In the U.S., outside of Cleveland, Slovenian-Americans aren’t exactly the most visible ethnic group. So when Donald Trump married Melanija Knavs in 2005, for some, it was the first time they had heard of Slovenia.
The country of 2 million, which gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, is home to the breathtaking Julian Alps (picture the opening of The Sound of Music), stunning architecture, amazing food influenced by its location bordering Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary — and now, is the birthplace of our first lady.
Growing up in Cleveland — which has the largest population of Slovenians outside the home country itself — the culture was a huge part of my life, reinforced by weekly language classes, being part of a folk dancing group and singing in several traditional vocal ensembles until I left the area after college.
So back in October, when a Slovenian radio station contacted me to do an interview, I should have known that they were going to bring up Melania Trump, but I didn’t prepare for the question when it came:
“Speaking of other Slovenian-Americans in New York, what do you think of Melania?” the host asked.
Caught off guard, I paused, answering: “I don’t know her personally, but, um, she and I… would make very different marriage-related decisions.”
The station cut that segment of the interview for being too controversial.
Now, several months after the interview, I still have the same assessment of Trump: The only thing I can say with certainty is that we’d make different decisions regarding marriage. Of course I’m concerned that she’s married to someone who openly brags about sexual assault, and part of me wants to slip a note written in Slovenian under her door at Trump Tower making sure she’s OK and inviting her over for klobase and slivovitz. But another part of me hopes that she knows exactly what she’s doing — in which case, defending her husband’s indefensible policies and remarks cannot be excused. Either way, it’s complicated.
Jess Zimmerman perfectly captures what so many of us are feeling in her Jan. 27 article for New York Magazine’s The Cut, entitled “Compassion for Melania Is Misguided — But It Isn’t Wrong.” The main takeaway is that although Trump consistently looks visibly disturbed in any public appearances, any compassion felt toward her should be directed to the people who will be negatively impacted by her husband’s racist, misogynist, xenophobic and homophobic policies.
“Every time you’re touched by Melania’s plight, donate a buck and a half to organizations that support the people who truly need you, the people in whom you’d see yourself if you ever got a chance to see them,” Zimmerman wrote in The Cut.
I’m conflicted by the #FreeMelania movement. On one hand, she looks absolutely miserable and I cannot fathom having to spend five minutes with that gaslighting megalomaniac, let alone be married to him. If you’ve ever spent time with someone abusive, you know how thoroughly exhausting it is, making it difficult to focus on anything else — even if that thing is removing yourself from the abusive situation.
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On the other hand, she is a woman with autonomy (hypothetically, at least) who may, for whatever reasons, make the deliberate (and informed?) choice to remain married to that person. Is it patronizing to think that Trump doesn’t know what she’s doing and somehow got mixed up in a world of gilded baby carriages and mysterious Tiffany gift boxes? It’s hard for me to believe right now, but I genuinely hope that she’s getting something out of this relationship aside from designer suits and public sympathy.
Either way, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. I truly wish Melania Trump well and would happily meet with her to swap potica recipes or plot to dismantle the patriarchy from the inside.