EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece originally appeared at Acculturated, and it is reprinted here with permission.
Among the many adjectives one might use to describe a former supermodel who posed nude for photographers and married a billionaire Manhattan tabloid star, “humble” ranks pretty far down the list. Yet the defining characteristic of Melania Trump’s opening months as first lady has been her humility. In that sense, Mrs. Trump is the first lady America needs.
We need a first lady who will, in a subtle, understated way, promote greater social cohesion at a moment when America is bitterly polarized and our elites seem increasingly disconnected from the lives of ordinary people. We need someone who will lead by example rather than by command. Someone whose priorities and concerns are relatable to Americans — especially mothers — of all backgrounds. Someone who will eschew the temptations of Washington and focus on quiet displays of kindness, generosity, and sacrifice.
All of this came to mind while reading an Associated Press report, “Now in Washington, Melania Trump still no social butterfly.” The article informs us that Mrs. Trump’s chief priority since moving to the nation’s capital in mid-June has been helping her eleven-year-old son, Barron, settle in, which has confirmed her reputation as a “homebody.” Yet Mrs. Trump has also found time to — among other things — host a private lunch for the first lady of Panama; visit with Representative Steve Scalise and others wounded in the June 14 shooting at a Republican baseball practice; and help organize a White House picnic for members of Congress.
Apparently that’s not “social” enough for the AP. The article continues:
Questions remain, though, about what kind and how social a first lady Mrs. Trump will be.
Will she dine out at the city’s trendiest restaurants? Pedal up a sweat at SoulCycle spinning classes? Try to go incognito on a Target shopping run?
“I don’t know anybody in New York who knows her or ever sees her socially and I suspect that will be the same here,” said Sally Quinn, an author and Washington hostess.
Leave aside whether you support President Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.” Does anyone really think that most Americans want their first lady to spend her nights jetting from $300 dinners at swanky D.C. eateries to exclusive social events organized by Washington “hostesses”? Is that really what the first lady’s position is all about?
Fairly or unfairly — I would say fairly — tens of millions of Americans view our capital city as an island of decadence, tone-deafness, and unearned elitism. The first lady can do very little to change those perceptions; but the least she can do is avoid making the problem worse.
That’s why, rather than cast Mrs. Trump as an anti-social weirdo for spurning the high-end Washington restaurant scene and the Sally Quinn cocktail-party circuit, we should celebrate the modesty and family-first attitude she has brought to her new role.
Lest we forget, Mrs. Trump’s son is the first young boy to live in the White House since the Kennedy administration. Raising a presidential son would be hard enough in normal times. Doing so amid the most vicious political polarization in modern history is even more difficult.
Consider what Barron and his mother have had to deal with since November. A few weeks after the election, Rosie O’Donnell tweeted a link to a video suggesting that Barron might be autistic. On Inauguration Day, a Saturday Night Live writer tweeted that “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.” During New York Fashion Week in February, a New York Times reporter described Mrs. Trump as a “hooker” in a private conversation that went public. More recently, the world’s least-funny “comedian” was photographed holding a fake, blood-spattered version of Donald Trump’s decapitated head, and New York’s Public Theater staged a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which the assassinated Caesar resembled President Trump in both appearance and behavior.
President Trump’s ego, temperament, and boorishness make it all the more important that the first lady project a sense of modesty, elegance, and grace.
Meanwhile, of course, Mrs. Trump has had to cringe through a series of embarrassing episodes stemming from her husband’s itchy Twitter finger. The latest episode — which involved a vulgar and indefensible tweet-storm directed at MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough — prompted critics to inquire, sarcastically, about the status of Mrs. Trump’s anti-cyberbullying initiative.
Her initiative has yet to get off the ground, and journalists are completely justified in noting that President Trump’s impulsive nastiness on Twitter has given his wife a credibility problem. It’s unclear how much control Mrs. Trump can exert over the president’s social-media habits, though Politico has reported that, during his nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe in May, “aides credited Melania Trump’s presence, as well as a busier schedule, for his nine-day break from off-message tweets.”
This brings us back to America’s need for a humble first lady. Whether or not Mrs. Trump succeeds in getting her husband to curtail his volatile Twitter rampages, she has a responsibility to set a more dignified example. Indeed, President Trump’s ego, temperament, and boorishness make it all the more important that the first lady project a sense of modesty, elegance, and grace.
Based on her performance thus far, she is up to the challenge.