Melania Trump Makes Her Debut As Anti-Bullying Crusader & Oh Boy, It Was Rough

by Seth Millstein

On Monday, First Lady Melania Trump stopped by Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, Michigan, as part of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. She spoke to the children about the importance of inclusion, kindness, and reaching out to peers who are isolated, and yet Melania's debut as an anti-bullying campaigner got off to an incredibly awkward start, largely because of how the White House presented it and, equally, Donald Trump's own history of bullying behavior.

For one, the White House said in a statement that the First Lady visited the middle school "to kick off the 'Week of Inclusion,' part of National Bullying Prevention Month." Melania's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham later told The Washington Post that "the week of inclusion is a concept by one of the nation's leading bullying organizations."

It's true that October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and yet the so-called "Week of Inclusion" doesn't appear to exist. National Bullying Prevention Month was launched by PACER, a disabled children's advocacy group, and PACER told The Washington Post that there's no such thing as the "week of inclusion."

"PACER's National Bullying Prevention Month doesn't have themed weeks," Erin Bryan, a spokeswoman for PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, told the Post. "Our signature event is Unity Day, which is this Wednesday, Oct. 25." (Bustle has reached out to PACER for comment on this.) There is something called "Inclusion Week" at Oak Crest Academy, which takes place the week of Oct. 23, but that school is in another state entirely — Virginia — and it's not where Melania visited. Moreover, "Inclusion Week" is neither a PACER-sponsored initiative nor a nationwide event; rather, it's an Oak Crest Academy exclusive.

Melania said before the election that she'd champion anti-bullying initiatives if she became First Lady, and she reiterated that on Monday. In a press release, she emphasized that it was part of her "ongoing commitment to the overall well-being of children." But despite some headlines to the contrary, Melania's middle school visit on Monday doesn't appear to be part of any larger campaign on her part. Although it's one of her first public appearances devoted exclusively to bullying (she also spoke in September about cyberbullying at a United Nations luncheon), she hasn't announced any future events related to anti-bullying, formed any working groups to tackle the issue, or established any benchmarks for progress.

In other words, this isn't like former First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, which involved a task force on childhood obesity, a social media campaign, concrete policy proposals, collaboration with other government agencies and localities, signature-gathering campaigns, and corporate sponsorships.

In fairness to Melania, Obama didn't launch "Let's Move!" until the second year of her husband's presidency, so there is still time for the anti-bullying initiative to take a more formal shape.

But there's still the elephant in the room: Despite the anti-bullying message Melania championed on Monday, her husband is just about the textbook definition of a bully — and, more to the point, she's defended his bullying in the past.

It would take too long to cite all of the examples of this, but to cite just one, take Sen. Rand Paul, who also sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

"Rand Paul shouldn't even be on this stage," Donald said at the beginning of a Republican primary debate in 2015. "He's number 11, he's got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here — there's far too many people here, anyway." Later in the same debate, Donald insinuated that Paul was ugly: "I never attacked him on his looks, and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there."

On Twitter, Donald has likened to Paul as "a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain."

What's crucial to note is that when Donald said these things, Paul was not a threat to him politically; in fact, Donald was vastly outperforming the Kentucky senator in the polls when he singled him out for ridicule. Merriam-Webster defines a bully as someone who is "habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable."

At an April 2016 rally, Melania defended her husband's personal insults, explaining that when her husband is attacked, he will "punch back 10 times harder." Her spokesperson echoed that sentiment in June, after Donald claimed that he'd refused to invite MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski to a party because she supposedly was "bleeding badly from a face-lift."

Of course, Melania is not responsible for what her husband says. But she's also never denounced his chronic bullying; instead, she's defended it. Many people have argued that this makes it hard, if not impossible, to take her role as an anti-bullying champion seriously.

On CNN, Grisham responded to this tension by noting that the First Lady "is independent and acts independently from her husband" — this is apparently a tacit admission that the president is, indeed, a bully.

It's great to see powerful people champion worthy causes. But the First Lady isn't a good messenger to speak up about anti-bullying efforts — and frankly, neither is anybody who's chosen to join the Trump White House.

Editor's Note: This op-ed does not reflect the views of BDG Media and is part of a larger, feminist discourse on today's political climate.