely sent up red flags in my mind, too.