Two things struck me, on watching Melania Trump address the Republican National Convention in August. The first was: But she’s got an accent! A ridiculous response actually, because: of course Melania Trump’s got an accent! She’s Slovenian; she came to the US in 1996, aged 27, already equipped with the sort of accent only a fraud would attempt to hide, shake, substitute.
Though equally, I suppose, my surprise on hearing her voice does testify to how unused I am to Melania speaking in public at all. How unused we all are; among us, the actress Bette Midler, who sparked a row on social media after mocking Melania as “an illegal alien” who “still can’t speak English”, thereby inviting accusations of xenophobia, even from the most hardened anti-Trump quarters.
It does rather remind us, how very little we actually know about Melania at all; how enigmatic and mysterious she has chosen to remain from us, certainly in comparison with all the First Ladies who came before her.
The second thing to occur to me was: she’s much better at this than I’d have anticipated. Softer, more convincing, more personable. Much more human. She hit all the notes required of her. She flattered her husband’s “base”, his die-hard supporters, commending the chance they took, four years ago, on a politically unproven businessman (thereby reinforcing Trump’s credentials as an outsider on the US political establishment, a quality his “people” relish in him); but she also invoked Covid 19, and women’s rights, then teased her husband for his social media excesses, in a way that made you think she meant it. Which is not to say she did, or that she has any right to make such proclamations, or that her performance wasn’t planned and constructed and coached to the nth degree… who knows… But, regardless: it demonstrated there is clearly previously unsuspected political artistry to Melania Trump.
She looked the part, too. If you felt there was a touch of the Bond villainess to her presentation – that might be a little latent sexism stirring. We are rather inclined to assume very obviously good-looking people lack credibility, or authenticity, after all; and to associate the innate glamour Melania projects, with hidden nefarious agenda, when they might actually speak more to an Eastern European aesthetic that tends to sway that way.
As for the olive, structure and lapels on her jacket: that would have seemed a little heavy handed in the military-referencing stakes, if they hadn’t also worked really well with her skin tone and eyes, emphasising the line on her cheekbones and her eyebrows, in such a way as to suggest they could equally well have just been a good fashion call. And if her blow dry was immaculate, it was perhaps 25pc less flouncy and flamboyant than normal, in the name of seriousness. (Also: I should very much like to know which shade of lip gloss she was wearing.)
All in all: she did well. Think and say what you will about her husband. Heaven knows, I have. But Melania Trump pulled this moment off. It might even represent her highest point, presentation-wise. An accomplished climax of four years of her finessing and provoking us, with assorted fashion statements, hair styles, demeanours.
It might in fact have been nothing other than her trying her best to look nice, with the world’s media focused on her. But, if you believe that pictures can paint a 1,000 words, in the past four years, this is what we’ve gleaned so far…
That Pink Shirt