Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Monster

Melania Trump traitor and media enablers are creating a society where nobody can trust anybody
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CNN today featured former Melania Trump aide Stephanie Winston Wolkoff airing a secret recording of the First Lady making a profane remark about Christmas decorations, and complaining about the way the media were treating her about migrant children at the border. I’m not going to link to the clip, because it is repulsive. I’m not talking about what Melania Trump said — though that is certainly obnoxious — but about the fact that this Wolkoff cretin has betrayed a friend so horribly. That, and the fact that CNN is party to this betrayal.

What is the point of this? What national security issue was at stake, such that violating someone’s privacy and expectation of confidentiality is rewarded? If you’re mad at Melania Trump for what she said, okay, but you ought to be furious that someone betrays the confidence of a friend and employer (and for such a trivial reason!), and that a major news network went along with it.

You don’t like Melania Trump? Okay. But humiliating her with this kind of betrayal makes the world a more vicious, and dare I say totalitarian, place. I spent a year talking with people in the Soviet bloc, reporting Live Not By Lies, about what their lives were like. Imagine a world in which you could not trust anybody. In which even your best friend might betray you to the secret police out of fear, or for the purpose of personal gain. This happened all the time. After communism fell in East Germany, and people’s Stasi files were made public, many former East Germans were staggered by the discovery that people they trusted the most — even their spouses — informed on them.

There is a reason why, in his Divine Comedy, Dante put traitors in the deepest pit of hell: because the radical loss of trust made society impossible. In late medieval Tuscany, with cities at war with each other, everyone inside a city’s walls had to hope that they could trust the guardians of the city’s gates. If they couldn’t, then a traitor might open the gates to the enemy at night, and that would be the end. As Dante saw it, the worst sins were those that made human community impossible by severing social bonds.

It was a horrible way to live, to have to be anxious all the time that those around you might betray you. Last year in Budapest, a Hungarian told me that the nation’s biggest problem is a holdover from the communist era: the lack of civic trust. The communists created a society in which nobody could afford to trust anybody, because to trust was to make yourself vulnerable to losing your freedom, even your life. Once that trust goes, it is extremely hard to replace. This, said the Hungarian, is one reason why the country is still struggling with communism’s legacy.

What Melania Trump said about Christmas decorating was rude and shallow — and boy, I’m really shocked that a former supermodel is rude and shallow — and what she said about the migrants was not really about the migrant kids at all, but about media hypocrisy in covering the story. But sure, if you want to spite Melania Trump for that, go ahead.

But what Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has done is truly monstrous. If you know her, or are her friend, you are now on alert as to the kind of person she is. Once more, that CNN rewards a wretched betrayal like this is a sign of degraded standards — and sign that they are helping to bring about a world in which selling out a friend by exposing intimate private conversations, for the sake of advancing a political cause, is our new norm. Seriously, folks: think about the kind of social order that we are bringing into being with stunts like this. 

It won’t stop with the betrayal of Melania Trump’s confidence. Mark my words. This puts everybody on notice that even close friends will instrumentalize your friendship and sell you out to the highest bidder, for the sake of political advantage and personal advancement.