Friday 6 December 2019

Victorious first couple shuffle to Sinatra

'My Way' was the soundtrack as people paid $50 to get down on the dancefloor with the new regime

US President Donald Trump dances with his wife Melania as Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
US President Donald Trump dances with his wife Melania as Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen wave Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Nick Allen

He had, of course, done it his way. Donald Trump succeeded to the White House, by waging an unorthodox and, at times, vitriolic campaign that defied the odds. So what better first song to herald his presidency than the Frank Sinatra standard? Holding each other close, America's first couple not so much danced as shuffled awkwardly at the first of three inaugural balls, while a jazz trio belted out My Way.

The 20,000-strong crowd at the Liberty Ball, held in the cavernous Washington DC convention centre that was likened to an indoor car park, loved it. Mr Trump whispered apparent sweet nothings in his wife Melania's ear, breaking off to wave to fans, give a thumbs-up or pump his victorious fist.

"They said we - and me - we didn't have a chance, but we knew we were going to win, and we won," he told the gathered hordes. "People that weren't so nice to me were saying that we did a really good job today. They hated to do it, but they did it."

The fans had paid a cut-price $50 a ticket (although champagne was $20 a glass) for a glimpse of the 45th President. They dined off paper plates, chomping through red, white and blue cupcakes as if to emphasise that this was a blue-collar celebration.

The Liberty Ball had been billed as the people's ball, and the ordinary people love Donald. Celebrities were harder to find. The best known of those who did turn up was Caitlyn Jenner, a reality television star who once won a gold medal in the men's decathlon at the Montreal Olympics.

At just after 9.30pm, Mr and Mrs Trump took to the dance floor, to cheers and the odd gasp at Mrs Trump's designer dress, which was off-the-shoulder and slit to the thigh. The dress will be donated, as is tradition, to the National Museum of American History.

Mr Trump purred his approval. "My number one supporter, Melania. What she puts up with - thank you, honey," he said.

As the trio of singers neared the end of My Way, Trump ushered on to the stage Mike Pence, his vice-president, and his wife, Karen. They may be America's second couple, but they were the number one dancers. "Once those two couples danced side-by-side," remarked the Washington Post, "it was clear they were moving to two completely different rhythms. The Pences two-stepped in big, sweeping motions, and next to them, the Trumps appeared more stiff."

As My Way reached its finale on came the extended families, to further roars of approval. The stage shimmered.

And then the Trumps were gone, moving on to the second ball of the evening, the Freedom Ball. Just before 10.20pm, they made their entrance to another glittering backdrop. He was in an inquiring mood: "Should I keep the Twitter going or not?" The crowd shouted back yes. "The enemies keep saying, 'Oh, that's terrible,' but it's a way of bypassing dishonest media, right?" said Mr Trump, adding, with a glint in his eye: "Now the fun begins."

The couple swayed their way through My Way a second time, again joined by the Pences. "It was great to see the boss dancing," said Clyde Smutc, 70, a retired developer, wearing, incongruously, a tuxedo and a Make America Great Again baseball cap. "I have a 19-year-old son, and now I get the opportunity to see him grow up without the government smothering him economically."

Nigel Farage, in a purple bow tie, was one of 2,000 VIP guests at this ball. On this occasion, the former Ukip leader failed to meet Mr Trump.

The final and most exclusive of the three balls - the Salute to the Armed Services Ball - was at the rather more elegant National Building Museum. "I like you for a lot of reasons. Also I like the fact that you all voted for me," Mr Trump told the crowd, about half of them in military uniform. A live video feed was beamed on to a screen, linking party-goers to troops at Bagram airbase. "How's it going?" the new commander-in-chief asked, unable to then resist another dig.

Pointing to the area reserved for journalists, he said: "Don't be like these people - don't be too tough on me."

Mr Trump turned to his wife. "Honey, say something." Mrs Trump said her first words in public since becoming First Lady. "Thank you all for your service. I'm honoured to be our First Lady. We will fight, we will win and we will make America great again. Thank you," she declared.

Returning to the dance floor, the couple hovered over a carpet stamped with the giant presidential seal. They were joined by two members of the armed forces: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Catherine Cartmell, who danced with the President; and Army Staff Sgt Jose Medina, who enjoyed a twirl with the First Lady. The latter couple, as everyone agreed, performed the best moves of the night. Melania Trump's figure-skimming, off-shoulder gown at the inauguration ball served as a potent statement of the new Trumpian fashion philosophy. The First Lady had evidently received her husband's "Buy American" memo loud and clear, but masterminded a plan of action to make the look entirely her own. Collaborating with Herve Pierre, her long-time friend and former creative director at Carolina Herrera, she moved away from the retro nod of the Jackie Kennedy-influenced Ralph Lauren dress she wore for the inauguration ceremony earlier in the day to a strikingly modern, unadorned design which was a bold new contribution to the genre of first ladies' ball gowns.

It seems possible that her glossy polish has the power to become era-defining in the same way that Mrs Kennedy defined Sixties chic or Nancy Reagan symbolised Eighties glamour. By working with Pierre - who began his career at Pierre Balmain's couture atelier in Paris - Mrs Trump abandoned the Michelle Obama doctrine of looking to young talent (the former first lady catapulted fledgling Jason Wu to fame with her inauguration look) and instead highlighted an unsung hero and veteran of the American fashion industry - while maintaining a touch of the European style which she is known to personally favour.

The Slovenian-born former model graced the cover of American Vogue's February 2005 issue wearing her $100,000 Christian Dior Couture wedding dress and was, until her husband's political ambitions took shape, a regular at catwalk shows and fashion parties.

It was telling, too, that Mrs Trump chose a look so devoid of bling. In place of any celebratory glitz was a refined ruffle detail and patriotic red ribbon at the waist. Her rendering of political style involved glossy hair, tanned thighs and a tasteful smattering of diamonds. Anything more might have seemed over the top after the President's rallying cry to working-class Americans earlier in the day.

For Ivanka Trump, the President's 35-year-old eldest daughter, her gown, with its confection of tulle and sequins, was the stuff of princess-loving young girls' dreams. The look had a more straightforward provenance, coming as it did from Carolina Herrera. The American-Venezuelan designer has long been a go-to for first ladies including Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. And yet Ivanka's choice did not have the same moment-grasping power as Melania's simple column.

Sunday Independent

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