(Image: Melania Trump gives a speech at the RNC convention in Cleveland on July 18, 2016 (CNN photo))
Okay, let’s get a few things straight. Party affiliations aside, it’s neat that a wife of a presumptive presidential nominee was born outside of the U.S. and in Communist nation, no less. Gives her a global perspective (baby carrots don’t grow this way, most of the world doesn’t have paper towels, kids walk to school alone and survive). Also, don’t hate her for being beautiful. And the accent? Big deal, I got one too, even though we both spent most of our lives in the U.S. as citizens, some with better purses and a personal chef.
So, writing a speech that doesn’t suck if you are a wife (or a husband) of a presumptive presidential nominee:
Don’t plagiarize from now First Lady Michelle Obama, who meant what she said back in 2008, “work hard for what you want” and “treat people with dignity and respect” (notice quotation marks because these aren’t actually my words, something even my college students understood).
One could argue Melania only finished one year of college so she didn’t know. That’s cool, lots of people don’t need or can’t afford a college degree. It’s not in FLOTUS’s job description. But then don’t lie about being a college graduate. You can fake an immovable forehead and whatever else in the privacy of the bedroom, but a diploma still means something. Please.
The right-wing media argues it’s inevitable for speeches to borrow from others. But two paragraphs almost verbatim from a Democrat doesn’t compute.
Make the verbal match the nonverbal cues
Your husband makes a dramatic, smoke-filled entrance to introduce you. You look stunning in your wedding-white dress, like an ice skater about to go for a triple axis or strut the catwalk on five inch heels. People are rooting for you, holding their breath. They can’t wait to get to know you, typically shrouded in mystery and elegance (aside from vaguely anti-Semitic remarks in the past). You own the stage. Stakes are high.
“My elegant and hard-working mother Amalia introduced me to fashion and beauty.” “My father Viktor instilled in me a passion for business and travel.” ”My love of family and America.” What does that even mean? You could have said “I love babies, puppies and world peace.” It, too, would have made zero impact.
Give visual examples
Some things that could have made this speech rock:
- Talk about growing up in a poverty-stricken country, rationing cheese and bread among your siblings to make it last through the week – or at least observing it in other families. This would have gotten a sympathetic ear and nods from a few million Americans.
- Talk about substance abuse afflicting the part of Europe where you come from. The way you observed friends or family members wither from alcohol and depression, how you noticed domestic abuse in other households but were too young to understand. The way it made you strong and resilient, able to spot the signs and fight for Americans plagued with addiction in this country.
- Women’s rights – what rights do women have in Slovenia, really? At what cost do they get ahead? Wouldn’t it be cool to do something about it? Because guess what – we could use some of that perspective in America, in 2016.
- Soften your husband’s image. Talk about how he roasted and burned a turkey one Thanksgiving while trying to sweep you off your feet with American customs. How he courted you with carnations, Slovenia’s national flower. Or found a hole-in-the-wall spot in Queens that served the best friggin goulash that reminded you of your mother and made you burst into tears, embarrassed by the running mascara.
- Praise your husband’s image as a doting father, his diaper duties and bottle feedings for your then-baby. The way The Donald sits on the living room floor helping your son with math homework. How they go bike riding in Central Park on Sunday mornings. The card they made for your first Mothers’ Day, even if you ended up scraping the paint from the floor the entire day.
- How he is endlessly devoted – how he stocks up on canned soup like Ted Cruz when you’re too tired to make dinner and attends parent-teacher conferences even when he’s busy. How he’s made a standing reservation at your favorite restaurant (not Chili’s) for all your birthdays, a date night for just the two of you.
- Your values. You claimed a passion for helping children and women. Awesome, what have you done? Fighting childhood obesity? Helping military families? Poverty, civil rights, like these former first ladies? I wasn’t invited to the Met galas where we could have schmoozed over bottomless mimosas. But a quick search of your charity work yielded a Wikipedia entry with one line in it, that you are associated with various charity events. Who doesn’t like to party.
There are ways to relate to your audience. By championing causes for them or being hard-working like them, in the office or as a stay-at-home mom. By teaching them something new and wonderful. By dealing with diaper blowouts, school lunches and cell phone bills like they do. Then again, have any of these things actually happened to you? If not, it’s time to start. Oh, and fire your speechwriter.