Op-ed: Style over substance

  • By Bob Franken
  • Sunday, April 29, 2018 10:33am
  • Opinion

Unlike so many others who ridicule Melania Trump as the president’s first bauble, or words to that effect, I have avoided commenting on her — until now. I just cannot restrain myself anymore.

That hat, Mrs. Trump, that you wore when posing with French President Emmanuel Macron and wife, Brigitte: It was really too much. I know, I know: The two of you were engaged in a nonstop competition to be the most chic, and obviously I mean you, Melania, and Brigitte, certainly not Donald and Emmanuel. Emmanuel would easily win that one simply by not being Donald Trump. But your hat was, how should I say it, over the top. I swear it looked like a big white stingray without the whip tail. If there were a big gust of wind, it would have turned into a glider. At least your designer didn’t emboss it with “Make America Great Again.”

Every once in a while, we in Washington display our country-come-to-town class, or lack thereof. It’s kind of like the Clampetts come to D.C. Apparently, this is the season, as evidenced by this year’s annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where reporters and pundits put on their formal finest and mingle with invited guests. The invitees include those they are supposed to cover in an adversarial way, plus a sprinkling of showbiz types and athletes. All of them congeal to demonstrate why the nation’s capital is called “Hollywood East — With Ugly Actors.”

President Trump stuck to tradition and didn’t attend. That’s a Trumpian tradition. Before him, chief executives would show up and perform a stand-up comedy routine, usually self-deprecatory. Donald Trump, of course, doesn’t do self-deprecation. Nor does he show up and mingle with those he routinely calls purveyors of “fake news.” It would be hypocritical.

For that matter, he didn’t invite any journalists to the state dinner for Macron — his first, or, as the White House described it, Melania’s first. Unlike state dinners of the past, no Democratic members of Congress were welcomed either, perhaps because this president didn’t want it to become a “deep state” dinner.

Melania sported a silver gown, but perhaps the most stunning frock of the night was worn by wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Louise Linton, who’s an actress in real life. It probably was not a fair contest, because Ms. Linton has had so much experience playing Marie Antoinette.

The presidents were not all that impressed with the fashion show. Other than the moment caught by TV cameras when Melania seemed to swat away Donald’s attempt to hold hands (again), he and Emmanuel spent most of their time groping one another. Presumably, though, no one suggested that they get a room. In spite of all the obvious chemistry, the two never reached an agreement on Iran, climate change, stuff like that. No one expected them to, any more than they expected much accord when Trump sat down Friday at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. If there ever was a person who would not be described as “glitzy,” she’s the one. Still, with her aloofness, she might have given him some practice for when he sits down with Kim Jong Un. If he sits down with Kim.

Trying to make that a reality, they have switched from their usual trash talking to courtship dancing, as they try to work out the details of their face-to-face talks. The first negotiation will be over where they will meet, particularly since North Korea doesn’t really have a Kim Force One airplane. Assuming they can agree on a location, there are a lot of picky details to work out, like an agenda. We can count on the probability, however, that for the foreseeable future, we should not expect either to host the other for a state dinner, or Melania to decide the meeting is an occasion for another hat.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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