These memes characterise her as one of us (Credits: REUTERS)
On Saturday, as Joe Biden was announced president elect in the 2020 American presidential election, social media expectedly erupted.
Many tweeted their congratulations to the future president and subsequently expressed their relief as it was confirmed that Donald Trump’s oppressive, irresponsible and chaotic presidency would not continue into a second term.
In doing so, memes, taunts, and jibes were shared at Trump’s expense across the internet in celebration. The first lady, too, was the butt of several jokes. However, these were of a different nature completely.
Various images of Melania Trump have circulated online in the last few days. One popular meme shows her holding a spade is captioned ‘I make grave for husband now’, with another depicting her searching ‘how to divorce orange man’ on Google.
Others tweeted viral reaction videos imagining her frantic escape from the White House and her marriage to Trump after his defeat.
But these ‘jokes’ are problematic in a number of ways.
Firstly, they encourage a narrative that Melania was a victim in her marriage and in her role as first lady.
Of course, we don’t know the deep details of Melania and Trump’s marriage – and while recent reports speculate she is planning to file for divorce, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that she has in any way been a victim of the relationship.
And to portray the woman who once wore a jacket with ‘I really don’t care, do u?’ emblazoned on its back, while en route to a child detention centre – one which held migrant children her husband separated from their parents – as some sort of passive victim, is entirely ill-judged.
As the first lady of the United States, Melania Trump joined the likes of iconic women like Michelle Obama. But their approaches to the role differed immensely – Michelle passionately dedicated her platform to advocacy and activism, whereas the few times we saw Melania, she seemed like she simply couldn’t be bothered, her lifeless approach both forgettable and uninspiring.
However unenthusiastic she may have been, she still carried responsibilities as the first lady – and she should be held accountable for neglecting them.
The memes suggest that Melania holds opposing views and opinions to Trump – hence her apparent desire to flee, divorce and kill him. But since Trump began his presidential campaign back in 2015, Melania has backed his discriminatory policies and remarks, and supported him throughout his many trials and tribulations as president.
Some may say a degree of support should be expected of a spouse – but Melania publicly discredited the sexual assault allegations directed at Brett Kavanagh, who her husband had appointed as a Supreme Court Justice, by saying that women accusing men of these crimes need ‘hard evidence’.
She also attempted to downplay Donald Trump’s infamous ‘grab ’em by the p*ssy’ remark as just ‘boy talk’.
While she may have stuck by her husband, Melania’s clear disregard for other women and victims of sexual assault shone through.
To illustrate her as a complacent wife that we should root for to ‘escape’ her marriage undermines her part in Trump’s repressive time as president.
Despite not speaking publicly very often, Melania also managed to contradict herself on several occasions – much like her husband.
During the 2020 Republican National Convention, she called for an end to racial tensions in the country, which were ignited after the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers in May.
But rewind back to 2011, and she was part of the mob spreading Trump’s racist rumour that then-President Obama was born in Kenya and not the US, thereby making his presidency illegitimate.
Using racism as fuel, Melania pushed the problematic conspiracy theory, asking to see Barack Obama’s birth certificate, during a TV interview, undeniably stirring racial tensions in the US that she is now calling for an end to.
And we have to mention the laughable anti-bullying campaign ‘Be Best’, which she sheepishly pedalled before the president bullied 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg (and many others) on Twitter.
The last problem with the memes is the evident racism. Reducing Melania’s existence to her Slovenian accent and broken English is offensive, and does nothing more than to enforce the stereotype that she only exists as some sort of European trophy wife.
Should she not be remembered for her enablement of social division, lacklustre initiatives, and poorly plagiarised speeches, rather than her speaking voice?
Creating and sharing these racially tinged memes of Melania in order to celebrate Trump’s defeat is hypocritical, as they contradict the widespread criticism of Trump’s overt racism in the first place.
While we may rejoice at the well-known videos of Melania publicly swatting her husband’s hand away and frowning as he turns his back, we should not use them as ammunition to fuel her victim narrative as Mrs Trump.
These memes characterise her as one of us, someone who dislikes Trump and everything he stands for, which is clearly false.
Ultimately, they overlook Melania’s problematic stint as the first lady of the United States and render her as a victim of her marriage and position, which she is most definitely not.
Instead, we should remember Melania Trump as a failed first lady, one who shares the same prejudiced beliefs as her racist, misogynistic and transphobic husband.
We should not be giving her a free pass or supporting her, even if it is only for the punchline of a joke.
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