Scorned and mistreated, Melania Trump deserved much better from the media
It’s safe to say that no president’s wife has been treated more disrespectfully and disgracefully than Melania Trump, who exited the White House on Wednesday after four tumultuous years.
Throughout history, several first ladies – notably, Rachel Jackson, Mary Todd Lincoln, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Reagan – were attacked or criticized on personal or political grounds, sometimes viciously so by their husbands’ political foes. Yet, in more recent times, the general rule became that first ladies were basically untouchable unless they were working for the administration in an official role, as was the case with Hillary Clinton when she chaired President Clinton’s health care task force in 1993. The task force’s flawed proposal never got to a vote, despite Democratic control of Congress, following intense criticism from Republicans, libertarians and the health care industry, prompting widespread criticism of Mrs. Clinton as a policymaker.
The first ladies who have occupied the White House since then – Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Melania Trump – have not held positions within the administration. But of these three, only one was met with such a high level of vitriol from certain quarters of the press despite conducting herself with grace and class: Mrs. Trump.
A prime example of this occurred after the now former first lady decorated the White House for Christmas in 2018. As you may recall, red trees were part of her selection. Benign enough. It’s just holiday decorations after all.
And then came the avalanche:
And then there was Melania Trump’s rearrangement of the Rose Garden last year, which Slate called “fit for an unchecked presidency” and “Versailles in miniature.” One CNN political analyst accused her of cutting down “Jackie Kennedy’s trees.”
“Melania dug up the WH Rose Garden, removing roses from every First Lady since 1913,” Occupy Democrats alleged in a post that went viral.
Several fact-checks shot down these ridiculous claims. But, as the saying goes, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
Allegations are shared more on social media than are exonerations.
Per USA Today: “Based on our research, claims that first lady Melania Trump removed historic cherry trees and roses in her recent renovation of the White House’s Rose Garden are FALSE. The trees that were relocated were crabapple trees, and roses from previous gardens had likely already died or been replaced before the renovation.”
“The renovation also improved accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the fact-check adds.
These two examples – around such small-potatoes as Christmas trees and roses – underscore what met the now-former first lady on a regular basis. Even her accent was mocked on national television by the pope of late night, Jimmy Kimmel — and this occurred while she was reading to children during a White House Easter event. The backlash was swift, forcing Kimmel to apologize.
But the true low point came after Mrs. Trump had to undergo a procedure on her kidney, which required hospitalization afterward. Two weeks later, speculation of the grossest kind emerged after she wasn’t seen publicly while recovering.
Here’s one Rolling Stone senior writer’s guessing that the first lady was being beaten at the White House by her presidential husband, generating 20,000 likes and apparently not in violation of Twitter’s super-selective “Terms of Service”:
I wish that I didn’t suspect that the prolonged, poorly explained public absence of Melania Trump could be about concealing abuse. I wish that it was a ludicrous prospect. I wish that the @POTUS wasn’t a man with a history of abusing women, including those to whom he is married.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) June 3, 2018
CNN and Politico followed suit in openly theorizing where the first lady was.
Where in the world is Melania Trump? There are a few theories … https://t.co/m2YYwX3DPE
— POLITICO (@politico) May 30, 2018
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) June 4, 2018
Enter CNBC reporter Eamon Javers, who reported that Melania Trump was seen walking with her aides in the West Wing at the time of her “disappearance.”
Again, the first lady undergoes a medical procedure. She’s isn’t a member of the administration. She should be allowed to recover quietly.
Plus, ask yourself this question: Would these questions have even been asked of Michelle Obama or Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton? Will they be asked of Jill Biden?
Even upon her departure Wednesday from the White House, another late-night activist who plays a comedy host on national TV leveled one last salvo of hate at Mrs. Trump. From a Mediaite headline: “Stephen Colbert and Laura Benanti Send a Final ‘F*ck You’ to Melania Trump in Brutal Parody Farewell Video.”
Melania Trump had style. She had grace. But the media and entertainment industries largely hated her husband. So, instead of simply focusing on him, they extended the food-fight to someone who deserved much, much better.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.