With the US elections looming, tabloids are mostly fixated on the orange man in power. Few know about the roles of his calmer and more composed counterpart, as explored by Pulitzer-winning Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan in her book The Art of Her Deal (Simon & Schuster, 2020).
While the life of POTUS is mostly public, Jordan expresses her frustration when researching Melania Trump, who she has kept little to no ties with the people from her life as Melania Knauss. Trump makes things even more difficult by forcing people that know Melania Knauss to stay silent with NDAs. For the first time ever in this book, Jordan talks to and shares the words of real people that knew Melania before she associated herself with Trump.
Jordan's book starts off by discussing Melania's keen sense of detail, her empathetic attitude towards the workers in the White House, her unwillingness to speak more than necessary, and her anxious need to look pretty on camera. It almost feels like a "flatter-piece" until suddenly the tone shifts from flattery to one of unforgiving neutrality. It is unclear if this is intentional. But from this point forth, Jordan claims that Melania's biggest achievement is getting married to a billionaire; Melania's goals and individuality—as stated by Trump himself—are less important than the President's ambitions.
Jordan tries to reintroduce Melania as a strong and independent woman through this tell-all, but she falls short heavily. Her idea of a feminist is extremely misconstrued. The author may be right to imply that it is empowering of a woman to take calculated life decisions, but she sends the wrong message when she labels "marrying for money" as this calculated choice on Melania's part. Despite this problematic suggestion, the book is still worth a read, because it ends up exposing other aspects of Melania Trump, perhaps unintentionally.
The Art of Her Deal focuses on how, regardless of the innumerable accusations of sexual harassment and violence made against her husband, Melania has chosen to be complicit. She has gone so far as to "slut-shame" the women who spoke out against him. As opposed to the poignant, glory-hogging image we have of Melania from her various media appearances, Jordan paints her as a sly fox. This characteristic is apparently evident in the nature of their marriage.
To the Trumps, married life is nothing but a trade deal, asserts Jordan. Melania saw Trump as a ticket that would help her become a supermodel and confirm her own and her parents' US citizenship. Trump, in turn, saw Melania as an eye-candy for a male-run administration—before they were married, Trump would often boast about his then-girlfriend as "bait" to lure business partners into "signing the deal".
"Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are as standard as wedding rings in Trump's marriages," Jordan writes. She explains how much Trump takes pride in being able to ruin his ex-wives financially over prenups; but Melania was not one to budge. As soon as Trump rose to power, Melania left for New York to "tak[e] care of Barron". She then fuelled rumours about their marriage, which made the newly-elected President cave, eventually, to avoid the bad press. The prenups were renegotiated. "It was smart timing," Jordan says of the first lady.
Through such anecdotes, Jordan takes instances about the Trumps' lives which have already been heavily publicised and criticised over mainstream media, and channels the reader's attention into noticing the larger patterns prevalent in these incidents.
Jordan similarly points out Melania's hypocrisy in standing by Trump's derogatory and racist remarks and his anti-immigration policies—Melania is said to have been vocal about not separating family members, but only until Trump raised his own concerns. After that, she only claimed that they each have separate, individual views. If this painted her as empathetic, her immediate appearance thereafter at a children's story reading event in a jacket with the words, "I really don't care, do you?" written on it, undid all that. It is worth remembering that the Trump organisation itself employs undocumented Mexican workers.
About the personal life of the Trumps, Jordan reports that Ivanka and Melania have a love-hate relationship. They compete for the position of Donald's favourite. Ivanka has it easier as she is more confident around an audience, as opposed to Melania, whose feet shake while on a podium. Jordan tries hard to make Melania's struggles and vulnerabilities feel endearing, completely disregarding the fact that the first lady has someone else taking on her responsibilities because of her incompetence.
Jordan writes all this more like a reporter than a story-teller. Her language is formal. The events all come and go and the facts are thrown at the reader as though by a newspaper. The material is very prosaic. However, it delves into the persona that is Melania Trump, and for the first time in history, this book shares accounts of actual people from her life and even analyses her role in the Presidential election of 2016. It is worth reading if one wants to learn about the complex mind of a seemingly silent individual.
Muhammad Mutiul Muhaimin is an aspiring engineer who blogs about social reform on UpThrust.co. He writes because he finds it therapeutic. LinkedIn: Mutiul Muhaimin