Note: Throughout my adult life, I have been a coach to executives, to organizations, to parents, and to children. It’s a role that suits me. So I thought I’d record some (imaginary) interviews with public figures who have come to me for help. The first imaginary interview is with Melania Trump, soon after she gave her plagiarized speech at the Republican National Convention. I want to emphasize that this interview never took place. If, indeed, I did work with Melania Trump, I would not reveal what she said to me. This interview is fiction.
We begin as Melania, tall, slim, beautiful, and self conscious, strides into my office. As she sits on my comfortable but upright chair, I take a good look at her. She is bold and diffident at the same time. Right away, she wants to do the right thing, she wants to please. I feel for her right away. I won’t try to duplicate her Eastern European accent here, but here is how our conversation went.
MT: Thank you so much for agreeing to see me on such short notice, Mr. Dym. Do you still have time for me? I can come back tomorrow if that’s better for you.
BD: Please make yourself comfortable, Melania. This is a perfect time. Now…How can I help you?
- I’ve never done anything like this before, and I don’t think that Donald would approve. But I was so humiliated yesterday, and I don’t know what to do.
BD: What happened?
MT: Right after I gave my convention speech, which I didn’t really want to do, some people accused me of plagiarism. They said I copied from Michelle Obama.
BD: Is it true?
MT: I don’t really know. I didn’t write the speech but Donald said that I should say I did. What I said does sound a lot like Michelle. That woman, McIver, the one who really wrote the speech, took the blame, but that doesn’t make me feel good either.
BD: Why not?
MT: It makes me feel stupid. Nobody thought I could write my own speech anyway. Everyone probably thinks I’m stupid, just a model, and I hate that.
BD: Is this a new feeling or one you’ve had for a while.
MT: All my life, really, but usually it’s easy to put on a good front.
BD: So you want to figure out what to do from here? Or just how to put your feelings to rest?
MT: Both. To be honest, I would apologize if I could, and I’d say tell people what I like about Donald, but he doesn’t like me speaking that way. ….. this is confidential, right.
BD: Absolutely. I couldn’t be your coach if I couldn’t keep a secret.
MT: Well, Donald won’t let me. You know that, right. He doesn’t believe in apologizing. He thinks it makes you sound weak. And that’s the worst for him.
BD: And you wouldn’t defy him?
MT: Never. And certainly not in public.
MT: And I’m a very proud person. I don’t want to be humiliated again. To tell the truth, I want to hide. But I can’t. I have to smile on those stages, over and over again.
BD: Can you talk to him in private, suggest another role for yourself?
MT: He’s the same at home. He tells all of us all—everyone—never, never apologize.
BD: How should you respond to mistakes or embarrassment?
MT: We’re supposed to take the argument back to them. Accuse them of something. It almost doesn’t matter what. Just get the attention off your back. Make others pay. I hate to say this but Donald really likes to hurt people.
BD: So why don’t you attack the people who called you out?
MT: Because that isn’t me. I don’t like to hurt people. And I don’t like to feel stupid. If I admit that I didn’t even write my own speech, I’ll seem like a silly woman, that I’m just here because I’m pretty. They’ll think I’m an ornament.
BD: Would you apologize if you felt freer?
MT: This is confidential, right.
MT: Then, yes. I would apologize.
BD: What effect would that have.?
MT: I think that people would think better of me. And I think they’d feel better about Donald.
BD: Do you think he should apologize? It was his speech writer, after all.
MT: Yes I do. But this is his arena, not mine. I can’t step on his toes. I don’t want to make him angry at me. You know what he’s like when he’s angry. He’ll say all kinds of nasty things about me. I’ll cry and apologize but he doesn’t let up. He never lets up.
BD: He doesn’t hit you, does he.
MT: No, he uses words to hurt and, you know, he’s good at that.
BD: Is this what you expected when you married Donald?
MT: A little bit. I knew he was proud. I didn’t think he was so thin skinned. This is confidential, isn’t it?
BD: Yes. How do you think Michele would respond if you told her that you wouldn’t have copied her but that you do I identify with her. Maybe more than you do with the showy rich people you hobnob with these days.
MT: Oh, I think she’s a good person. She’d accept my apology.
BD: A little bit or very sincerely.
MT: Very sincerely. You know, I admire Michele Obama. If I could really speak my mind, I’d say that. She seems like fun, and she’s very moral. She has dignity. I would like to be more like her. This really is confidential. Right.
BD: Yes, absolutely.
BD: Would you like some advice?
MT: Yes, as long as I don’t have to follow it.
BD: That’s your prerogative. OK. I’d suggest you do apologize to Michelle Obama, first privately to see how it goes. If it goes well, apologize publically. Tell them it’s because of your values and because, underneath, Donald would like this.
MT: Even if he wouldn’t?
BD: Yes, because two things are clear: first, it’s true that people identify with his hard side, but there are lots of people on the sidelines—women especially—waiting to see if he has a soft side, and waiting to see if he respects women. He doesn’t seem to. If you could openly disagree with him and if he could not only take it—you know a lot of people don’t think he’s very strong; they think he’s thin skinned, defensive, frightened of criticism, which is why he lashes out so strongly. If he could not only take it but affirm your difference, that would blow people’s minds. It would confuse them. It would cause people who had made up their minds to give him another look. He would seem stronger, more open-minded, less controlling, more generous.
MT: I would love that.
BD: So next session—if you want to come—“Yes I do”—we’ll talk about a variety of ways you can save Donald from himself and become a major contributor to his success.