I’ve heard the stories swirling around the president described in a number of ways: “scandalous,” “tawdry,” “unbecoming,” “tabloid trash.”
But the word that first comes to my mind is “humiliating.”
That the president of the United States is being sued by a porn star over an alleged affair they had years ago is humiliating for the country, certainly.
That the figurehead of the Republican Party, not too long ago the party of family values, is alleged to have had another affair with a playmate just after his son was born, is humiliating for the GOP. Or, it should be anyway.
But worst of all, that Donald Trump has very likely cheated on his wife, multiple times, with porn stars and playmates and who knows who else, and that this is all playing out very publicly, is particularly humiliating for Melania Trump.
While it’s hard to imagine she didn’t know who she married, she’s also just a woman, wife and mother like the rest of us. There’s a real person in there, and she must be reeling.
What she does next is no small thing. It might seem just like tabloid fodder to the gossip rags, or political chum for Hill watchers. But for a generation of young girls, Melania’s next move could be formative.
It was for me. I was just 13 when word of Bill Clinton’s affairs hit the campaign trail and imperiled his 1992 presidential run. I had just “voted” for Clinton in my school’s mock primary, and I was paying close attention.
Burned in my mind is the image of Hillary, sitting next to Bill in a “60 Minutes” interview, trying to put a fresh veneer on her embattled candidate husband.
“You know, I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.”
It was, of course, just the first of many times she would endure the particular humiliation Bill would inflict — stories of affairs, inappropriate behavior, a graphic White House tryst with an intern, even a rape allegation — and put on a strong united front.
Over those years, Hillary became for me what she became for many women — the literal definition of “Stand by Your Man.” While feminists trotted her out as a role model for strong women, all I saw was a woman who was humiliated time and again and, for reasons either personal or political, decided to take it.
Imagine if she’d left him. Gone would have been his baggage, but also some of hers. When she said things like “I’ve always stood for women,” it might have actually been believable, had she not spent all those years defending her husband at the expense of his accusers.
Maybe then she would have been the person on the campaign trail that her closest friends say she was and is in real life — warm, guileless, accountable. Instead, perhaps thanks to years of overcompensating for her uneasy role as feminist icon, her public persona was steely, aloof and defensive.
Who knows what could have been?
Melania Trump may not have a political career to consider. But as First Lady she is an inherently important figure in American politics. And women are watching.
Particularly young women. Melania should do for this generation of girls what Hillary did not do for mine, and leave her jerk of a husband.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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