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Melania continues work against cyberbullying

Despite President Trump's series of insults on Twitter against former CIA Director John Brennan and others, first lady Melania Trump continues her platform to combat online bullying. CNN's Kate Bennett reports.

Posted: Aug 21, 2018 1:10 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2018 1:27 PM

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted this:

"Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel, only with my approval, for purposes of transparency. Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone looking for trouble. They are enjoying ruining people's lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side - the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more! Mueller's Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!"

Hours later, first lady Melania Trump was in the Washington, DC, suburbs to promote her Be Best campaign designed to shine a light on and stamp out the massive problem of cyberbullying. "In today's global society, social media is an inevitable part of our children's daily lives," Melania Trump said at the event. "It can be used in many positive ways, but can also be destructive and harmful when used incorrectly. This is why Be Best chooses to focus on the importance of teaching our next generation how to conduct themselves safely and in a positive manner in an online setting."

So, yeah. If your head is spinning as you try to reconcile the first lady's words on Monday with the President's tweets on Monday, nothing is wrong with you. In fact, if the incongruity between how the two Trumps spent their mornings doesn't knock you for a loop, you just aren't paying attention.

From the moment Melania Trump chose bullying as one of the issues she wanted to focus on as first lady (well-being and opioid abuse are the other two tent poles under the broader "Be Best" slogan) it's seemed an odd choice.

After all, President Trump has made a career -- in and out of politics -- by attacking people, online and in real life. He rose to reality TV fame in the 1990s for his tough-guy character in the boardroom of "The Apprentice." During his 2016 campaign, Trump turned bullying into a political strategy -- calling his opponents names, insulting their looks and even mocking a reporter with a disability. Trump transformed the sort of bullying familiar to anyone who has ever been in 8th grade into a stand-in for anti-political correctness -- evidence that he wasn't like all the other politicians because he was saying things they would never consider saying. (The question too few people asked -- or cared about -- was whether *not* saying those things was simply common decency rather than some sort of speak-truth-to-power moment.)

When covering the unveiling of Be Best back in May, CNN's Kate Bennett wrote this about of the inclusion of cyberbullying in Melania's platform:

The last of these issues has been a lightning rod of controversy for Trump, whose husband is perhaps one of the most public, and prolific, offenders of name-calling on Twitter.

Sitting in the front row, feet from his wife at the podium, the President listened as the first lady cautioned against using the very behavior Trump displays, sometimes on a daily basis.

"As we all know, social media can both positively and negatively affect our children. But too often, it is used in negative ways," said Trump. "When children learn positive online behaviors early on, social media can be used in productive ways and can affect positive change."

Given how at-odds Donald Trump's tweets (and words) are from Melania Trump's stated goals as first lady -- it would be like a hot dog salesman's wife starting a national campaign aimed at highlighting all the gross stuff they put in hot dogs -- I've long wondered whether her focus on cyberbullying is really just a very public trolling of her husband -- like, she knows exactly what she's doing, how bad a light it puts him in and is totally good with that.

(For those who doubt Melania Trump would do something like that, I give you the "I really don't care. Do U" jacket.)

I asked that very question on Twitter earlier on Monday. Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's communications director, responded to my tweet with this: "It's a sincere campaign meant to help children w the many issues they face today."

I get that. As the victim of a bully in 9th and 10th grade that destroyed my confidence and sense of self -- and from which it took me years to fully recover -- I am in favor of shining a light on the dangers of bullying. Particularly now, when so much of it happens via text, Snapchat and other electronic means, where parents have even less ability to see what is actually happening in their kids' lives.

The problem with accepting at face value Grisham's explanation on Melania's Be Best campaign is that it forces you to accept that either a) the first lady is totally unaware of her husband's past -- and current -- bullying or b) she is aware of it but doesn't believe that what he says and tweets has any impact on the efficacy of her own efforts.

Option "a" seems to me to be implausible -- unless Melania doesn't ever read her husband's tweets or watch the news or read anything written about his White House. Which means -- short of the she's-totally-trolling-him-on-purpose explanation -- leaves us with option "b:" That Melania is well aware of her husband's bullying tendencies but is choosing to ignore their impact on her own efforts to curb bullying.

That's next-level compartmentalizing. And it simply won't work. Any thinking person quickly arrives at some version of this question in regard to Melania Trump's focus on ending cyberbullying: If she cares so deeply about it, why can't she ask her husband to stop doing it? Or at least try to slow his roll?

If there's a good answer for that question, we've not heard it either from the first lady or her staff. And that silence badly undercuts the very good work on a very important subject that she is trying to do. Which is really unfortunate.

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