Donald Trump continuously headlines news outlets every day. As it has been seen within the 2020 presidential campaign, candidate Trump often outshines his opponent, Biden. In fact, it has even been speculated that Biden has been advised to stay out of the public eye as remaining under the radar compares favorably to Trump’s often unplanned and untrue public statements (Linskey and Janes 2019, Puzzanghera 2020). Pence is also included in the headlines as the sidekick to the Trump operations, or rather, the Trump mistakes as Pence’s Vice Presidency often includes “cleaning up the mess” that Trump has created.
But perhaps these reports are overshadowing other prominent figures in the White House, namely the first lady, and in that way we have to engage in an additional effort to understand who she is and what she does. During an ABC News series, Being Melania, the source states that Melania Trump is considered to be one of the most private first ladies that the U.S. has seen. Within the series, an interviewer asks for Mrs. Trump to fill in the blank of “Melania is…” Taking a moment to collect her thoughts, she says “a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, the first lady of the United States, caring, compassionate, strong, independent, very detail oriented and staying true to herself.” Though some are obvious, others lead us to question how and when do we see these characteristics applied?
In May of 2018, six months into Melania’s first lady status, she launched the program Be Best. The campaign’s name was compared to Michelle Obama’s “Be Better” response to Oprah Winfrey’s question during the White House Summit on the United States of Women in 2016. For a few reasons including that and the fact that Melania has presented speeches uncomfortably similar to Michelle’s in the past, the program was immediately criticized. During the first month, the campaign was also reported to be off to a slow start as the National Safety Council and other Be Best related organizations had not heard of any future plans, events or even collaborations. With a rocky start, the program continued to confuse the public as it’s three pillars; well-being, online safety and opioid abuse, felt and continue to feel disconnected.
No doubt, all of these are crucial issues in our modern day societies, but how much does the Be Best campaign actually benefit communities vulnerable to them? Not to mention, one may immediately highlight the extreme irony of the three programs as Melania is married to someone who abuses online media and perpetuates negative targeting. Well, in Being Melania, Melania does comment on the difference between her and her husband’s perspectives.
Specifically, after an interviewer brought up Donald Trump’s twitter accounts, Melania says “I don’t agree always what he posts but his action is his action and I tell him that. I know I will be hit with criticism to talking about cyber-bullying but it will not stop me to do what is right.” Soon after when questioned why she found online safety to be such a vital issue to conquer she said “I could say I am the most bullied person in the world.” Though claiming Be Best is for the children, some have stated in the same Being Melania series that she might just be tackling issues that would help benefit her own life and that her self interest is the primary reason for certain Be Best choices / advocacies.
This notion is especially evident in moments such as 1) when Donald Trump mocked young, climate change activist Greta Thunberg 2) the “zero-tolerance” policy enacted by Trump’s administration where ICE separated children from their parents at immigrant detention centers or 3) when Melania wore a jacket with “I really don’t care, do you?” across the back when boarding a plane after visiting an epicenter of separated immigrant families. The list of obvious hypocrisy could go on in relation to the Be Best campaign.
As well, bringing us to the present day, two years later after the campaign was revealed, it is said to still have unclear policy or legislative goals and has not created or added onto any programming within the White House that did not already exist.
Beyond spotlighting these issues, delivering some speeches and one trip to Africa (that also did not go without criticism), it seems there is not much growth or change done by Melania or any of Be Best’s three pillars.
Melania as we know, never was prepared to be in politics.
After growing up in Yugoslavia, (now Slovenia) Melania at age sixteen pursued a modeling career eventually leading her to New York City. With that being said, and the 2020 election approaching, let us consider not only who our President will be but who our First Lady will be. Let us consider what each of them contribute to our, our children and loved ones’ livelihood and well-being.
As a final note, let us highlight one last quote from ABC News’ Being Melania series. When the interviewer inquired about the most difficult part of being the first lady, Melania answered with “it’s sad to see that organizations and foundations that I want to partner with, we choose not to because of the administration and I feel they [are] choosing the politics over helping others.” When further questioned for examples regarding that statement, Melania chose not to disclose anything specific.