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Wed Aug 26, 2020, 05:58 PM

The Special Hypocrisy of Melania Trump's Speech at the Republican National Convention

Cultural Comment
The Special Hypocrisy of Melania Trump’s Speech at the Republican National Convention
By Doreen St. Félix
August 26, 2020

In place of roses, the First Lady grew concrete. Prior to her address at the Republican National Convention, on Tuesday night, the White House unveiled Melania Trump’s renovations to the Rose Garden, which had been pitched as her personal project. Cultivation of the garden would link her to Jackie Kennedy, the one figure whose lineage Melania, and her boosters, can tenuously claim. Homage, to Melania, looked like draining the floriculture of its traditional crimson and magenta, replacing the garden’s formerly bright bushes with flowers of the palest shades, and removing the row of crab-apple trees around the perimeter, leaving a walkway of fresh pavement in their stead. If First Lady is an unofficial office whose only, and therefore critical, mandate is to rustle up symbolism, then Melania’s redesign was flawless: the content of the metaphor was clean and clear.

Drained of life, the garden now better functions as a stage. Cameras followed Melania as she strode into the garden, where she received movie-star lighting, to deliver her speech. So far, the production of the R.N.C. has emphasized scale—the single boasting figure at the dais in an empty hall, the wide frame a kind of implicit and defiant fuck-you to the pandemic’s constriction of space. In the Rose Garden, what looked like dozens of audience members, including Melania’s husband, as she would refer to the President, looked on from chairs. (According to reports, only the guests who sat near the President and Vice-President were tested for COVID-19.) Her olive-green skirt suit, by Alexander McQueen, looked rather like fatigues, and recalled the palette of her other famous jacket, with its quick message of fast-fashion fascism: “I REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?”

You know the thing about Melania by now. Profundity is wrung from her vapidity, messages decoded from the tea leaves of her rote silence. Belief in her moral grain, faith in the fable in which she is the innocent immigrant who has tumbled into an accursed set of circumstances, is, for some, the last thing standing in the way of full-on nihilism. The story of her R.N.C. address, then, is less about what streamed from the teleprompter than the trap it laid for the D.C. press. Already, the Washington Post has noted that Melania’s speech “emphasized her empathy, which only highlighted the president’s lack of it.”

Groping in the dark banality of the address, one can agree that Melania did provide a superficial counter to her husband. But one gets the sense that Melania Trump does not appreciate the custodial role. Generally emotionless throughout her twenty-six-minute address, she offered a careful appraisal of the state of the nation, admitting the “harsh reality” of “racial unrest in our country,” and extending sympathy to Americans who have lost loved ones and livelihoods to the pandemic. She also freely recalled her childhood in the Communist state of Slovenia, and even spoke, notionally, of Islam, all while her husband maintains his Muslim ban. The exploitative speech, like the Convention as a whole, was tasked with conjuring an alternative interpretation of Trumpian fascism. As she has before, Melania claimed her husband’s incivility to be a form of passionate patriotism. At the same time, she acted as a kind of quiet, maternal foil to the rest of the R.N.C.’s overactive bombast, with its vision of a world in which COVID-19 has been vanquished and the economy is roaring. Her delivery was shy, and the words did not seem fully processed or digested by their speaker. Still, it was by far Melania’s best political performance since her entrance into public life.



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