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Danziger: Cherchez La Femme

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Farewell, Michelle Obama, You’ve Made Us All Proud

Dear Michelle Obama:

This is just a note to say that I think you’re gorgeous. I’ll thank you not to share that with your husband, given that I have no desire to open my door and find a predator drone waiting for me. Or, worse, an IRS auditor.

And yes, as a 21st century U.S. male, I am well aware of the minefield a guy enters when he assays public discussion of a woman’s looks. But I take the risk in order to express the head-snapping disconnect I feel whenever some white person attacks you on the basis of being insufficiently pretty for their tastes.

Obviously, it’s sexist, this implicit notion that you exist for their approval. But for me, it also calls their eyesight into question. I always find myself wondering: Are they seeing the same woman I am? Are they seeing this statuesque lady with lively eyes and a smile full of fun?

They aren’t, of course. That’s the entire point. I see an attractive wife and mother, a lawyer, author, activist, educator and fashion trendsetter. But they see you — more accurately, fail to see you — while looking through a prism of their own fears and stereotypes, a broken-glass refraction of hateful images whose repulsiveness ultimately says more about them than it ever could about you.

This has happened repeatedly. In November, some bureaucrat in West Virginia called you “an ape in heels.” Last month, a GOP official in New York said you should “return to being a male” and live with an ape in a cave in Africa.

The bureaucrat swore she was “not of any way” racist. The official swore that race had nothing to do with his words. They did this with straight faces. One would guess they now sleep the untroubled sleep of the truly righteous — and utterly clueless. We’ve had over eight years of this. Now we reach the point where the Obama era is measured in days. And I, like many people, find myself reflecting on what your husband and you have meant to the nation.

I’ll address myself to him in a few days. For now, for today, I just want to express how awed I am by the grace with which you have carried yourself through nearly a decade of racial denigration from ugly, stupid people. They’ve denied your patriotism, your femininity and your humanity. They watch even now in acquiescent silence as the incoming president plays tonsil hockey with Vladimir Putin, but they acted like you were the reincarnation of Joseph Stalin when you planted a garden and encouraged kids to exercise.

It would be enough to make anyone bitter. But you never gave them the satisfaction of your attention, much less your bitterness. Instead, you just did you. And “you” was enough. By the time your husband had been in office six months, many people could no longer remember what the fuss was about.

But too many others are still like the West Virginia bureaucrat and the New York party hack. Too many others still offer too many stark reminders that where race is concerned, America remains an unwell nation. And that it’ll probably get worse before it gets better.

Yes, I know what you’d say: “When they go low, we go high.” I don’t mind telling you that I’m finding that easier said than done. But your example challenges me, and that’s not nothing.

So, farewell, Mrs. Obama. Please know that, as an American — and particularly as an African American — I am proud of how you’ve conducted yourself as first lady. At risk of political incorrectness and IRS audit, I reiterate what I said coming in.

You, madam, are gorgeous — in many more ways than one.

IMAGE: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during an event to mark Nowruz on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by more than 300 million people in diverse ethnic and religious communities across the Middle East, Central and Southwest Asia, and Eastern Europe. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

And Then Michelle Obama Showed Up

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has sparked endless commentary about her gender, and rightly so.

She is increasingly likely to be the first female president of the United States. That’s a big deal — even if the thought of it makes you curl up into the fetal position, you poor thing.

Two other women have become increasingly visible in this presidential race: Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. In word and deed, the contrast in their recent public appearances in response to the video revealing Donald Trump’s admission that he has engaged in sexual predator behavior illustrates how far women have come — and how desperately some want to cling to our oppressive past.

Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to this race knows by now what Trump said about women on the decade-old video first revealed by The Washington Post. The quickest of summaries: He believes he is entitled to touch, kiss and grope any woman he finds attractive, without her consent.

The public backlash has been swift and enduring. Trump’s dismissal of the recorded conversation as “locker room talk” and his repeated mocking of the growing number of his female accusers are further eroding his impossible dream of living in the White House.

What’s a campaign to do?

On Oct. 17, his wife, Melania, agreed to talk to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

This is the politics of old. When all else fails, summon the wife.

I hesitate to lay claim to anything exceptional about me as a journalist, but this is a fact of my life and requires full disclosure: I am married to Sen. Sherrod Brown. I know a little bit about the prevailing low and constricting expectations for women married to politicians. Not because of my husband. He knew what he was getting into when he proposed to a newspaper columnist, and it wasn’t blind compliance. This is an archaic notion of political spousedom cherished by politicos and too many of my colleagues in the media who continue to regard candidates’ wives as either a prop or a problem.

Melania Trump broke with her usual practice as the mute go-along to blame another man for egging on her husband and to double down on the “locker room” defense.

Anderson Cooper: “He described it as locker room talk. … You’ve sort of alluded to that, as well. Is that what it is to you, just locker room talk?”

Melania Trump: “Yeah, it’s kind of two teenage boys. Actually, they should behave better, right?”

Cooper: “He was 59.”

Trump: “Correct. And sometimes I said I have two boys at home. I have my young son and my husband, so, but I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it, yes.”

As Cooper stressed, Donald Trump was 59. That’s my age right now. I keep thinking about that and all that I am expected to know by this age.

And let’s be clear: A teenager admitting to the behavior that Donald Trump was bragging about would be just as predatory — and the behavior would be just as illegal.

Fortunately, first lady Michelle Obama knew that the only response to Trump’s behavior was to condemn it.

Last week, she took the stage in New Hampshire. With a tremor in her voice, she opened her heart and delivered a speech as breathtakingly real as it gets.

“I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this,” she said. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. … This wasn’t just locker room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior. … And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally — and I’m sure that many of you do, too, particularly the women — the shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our ambitions and intellect, the belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.”

This is the face — and the voice — of the new political spouse. She is using all of her power to help other women lay claim to their own, and she is going to help elect the first woman to be president of the United States.

After watching the first lady’s speech, I couldn’t help but think it’s probably a good thing her successor will not be a woman. We’re going to need some time to get over how much we’re going to miss Michelle Obama.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama hosts Broadway Shines A Light on Girls’ Education at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Melania Trump Is Anything But A Typical Immigrant

When it comes to immigration policy, Melania Trump is a walking set of paradoxes: She’s married to a man whose presidential campaign was built on calls to ban immigration of all sorts, but as an immigrant herself, she could become the country’s first immigrant first lady. And yet, she bears little resemblance to most first-generation Americans.

After staying mostly out of the public eye, as presidential campaign standards go, the notoriously apolitical fashion model-turned-trophy wife will be making her most public appearance yet on Monday night to open the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

A Slovenian who moved to New York in 1996, Melania is expected to address immigration and describe her own personal narrative to support her husband’s inflammatory rhetoric on the issue — and perhaps, resolve some of the tension it holds with her own immigrant status.

It’s ironic to say the least that a Republican nominee known for his toxic ranting urging bans on even legal immigration, and for his portrayal of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and killers,” would also bring the first immigrant spouse into the White House.

(Technically speaking, Louisa Adams already holds that distinction. But she doesn’t really count: Adams’ American father took the family back and forth between her birthplace in London and the U.S., according to The New Yorker.)

And yet, Melania Trump also occupies an atypically assimilated position as a first-generation U.S. citizen. Slovenians who knew her lament that she is distant from the country of her childhood and has “forgotten her roots.” She’s brought her parents to come live with her permanently in New York, but she has only taken her jet-setting husband to Slovenia for a few hours, according to a GQ profile.

The same article also noted that Melania refuses to acknowledge that she has a half-brother from her father’s side, despite a court case ruling to the contrary.

“I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in January. “It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are. You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa.”

Beyond financial assets that made her immigration process easier than most, Melania Trump has also taken advantage of policies unavailable to many of the unskilled workers that her husband has railed against.

According to the New Yorker, the U.S. immigration system admits models like her to the country through the H-1B visa program, which is known mostly for bringing less glamorous (and more educated) professionals like scientists and computer coders.

Trump, ironically, has railed against what he’s called “rampant, widespread, H-1B abuse,” arguing in March that the visa “is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” the New Yorker reports.

And demographically, she’s an exception to the rule too: Over half of immigrants aren’t naturalized (she is), and the average income for an immigrant is $14,000 less than the national average, the Pew Research Center says, meaning it’s likely a lot less than Melania’s. Most prominently, though, the percentage of immigrants coming from Europe has sharply decreased since she arrived twenty years ago, reaching a record low in 2014 at 11.2 percent, according to a study from the Migration Policy Institute.

Together, this means that she’s not quite an appropriate spokesperson for the millions of immigrants in the country, as a Vox survey found that just under 20 percent of Americans perceive a negative impact of European immigrants like her, compared to about double that for those from areas like Latin America (at 38 percent) or the Middle East (at 53 percent).

Melania Trump can claim to speak for the immigrant experience, but her own path to the American dream is about as unlikely as her husband’s political rise.

 

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump waits to come into the spin room with his wife Melania after the Republican U.S. presidential candidates debate sponsored by ABC News at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire February 6, 2016.     REUTERS/Rick Wilking