Melania Trump is quite possibly the closest thing America has ever had to a Queen Elizabeth II.
Suspicions may hang over her choice of marital partner, but she draws her near universal respect and admiration from her stubborn refusal to ever offer a meaningful opinion on anything.
Giving her first speech in four years, the keynote address at the second night of an ever more unhinged Republican National Convention, she did her best to stick to her one true guiding principle of complete moral invisibility, but circumstances rendered the task impossible.
Ultimately, the potential re-election of Donald Trump in three months’ time rests on the bullshit-swallowing capacity of the American people, and it’s best to understand the still early stages of the race as a kind of test run.
Here really was Melania Trump, standing in the White House Rose Garden, reading from a teleprompter, offering solidarity with the fears of mothers all across America about what social media is doing to their children. She said these words as part of her own central role in the presidential election campaign of the world’s leading online troll, whose own accounts have had to be censored and moderated on account of their containing flagrant lies and mad conspiracy theories.
She really did do her level best to look America in the eye and tell them that they “deserve complete honesty from their president”.
She told them: “Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to help everyone affected by this terrible pandemic.” She said so hoping that America cannot work out on its own that the problem is that “Donald” was too busy resting before he’d done anything about coronavirus, not after. And that as a direct consequence, there are millions of Americans who were infected, never mind affected, by it when they didn’t really need to be.
I have lost count of the times, in the last few years, I have described a politician as a disease trying to market themselves as the cure. On this occasion, it is barely even an analogy.
On yet another wild night of fear and lies and loathing that spread itself into every corner of the White House, the first lady was far from the only one seeking to claim with a straight face that only Donald Trump’s leadership could get them out of the Covid-19 hellhole that only Donald Trump’s leadership could ever have landed them in.
She did her bit to service what has already become the principal theme of the Trump 2020 campaign. She had grown up in communist Slovenia, and escaped to the home of the free and the land of the brave. (She thanked her mother and father, as it happens: “It is because of you that I am standing here today.” Has anyone ever been more damned by fainter praise?)
We’d already heard from Jeanette Nunez by this point, the lieutenant governor of Florida, whose parents had escaped from Castro’s Cuba.
And now, Team Trump want America to believe, not for the first time, that it is under attack from communists. That if Biden wins, the last great beacon of hope on Earth will be extinguished. The early signs are that America does not believe this, on account of many of its people having been alive for more than four years and so aware that it is entirely untrue.
The New York Times website ran its usual real-time fact-checking service, blogging away about the various lies, falsehoods and occasional actual truths offered by the evening’s speakers. There’s no clearer way to measure how utterly full of it a person is than the speed at which their words are debunked by fact checkers. When Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow was talking, the page required refreshing almost every 30 seconds; not merely due to the volume of garbage spoken, but also because of the ease and therefore speed with which the fact checkers were able to show it to be so.
“Do you want to turn back to the dark days of stagnation, recession and pessimism?” Kudlow asked. Bong! False! Always worth trying to remember that Trump inherited entirely benign economic conditions, and that the only recession is the one happening right now.
Trump has been machinating to delegitimise the coming election for some time, and for those that fear the worst, this will not have been an evening to provide any reassurance. Hardly a single rule or custom went unbroken. The White House itself is not meant to be used for party political events. The first lady spoke live from the Rose Garden, which has just been renovated at significant expense. The evening began with Trump signing an actual presidential pardon for a former prisoner who has since set up a rehabilitation programme, and continued with a live citizenship ceremony for five new Americans, held under Trump’s wide-eyed gaze.
Because what is meant to be odd, or unsettling, about watching an Indian woman in a sari and a Sudanese woman in a headscarf swear on live television in an entirely contrived political stunt that they had absolutely definitely not been “coerced” into anything in any way at all, while being stared at from two yards away by the president of the United States of America?
Tiffany Trump was there, best known as one of a set of New York socialites, heirs and heiresses dubbed the “rich kids of Instagram”. She took aim at the media, whose “manipulation of information literally keeps people enslaved”, which is literally not true, before claiming that you have to vote Trump “if you believe in affordable healthcare”.
Eric Trump turned up to announce that Democrats “want to disrespect our flag, burn the stars and stripes, many of them don’t even want one nation under God”.
This last bit is a gentle nod to last week’s favourite conspiracy theory, shared by daddy on Twitter of course, that the Democratic National Convention removed that particular line from its oath of allegiance, which absolutely 100 per cent did not happen, but don’t let the manipulative media companies literally enslave you by trying to tell you that.
Don’t listen to a word they say. Just listen to Melania, who brought events to a close by telling America: “You need my husband’s leadership now more than ever, to bring us back to the greatest economy and the strongest country the world has ever known.”
And if you believe that, America, you’ll believe absolutely anything. Trouble is, viewed from this distance, there’s more than a fair chance you will.