book reviews, politics

A review of Melania and Me, by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Just in time for the election, former Melania Trump bestie, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, has published her tell all about what it was like to be friends with Donald Trump’s third wife. As you might surmise by the timing of this book’s release, as well as the title, the friendship has ended, and not on a positive note. In any case, I decided to read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Melania is the quiet half of the Trump power couple and I was curious about her. Also, I figured I could relate to the author. I “broke up” with my former bestie, too, and haven’t had a best “girl” friend in many years.

So who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, anyway?

Before she got tangled up with the Trumps, the author of Melania and Me was the director of special events at Vogue. She lived in New York City and was still working at Vogue when she met a Slovenian model then known as Melania Knauss. When Melania and Stephanie met, it was Stephanie who was better known. Melania was moderately successful, but not really super famous when she caught Donald Trump’s roving eye. Winston Wolkoff writes that when she and Melania first met, Melania was quiet and unassuming, but caring. Or, at least that’s how she seemed.

Donald Trump married his third wife, Melania, in 2005, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was there to see the eastern European model shaped into the First Lady she is today. Melania and Stephanie were ladies who frequently lunched. That was the way Melania preferred it, although Stephanie writes that lunching wasn’t so good because it really cut out a portion of the work day. Throughout the book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff makes it clear that she’s a “work horse”. She works very hard, and has always had to make her own way, in part because her parents had a bad marriage and wanted their kids on their own as soon as possible (something else I can relate to, as my parents had a good marriage, but wanted me to skedaddle ASAP, too). Winston Wolkoff went to boarding school. She’s also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and has three much beloved children, one of whom has severe food allergies. She describes herself as a “helicopter parent”, even though she spent a couple of years working for Melania Trump… FOR FREE.

Yes, you read that right. This “hardworking”, “helicopter parent”, “Holocaust granddaughter”, “lady who lunched” did not draw an official salary as she spent about two years thanklessly slaving away for the First Lady, a woman she thought was her “best friend”. She was away from her family in New York, spending her own money on Ubers, lunches at Trump properties, and hotel rooms, helping Melania Trump choose staff members that were not budgeted for, and planning events such as the Presidential Inauguration. Winston Wolkoff complains that she was barely paid anything for her work. She received $480,000 for work she did on the inauguration, which was, on its own, a bit of a cluster fuck. Other than that, zip… as she writes it, anyway.

Why did Stephanie Winston Wolkoff work for free?

She did it for her country, as the old song from Grease 2 goes. Although Winston Wolkoff writes that she was never a voter before the Trump era, claiming she didn’t know enough about politics or the candidates, she decided to vote for Trump in 2016. She did it because Melania was her friend, and because she thought she was being a good patriot by trying to help her friend be a good First Lady.

Through it all, Stephanie and Melania traded texts full of emojis, many of which are included in this book. Melania never had any problem asking Stephanie or anyone else for favors, but when the shoe was on the other foot, she “didn’t have time” (see my post from a couple of days ago). What Melania wants, Melania gets, according to Winston Wolkoff, who writes that she worked so hard for so long that she actually wound up in the hospital.

Want a little whine with your lunch?

While I can commiserate with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who claims she gave up a very successful, high-powered career for someone she thought was a real friend, I did think she came off as a bit of a martyr at times. Her writing has a somewhat self-pitying, shaming tone that I found kind of off-putting. I don’t doubt that Winston Wolkoff worked her ass off, but it’s not like she didn’t have a choice. She must have known deep down that her “friendship” with Melania wasn’t very genuine and if she ever said “no” to the First Lady, the “friendship” would end. But if those are the conditions of the relationship and one voluntarily settles for that, then one is also complicit in perpetuating the fake friendship. Therefore, one can assume that one’s motivations aren’t as pure as one makes them out to be.

I do understand how it feels to be used and betrayed by someone who doesn’t share the same level of regard for you that you have for them. I also know what it’s like to work for free, seemingly for the greater good, only to have it all turn to shit.

What I don’t understand is why Winston Wolkoff– who is purportedly as family-oriented and successful as she claims to be– tolerated that treatment for as long as she did. But then… we are talking about the most powerful couple in America and perhaps one of the most powerful couples in the whole world. I’m sure that was a lure that kept Stephanie so close to Melania, even though she was never given a contract and had to enter the White House like any flunkie who never got vetted. Yes, she slept in a guest room right over the White House residence, but Melania never saw to it that her friend could get fast tracked past White House security. Best friend indeed.

Winston Wolkoff writes of being relegated to “lawn standing” at Trump’s swearing in. She managed to get a better view only because an official staffer spotted her and got her a better seat. This, even though she had helped plan the event. Melania didn’t care… and in fact, frequently took advantage of her “friend” while dissing her. Melania did send flowers on Stephanie’s birthday, at least until last year or so, when Stephanie finally told her friend, Melania, that she was resigning. After that, it seems their fifteen year old friendship was kaput. Now, all she has to show for it is this book, which really could have been better than it is.

Overall

I have a hard time feeling really sorry for Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, although I guess I can understand on a human level how she ended up in her predicament. It’s easy for someone like me to look at someone like her– close to famous people like Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley– and think she should have known better than to get involved with the Trumps (or politics in general). But although she protests to the contrary, that she really was a “true friend” to Melania and other people who helped the Trumps get to where they are right now and were kind of stiffed for their efforts, I have a feeling that the work she was doing was not just out of friendship. Surely she believed she’d get paid somehow. I’m sure she thought it would be more than whatever she makes from the sales of Melania and Me.

Some of the author’s handiwork… Judge for yourself.

I did kind of enjoy Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s commentary on Ivanka Trump (the princess), as well as some of the other Trump staffers. I thought some of her insights into famous gaffes and fashion missteps were interesting, too. Apparently, Melania doesn’t care what anyone thinks and simply does whatever is best for her and maybe her son, Barron, who is reportedly a bit of a prankster.

On the other hand, I also got the sense from reading this book that Winston Wolkoff still has some affection and admiration for her old friend, Melania. At times, she is complimentary of her and seems to miss her, which makes the book a little bit confusing. I kind of got the sense that maybe she hopes she and Melania can bury the hatchet someday and, once again, be besties who lunch. Maybe she thinks Melania will read this book and send her flowers and an apology? Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

Anyway, I’m not sorry I read Melania and Me, but I am glad I’m finished with it. I hope Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has had a nice rest, recovered her health, and is enjoying those three children and her husband that she left over for over a year to work for free, serving the worst U.S. president in recent history (in my opinion, anyway). I do somewhat empathize with her. It’s bewildering when someone you thought was a close friend turns out to be a selfish asshole. But then, when you’re not directly blinded by the magical glare of a shameless narcissistic manipulator, it’s a lot easier to see wolves dressed in baby blue Ralph Lauren frocks.

I think Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and her ilk would do well to read more fables and learn some of life’s basic lessons, starting with this one. Or maybe she should learn the cardinal rule that everyone hears when they fly on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help other people. Maybe with a little more oxygen to the brain, Winston Wolkoff might have more clarity in determining who her real friends are.

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