Melania Trump’s role as First Lady still mystery on inauguration day


She’ll take no oath.

She won’t have to promise to uphold or defend anything or anyone; nor will she earn a salary.

Her new position was never addressed by the Founding Fathers or mentioned in the Constitution.

But when her husband placed his hand on the Bible she held Friday, Melania Trump was inaugurated into her new job just as surely as her husband was.

All eyes will be on the inscrutable Melania Trump, if only to see what she’s wearing (a powder-blue suit designed by Ralph Lauren). At the same time, Americans will be wondering what kind of first lady they’ll be getting during the next four years.

It’s a given that she’ll always look stunning. The former model never appears less than perfectly groomed, usually attired in tightly tailored sheath dresses and spiky stilettos, although her necklines have risen and her hems dropped during the course of the campaign.

Judging by dozens of Mar-a-Lago party photos in The Palm Beach Post archives, she wears an evening gown as easily as other women wear yoga pants.

Maybe, it’s easier to note what she won’t do than what her agenda might be.

Melania is unlikely to clip grocery coupons like Mamie Eisenhower, who once said she could “squeeze a dollar until the eagle screamed.”

Nor are we likely to find her planting carrots in the White House garden, like Michelle Obama.

And we won’t be getting “two for the price of one” as the Clintons famously proclaimed.

“I chose not to go into politics and policy,” Melania told GQ magazine. “Those policies are my husband’s job.”

But Melania will be a groundbreaking first lady simply by ignoring a precedent in place since the White House was finished in 1800.

Instead of immediately moving to Washington, she’s staying in New York for at least six months, while her 11-year-old son Barron finishes the school year.

He’ll be the first son living in the White House since JFK, Jr.

There is no legal requirement that the first lady live in the White House. Michelle Obama considered staying in Chicago until her daughters completed their school term, but ultimately decided to move to Washington after the inauguration.

Only one other first lady didn’t move into the White House.

Anna Harrison, the wife of William Henry Harrison, was packing to leave Ohio for Washington, when her husband died in 1841, 31 days into his term.

(Nor did Martha Washington live in the White House, because it wasn’t yet constructed.)

At least initially, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is moving to Washington with her family, is expected to play the role of White House hostess.

First ladies, says presidential historian Robert Watson of Lynn University, have always been the glue that holds the White House together.

Since Hillary Clinton’s residency, Watson has compiled his Report to the First Lady for every new White House occupant. The book is a compendium of White House history, first lady biographies, as well as advice culled from former occupants of the White House to help new first ladies navigate the daunting job ahead of them.

“Rosalynn Carter told me that nothing could prepare you for the White House, so I thought a guide done by presidential scholars might be useful,” said Watson, whose specialty is the history of first ladies.

The Trumps didn’t reply to Watson’s offer to update the report.

“That’s not a critique, it’s just that the Trumps didn’t respond,” he said, “which was just as well, since I was already working 15 to 18 hours a day.”

Traditionally, first lady’s duties have included planning state dinners, greeting visiting dignitaries and trying to maintain the dignity of the White House, said Watson.

He’s not sure how Melania will approach the job.

“First ladies have been the White House managers, the preservationists who made sure it’s the Peoples’ House, that it’s maintained as a national museum,” said Wagner, “but with Melania’s complete and utter disinterest we are in uncharted territory.”

And for the first time, the public doesn’t seem to care.

“If Barbara Bush or Rosalynn Carter had said, ‘I’m staying home,’ people would have marched on the capital,” said Watson.

Earlier in the campaign, Melania said she hoped to be a “traditional” first lady, in the mode of Jackie Kennedy, who enlisted historic preservationists and art experts in an exhaustive restoration of the White House.

As for the usual social causes first ladies endorse, Melania mentioned she’d try to combat cyber-bullying, a pronouncement that sparked incredulity among those who see her husband as a prolific Twitter tyrant.

If anything, Melania seems more like Bess Truman, said Watson, another first lady who didn’t like Washington or politics. Yet, like almost all first ladies, Bess was her husband’s confidante and sounding board.

“Truman’s speechwriters told me that after they had finished a speech, Truman would say, ‘Well boys, let me take it upstairs to see what the boss says’,” said Watson, the author of 40 books on American history.

Asked if he could imagine President Trump and his wife having a similar arrangement, Watson said, “No, not at all.”

While Pat Nixon and Betty Ford modeled briefly, Melania is the only one whose nude magazine photos are readily available on the internet.

A native of Slovenia, she will be only the second first lady born outside the U.S., and the first born in a then-Communist country.

President Trump will be the first president to be divorced twice, making Melania the first third wife of a president.

Reticent and uninterested in politics, Melania was infrequently seen and even more rarely heard during the campaign.

It’s not surprising she retreated ever further from the public eye as the long campaign dragged on, because when we did hear from her, it was often associated with disaster,

Her convention speech proved to be partially purloined from Michelle Obama, a flub attributed to her speech writer.

Or, she was responding to the public humiliation following something her husband had done or said, such as his boasting of non-consensual kissing and groping of women in the Access Hollywood tape.

Yet, imperturbable Melania, poised and remarkably self-possessed in the face of scandal, seemed to float above it all from her cozy cocoon in the Trump Tower penthouse. From her golden perch, she blamed the media for her husband’s troubles and insisted she needs no one’s pity.

“People think and talk about me, the — like, Oh, Melania, oh, poor Melania. Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t feel sorry for me. I can handle everything,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

So, how do we understand the “Slovenian sphinx,” as Maureen Dowd called her in the New York Times?

Perhaps we never will.

“She is an enigma, a mystery,” said Watson.



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