Talking Points

The enigma of Melania Trump

How to describe that walk? It was interminable without being leisurely, a one-woman military parade. As a piece of stagecraft, Melania Trump's appearance on the second night of the Republican National Convention was meticulous, far more interesting visually than anything we have seen in either convention so far. The unmistakably stratonic flavor of the address was underscored by the first lady's outfit, the designer equivalent of a Soviet military jacket.

Before a small mask-less audience in the Rose Garden, Melania spoke plainly about a series of mostly anodyne issues: the pandemic, gratitude for medical professionals, her foreign travel, her ongoing "Be Best" initiative. She also discussed the centenary of the 19th amendment, the subject of a recent children's art competition she judged at the White House. She told the story of a child who had received a heart transplant and addressed the victims of natural disasters, the plight of drug addicts, racism, and crime.

Most of what she said was unremarkable. The most striking words came at the end of her address, when she spoke of the "downside of technology." She argued, rightly, that social media is immiserating an entire generation of vulnerable young people, and offered encouragement to America's mothers. It is strange to think that American first ladies have largely been right about the crises — Nancy Reagan on drugs, Barbara and Laura Bush on childhood literacy, Michelle Obama on obesity — and that their considerable efforts have made no difference whatever. (It would be interesting to hear more of Melania's thoughts on education, especially language acquisition, in which America pales in comparison to the communist Slovenia of her youth.)

The first lady's speech came on the eve of the publication of yet another Trump tell-all book, this one focusing on the first lady herself. After four years, Melania remains an enigma and in many ways a more compelling figure than her husband.