THE TRUMPS WHO WEREN’T THERE
As much as Donald Trump tries to inhabit the entire spotlight himself, looming over its landscape, spotlights don’t work like that. They illuminate everything. The political spotlight is exceptionally thorough, spilling onto family members and letting the world in on what they might prefer to hide.
Remember during the Clinton scandal when there was a photograph of Chelsea and her parents walking across the White House lawn to Marine One? The photo was taken from behind, Chelsea was between her parents, her arms extended toward each of them – an impressively mature daughter holding her family together. And whenever we saw the Bushes, we saw a big rambling family bonded together by love and loyalty. You had the impression that if you dropped in on Thanksgiving, you’d walk into happy chaos, but the message would still be clear – if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. My family could never really conceal that there was a separation between two halves – my half-siblings from my father’s first marriage, and me and my brother. It didn’t matter if we came together at Inaugurations or holidays, the distance was clear. As I said, the spotlight illuminates everything.
To me, the most interesting part of this past week, with former President Trump being indicted, was Melania and Ivanka’s absence, interrupted only by Ivanka’s Hallmark-card comment about loving her father, loving the country, and feeling bad for both. She may as well have added, “I wish you well,” like Gwyneth Paltrow did when she exited the courtroom victorious and bent down to speak to the man who tried to sue her.
Ivanka Trump is intimately acquainted with her father’s infidelities. It was his affair with Marla Maples that ended her parents’ marriage. That breakup was public and ugly, and Donald Trump wasn’t even in politics yet. She has been the dutiful daughter, even working in his administration, but maybe – just maybe — she is standing at the edge of yet another scandal and can’t quite bring herself to wade in.
Melania’s absence is a compelling part of this entire saga. If she believed her husband to be innocent – wrongly accused, persecuted for political reasons – logically, she would put on her most fashionable outfit and show up. Perhaps even speak up, but her presence alone would make an impact. Her silence is sending a message, and I’m pretty sure she knows that.
So much of this story is unsurprising. Donald Trump has been embroiled in scandals and accusations of illegal activity for decades. Donald Trump Jr.’s rage-filled diatribes are predictable. Eric Trump seems to follow behind, almost as if he’s saying, ‘Wait! I can be angry too!’ It’s the absence of his daughter and wife that the spotlight should linger on because that seems to be the most human part of the entire saga.
Donald Trump is now a part of America’s history – an unsavory part, unfortunately. The first former president to be indicted. But perhaps years from now, people reading about this segment of history will think more about a wife who might have tried to come to terms with the dark bargain she made when she married a man who betrayed her. And a daughter who was once dutiful but began to question her loyalty. They are human sides to an otherwise unsympathetic drama and in the end, what is human is always more interesting.