People in the public eye routinely find themselves on the receiving end of love, hate, admiration, contempt – and jokes, some good-natured, some less so, some downright vicious.
That comes with the territory and overly sensitive people should protect their thin skin by steering clear of the territory. The best way of ducking the slings and arrows is to shun public life, keep a low profile and especially stay out of politics.
However, having plunged into elective politics headlong, one should learn how to respond to cutting or even vindictive humour. There are many acceptable ways of doing so.
The simplest one is to ignore the jokes altogether. Then of course it’s possible to laugh along, thereby showing an attractive capacity for self-deprecation. Or else one could joke back, although caution must be exercised: joking, especially off the cuff, may backfire easily.
One thing a politician absolutely mustn’t do is get angry. Such a reaction betokens one of the least attractive human qualities: humourless narcissism. And that, I’m afraid, is exactly the quality revealed by America’s First Lady on this occasion.
Now, when a wife boasts an adventurous sexual past, especially if her much older husband is no longer in the first or even second flush of youth, jokes about the paternity of the couple’s children practically make themselves. These are mostly tasteless, which makes them even harder to contain.
A few years ago, a British comedian was talking about the Christmas dinner at Buckingham Palace. “It was a small affair,” quipped the stand-up chap. “Just the immediate family – and Harry.” Since rumours of one of Diana’s lovers being Harry’s father abound, the joke hit a sensitive place.
Now the British tend to be much more protective about the Royal Family than the Americans are about presidents. And yet the joke caused no outcry, and certainly no comment from Buck House. Cabbages and kings: royals reign, people gossip, comedians jest – life is like that.
Melania Trump should take her cue from the Royal Family, and generally speaking she does. She keeps an unusually low profile for a First Lady and hardly ever speaks in public. Whether her uncertain command of English has something to do with that reticence is anybody’s guess.
Yet she broke her silence on Sunday, Father’s Day, after the comedian John Henson tweeted: “I hope Barron gets to spend today with whoever his dad is.”
The joke is moderately funny at best, and Mrs Trump should have just let it slide. Instead she responded like a lioness protecting her cub: “As with every other administration, a minor child should be off-limits and allowed to grow up with no judgment or hate from strangers and the media.”
Melania should really lighten up. The Trumps are doubtless exposed to more than their fair share of judgement and hate, but a joke, funny or not, just doesn’t fall into either category.
One gets the impression that, rather than learning from our Royal Family, Melania has been taking lessons in morbid sensitivity from her egotistic husband. Who, judging by the photograph above, has stepped up his preparations for an impending gurning contest.
I’m no physiognomist, but I do sometimes wonder what kind of personality leaves such unusual imprints on a human face.