Doubling Effect

On the internet, which already has a vast stockpile of ridiculous theories, people have posted the theory that Melania Trump has been replaced by a doppelganger. What does that say about the American psyche?

Is it really her? The nose, the lips and the chin look suspiciously different than before. And now she’s even holding hands with her husband! Conspiracy theorists swear up and down that it can’t possibly be Melania Trump, and conduct detailed image analysis to prove it: The real Melania is long gone, or she buries herself in “inner emigration”* in the White House; at official appointments with “realDonaldTrump” she’s at least letting herself be represented by “FakeMelania” – most recently, supposedly, during a visit by the presidential couple to Alabama, which was devastated by tornados.

The identity of the doppelganger has, supposedly, also been figured out on Twitter: Melania’s bodyguard – who really looks like her twin, separated at birth, but just a little smaller. “RealDonaldTrump” has recently spoken out definitively against the rumor, but it won’t accomplish anything. Since the rumors first surfaced in the fall of 2017, they have always sped to the top of the social network charts in America.

Does the American Self Want To Be Someone Else?

It has to be considered a collective case of Capgras syndrome. People affected by this syndrome fall victim to the delusion that familiar people in their environment have been replaced by doppelgangers. Or, we are dealing with out-of-control identification with Donald Trump’s wife by Trump critics who want to recognize themselves, or rather Lady Liberty and the whole of America, in her – the beautiful one, who is allegedly trapped in the beast’s castle without quite knowing how she got into this reality/horror/Disney movie, keyword #FreeMelania. Since the ogre will hardly turn out to be a fairytale prince, the “Star Wars” strategy for princesses has to be imagined: the doppelganger.

In Romantic literature, doppelgangers were a well-loved motif, because in them, doubt about one’s own irrational self was given free rein; that could be the case again today. Or does the American self, overturned in a postmodern fashion by its present-day mirror stage**, simply want to be a different one?

Canada is unfortunately not available for such an identity exchange, because its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, already has his own doppelganger, namely, the Dutch GreenLeft politician Jesse Klaver. Which brings us to the problem of the irreplaceability of local politicians: Is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in the end just Angela Merkel’s slightly smaller bodyguard? Or is she actually Rita Süssmuth’s late attempt to become chancellor after all? Doppelgangers can also have an incredibly calming effect, if they convey a feeling of stability. Why do you think Cindy Crawford and Vanessa Paradis lookalikes have signed million-dollar modeling contracts? As long as the face looks familiar, it doesn’t really matter who’s walking. That’s what they call authentic.

* Translator’s note: “Inner emigration” refers to the situation of German writers who were opposed to Nazism, yet chose to remain in Germany after the Nazis seized power in 1933.

**Note: “Mirror stage” is a concept from French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, describing the developmental stage at which a child recognizes itself in the mirror.

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