Melania Trump, the first lady, is by many accounts, an altogether pleasant person, more comfortable at home with her son Barron Trump than demanding or sharing the limelight.
Which is just as well since she is married to the most demanding-of-the limelight US president ever. Instead Melania appears to keep her counsel (mostly) and behaves with the sort of composure demanded of a royal.
Donald Trump taunts basketball’s LeBron James in late night Twitter rant.
Except when she doesn’t.
Much time is spent speculating on her silent, discreet presence. For the right, she’s a fashion icon and source of inspiration as well as a reliable thorn in the side of the liberal media. To some on the left, however, she’s a secret freedom fighter working tirelessly to undermine an evil order from within, using the weapon that all great revolutionaries have relied on for centuries: trolling.
Is this what she was doing yesterday when her spokeswoman released a statement praising LeBron James, America’s most gifted and lauded basketball player, just a day after her husband had torn into him in one of his late night Twitter rants? If not, what signal could she possibly have been sending to her husband?
On Friday Trump had publicly questioned LeBron’s intelligence after the NBA superstar – and newly minted Los Angeles Laker star – gave an interview to CNN’s Don Lemon in which the pair discussed and toured his new I Promise public school, located in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
“LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do,” tweeted Trump.
The following afternoon, a statement emerged from Melania’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, proclaiming, “LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today,” adding that Melania “would be open to visiting the I Promise School in Akron”.
Ouch! (President Trump, at a rally in Ohio last night – LeBron’s hometown state, made no mention of the star).
Melania seems to have form when it comes to taking public issue with her husband. “Melania Trump trolls her husband,” claimed a May 7 Washington Postopinion column by Karen Tumulty, referencing the fact that the First Lady has a public initiative against bullying. Before that, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote of Melania as a “Slovenian Sphynx” who “will never be as brilliant at trolling as her husband,” but nevertheless, “has her moments”.
And Melania’s trolling even extends – by some accounts – to her wardrobe. The first lady’s experience as a model means that it stands to reason that she might be independently motivated to make bold sartorial choices when appearing in public. However, even Melania’s outfits have been interpreted as subtle broadsides against Trump.
When she wore a jacket emblazoned with “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?” on the back to visit detained immigrant children in Texas, it was seen by some as a defiant troll against The Donald. (Others saw it as a disastrous and insensitive choice.) Her decision to wear a white pantsuit – the same outfit Hillary Clinton wore on election night in 2016 – the night of Trump’s State of the Union address in January couldn’t have been anything less than a troll, it was confidently declared.
And a month ago, when she accompanied her husband to the NATO summit while wearing a sheer dress, W Magazine declared that “no matter what you think her reasoning was, there’s no arguing that the whole affair was further proof that Melania has finally found herself a hobby: trolling.”
On one level, Melania Trump’s statement on LeBron James could be read as the first lady publicly undermining the president. On another, Melania’s reticence to make public statements can create the temptation to read her every move as a grand rhetorical gesture, and it’s important to remember that we don’t really know why she does anything she does.
Though it’s certainly possible she’s putting Trump in his place, it’s equally possible that the words and actions over the past few months are an attempt not to troll her husband, but to temper his actions and statements. In this reading, her interventions serve as the calm and collected partner tasked with stepping into the public eye and making it clear that at least somebody in the White House recognizes that a rich and famous person using their riches and fame to provide free, high-quality public education to children is quite a noble deed.
Whatever the explanation, it seems to be working. In June, it was reported that she was three times more popular than Donald Trump. If she wanted to truly troll Trump, some have suggested that she would need to do is divorce him and speak out openly and unambiguously. For now, we have to wait on periodic statements, her choice of clothes and sometimes even her facial expressions to gauge whether she has broken decisively with her husband.