While the president and his ever-changing cast of “advisers” flout the truth and basic norms of behavior on a daily basis, the first lady conducts herself with dignity and seriousness of purpose.
As she announced her “Be Best” initiative to help American’s children, it was hard not to think how differently those words sound when she utters them and when her husband does. And I’m not talking about her accent.
If Trump were bellowing the slogan he would mean win at all costs, and trash anyone who disagrees with you. When his wife says it she is urging children to strive to be their best, most compassionate, wisest selves. (Of course “Be Best” attracted immediate online ridicule as cyber bullies, who refuse to allow for the possibility that something decent can emerge from this White House, slammed it for being ungrammatical.)
Think of what a leap it has been for Melania Trump to assume her very public role. It was hard enough for Michelle Obama, who had never been the first lady of a state or the wife of the vice president as so many of her predecessors had. She took some time to figure out what causes she wanted to highlight.
But at least Mrs. Obama had the advantage of a husband who had served in the Senate and state legislature so she knew the pitfalls that can trip up a politician’s wife. Melania Trump is the first first lady whose husband neither served in political office nor was a general. Her only experience in the public eye was as a photographer’s model to be admired for her beauty, now she is expected to be a role model admired for her good works.
Understanding that, Mrs. Trump studied before she spoke. She spent the last year listening and learning before she officially launched her campaign to tackle issues affecting children. She says she wants to emphasize what she calls “well-being,” cyberbullying and opioid addiction. Standing in the Rose Garden the first lady used the device often employed by politicians of telling the stories of individuals and institutions she has met in her travels and holding them up as models of the kinds of people and programs she would like her initiative to emulate.
These folks aren’t just props for the first lady, brought in for the occasion, if the experience of an institution I know well serves as an example. I have for many years served on the board of the Children’s Inn at NIH, a home for the families of the very sick children who are receiving experimental treatments at the National Institutes of Health.
On Valentine’s Day, Melania Trump visited the Inn and delighted the children as she made cards and decorations with them. But she didn’t use the visit as a photo-op and then move on; she has continued to stay in touch, inviting the families to the White House Easter Egg Roll and some of them to the Rose Garden for her unveiling of “Be Best.”
Think what that has meant to those families! And what her support can mean for the Inn.
It’s easy to joke that Mrs. Trump should start her crusade at home, trying to get the denizens of the White House, especially her husband, to behave. But she has chosen to ignore the chaos surrounding her so she can take up a worthy cause with dignity and grace.
Definitely the class act in the White House.