The president will soon be returning from his first foreign trip, in which he gave a speech about Islam in Saudi Arabia, had a short meet and greet with the Supreme Pontiff in Rome, and lectured the leaders of our NATO allies. And the commentariat has noticed something about the cultures of the world now that the cultures of the world have become a backdrop to photos of the American president they dislike. The commentators have noticed that the world is problematic.
It’s an outrage, really. Not only is Donald Trump president. But the United States under Trump’s leadership conducts diplomatic relations with nations like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican that haven’t adopted the egalitarian mores of a Northeastern liberal-arts college. Members of the president’s family and entourage even comport themselves in a way that respects the local customs of these problematic cultures.
Writing at CNN, Anushay Hossain blamed Melania Trump for being admired by Saudi reporters and dressing conservatively. “The Saudi press have embraced Melania,” she wrote, “for basically doing for the kingdom what they do for Donald Trump: Provide the perfect cover for misogyny and tyranny by being beautiful, poised and often silent.” One can blame all sorts of things for the repulsive character of Saudi government and society. Perhaps the religious dictates of Islam, or the personal flaws of the Saudi royal family, or even the tribal character of its society play some important role in shaping that culture’s treatment of women. All these things have a certain weight in Saudi Arabia. But, no, Hossain blames Melania for being the “perfect spokeswoman” for “glossing over one of the world’s most autocratic and oppressive regimes.” Had Melania dazzled you, such that you had forgotten that Saudi Arabia was unpleasant and backwards? I hadn’t. But your mileage may vary.
Barbie Latza Nadeau writes about Trump’s visit to the Vatican, and how Melania and Ivanka wore traditional black mantillas and black dresses for their audience with His Holiness. Nadeau recounts how Melania suffered the indignity of a papal microaggression when Francis tried to make a joking reference to the cuisine of Slovenia. He gestured at the imposing Trump: “What do you feed him? Potizza?” How dare the pope lightly suggest that Melania has an influence on what her husband eats.
Pretending to worry that Trump might make Vatican codes into American law, Nadeau wrote, “He did seem at ease during the procession through the majestic corridors of the Apostolic Palace, where he was surrounded only by old white men.” Ah, the old white men. There were a few. But Nadeau might have noticed that the pope’s cardinals and the Vatican court make up by far the most ethnically and racially diverse governing body on the planet. No, they weren’t in the photos. The photos contained many members of the young Swiss Guard, however, which remains all-male and Swiss. Which is problematic.
Nadeau also mentions Ivanka praying in a cordoned-off section of the plaza in front of the Wailing Wall, and how female reporters were grouped separately from men at events in Israel. She wrote tendentiously, “One might ask if perhaps the president likes what he saw in these capitals of inequality.”
There’s a whole world out there. Who could have guessed that not everyone in it conforms to the latest moral tests invented by America’s crusading journalists? Someday these writers might discover in horror that their tax dollars protect South Korea, where deference to one’s elders is deeply ingrained in the culture. Or that America conducts important relations with India, where there are decidedly “problematic” cultural attitudes toward skin color. Wait until they hear about comic books in Japan.
Listen, we all have to get through the Trump era alive and with our sanity. And I can understand wanting to get our cheap shots in at the president. But perhaps we can criticize him without playing the role of the ugly American, feigning horror at facts about the world we live in that are not new, and not surprising. Saudi Arabia is deeply Islamic, Israel is Jewish, and the Vatican has many Roman Catholic prelates in it. Maybe deep down you wish all these places were run by your local corporate human-resources department, but they aren’t, and our nation has to conduct business with them anyway. Get over yourselves.