Have you seen the video of Melania Trump revealing the White House’s 2019 Christmas decorations? The one that shows her walking through the warmly lit halls of our nation’s most famous building while staring blankly at and putting finishing touches on various yuletide ephemera? It was posted to her Twitter account (@FLOTUS) on December 1, and has since been viewed 3.8 million times. News anchors covered it on their broadcasts, Twitter users mocked it on their timelines, and people like me wrote about it for websites like this one. But isn’t it funny knowing that Melania herself has probably already forgotten that it exists? That our commentary has gone largely unheard? And that, despite what I suspect is a quiet understanding that nothing we say ever matters, we’re still talking about it anyway?
Just check the original post. Underneath, you’ll find replies typical of these kinds of viral, politics-adjacent tweets. And though it’s over a week old, the replies are still coming. One user with a Canadian flag for a display name referenced the border detention camps by asking, “Will you be decorating the kids’ cages too? Or no, wait. They’re already too cramped, right? Bummer.” Another offered a throwback to the Trump White House’s two previous forays into Christmas décor—2018’s spooky red trees and 2017’s VVitch-ian bundles of foreboding twigs. Someone named Andrew called her a traitor, then closed the tweet with, “GTFO.”
And, of course, peppered among the virtuous reply people are tweets from Trump supporters. They think Melania is great, that her decorations are beautiful, and they would love to see them in person. I’ve always found reply culture a little peculiar—it’s somewhere between preaching to the choir and the empty space behind the church—but it’s especially strange (and, frankly, futile) when those replies are directed at someone as distant and ghostly as Melania Trump.
As we’re all acutely aware, the United States of America’s political system is in a state of dizzying, abject chaos, with news about the current administration’s misdeeds competing with news about the 2020 election for space in our collective and ever-narrowing field of vision. Trump is corrupt and Giuliani is a criminal! And while we’re at it, Buttigieg sucks and voters hate women! Everyone is screaming, everyone is scared, and everything is too much, too much of the time. And yet, through all that noise, here is Melania, roaming through her scary old home, looking as aimless and emotionally barren as an octogenarian who’s just lost their only remaining friend.
This is why I keep revisiting the Christmas decoration video and its many, many replies. While it’s easy to imagine her husband sitting in the dark flicking through his Twitter mentions between bumps of Sudafed, I can’t picture Melania wanting anything to do with any app on her phone besides, well, the phone. (How else will she talk to Barron? He’s on the other side of the residence!) We’ve lost the woman who once publicly wondered what a beluga whale might be thinking on November 8, 2016. You think she’s listening to our complaints about her husband? Our loud, electronic disdain? You think she cares if we all agree her ugly and uninspired decorations are just another duplicitous effort by her family and those who work for them to project a message of confidence and normality to the world?
Ha! I’m watching the video again. She’s sticking a wreath to a window on a model White House. She’s walking alone. She’s sprinkling fake snow on a tree. She’s walking alone again. She isn’t thinking about us, she isn’t thinking about the country, she’s just thinking about this hell that is partly of her own making, and how it has tainted everything that used to be good about her life – even Christmas.
Imagine that life for a second. It’s not prison—that’s an offensive comparison, and Melania has shown she’s unlikely to have any idea what that sort of misery is actually like. But it certainly isn’t the kind of freedom with which most of us are familiar, and it’s not a life we’d even want. It’s a life inside the margins, being watched but not worried about or cared for. It’s appearing in American history books only as a footnote somewhere inside the dumbest chapter. It’s spending your life saying “Be Best” for no reason while walking laps around a haunted house you refuse to admit you can escape from whenever you’d like during what should be the most wonderful time of the year. And it’s so, so funny.