Melania Trump has made her first public appearance with the US President since his inauguration. Here stylist.co.uk contributing editor Anna Pollitt examines the ‘hand-drop' move President Trump made on his wife in Palm Beach, Florida.
One of the many problems with the new leader of the free world is his major problem with women. Throughout his presidential campaign alone he faced multiple accusations of historical sex attacks, was caught-on-air boasting of his ability to sexually assault women – a scandal he dismissed as "locker room talk” – and mocked a grieving mother whose son died fighting for America.
As President, he has reversed foreign abortion policy, thereby limiting millions of vulnerable women’s reproductive rights. Closer to home, he has reportedly set a strict dress code for female White House staffers.
Throughout all this, one woman he can rely on for his unwavering public support is his wife Melania. And yet, Trump can’t bring himself to hold hands with her.
In one of the most awkward moments of his two-week presidency, the 70-year-old former reality TV star was filmed dropping his wife’s hand like a hot potato when she initiated the basic, fundamental display of affection.
The pair were headed off on a weekend break in Palm Beach and this was Melania’s first public appearance since her husband’s inauguration on January 20. As they disembarked from the plane hand-in-hand, Trump let go to clap well-wishers, but when Melania reached out to resume their united front, he grabbed her hand, gave it a firm “that’s enough now” double tap and let go with a flourish.
A body language expert rushed to analyse the clanger and concluded the reason behind his snub is a desire to be “alpha”.
“Typically a hand-hold shows a couple as a unit,” Patti Wood tells the Daily Mail. “But to me, I think he’s been saying, ‘I want to be seen as the president on my own’, which is very much alpha. ‘I want to be just the powerful me.’ And it’s clear that that’s his choice.”
“He doesn’t want to do it in public,” she says. “It’s very clear that she does, she would like that. That would make her feel connected and she would get some of that power and confidence, and he’s saying ‘No, not in public.’”
On the other hand, he has no qualms about grabbing the British prime minister’s hand in front of the world’s press in what Downing Street called a “chivalrous gesture”:
As well as a desire to be “alpha,” the snub to his wife speaks volumes about his view of women. It fits with the idea their job is to be seen, and not heard – unless it’s “on message” and in his interest. It suggests they are not relationship equals – the man decides when and where to initiate affection. Women’s needs always come below men’s. Melania was seeking comfort and reassurance from her partner but was rebuffed because he he felt she was infringing on his power.
May, on the other hand, had no desire to hold Trump’s hand as a companion but had it thrust on her for support. The UK leader may well have negotiated the White House ramp without incident – as she has successfully made her way down slopes and inclines unaided before – but Trump decided it was better not to leave it to chance. Whether she liked it or not. Of course, he would never have grabbed the hand of a male world leader, but presumably he felt May’s heels may have hindered her on the incline.
Whatever you think about that, it’s perhaps a shame for his wife that he can’t extend the same thoughtfulness and consideration to her needs when she’s clearly reaching out for his affection in public.
After all, hand-holding never did the Obamas any harm. Barack never seemed to feel diminished by showing affection for his wife and never worried that the strength of their relationship made him appear any less “alpha” on the world stage.
Previous holders of the post, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, also had no problem rubbing palms with the First Lady in public.
The hand drop follows an unfortunate moment during Trump’s inauguration when his wife’s face fell as he turned around to her, only to look past her and speak to his daughter Ivanka instead:
Of course, these are just snippets of a relationship coming under close media scrutiny and it’s easy for moments to be twisted or misconstrued. But then, surely the President of the United States should know that.
If he can’t make his relationship with a clearly devoted partner appear solid, strong and successful, it hardly instils confidence in his ability to lead the USA. If that confidence was there in the first place.
Sadly, given the promises he was voted in on, suggestions he may not treat his wife as an equal are unlikely to do significant harm to his reputation among many pro-Trump voters. Though the latest incident does make him appear somewhat weak and lacking in confidence in comparison to his predecessors.