A Stunning Note of Grace

"I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless," the First Lady said. "I want you to know you are not alone."

Speech by First Lady Melania Trump, August 25, 2020.

Republican National Convention, Second Night.

First Lady Melania Trump faced a low bar for her speech. At the last GOP convention, in 2016, she was accused of plagiarism (Trump circles attributed the lifted passages to an errant aide). Her do-good program bears the awkward name “Be Best” and her husband violates its bidding to curb cyber bullying with definitive regularity. She is best known for making statements through fashion (the “I Don’t Really Care Do U?” jacket she wore to the border) and gesture (slapping away her husband’s hand). Broadway actress Laura Benanati regularly lampoons her heavy accent and pouty visage on “The Late Show.” To top it off, Michelle Obama (the plagiarized one) and Jill Biden are hard acts to follow.

Trump’s address culminated a night that trafficked in monarchical acts and forms. The president was shown in the White House bestowing clemency on a reformed prisoner and welcoming five naturalized citizens to their new country. Two more of his children, Tiffany and Eric, delivered remarks, with the latter proclaiming that his father had brought peace to the Middle East, a grandiose claim that obscured the genuine achievement of brokering an accord between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. And speaking of Israel, another 2024 Republican hopeful, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, spent taxpayer dollars to use Jerusalem as a backdrop for a brief live address.  

As soon as the scene shifted to the newly deforested Rose Garden, the Pences entered to take seats among an audience. (A video shown earlier featured the vice-president conversing warmly with inspirational Americans in the context of Abraham Lincoln’s life story.) The president entered solemnly, eschewing the waves, fist-pumps, and finger points he makes at other political rallies, and took his seat. A video tribute to the First Lady screened, with gushing voice-overs, peppy music and quick cuts of her interacting with children and otherwise on the go. 

Then the erstwhile model and recent landscaper of her stage set made a two-corridor runway walk entrance. 

Trump began with a flashback to the 2016 election, stating her appreciation for the support shown her and her husband. And then came a stunning note of grace:

My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone. My husband’s administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone. 

I want to extend my gratitude to all of the health care professionals, front line workers and teachers who stepped up in these difficult times. Despite the risk to yourselves and your own families, you put our country first and my husband and I are grateful. 

She called it COVID19, not the Communist China virus. The words of comfort, the acknowledgement of suffering, stood out at this convention to date.

Trump commemorated the passage of the 19th Amendment, one of several pitches for the women’s vote this evening and in this speech. She recounted her American Dream story and thanked her parents. She thanked first responders, military personnel, and their families. She told a story about a child receiving a donated heart.

In another exceptional passage, she spoke to and of families impacted by natural disasters. She noted the kindness of neighbors. Trump then broadened the lens to glorify all Americans fighting for their families:

Donald and I are also inspired by the millions of Americans who wake up each day with a simple yet courageous goal of providing for their families and keeping them safe. You are the backbone of this country. You are the people who continue to make the United States of America what it is, and who have the incredible responsibility of preparing our future generations to leave everything even better than they found it.

Having set a benevolent tone, the First Lady turned from her expressions of sympathy and gratitude to her husband. Donald loves this country and works tirelessly for you, she said, in the same breath bidding the audience to forget what the media and opposition say about him. He demands action and gets results. 

The First Lady brought up the topic of race. While in Ghana on an official tour of Africa, she recalled, she learned about the Middle Passage. She encouraged people concerned about race to focus on the future while learning about the past, and to stop the looting and violence.

Trump advocated school choice, and urged the media to focus more on the drug crisis. Her plans for her next four years as First Lady will center on continuing to help children and restore the White House.

In her close, Trump lauded her husband’s candid expressions of emotion, casting them as a virtue:

We all know Donald Trump makes no secrets about how he feels about things. Total honesty is what we as citizens deserve from our president, whether you like it or not, you always know what he is thinking. 

Melania Trump displayed more humanity than anyone else who has spoken at this convention. The organizers awarded her its first live on site audience. The big question raised by this performance is whether the sliver of undecided voters and the larger segments of voters undecided on whether to cast their votes will respond favorably in November to her noblesse oblige.  

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