December 07, 2019

Free, Melania review: Trump book skips the birther question
Kate Bennett offers insight but dodges thorny issues – like the first lady’s support for her husband’s racist attacks on Obama * Free, Melania: what we learned from the salacious new bookKate Bennett’s Free, Melania is a book at war with itself. It is flattering, salacious and gap-filled all at once. Beyond that, the comma in the book’s title lurks needlessly like the exclamation attached to “Jeb!” What either punctation mark was meant to convey, if anything, remains a mystery.Bennett, a CNN reporter who covers Melania and a former gossip columnist at the Las Vegas Sun, is generally admiring of the first lady’s fashion sense and persona, and draws a strong contrast between her and Donald Trump’s first two wives. In children’s book terms, Melania Trump is the Goldilocks of the trio, neither needy nor spotlight-seeking but just right. For now, anyway.When Trump conditioned his third trip to the altar on a prenuptial agreement, Melania Trump didn’t blink. As the president’s dalliances with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal made front-page news, the first lady conveyed decorous disgust. Without a word, she intuited the parameters of the deal.Still, Melania was deeply hurt to learn that Trump hooked up with a porn star just months after the birth of Barron, their son. As retribution, Melania Trump arrived separately from her husband at the 2018 State of the Union address and refused to accompany him on an overseas trip. She also declined to hold Trump’s hand after a domestic flight. The message was not missed, by the president or the press.On the other hand, as Bennett writes, the couple keep separate bedrooms, Melania Trump knew what she was getting into, and her parents were also living at the White House. Multiple safety valves were built in to the Trumpian arrangement.> It’s not only Donald who wants to see [Barack Obama’s birth certificate]. It’s American people … they want to see that> > Melania Trump, 2011Free, Melania plumbs but not too deeply. Bennett describes how she obtained her green card in 2001 after sponsoring herself as a model of “extraordinary ability”, then in turn sponsored her Slovenian parents for US citizenship.According to Bennett, the first lady and her parents thus used a visa process the Trump administration is “trying to repeal”, namely “chain migration”. What Trump branded “harmful” to US was “OK for his in-laws”. Just a year ago, he tweeted: “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!”But Free, Melania fails to examine how Melania Trump received what became known as an “Einstein visa”. In August 2016, Politico raised the issue of immigration fraud. Michael Wildes, her immigration lawyer, issued a statement denying irregularity or wrongdoing.Free, Melania also airbrushes the first lady’s politics, portraying her as more of a compassionate conservative than the president but omitting her public embrace of birtherism.As Bennett frames things: “It was Melania who told Trump that the zero-tolerance policy of removing children from the border was cruel and untenable. It was she who emphasized the opioid crisis was an emergency, one that required more federal funding.”Left unsaid was a 2011 television appearance in which she went full birther. “It’s not only Donald who wants to see [Barack Obama’s birth certificate],” Melania Trump told the camera. “It’s American people who voted for him and who didn’t vote for him. They want to see that.”Not surprisingly, she lacks similar ardor for disclosing the Trump tax returns. By the numbers, a majority of voters want the returns released, a move Trump continues to fight in the courts.Bennett’s book will most likely be remembered for tying Roger Stone to the nude photos of Melania Trump that graced Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post in the heat of the 2016 campaign, and the White House’s rebuke of Bennett as the president was en route to the Nato summit.Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson and Princess Anne wouldn’t be the only ones to yuck it up at the president’s expense. Hours later, Anne snubbed the Trumps again. Even Joe Biden has since managed to get into the act.So how did photos taken in the mid-90s see the light of day? “The theory goes,” according to Bennett, “that Trump was trying to head off a bad week on the campaign.“Melania has not commented on how she thinks they got into the hands of the tabloid and on to the cover, but friends say she still refuses to believe Trump would do that to her. As for Stone, she’s not so sure.”Stone, whose wife denied that he played any role in the leak, awaits sentencing for lying to Congress and may be praying for a presidential pardon. Synchronicity strikes again.For her part, Stephanie Grisham, press secretary to the White House and Melania Trump, offered indignation and a non-denial denial: “Our office worked with Kate in good faith on her book, and thought she would do an honest job. Sadly, it includes many false details and opinions, showing Ms Bennett spoke to many anonymous people who don’t know the first lady.”Forget the first family. There’s nothing like a flack burned.Free, Melania also studies the first lady’s rapport with Ivanka Trump, the first daughter and a purported object of Trump’s desire. Bennett reports that the White House has taken a toll on the relationship, sliding from a “comfortable, if not warm, alliance” to “cordial, not close”.Melania Trump went so far as to make clear that “Ivanka was not to have an office in the East Wing”, the residence, when the first lady had not yet moved to DC. The pair have reportedly clashed over trips to Africa. Competition? “It’s a real thing.”Free, Melania reads as if it were written for an audience of two: Melania Trump and her husband, in that order. Bennett concludes: “Say what you will about her, what is clear is that Melania is unlike any other first lady.”There, Bennett has a point.
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