Profiles of the First Lady Melania Trump are appearing everywhere. Despite having read quite a few, I have still have no clearer a picture of who she is (and I’m Slovenian, like she is). Does the wife of the President of the Unites States really not have an identity? Have those describing her overlooked it? Or am I just expecting too much?
Reactions in Slovenia
As I live in Slovenia, I have been able to follow reactions to Trump’s election victory there. The day after his win, I sat looking through Facebook and browsed thousands of posts from all kinds “friends” and strangers. We can skip the majority, who took it in a sporting manner: “We won!” or “We’re in the White House!” or “Yes, sleeping with the President!” (arrrgh!), etc.
More interesting are the fake news items that appeared as early as the following morning. For instance: The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia is solved, in Slovenia’s favor, of course, thanks to Melania’s personal merit. Of course Saint Melania began to perform miracles because she is Slovenian, and cannot forget her homeland.
The burst of entrepreneurship could have been expected, with village bands recording songs of praise, confectioners naming sweets after her, and so on. This time, Melania reacted: her lawyer prohibited the use of her name for commercial purposes. People were astonished: Why, after all the years she spent here, is she now ignoring us?
Blood and Culture
Slovenes have certain expectations concerning Melania’s identity. Firstly, she is Slovene, born of Slovene parents. This is an expectation of belonging, by blood, to a nation, an idea that states and nations intensively promoted in the nineteenth century. This is a lifelong identity, and the individual has no choice over it. Melania was born in Slovenia and, at the very moment electoral victory was being announced, she was expected to run off the stage and start sorting out Slovenian local problems.
The second kind of identity is cultural. Melania spent the first eighteen years of her life in Slovenia, and was infused for long enough with Slovene culture to become a member of the nation. We are thus talking of ideological belonging, that can in fact shift, but the attitude to this change varies, depending on the mentality. Americans adore people who are born again and, to keep being famous, entertainers must reinvent themselves (Bob Dylan, Madonna, and so on). In Western Europe, people are less keen on this, and the eastern part of the old continent regards such a turn as nothing short of betrayal.
If the Shoes Fit
Time passed and people in Slovenia held their breath, waiting for the moment of truth. Who would Melania invite to the inauguration? Leading politicians sent her corny messages of congratulations, dreams inflated and…drum roll please…Melania invited her Bosnian shoemaker.
The slight tremors felt around the world were not caused by tectonic shifts but by the collective gulp of the Slovene nation. Fortunately, this is a small nation, otherwise the planet might have shifted on its axis.
Blood and culture obviously belong to the past. In the first case, a person gathers around them the members of their own family, tribe, nation. In the second, they summon those with whom they share a certain idea. Melania’s one large contribution to the science of sociology is the establishment of a consumer identity – one where a person gathers around them all those whose products they buy.
The richest people in the world have been moving towards this identity for a long time. They are global in their business and movements, and their residences in London and Singapore are pretty much identical, and could stand in any place in the world. Some of them probably do sense some kind of affiliation by blood, others have ideological ones, but their very lifestyle forces them into belonging to a consumer mold.
State Strikes Back
Naturally, the United States denied a visa to the Bosnian shoemaker. They must have instinctively felt that the consumer identity is global, and so entirely opposed to everything nations and the states stand for.
Her Little Home Country
The ones who have completely failed to understand the state of things are the Slovenes. The mayor of Melania’s hometown, and the Slovenian Ambassador to Washington, organized a party with Kranj sausages, potica nut roll (Slovenia’s national pastry) and a polka band, hoping that Melania might attend. Because she didn’t, she will be accused of blood and ideological treason.
The truth, however, is that they just didn’t offer products that would interest the First Lady of the United States.
This article does not necessarily represent the views of the European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture or its editors.