NEW YORK — Melania Trump gave her most expansive remarks as first lady Wednesday, condemning bullying and calling on world leaders to take their responsibility for guiding the next generation seriously.
“By our own example we must teach children to be good stewards of the world they will inherit,” Trump said at a luncheon she hosted for the spouses of world leaders at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. “We must remember that they are watching and listening. . . . As adults we are not merely responsible. We are accountable.”
Trump’s mention of bullying was immediately complicated because of her husband’s bellicose approach to public life.
From his sneering nicknames for political opponents (“Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco”) to his claim that a news anchor was “bleeding badly from a facelift” to his recent promotion on Twitter of a spoof video purporting to show him toppling Hillary Clinton with a golf ball strike to the back, President Trump has drawn frequent criticism that he himself is something of a bully-in-chief.
The first lady’s speech made no mention of her husband as she urged the world to “ensure that our children’s future is bright.”
“No child should ever feel hungry, stalked, frightened, terrorized, bullied, isolated or afraid, with nowhere to turn,” Trump said. She added: “We must teach each child the values of empathy . . . kindness, mindfulness, integrity and leadership which can only be taught by example.”
Eyebrows were immediately raised across the social-media universe of political commentators. “Irony is dead,” tweeted Joy-Ann Reid, a liberal MSNBC host.
Trump has stood by her husband’s tweets in the past. And when he was under fire for past crude remarks he made about women, she explained it away as locker-room talk.
Asked how the first lady’s stance squared with the president’s actions, her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said that Trump “will not avoid doing what she knows is right, because others think it is a bad idea.”
“This is not about politics,” Grisham added. “This is about using her role as first lady to help as many children as she possibly can.”
Last year, late in her husband’s campaign, she first floated the idea of taking on the cause of cyberbullying. Wednesday was the first time since she entered the White House that she revisited the topic.
Her speech, which lasted seven minutes, was devoid of clear policy prescriptions or a push for any specific program, though she said she plans to follow up with social media leaders and educators on the topic.
It came amid a busy week for Trump, who until recently has seemed reluctant to fully embrace the public platform of her new role. On Thursday, she visited hurricane-devastated Florida and hosted a reception for the White House Historical Association. On Friday, she visited a youth center at Andrews Air Force Base, and on Saturday she will make her first solo trip abroad as first lady to Toronto for the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games.
The luncheon seemed to reflect her style. A small orchestra played, and the first ladies were seated at round tables decorated with floral tablecloths. After she spoke, Trump took a seat between Sophie Trudeau of Canada and Brigitte Macron or France, and the 100 or so attendees seemed to receive her warmly.
Trump was involved in crafting her remarks and designed the luncheon alongside New York event planner David Monn, Grisham said.
Her remarks had much in common with the general themes advanced by previous first ladies, who have often focused their advocacy on children.
“If we look at the present state of children in any society, we will see the future that our world can expect tomorrow,” Trump said. “Together, we must acknowledge that, all too often, it is the weakest, most innocent and vulnerable among us, our children, who ultimately suffer the most from the challenges that plague our societies.”
Later, she said: “It remains our generation’s moral imperative to take responsibility for what our children learn. We must turn our focus right now to the message and content they are exposed to on a daily basis, social media, the bullying.”
Throughout its history, the United Nations has been an important forum for first ladies to advance their ideas and policy agendas. Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the United Nations Human Rights Commission the year after she left the White House, cemented her legacy as a human rights activist through her work on the commission.
One of Hillary Clinton’s defining moments as first lady came when she addressed the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, declaring that “women’s rights are human rights.” In 2014, Michelle Obama delivered the keynote address at a United Nations event focusing on providing girls around the world with quality education.