Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Melania Trump is skipping the World Economic Forum in Davos this year (“scheduling and logistical issues,” said the White House).
Good for her.
Mrs. Trump was scheduled to attend the event to show support for her husband. Her cancellation comes after The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported that Donald Trump’s lawyer arranged a payout for pornography actress Stormy Daniels to ensure that she stayed quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump – just a few months after Mrs. Trump gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron.
Mrs. Trump has not made any public statements since that story broke. Nor should she have to. If the media wants to train its gaze on the important news, it can focus on Mr. Trump’s behavior, not his wife: Ater all, she didn’t do anything other than decide to skip an overpriced conference after some bad marital news.
It would be great, of course, if Melania Trump could leave him and take half his assets. But she knows who she married, and you can’t imagine this comes as a huge surprise (which also explains why it’s not a career-ending story – of course Donald Trump allegedly slept with a porn star while away from his postpartum third wife; that’s just the kind of guy he is).
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s chief enablers seem utterly OK with the tawdry reports – and they include the very people you would expect it to most deeply offend: some leading evangelical Christians.
According to Tony Perkins of the right-wing Family Research Council, Trump gets “a mulligan” on reports of cheating and other misbehavior; evangelicals “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists,” Perkins explained to Politico.
As it happens, Trump is also sufficiently misogynist in the ways that matter to Perkins – opposing abortion rights, for example, and limiting the ability of transgender people to be treated with dignity and equality.
Melania Trump may be drawing from the same rule book; her husband hasn’t tried to hide his misogyny or his past infidelities, so it’s a little hard to feel bad for a woman apparently willing to trade her good looks and basic respect for her philandering husband’s financial largess.
But that doesn’t mean she needs to participate in this public humiliation ritual – to fly to his side in Switzerland and play the role of the silent wronged wife.
Nor does Mrs. Trump have much to do at Davos. She isn’t a leader (or, by all appearances, even a thinker) on global business or politics; unlike some previous first ladies before her, she doesn’t seem to have any interest in global affairs.
Sure, she would be playing the role of helpmeet wife, but maybe the time for women to play that role while their husbands do the important stuff should go by the wayside. Mrs. Trump doesn’t have any good reason to be at Davos. Why should she go?
And for that matter, why do any of us care whether the first lady, a former model who seemed happier in a Fifth Avenue penthouse than holed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, attends the World Economic Forum?
Our unseemly laser focus on Melania Trump is pure prurience – not about her, but about the fallout from her husband’s bad choices. Again, she is a symbol of how others (and especially women) bear the cost of Mr. Trump’s egoism and lack of self-control.
So what should Melania do? Mr. Trump should go to Davos himself while she spends a few days at the spa. And while he’s there, the men and women (although let’s be honest, mostly men) of global business, politics and development should treat him with exactly the level of respect a deeply misogynist narcissist merits.
Journalists should demand he answer for the alleged payouts to silence Stormy Daniels rather than focus on an affair. And we should all leave Melania alone.