Melania Trump stood in front of the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of devotion to his wife, Mumtaz, and watched her open-mouthed husband bellow to photographers.
Her high-necked, ivory jumpsuit matched the exterior of the famed marble mausoleum (CNN’s Kate Bennett identified the one piece as made by Trump’s stylist, Hervé Pierre). It came with a moss green sash made of “vintage Indian textile” that slightly clashed with her husband’s canary yellow tie.
Still, the First Lady—known for looking absolutely miserable when out with her husband—appeared happy, or at least flashed a few more step-and-repeat smiles than normal. One tabloid described the pair as “loved-up,” which is as big of a stretch as the notion that burger-loving Trump enjoyed his meatless Monday in India. Still, the Trumps were able to hold hands for a while, and they stood close while watching a flock of birds fly away, like two characters from a gothic poem.
Ivanka, too, arrived with Jared Kushner in tow, though she kicked her husband out of her own picture. In a poppy-patterned turquoise dress, which matched the reflection pool she stood in front of, Ivanka mugged with her vacant-eyed but determined smile.
If you have any doubts about any future political aspirations for this “presidential adviser,” then (take a deep breath and) look at her Taj Mahal photo op. Despite all those "Unwanted Ivanka" detractors, just like the building itself, she endures. In Ivanka’s words, such resilience is “awe inspiring.” Others might call her seemingly ceaseless, free vacations (thinly) disguised as diplomacy, a horror scenario.
The Taj Mahal was completed after ten years of construction in 1653, outlasting threats from the Japanese Air Force in World War II and Pakistan’s bomber pilots in the late '60s. But the historic site, frequently referenced as a Wonder of the World, has succumbed to one thing: the rich and powerful using it as a backdrop to make coded statements to the world.
The tradition began in earnest with the 1992 image of Princess Diana on a marble bench, her body a lithe strip in a cherry red blazer, nearly dwarfed compared to the gargantuan building behind her. She went to the site alone, without her husband Prince Charles, implying a fissure in their not-so-storybook romance.
But Diana was not the first celebrity photo op at the Taj Mahal. In 1962, Jackie Kennedy took a solo trip to India and Pakistan, at a time when First Ladies did not often dabble in foreign diplomacy. For her pilgrimage to the spot, she wore a preppy blue and green sheath, projecting the Camelot-era’s sunny confidence.
Four years later, George Harrison snapped a selfie in front of the site, looking very anti-Kennedy in his counterculture duds: an unbuttoned cotton shirt and dark sunglasses.
Since then, plenty of other young and famous men have come to the mausoleum in search of themselves, or at least a performative version of it.
In 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the Taj Mahal was an example of “what people can build—and what love can motivate us to build,” using the elegant language of a good copywriter to plug his company after paying respects. That same year, Leonardo DiCaprio visited too, while in the country working on a climate change documentary. It was a “secret trip;” DiCaprio asked tourists not to take pictures, because he was working.
In 1995, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton also sat on one of the Taj Mahal’s benches for photographers, sitting close and smiling, visual code for girl power. Five years after that, the first daughter would return with her father, Bill.
In wide-angle snapshots of Donald and Melania strolling in front of the Taj Mahal, the yuge building’s scope leaves the pair looking tiny, nearly as tall as the shrubs which line the monument’s grassy aisles. Trump, who’s got a thing for screaming about his own bigness, might not appreciate how tiny he looks.
But for a man who views the presidency as just another prize to show off that he’s won, the Taj Mahal visit was a success. The man whose legacy was once a knockoff-named casino now has got his photo in front of the real thing, joining the star-studded ranks of those who came before him. And as we’ve seen from this optics-obsessed administration so many times before, the facade is all that matters.