It may be that the most effective way to strike a blow against a Twitter bully is to be a deft troll. In choosing and unveiling the child-welfare platform she plans to champion, first lady Melania Trump proved she has a well-developed sense of irony.
“I do believe children should be both seen and heard,” she said on Monday in the White House’s Rose Garden. “And it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they’re using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must use their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”
There is no reason to doubt either her sincerity or her commitment to fighting a very real problem for young people. But the first lady managed to also draw everyone’s attention to the fact that the worst imaginable role model for those values happened to be the man sitting right there in the front row. Every time she brings up the subject, she knows the commentary will certainly include references to her husband’s abusive comments on social media and in his tirades against his adversaries.
“I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic,” Melania Trump had acknowledged in March during a White House meeting with tech executives and internet-safety advocates.
But then again, who better to do it? Who else can shame Donald Trump? Whom else can he not afford to attack or belittle, at a time when the country is transfixed and disgusted by reports of his extramarital dalliances with a porn star and a Playboy centerfold?
When he has reached for her hand at photo opportunities, she has sometimes replied with a swat, knowing the cameras will bear evidence to her humiliation and her anger. And now she has done it by putting a spotlight on a cause guaranteed to remind people of his character flaws.
First lady is a role that comes with no job description; each one has had to figure it out for herself. Melania Trump, while a traditional presidential spouse in most respects, has refused to perform the most fundamental exercise that has been expected of all of them: to stand by her husband’s side, beaming with admiration, as a testament to a home life that is blissful and free of drama.
“Political marriages tend to be more complicated than most, but it’s striking that the Trumps make so little effort to project a more united front,” The Post noted on its front page Monday, the same day Melania Trump unveiled her new initiative.
That rejection of pretense could explain why her approval rating in a new CNN poll has jumped to 57 percent, up 10 percentage points since January, and close to 20 points higher than the president’s numbers have been running. She is learning her power — and so is her husband.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics. She joined The Post in 2010 from Time magazine and has also worked at the Los Angeles Times.