OF ALL THE BIZARRE TWISTS AND TURNS this past election, arguably one of the most interesting paradoxes is that President-elect Donald Trump – who built his political platform on racism, misogyny, and xenophobia – is married to an immigrant. Melania Trump, the beautifully stoic, Slovenian-born, former model who allegedly speaks six languages, will only be the second foreign-born First Lady of the United States. The first being Louisa Adams in 1825, wife of sixth president John Quincy Adams. Although, technically, Mrs. Trump will be the first, if you consider that London-born Louisa’s father was an American, and American citizenship was a part of her birthright.
Here’s the timeline for her immigration journey: when Melania Knauss moved to the United States in August 1996, she entered the country on a B1/B2 “tourist visa,” and 2 months later was granted an H-1B visa. While a tourist visa does not allow visitors to work during their stay, an H-1B visa “allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations,” modeling being one of them. The future Mrs. Trump later obtained a green card, became a resident in 2001, and then underwent naturalization to become a citizen in 2006.
When Donald Trump has spoken of his plans to end illegal immigration, he’s referenced visa overstays (which have been overlooked by the Obama administration, according to Trump), and has scrutinized uneducated foreigners, regardless of legal status, for taking American jobs. (Incidentally, According to a Bloomberg analysis, foreign models are more than twice as likely to be hired on H-1B visas than foreign programmers.) This rhetoric is confusing and ironic, considering his wife was once a foreigner illegally taking American jobs: an investigation carried out by the Associated Press revealed that Melania was “paid for 10 modeling assignments between September 10 and October 15,” meaning that for at least one month, she was working in the United States illegally.
Another point of irony to call out is the anti-bullying campaign that Melania plans to make her platform as First Lady. When announcing the platform towards the end of the general election, she pointed out the dangers of cyber-bulling on social media, noting: “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers… made to feel less in looks or intelligence.”
This call to action would have been fine and dandy if her husband was a completely different person and not the poster child for the word “bully.” It’s pretty clear that Melania isn’t calling any shots — remember her little RNC speech mix-up? — but even she has to realize how ridiculous this looks.
Just a few days ago, supermodel Gigi Hadid co-hosted the American Music Awards and poked fun at Melania. Hadid mocked her accent and her looks, and referenced the Michelle Obama speech Melania (and/or her speechwriters) plagiarized at the Republican National Convention.
The internet exploded, and droves on social media called out Hadid’s joke as an affront to all immigrants in this country.
Hadid has since apologized for the impersonation, but the double standard, albeit an annoying one, remains. President-elect Donald Trump has spent the good portion of his campaign insulting his running mates, almost every demographic of people including women, minorities, babies, and even tacos. Stooping to his level and shaming his wife by making fun of her accent, her lack of education, or the fact that she posed nude, is an act that doesn’t reflect well on the values of opponents of Trump’s offensive rhetoric.
Much of Trump’s Republican opposition during the primaries (who are now groveling at his feet, by the way) called his candidacy inappropriate because his wife had posed for nude magazines. Another low-level bar of hypocrisy targeted at Melania, considering the pardon the size of the Grand Canyon Donald Trump has been given for, well, almost everything he’s ever insulted, grabbed, or lied about in his entire life.
Melania Trump might be a lot of things. But the fact that she’s an immigrant (ahem, like all of us are, technically) should not be sneered at. For many who are still grappling with this stranger-than-fiction political cycle and stunning outcome, Melania might be a victim of Trump’s inflammatory bravado like the rest of us. She seems more like a bystander to her husband’s ambition rather than a partner with an active voice like, say, Michelle Obama, Eleanor Roosevelt, or even Barbara Bush. Are the American people expecting her to make a great impact? Unlikely. At this stage, she appears more like the adoring 1950s housewife — more like a Jackie Kennedy. But she surprised many. At the beginning of her husband’s term, Jackie O seemed meek and demure, but her unprecedented style and grace left an indelible mark on the role of what it means to be the First Lady. Melania could quite possibly do the same and shock us all, just like her husband did.