On May 7th, First Lady of the United States Melania Trump unveiled her long-awaited public initiative to combat bullying and promote child welfare, which she called “Be Best.” Three days later, on May 10th, FLOTUS accompanied President Trump to greet three hostages freed by North Korea.
On the 14th, she was hospitalized to have surgery for what was described as a “routine kidney procedure,” likely done to cut off blood flow to a benign tumor. While information about her recovery was shrouded in secrecy, it was revealed that she came home on the 19th.
As of today, May 29th, she has not been seen in public since that appearance on the 10th.
Update: as of June 1st, she still has not made a public appearance, and will not be going with POTUS to Camp David.
Her apparent vanishing act has, naturally, spawned innumerable conspiracy theories and rumors about where she is, what she’s doing, and what happened.
In one sense, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Mrs. Trump is quiet and reserved, with little public profile or interest in world affairs. Her few major public appearances have been disastrous, including her roll out of Be Best, which came with accusations that much of the initiative was repackaged from already existing FEC brochures.
One previous conspiracy theory, that she’d been replaced by a body double in October, took off based on nothing more than some pixelated closeup pictures and the idea that if the First Lady were switched out by a decoy, nobody would notice simply because Mrs. Trump is that much of a blank slate.
And so, with not a word or an image of Mrs. Trump in 19 days (save a few tweets, which could easily have been written and posted by her staff), the question of “where’s Melania?” has gripped social media and White House watchers. And it’s not for the same reason that conservatives embraced conspiracy theories about Michelle Obama.
We genuinely have so little to go on with Mrs. Trump that her prolonged absence can’t help but tickle that part of our brain that evolved to see panthers in the rustling trees, and that tries to make order out of chaos.
Of course, the simplest explanation is that she actually is recovering from kidney surgery, and choosing to do so in the way she does almost everything else – privately.
In that sense, it could be argued that it’s none of our business what Melania’s doing, and that she has the same right to privacy that anyone else does. If she had surgery, then she deserves to recover from it however she wants.
Then again, it could be argued that she isn’t “anyone else” – she’s the First Lady, who has a responsibility to the nation. And since taxpayers foot the bill for her doings, we have a right to know how our money is being spent.
So…how is our money being spent?
The most plausible of the Melania rumors is a variation on something she’s already done: that she’s taken her son Barron and moved back to New York, possibly to get away from her collapsing marriage to the president. Twitter was full of “confirmations” of her move by people who claim to have contacts with the White House or Secret Service.
The only real evidence for this, at least that’s publicly known, is that Mrs. Trump’s personal Twitter account (not the @FLOTUS one) has its location set as New York City. But that account has fallen by the wayside, and has only recently been used to retweet the official FLOTUS account. It’s possible that the location was changed – and it’s equally possible it was never changed in the first place.
Some people think that Mrs. Trump didn’t have a kidney procedure at all, but a cosmetic procedure of some kind.
This would explain why her recovery has taken much longer than the 1-2 days that most minor kidney procedures require, and also why the White House has been so cagey about details.
But again, without evidence either way, the scientific method won’t let us accept this as the explanation – only a plausible explanation with circumstantial support.
Is it possible, also, that the surgery was more complicated than the White House wants to let on, and that maybe her recovery isn’t going well? This, again, is plausible. Remember the Ronny Jackson fiasco and the conspiracy theories about Trump’s weight? Or the shifting explanations for why Trump was slurring his way through speeches?
Maybe the White House has realized that it’s better to just say nothing than say something that’s obviously not true.
Of course, the White House kiboshed that today when a spokesperson for FLOTUS said she was recovered enough to take meetings regarding “long term planning” regarding summer holidays – but would not be making any public appearances.
Finally, we get to the really dark stuff – rumors that the First Lady’s absence was prompted by domestic violence.
To be clear, there is no publicly available information that Donald Trump has ever abused Melania. But past accusations by several women (including first wife Ivana Trump) have caused some pretty dark accusations to come to the surface.
The most shocking is what’s being called the “elevator tape” – a recording taken from an elevator in Trump Tower of Donald physically attacking Melania. Supposedly, this tape was sold by a security guard to TMZ maven Harvey Levin, who buried it in much the same fashion other tabloids have bought and buried stories about Trump to protect him.
The source for the existence of the “elevator tape” is Tom Arnold, the comic and actor who shot to fame during his turbulent marriage to Roseanne Barr. In 2016, Arnold claimed to have what he described as a treasure trove of outtakes from ‘The Apprentice” of Trump using racial slurs and epithets toward women.
The claim later evolved to Arnold not having the footage, but “Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett. Naturally, Arnold is now producing a reality show where he hunts for the tapes that he initially said he had.
The elevator tape claim is a variation these, where Arnold initially claimed to have a tape of a horrible elevator assault, and sent it to several people. That claim mutated to the current one, where Arnold doesn’t have it, only knowledge that it exists.
There is no evidence that such a tape exists, or that such an assault took place. If it did, it would be a matter for Mrs. Trump to resolve, publicly or privately, and involving or not involving appropriate authorities. All domestic violence victims deserve the same right.
But again, there’s no evidence that she is. And little evidence, other than her absence itself, that accounts for any of these rumors. And maybe it isn’t any of these! Maybe she was so embarrassed by the Be Best rollout that she’s hiding. Maybe she’s an informant for Robert Mueller. Maybe she’s fled the country. Maybe she OD’d on pain meds.
I didn’t make any of these up. They are all literally explanations that someone has had for her not being seen in three weeks.
It should be noted that such absences from public scrutiny are not uncommon for Mrs. Trump. In January, following the reports about hush money paid to alleged Trump sexual conquest Stormy Daniels, she went 18 days between public appearances, only reemerging for the State of the Union address – which she traveled to separately from the president.
So maybe none of these are true. That would be the simplest explanation.
But if one is, it’s going to leak or be discovered at some point. Melania Trump, whether she likes it or not, is one of the most famous women on the planet. Her husband and his cronies have shown a shocking inability to keep secrets, and it’s not plausible that her staff would be able to keep this up forever either.
The White House would do well to get ahead of this. If Mrs. Trump is doing well, show us. If she’s not, then they should take control of the narrative before it takes control of them.
Whatever the case, until we know more, people are going to just keep asking “where’s Melania?”
Someone should answer.