Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past two years will tell you that Donald Trump is not the most popular president America has ever had. Whether it’s his late-night tweets, racially charged comments about immigrants or outlandish claims with no factual backing, he’s been a controversial figure since he started his presidential campaign in 2015. But as much as Trump himself has reveled in the spotlight that the presidency has put him in, there is still a world of wonder surrounding his more reserved wife, Melania Trump.
It’s difficult for a lot of people to imagine what it must be like to be married to Donald Trump, and the mere speculation surrounding Melania’s life has led to a lot of scrutiny. #SaveMelania popped up all over Twitter after Inauguration Day in 2017, when uncomfortable images of her with her husband were interpreted as a cry for help. When she announced that her focus as first lady would be cyberbullying, the internet was quick to point out the irony of doing so when her husband regularly attacks people on Twitter.
While on her way to tour a children’s immigrant shelter, she wore a jacket that said “I Don’t Really Care, Do U?” which drew a firestorm of criticism from those who felt like she was trivializing the crisis of children being separated from their parents at the border.
The past two years have been a guessing game, with people constantly trying to figure out what Melania must be thinking in the midst of the chaos that is her husband’s administration. The less she has said, the more people have assumed. The general public just can’t seem to fathom that Melania is trying to grow into a role that she probably never expected to be thrown into. The idea of being in such a high-profile position would be daunting to anyone, let alone someone who maintained a relatively low profile up until just recently.
What made her transition even more difficult is that she had to follow in the footsteps of Michelle Obama, who is arguably the most incredible first lady in American history. Obama was praised for her Ivy League education and her long career in the public sphere. When she got to the White House, she hit the ground running, and if she was uncomfortable or struggling with the role at any point, she sure didn’t show it.
That’s a hard act to follow, and Melania probably knows that. When she decided to defer moving to the White Hose so that her son could finish out the school year, people just assumed she was openly rejecting her new role out of fear and discomfort rather than just making a practical decision to ease a large transition. The public is expecting her to be like a Michelle Obama, for whom being first lady was like second nature, and doesn’t consider that Melania is having to navigate a role that is the complete opposite of what she’s used to.
At the same time, she’s had to consistently hear public chatter about the state of her marriage. In some ways, the interest is understandable. The Obamas often showed public displays of affection that went viral on social media, and it seemed like they were ready to gush about one another in every interview. For all intents and purposes, they were the epitome of relationship goals.
The Trumps haven’t necessarily had the same experience. Their body language around one another feels awkward, and there are reports that they hardly spend time with each other and even sleep in separate bedrooms. This kind of speculation has only been intensified with consistent reports on Donald’s sexual escapades, including affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal and allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women.
Regardless of what is and isn’t true, that sort of attention on the deepest aspects of someone’s personal life can be hard to deal with, especially for someone who doesn’t like to draw attention to themselves in the first place. Whatever goes on behind closed doors, it’s probably safe to say that Melania is handling it in the way she thinks is best, and the fact that she still manages to maintain her public persona is pretty impressive. Some might say that she could be doing more to reign in her husband’s worst impulses, but odds are that if he doesn’t even listen to people who are experts on a certain subject, she won’t have any luck with him either.
What you probably don’t hear so much about is what Melania actually does in her role as first lady, and that’s because her approach is different than that of her predecessors. Michelle Obama famously planted the White House Vegetable Garden, and Laura Bush started the National Book Festival after she took the position of first lady. Both events were high profile and important for establishing the track that each first lady would take.
But Melania prefers to make more low-profile appearances, visiting children in schools and doing less publicized advocacy against bullying. But for everything that Melania does, her husband seems to do something that completely distracts from it, and because of that, her tenure as first lady has so far been defined by controversy and constant speculation.
The fact is that no one really knows what’s going on inside Melania’s head or what she’s feeling, and one can only imagine what it feels like to have so many people questioning your every move. Sure, she might not go down as one of the most publicly influential first ladies in American history. But if that’s her choice, then so be it.
Regardless of how you feel about her husband, Melania isn’t the one who should be feeling the wrath of the American public. If nothing else, she’s just trying to make the best of her situation, and from someone who probably never expected to eventually become first lady, that’s all that you can really ask.