We may be witnessing the unfolding story of one of America’s greatest first ladies, Melania Trump. And on this mother’s day, an example of a dedicated mother who puts her child ahead of other justifiably, demanding, distractions.
Melanie has been first lady for almost two years and she continues to quietly and gracefully move through her public duties as wife of the president. While political storms rage all around her, she keeps her head held high, with poise, with beauty and humble grace.
Her dignified performance is made all the more powerful when contrasted by a shrill and hysterical, corporate media, still angry that their chosen candidate lost the 2016 presidential election. Every negative thing her husband says and does is amplified while his remarkable economic and foreign policy record is ignored.
When Melanie Trump took up the issue of internet bullying of children, the media turned their ferocity on her, claiming that her husband was the biggest internet bully of all, how dare she speak on this issue?
The First Lady responded with exquisite grace. In March, 2018 she slipped into a White House roundtable meeting with technology executives, dropping the comment, “I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic but that will not stop me from doing what I know is right.”
Historians point out that she is the second first lady to be born outside the United States. But it is where she was born and raised that may hold the secret to her success.
Melanie comes from Slovenia. A tiny country that was part of Yugoslavia during much of its time in the Soviet bloc. It was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Slovenia, or even have a Christmas tree, but her parents had her secretly baptized as a Christian.
In the middle of the Cold War Slovenia provided the whole Soviet bloc with refrigerators and other manufactured products. The people were very positive, proud of themselves, creative. But they knew how to keep their heads down. How to become invisible. They knew that they couldn’t even challenge any of their small neighbors, let alone the centralized government in Belgrade, which was walking a tightrope between the mighty Soviets and the Chinese.
And yet Slovenia thrived by minding its own business and letting insults and provocations pass over their heads.
I have been to this remarkable country many times and I believe that Slovenia, and Melanie’s family may be part of her secret to success.
It is very Slovenian for her to be discreet and to avoid provocation. In that respect, she is almost a perfect match for Donald Trump who is upsetting traditions and taking on entrenched powers.
Some say that the role of first lady should be changing because the role of women is changing. And thus a first lady who only deals with ceremonial and domestic chores is diminished when compared to a career woman.
But this is complicated. A president’s wife is not elected.
The German people voted Angela Merkel as their leader. Should her husband serve as a co-leader? Is he diminished as a man if he does not assert himself in her government?
When Bill Clinton said, “You get two for the price of one,” meaning that Hillary was going to help him run the country, it was not well received. Hillary had to establish her own separate identity and political success, separate from him.
The modern role of first lady is complicated by the fact that it has grown in responsibility. Unlike the UK or France, there is no ceremonial head of state in the United States. Thus all such duties fall on the shoulders of the president. This is where first ladies play a critical role.
Add to that, a first lady may sometimes be a mother. It was a role that Jackie Kennedy made preeminent and that Melanie Trump is reviving.
In history, Slovenians won their revenge by quietly succeeding, not through violent domination of their opponents. As the old T-shirt slogan proclaims,”Success is the best revenge.”
This seems to be the First Lady’s style. She maintains a dignity that makes her all the more mysterious when her critics rage. Sometimes she wins just by being still. And in some cases she is succeeding through her fashion sense, which is stunning, no easy thing.
So today, the media is in a frenzy about borrowed words from an old FTC document, as if it were sacred script that cannot be re-used. Tomorrow it will be something else.
Meanwhile, Melanie, our beautiful, graceful first lady, whose life will one day cover entire bookshelves in libraries, can knock around the private quarters of the White House today, with a T-Shirt emblazoned with her wonderful new slogan for America’s youth, words that represent New York City meets Ljubljana.