Melania and Donald Trump have a problem, and obviously the hands-on approach isn’t working.
Twice on their overseas trip, video showed the president reaching for the first lady’s hand and her avoiding his like the plague. Let’s not forget that this is a guy who is a germaphobe, so Melania shouldn’t have to worry about the digital plague — no matter what size hubby’s digits are. Still, there she was; one time pretending to deal with her hair when he reached out and the other clearly swatting away his attempt at photo-op affection. Even if that was her rebelling against the irritatingly phony handholding charade between politicians and their spouses — remember Bill and Hillary Clinton used to grit their teeth and lock fingers — Melania’s refusals to touch paws gave the world pause.
The video of her dexterous rejections went so viral that not only did they infect the internet, but they contaminated every TV news show on the planet. Even newspapers in their digital (pardon the pun) editions offered links to Melania’s refusal to link with Donald.
So then what happened? Obviously somebody performed an appendagectomy, which was accomplished by super-gluing their palms together. I defy you to spot a picture of them anymore where they are not holding hands. They may be scowling, but they are determined not to be seen together in any way but attached at the wrist.
In their desperate effort to stifle speculation that all is not well behind the closed doors of their gilded relationship, they are giving not just one finger to the trolls, but all of theirs. In Trumpworld, after all, image is everything. That’s a variation on perception is reality; but with all Trump’s lies, there is no reality. Alternative facts, yes. Reality, no.
So now Mel and Don are presented as a happy couple — as happy a couple as can be when both are scowling most of the time. There are some practical problems with the new hand-holding mandate. First of all, often it’s awkward. It’s not always easy for a 70-year-old man to reach for Melania when she’s occupying her usual space somewhat behind him (which explains why Mr. Trump was so comfortable with the Saudis). Besides, as Donald himself explained on the video that’s not usually where he grabs a woman.
These days, he mainly uses his fingers for tweeting, although in his overseas trip, his staff was able to prevent most of his usual Twitter damage. Perhaps they tied his arms by his side, releasing them only when he was walking hand in clenched hand with Melania. In any case, his travels produced only a series of minor boo-boos, particularly the European part of it. But there were no huge gaffes, nothing visibly mortifying. That was enough for him to describe his foreign venture as a “home run.” But now that he’s run back home, he’s discovering the messes he left behind. And he’s also rediscovered his little Twitter finger, firing off the usual cyberhate. In between his tweetrums, he faces struggles with health care, tax reform and the debt ceiling, to say nothing of the crushing “Russia thing” that is his biggest distraction. Characteristically, he’s blaming his subordinates, so he’s started a gutting of his White House staff.
His most gut-wrenching problem is the staff member named Jared Kushner. Jared is sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of Russia collusion investigations. Given how Kushner is POTUS’ son in law (SILOTUS?) it’s not likely President Trump will get rid of Jared. If he’s smart though (which millions seriously doubt), he will recruit some people with Washington experience. In addition to Melania, he desperately needs some others to give him a hand.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.