Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is at the center of a social media storm after snapping at an Instagram followers who challenged her online.
Linton posted a photo of herself disembarking from a plane with her husband, with a white scarf flung glamorously around her neck. “Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #countryside,” she wrote, also tagging her name-brand scarf, shoes and sunglasses. When one follower questioned whether U.S. taxpayer money was used to pay for her “day trip,” Linton fired back, belittling the commenter.
“Did you think this was a personal trip?!” she wrote in a long and condescending response. “Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband?”
Linton was widely criticized for her remarks and later apologized, calling her actions “inappropriate and highly insensitive.” But this wasn’t the first time that Linton has been at the center of controversy.
Linton may be best known today as the actress who married Mnuchin in a ceremony officiated by vice president Mike Pence. But before that, she had already found her way into the headlines — for a self-published and controversial 2016 memoir about a year spent in Africa.
The book recounted a gap year Linton spent in Zambia in 1999, during which she claimed to have protected an HIV-positive orphan girl by hiding her from armed rebels. The self-described “skinny white muzungu with long angel hair” came to the conclusion that “Africa is rife with hidden danger.”
Titled “In Congo’s Shadow: One girl’s perilous journey to the heart of Africa,” the book was widely criticized for evoking old and problematic “white savior” tropes.
Washington Post editor Karen Attiah wrote that Linton “may have written the defining work of the White-Savior-in-Africa genre for the digital age… she deploys, with maximum flourish, just about every lazy trope there is when it comes to writing about Africa.”
A social media campaign was launched against Linton for the book, decrying it as inaccurate and offensive. The Zambian embassy in the U.S. even issued a statement slamming her work.
She ultimately took the book off Amazon and apologized. “I am deeply sorry to those whom I have offended,” she said at the time. “I now see how my characterizations of the country and its people have been interpreted as condescending.”
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.