I am filled with grief this morning for Melania Trump.
I watched her husband’s tasteless speech at the Al Smith charity dinner last night, in which he repeatedly and grotesquely insulted Hillary Clinton to her face. [Apparently this event has a longstanding tradition of both presidential candidates showing up to “roast” one another.] And I noted the ease with which Trump shifted into humiliating Melania as a tactic to garner audience support.
When the audience laughed—and laugh they did, breaking for a moment the tension of that excruciating speech—they laughed because for a moment his target felt like a safe one. What husband would say such a thing if his wife weren’t in on the joke, right? And maybe they laughed because they slipped into the same blurred distinctions as Donald, using his wife as a lightning rod for their discomfort with him just as he jabbed at her in a pretense of self-deprecating humor.
But a wife is not mere extension of the man she has married. Make no mistake: that was spousal abuse on display last night, as Trump commanded Melania to stand for the people laughing at him making fun of her. When he admitted that he had not warned her in advance of the humiliation he had planned, he used her own loyalty against her and cornered her into either immediately absolving him or making a scene at a hugely public event.