But the reception she received suggests that no one in the Trump family will transcend the line that sharply divides the United States — especially when many Americans see her husband as the line itself.
The first lady was in Baltimore on Tuesday to speak at the B’More Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness to encourage students to refrain from using drugs. She walked onstage to a loud, distinct mix of cheers and boos. News reports and video show that booing and hissing continued throughout much of her five-minute speech and that the boos picked up again when she left the stage.
Some were offended by the reaction. Fox News host Tomi Lahren criticized the students’ behavior Wednesday.
Where do they learn that disrespect? Where do they learn that it is OK to boo the first lady of the United States? They learn that because they don’t believe that they have to respect Melania or anyone with the last name of Trump, because the media and congressional leaders and Democrats have told them that they don’t have to, that it’s their moral right to do those things.
One student at the event suggested that his reaction wasn’t because of indoctrination from the president’s political opponents but was a response to the first lady’s own actions in addition to those of her husband. The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan spoke to a student who said he responded harshly to Trump because of her husband’s history of racist comments and jabs at Baltimore. Yuan wrote:
Robert Johnson III, an eighth-grader at Mount Royal School, pointed out that Melania Trump had been accused of plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s convention speech and said he found that bothersome. “I started to dislike her,” he said, adding that her husband’s comments about Baltimore were irritating, too. “How you going to be a president, with Baltimore being in the United States, and you talk trash about a place that’s in the United States? He’s a coward, and he don’t really care about us.”
This summer, the president caused an uproar when he described Baltimore as “very dangerous,” a “filthy place,” a “corrupt mess,” “disgusting,” “the Worst in the USA” and a place where “no human being would want to live.”
The president was criticized for his comments. We don’t have any record of Melania Trump’s reaction to that.
Trump has publicly supported her husband after several controversial statements and actions, and has rarely expressed any difference of opinion with him regarding the issues that attract the most criticism. She has raised eyebrows with pushback from her office — but those were instances when she was usually vouching for her own independence, not defending the president’s policies.
In 2011, she echoed her husband in spreading the “birther” rumors against President Barack Obama. One of the biggest controversies involving her time as first lady was when she wore a jacket with the words “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” on her way to visit migrant youths detained in camps along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.
The first lady has gotten less criticism than her husband and stepchildren working in the administration or campaign — and notably has the highest approval ratings of a Trump. In a March 2019 YouGov survey, about half — 51 percent — of Americans had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of her. The percentage of Americans who had favorable views of the president, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka, and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner were all below 45 percent.
The first lady released a statement after returning to the White House defending the students’ rights to express their opinions, but she also defended her efforts to speak out against the harms of opioids.
“We live in a democracy and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the fact is we have a serious crisis in our country and I remain committed to educating children on the dangers and deadly consequences of drug abuse,” she said.
Her interest in educating youths about harmful behaviors follows a long tradition of first ladies taking up causes aimed at improving the lives of children and their families. But responses to her are likely to mirror those of these students as long as the Trump administration is viewed as being headed by a family that cares about only some Americans.