Mrs. Trump: Victim, Bystander, or Accomplice//Colleen Kase, B.A.

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Thousands of think pieces have been dedicated to Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump and First Lady of the United States. To conservatives, she is a straightforward beacon of beauty, poise, and traditional femininity, constantly bullied by the mainstream media. To many liberals, she is an as-yet-undiscovered victim, who is attempting to communicate her pleas for rescue through facial expressions, blinks, and Tweets, prompting the rise of the hashtag #FreeMelania on social media. Whether she is adored or pitied, these narratives commit the same error – they strip her of agency, intelligence, and ultimately, blame. They relegate her to the uncontroversial “pink ghetto” of First Lady-hood, and ignore her complicated history. Indeed, the most searched Melania-related terms include “pink dress,” “stilettos,” “fashion,” and “age.”

Melania herself seems more politically perceptive than either side gives her credit for. She steadfastly supported her husband’s racist claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, even going on national television to defend it in 2011. She publicly supported him throughout the election, lending his campaign a patina of grace and respectability. This was particularly important after allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump were made public in the fall of 2016, following the release of an audio recording in which he bragged about using his power to sexually assault women. Melania likened her husband to a teenage boy and dismissed the women’s allegations as lies orchestrated by the Democratic party to discredit him. Beyond these moments, she was complicit in every step of her husband’s racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic campaign. She made speeches in support of him and stood smilingly by his side, convincing voters that he could be trusted. Her support likely helped win over the 53% of White women who voted for him. And she has admitted that she hopes to profit off her high-profile position by launching a lifestyle brand, even suing media companies who she perceives as hurting her ability to do so. These are not the actions of pitiable victim or an apolitical wife, but of a savvy, fully autonomous political operator.

This makes her decision to launch an anti-bullying initiative as First Lady even more galling. She is correct that bullying, both in-person and online, is an important problem for today’s children and teens. However, I believe her silence and support as her husband bullied his way into the presidency disqualifies her from championing this cause. He publicly mocked a reporter with a disability, and Melania stood silent. He suggested that reporter Megyn Kelly treated him unfairly during a debate because she was menstruating, called a Latina contestant in his Miss Universe pageant “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeper,” called Mexicans “rapists,” and “criminals,” and banned immigrants from Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and Melania said nothing. When he suggested that reporter Mika Brzezinski had had a facelift, Melania defended her husband as an equal-opportunity bully, saying “As you may know by now, when you attack him he will punch back 10 times harder. No matter who you are, a man or a woman, he treats everyone equal.” He banned transgender troops from serving in the military and welcomed the deeply homophobic Mike Pence into his administration, and Melania did not have the courage to defend LGBTQ+ youth, who are at the highest risk for bullying, parental rejection, and suicide. She enabled his vitriolic bullying towards marginalized groups at every turn, so she does not deserve to take on the mantle of anti-bullying champion, nor should she be excused as a victim. Melania is a making her own choices, and she should be held fully accountable for her hypocrisy.

~Written by: Colleen Kase, B.A.

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