In order to fill the White House Rose Garden for Melania Trump’s Tuesday night speech, COVID-19 safety procedures were ignored. Attendees did not socially distance and did not mask, and not all were tested beforehand.
The speech violated historical conventions about how the White House should be used during a president’s reelection campaign. If, as seems overwhelmingly likely, government resources were used in any way to produce the event, the speech violated laws as well.
Melania Trump’s speech did all these things in order to tell a lie. The lie, in this case, was not one of the flamboyant, paranoid lies told by her stepson on the first night of the Republican National Convention. Nor was the lie, in this case, one of the casual misrepresentations of specific checkable facts that filled so much of the convention’s second night. The lie was a more existential one, and one somehow even more symbolic of the Trump presidency than the other kinds of lies.
No presidential spouse in modern times has engaged in fewer public appearances than Melania Trump. That’s her prerogative of course. There’s no job description for the first lady, or a future first gentleman. There is virtually nothing a first lady or first gentleman must do. If the spouse of the president wishes to make few public appearances, or do little for public causes, and focus almost exclusively on her personal and private concerns, that is, of course, an option. What is uniquely Trumpian about this first lady is that she has done far less for the American people than any first lady in a century—while spending far more public funds on her personal upkeep.