On Sunday, First Lady Melania Trump carefully disembarked Air Force One, clutching the railing of the stairs leading to the tarmac with one hand and a brown Birkin bag in the other. A gust of wind blew her hair into her face and threatened to lift her dress too if she wasn’t careful, so she jerkily readjusted herself, pressing the weight of the bag against the skirt of her dress as she continued her descent. The problem, though, was that Donald Trump attempted to hold Melania’s hand just as she was avoiding a wardrobe malfunction, so it appeared as though she was brushing off his attempts at affection.
That, at least, is how I saw the video that instantly went viral. Plenty of other people saw something a little more dramatic: Melania unable to control her absolute repulsion for her husband with her very tall son in tow.
While there’s some fun to be had in the concept of a perpetually disdainful Melania Trump, it’s not one that seems all that tethered to reality. But that didn’t stop Sky News from blaring the headline “Melania Trump pulls her hand away from Donald Trump’s as they step off Air Force One.” Nor did it stop Vox journalist Aaron Rupar either, who tweeted, “Hard not to notice Trump repeatedly trying to hold Melania’s hand on their way down the steps and her having none of it.” It also didn’t stop a few Democrats with a large following on Twitter from crassly joking that Melania, a sex worker, charges extra for hand-holding.
It’s 2020, and clickbait tabloids and Resistance™ Democrats are still clinging to the notion that Melania Trump actually hates her husband’s guts, just as they do. This characterization kicked off in earnest during Trump’s inauguration, when every twitch of Melania’s lips were psychoanalyzed. For some Democrats, it was easier to imagine Melania as a long-suffering wife rather than a woman with a history of being complicit in Trump’s racism and dismissive of those who have accused him of sexual assault.
And yet, amid the sexist jokes is a genuine concern for the First Lady. Typing “Melania” and “hand” into Twitter’s search engine pulls up an array of tweets lamenting Melania is clearly abused or using the Air Force One footage as proof that Melania is a rape survivor.
There have been plenty of rumors that have floated down the Trump family grapevine, but none that suggest Melania is a victim of intimate partner violence. Though Trump’s alleged sexual abuse of women is well documented, there are a nauseating number of anecdotes suggesting that Melania is devoted to the President and intensely loyal to him, not out of fear but out of a sincere adoration.
But that’s terribly inconvenient. The narrative has been in place for years, and the Resisters can’t abandon ship now. And this obsession with “Melania: The Scorned Woman” has now been realized in the form of new get out the vote campaign called Divorce Trump. A new Divorce Trump ad features clips of Melania rejecting Trump’s advances over the years, juxtaposed against Trump’s buffoonery and failures as president.
“He’s been lying to you,” the narrator hisses, as if whispering to Melania, just before showing footage of Trump fumbling his way through a presser. “He’s a cheat,” the narrator continues, flashing a clip of Melania seemingly rejecting Trump’s grasp before transitioning to a recent photo of stockpiled United States Post Office mailboxes—an alleged voter suppression tactic by the Trump administration.
Any cleverness this ad might have possessed was drowned by the melodramatic victim narrative it bestowed upon Melania, one that we have little reason to believe is even valid. Instead of believing Melania Trump is an unwitting victim of Trump’s abject cruelty, perhaps it’s better to ask why so many are eager to save a woman who has made her bed and appears more than happy to lie in it.