Those who continue to underestimate or even belittle Donald Trump do so at their own – and increasingly the world’s — peril. Often, the more grotesque a made-by-Trump event seems, the more calculated it is.
Which is why everyone who belittles the Trump machinery’s ability to stage-manage the American people’s emotions ultimately only betrays their own shortsightedness.
A recent case involves First Lady Melania Trump’s opening act before Trump’s speech to his base on February 18, 2017 in Florida. Taking the podium, she led a noisy political crowd in the Lord’s Prayer, the most well known of Christian prayers.
The crowd and her husband, who pranced across the stage behind her, applauded her for getting through it (with the teleprompter). It is very rare in American life, even religiously infused as it still is, to see a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer applauded.
Melania and the Lord
Then she promised to “stay true to myself and be truthful to you” as First Lady, despite what “the opposition” says about her.
There are those who are merely irritated by Trump’s mangling of the separation of church and state. But that is scratching too thinly.
Triggering such criticism is a calculated move on Trump’s part – or more likely, on White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s part, since he aims to antagonize and stoke resentments.
Any backlash about a need for separation of church and state lets Trump act out righteous indignation in his bizarre appeal as a man of God.
There are also those who wonder about what the difference now is between the United States and Middle Eastern religious leaders invoking prayer at all possible and impossible moments. They have a point.
But there is more significance behind the attempt to convert Melania, a former photo model, image-wise into her polar opposite, a kind of Mother Mary of the Masses.
She isn’t being used
Contrary to what some might assume, Melania Trump wasn’t simply being “used.” That would suggest that she was unwillingly inserted, like a hapless figure, into a photo shoot, arranged by devious Messrs. Trump and Bannon, the two bros in the Oval.
In this context, it appears that the basis of the Trumps’ marriage contract is rooted in both partners’ common goal to rank high in the global pantheon of shameless self-promotion.
America’s new high priestess
The real reason behind establishing Melania as America’s new high priestess doing the praying also isn’t something so crassly commercial as an imminent launch of a new clothes collection, probably to be labeled “Cleopatra.”
What gets much closer to the truth of the strategy behind Melania Trump’s unusual call to prayer is an effort to pseudo-sanctify her dubious backstory – for social conservatives – as a risqué photoshoots model.
A passing campaign controversy when no one expected Trump to win, it has become a problem now that she is weighted with expected norms as First Lady.
Already, the image makeover seems to be working, with the First Lady’s approval ratings rising 36 points in a matter of weeks from an unusually low 16% at the Inauguration to a more standard 52% as of early March.
The virtues of association in prayer
But it still goes deeper than that. Melania’s praying is a profound act of magical thinking and magical transformation.
The book explained the U.S.’s southern culture that since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” had slowly been taking over the Republican Party.
The practice – like a born-again abstinence pledge – allowed many a “fallen” (so seen by the predominant southern culture) woman to forget and deny what she had done in her past and to “refresh” (or “reset”?) herself for her next suitor and ultimately to go down the aisle in a white dress.
The theme picks up on the many transformations of fallen women in great literature, from Faulkner’s Lena Grove in “Light in August” (with her becoming a Mother Mary figure) to Gabriel-Garcia Marquez’s young woman who escapes societal shame by ascending into heaven while hanging out laundry in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Now, the transformation act is gripping the First Lady of the United States! And by extension, those magically thinking followers of her husband.
The Republicans’ hidden (and quasi-empowering) message? All downtrodden women are induced to start believing, merely by joining in prayer with Melania, that their lives too can turn around and rocket to the top. It is the counterpart to Donald’s activation of a particular strand of angry, downtrodden men.
How is this magical transference possible (“I pray with her and I therefore am now like her”)? Because the people of the United States – many Trump voters, thus close to half of them in fact – are, while spiritual only in the most superficial sense, certainly among the most credulous peoples on earth.
Why Donald Trump loves the conversion
Make no mistake about it: The magic of Donald Trump is that he has a real knack for connecting what is politically expedient, not just with the psychologically devious, but also with what is liberating for himself.
There is more than one reason he loves converting Melania into the Virgin Mother Mary of the masses. Donald Trump has reportedly stated In legal proceedings against one of his former wives that he is just not sexually attracted any longer to women who have given birth.
Go figure, Melania
That would leave the First Lady, who has a son with Donald, hung out to dry. But remember, she came to the United States in 1996 in search of money and fame. Mr. Trump delivered on that aspiration more than Melania Knauss ever could have expected.
Anybody who doubts the image makeover in progress should revisit the video of election night. After it was clear he had been elected President, Melania entered the stage in a virginally all-white dress.
Perhaps it is only that art fans, familiar with the labially suggestive artwork of the painter Georgia O’Keefe, recognized the highly suggestive nature of her dress, slit down the middle of her body.
In Florida, the self-rejuvenating virgin underwent the transformation in a $2,200 red designer dress (with $600 shoes) and a newly highlighted hair, to give her the required halo.
It wasn’t the first time – and will surely not be the last time – that the Trump team used Melania in a cynical manner. But she is, and there cannot be any doubt about it, a consenting adult.
From the world of a photo model, at least in her own mind, she has now catapulted herself into the pantheon of the world’s most amazing actresses.
To her, that Florida prayer act (and the entire Mother Mary conversion) are right up there with the great roles played by Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, seductresses extraordinaires in their own right.
But – and that’s where Melania gets the real kick out of her acting – the two grand ladies of the movies were never put up by a real-life President husband to seduce an entire people.
For what the Trump establishment is showing, but would never say, to those folks in Florida and throughout the United States: “You are being had, big time.”