Traditionally, presidents have at least made a show of having healthy, happy marriages. Even the Clintons, despite marital troubles, appeared to have moments of genuine affection, humor, and bonding. But from almost the first moments of Inauguration Day, during the ceremonial arrival at the White House, it seemed something was amiss with the Trumps. Perhaps you’ve seen the clip: Donald and Melania’s black S.U.V. arrives at the White House, where Barack and Michelle Obama are waiting to greet them. Donald bolts from the car and marches up the stairs, leaving behind Melania, in her powder-blue, Jackie-esque suit, carrying a large Tiffany box.
During Franklin Graham’s blessing, Donald turned around to look at Melania. She smiled momentarily. But once his back was turned, her face fell into a miserable frown. Later that night, as the president and First Lady had their “first dance,” twice over, to “My Way,” she was often stiff and pulling away from his face.
A display of Donald and Melania Trump coupledom that has got people talking is the way the President and First Lady descended the stairs of a plane. Twitter users pointed out that when leaving Air Force One over the weekend, Donald walked down far in front of his wife, leaving her behind. According to etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, the president’s distance “could be perceived as a sign of disrespect,” despite the fact that a man should traditionally walk down just in front of a woman so that he could catch her if she fell.
"I looked to Melania’s Twitter history for answers. I noticed that in the three-year period between June 3, 2012 and June 11, 2015 she tweeted 470 photos which she appeared to have taken herself. I examined these photographs.
Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world. For someone like Melania, media-trained, controlled and cloistered, her collection of Twitter photography provides an otherwise unavailable view into the reality of her existence. Nowhere else — certainly not in interviews or public appearances — is her guard so far down."
In three years, Melania only posted one picture of herself and Trump. He dominates the frame; her face is in shadow and cropped out. It is both a selfie and an erasure, a depiction of her placement within their world. Melania posted five photographs of Trump with their son. She took each photo from behind the two, sometimes literally from the backseat. Boys in front, girls in the back, the same arrangement we were all so appalled to see on inauguration day, is her norm. She lives in the background.
If Melania sees her family from behind, she sees the rest of the world from above. She posted 74 photographs of the view from her home in Trump Tower. She stays at home a lot, or what seems like a lot for someone with a billion dollars and a private jet, anyway, enough to capture the same view, over and over again, at different times of day and weather, ad nauseam.
There is a striking passivity to the Trump Tower view photographs. She never changed the composition of these landscapes, she placed no personal mark on them. The time of day changes, she takes a photo, that’s it. There is a calmness, a kind of safety, to this approach. The earth moves around the sun but the photographer is stable, in the exact same position, day after day.
Melania posted her last photo to Twitter on Thursday, June 11, 2015, five days before her husband announced his candidacy for president. It is an old photograph, of a then six-year-old Barron, taken on the beach. He is looking down at the ground ahead and waving goodbye to a professionally built sandcastle in the background.
That day Melania knew, of course, that the campaign was coming. In retrospect her choice of a Throwback Thursday post reads as prophecy: a goodbye to her golden towers, to the home destined to crumble. To this day she’s still up there, in the golden Tower, holding onto it for as long as she can.