The Trumps Go to Washington: A weird portrait of the new first family
America has a new patriarch-in-chief
How will Donald Trump behave as America's first father?
In The Trumps Go to Washington, the ABC special that aired Thursday night in advance of Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, Americans learned, among other things, that Barron Trump will be the first young boy to live in the White House since John-John Kennedy and that the publicly displayed rooms of the White House will not be subject to "Trumpification." They are, the special informed us, too historically meaningful to alter. But while the question of just what President Trump will do to the White House itself is difficult to focus on at the moment, it may be worth asking just what the White House, and the first family's role within it, is capable of doing for him.
Specifically, The Trumps Go to Washington begs the question of how Americans will relate not just to their new president, but to their new first family. For a candidate who has been known, from the beginning, as an inexhaustible gusher of tabloid-friendly frenzies and proclamations, Trump is flanked by an almost astoundingly quiet pair.
Melania Trump, our 45th first lady, speaks broken English when she speaks at all; her utility as a public figure, as it once was as a model, consists largely of a wifely smolder. She describes her husband in declaratives that, like his own, leave no room for argument or elaboration. "He's a hard worker," she said at one campaign event. "He's kind. He has a great heart. He's tough. He's smart. He's a great communicator. He's a great negotiator. He's telling the truth. He's a great leader. He's fair."
Barron Trump reportedly grew up spending so much time with his mother — and so little with his father — that he first spoke English with a Slovenian accent. This is, in fact, not even the first time that one of Donald Trump's children has spent so much time with their mother's side of the family that they've had two cultural identities: Donald Trump, Jr. was so close with his Czech grandfather, even spending each summer in a small town west of Prague, that he grew up bilingual.
In a similar vein, two of Donald Trump's four adult children have converted to Judaism before wedding Jewish partners (with Eric Trump's wedding taking place beneath a crystal-embellished chuppah, "because," as Tablet Magazine noted, "while the wedding may have been Jewish, it was still Trump"). Since marrying Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump has talked frequently and openly about her lifestyle as an Orthodox Jew, and, in particular, the joys of observing the Sabbath.
"From Friday to Saturday we don't do anything but hang out with one another," Ivanka said in an interview with Vogue. "It's an amazing thing when you're so connected, to really sign off. And for [my daughter] Arabella to know that she has me, undivided, one day a week? We don't do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family."
For Donald Trump's children, it may have been necessary to take roles in their father's campaign simply to spend time with him over the last two years. Now that his family will be visible to us as America's first family, will our view of them — and of his duties to them — change? Will we expect more of him as a father, now that he has assumed the role of America's patriarch-in-chief?
ABC's The Trumps Go To Washington reminds us of the humanizing role first family members often play for the president. From Julie Nixon's wide-eyed yet articulate advocacy of her father's policies to Sasha and Malia Obama skipping through the crowd at their father's inauguration, first families bond us to our presidents by encouraging us to see them not just as the political leaders we want, but the fathers we wish we had.
In this case, however, the president seems to spend more time inhabiting his public persona than he does any role in his private life. While Americans used to study the first family to understand the man behind the presidential facade, President Trump's own family members may look to the face he shared with the public to try to understand their husband and father.