Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Why are we still acting surprised that Melania Trump shares many of her husband’s toxic views and supports his politics of division and cruelty? And why are we letting members of the Trump team attempt to redeem themselves by meeting our insatiable need for more gossip and insider information about one of the most disgraceful administrations in American history?
This week, Politico got its hands on a preview of the forthcoming book from Stephanie Grisham, the former White House Press Secretary and chief of staff to Melania Trump. Grisham writes that, as violent insurrectionists descended on the Capitol complex on January 6, she texted Melania Trump, “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”
“No,” she said the then-First Lady texted back. Two sources familiar with the incident confirmed Grisham’s account to CNN.
Grisham resigned a few hours later after sending the text.
The preview includes other unflattering tidbits as well. Melania did not reach out to Jill Biden for the customary inauguration tea because, Grisham says, Melania agreed with her husband’s false claim that the election was stolen.
Melania largely denies the allegations. In a statement, her office wrote, “The intent behind this book is obvious. It is an attempt to redeem herself after a poor performance as press secretary, failed personal relationships, and unprofessional behavior in the White House. Through mistruth and betrayal, she seeks to gain relevance and money at the expense of Mrs. Trump.”
To be fair, Grisham is indeed seeking to gain relevance and money at the expense of Mrs. Trump. But Mr. and Mrs. Trump both sought to gain relevance and money at the expense of the entire country and American democracy itself. The list of ethics violations, conflicts, and instances of self-dealing by the Trump family could fill its own column, but most obviously, the former president and his wife profited handsomely by hosting events on Trump properties, and having heads of state and White House visitors stay at Trump’s hotel. American taxpayers also footed the bill for the Secret Service to stay at Trump properties – money that went right back into the Trump family pocketbook.
So there are no heroes or truth-tellers here, and no one to feel particularly sorry for – except the many people who suffered under the Trump regime, and all of us who now live in a nation deeply divided by the poisonous former president.
Throughout Donald Trump’s time in office, some liberals wondered whether Melania was a secret objector, a woman who through no fault of her own found herself trapped in a gilded cage. “Free Melania” became this group’s rallying cry. But it was obvious all along that Melania wasn’t a caged bird singing under duress. She chose to marry Trump when his racism and misogyny were long established. She may not have wanted to be First Lady or involve herself in politics, but she’s not a victim. She’s an adult who made her own choices. And all of the evidence points to the conclusion that she’s more aligned with her husband than privately antagonistic to him.
But Stephanie Grisham isn’t a heroine for speaking out now; she’s trying to save her own skin. She began working with the Trump campaign in 2015. She stuck with Donald Trump through the Access Hollywood tape where he bragged about sexually assaulting women. She stuck with him through the family separation policy that tore young children away from their parents. She stuck with him through endless lies, torrents of bigotry, layers of familial grift, dangerous political decisions, and clear derangement, even defending him as a “genius.” And she directly contributed to some of the administration’s worst deeds. This includes its demonization of the mainstream, reputable press – “enemy of the people,” as the former president often called them.
Grisham was the first White House press secretary in history who never held a press conference – even while American taxpayers were paying her salary as press secretary. Instead, she only granted interviews to right-wing outlets, which routinely spread disinformation and eventually directly contributed to the Capitol riots that left several dead, many injured and American democracy badly battered.
Grisham didn’t resign because she’s a good person with serious moral objections to what the Trump administration wrought. She resigned because she saw the writing on the wall – and now she’s trying to rehabilitate herself.
Every word of Grisham’s forthcoming tell-all might be true. It might accurately paint Donald, Melania and many of their family members and staffers as among the most deplorable and morally hideous people to ever occupy the White House.
But don’t forget: Grisham isn’t a light illuminating the Trump administration’s darkness. She is one of them, who pushed Trump’s vile messages and left America cracked and perhaps forever wrecked. Just because she’s in cynical self-preservation mode and rightly revealing more of the Trump team’s odiousness doesn’t mean the rest of us have to ignore her own role in undermining the basic democratic norm of a free press and politicians who are accountable to the American people.
We can be glad the truth about Melania is being told. But we do not have to rehabilitate the reputation of someone who, like the Trumps, has never apologized, never tried to make amends and never been held fully accountable.