First Lady Melania Trump’s anti-bullying initiative, Be Best, has found a victim to elevate. Unsurprisingly, he is someone named Trump.
Joshua Trump is not related to the president. He is a sixth-grader from Delaware who, according to a White House press release, likes science, art, history, animals and his Uncle Cody, a member of the U.S. Air Force. Since Donald Trump’s ascent to the top of American politics, he has reportedly endured vicious teasing because of his last name.
The abuse became so bad that his parents home-schooled him for a year. Later, they enrolled him in middle school in the hope that the bullying would stop. It did not.
Now Joshua will attend Tuesday night’s State of the Union address as Melania Trump’s guest and the face, at least for one night, of the Be Best campaign.
When the First Lady launched the Be Best campaign against bullying in May of 2018, the initiative was greeted with howls of laughter. President Trump has built his political career on name-calling his enemies on social media, bullying anyone from minorities (through regressive social policies and harsh crackdowns on undocumented immigrants) to congressional leaders and the heads of other nations who refused to bow to his every demand. His presidency has been a sort of governing by abusiveness, in which favored in-groups (wealthy white people) get reassured of their dominant place in society’s hierarchy. Meanwhile, disfavored minorities get their healthcare yanked away, their taxes raised, their loved ones pulled off the street and deported with no warning by ICE agents, and numerous other daily humiliations and fears.
How could Melania Trump credibly advocate against bullying behavior by everyday Americans when her husband’s widespread and constant bullying had landed her the platform to do so in the first place?
The answer has been that she barely seems to have tried. While past FLOTUS initiatives such as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program to focus on the nutrition and health of children, Be Best has barely made a ripple in the public consciousness. Her recent trip to Africa, which involved visits with schoolchildren in an attempt to tie it to her signature campaign, received more notice for her decision to dress like the villain in an Indiana Jones movie than anything else.
Now, when she has a huge public occasion to finally show that she has reached out of the privileged bubble she has lived in since her marriage to Donald Trump, when she has an opportunity to showcase the Be Best campaign as something more than just the equivalent of the fundraisers that usually occupy much of the attention of wealthy wives from New York’s Upper East Side, she has chosen instead to highlight the plight of someone bullied solely because his last name is Trump.
This is not to excuse the bullying Joshua Trump has endured. Children can be terribly cruel, and such abuse can be exceptionally traumatic at a young age. It is always good to try and help the self-esteem of a bullied child. Sometimes, just having an adult recognize the problem can be enormously rewarding.
But Melania’s choice reflects the self-involvement, grievance and victimhood at the core of the Trump psyche. Her husband has reflected it back to his fans with his rhetoric of an America overrun by immigrants and outsiders. He has shown it in countless tweets and rants about the Russia investigation that he claims is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” and in his complaints that the media never covers him fairly.
Instead of setting herself apart, as she has half-heartedly tried to do in the past, Melania Trump is now embracing the image of the Trumps as victims. Never mind that their wealth and power insulates them from the problems ordinary Americans, particularly minorities, face every day. See this, she is telling us. People named Trump are the most victimized, abused and bullied of us all.
If the First Lady cared to, a quick Google search would turn up literally hundreds of stories of minority children whose lives have been forever altered by bullies who have taken their cues from the president. It began even before his election in November of 2016 but intensified afterward. Stories of Hispanic children being tormented with chants of “Build the wall,” white kids marching through the halls of their school chanting “White power,” and racist graffiti appearing in schools and community centers quickly proliferated.
That she chooses to ignore all of these stories in favor of highlighting Joshua Trump’s is a signal that she and her husband have no intention of ever governing for all Americans. They are always more concerned with the name Trump than with the public good, now and for however long we are saddled with their presence in the White House.