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First Lady Melania Trump to address bullying in surprise trip to Michigan

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

DETROIT — First lady Melania Trump is making good on a promise she made earlier this year to combat childhood bullying, taking a surprise trip Monday to a middle school in a Detroit suburb.

Trump is bringing awareness to a problem that many children are confronted with on a daily basis. She will give brief remarks to students and then join them for lunch as they participate in a “No One Eats Alone Day” event. The concept, which encourages kids not to leave anyone out at lunchtime, was created by Beyond Differences, a national organization that works to combat detrimental school culture and prevent bullying.

“In doing research for her platform, the first lady learned of #NoOneEatsAlone,” Trump’s communications director Stephanie Grisham told CNN. “She wants to talk to kids about the importance of being inclusive and the negative effects of social isolation. This kind of activity also fosters integrity and leadership in young kids.”

Last month during a United Nations speech in New York City, Trump said she intended to use her position as first lady of the United States to help with issues facing children. She included bullying in her list of concerns.

“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,” the first lady had said. “Whether it is drug addiction, bullying, poverty, disease, trafficking, illiteracy or hunger, it is the children who are hit first and hardest in any country. And as we all know, the future of every nation rests with the promise of their young people.”

Hypocritical?

As Trump embarks on her anti-bullying crusade, she will likely face critics, those who point to her husband, President Donald Trump, as someone who engages in regular name-calling and other tactics that could be perceived as bullying.

This weekend, for example, the President continued to tweet his derogatory nickname for Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, calling her “Wacky.” Earlier this month, he mocked Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s height, dubbing him “Liddle Bob Corker.”

So does the first lady feel the need to reconcile her platform on bullying with the behavior of the man she married? Absolutely not, according to Grisham.

“Mrs. Trump is independent and acts independently from her husband. She does what she feels is right, and knows that she has a real opportunity through her role as first lady to have a positive impact on the lives of children. Her only focus is to effect change within our next generation,” she told CNN.

That Melania Trump has an independent streak when it comes to the President shouldn’t be a surprise — after all, it was her hand-swat seen around the world that made headlines when the couple landed in Israel in May. After blocking her out of a red carpet photo op on the tarmac in Tel Aviv, the President reached for his wife’s hand, which she quickly but succinctly batted away.

Additionally, the first lady has tweeted messaging independent of that of her husband, often being first to offer words of support or condolence in the face of national and international tragedies. While the President caused controversy about government support of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, tangling with the mayor of San Juan, Melania Trump taped a public service announcement, pleading with Americans to remember to help storm victims.

It’s a yin-and-yang communication strategy. But Grisham said despite the somewhat incongruous nature of their approaches, the President is entirely in his wife’s corner.

“The President is supportive of all that Mrs. Trump does,” she said.

Foreshadowing anti-bullying campaign

The first lady perhaps foreshadowed her interest in an anti-bullying platform back in August, when she tweeted her gratitude to Chelsea Clinton for coming to the defense of Trump’s 11-year-old son, Barron.

After the youngest child of the President became the focus of a news story, Clinton tweeted, “It’s high time the media & everyone leave Barron Trump alone & let him have the private childhood he deserves.”

Melania Trump tweeted back, “Thank you @ChelseaClinton – so important to support all of our children in being themselves! #StopChildhoodBullying”

“As a mother herself, she recognizes the many issues and challenges facing children as they grow up,” Grisham told CNN. “When it comes to children, emotional intelligence is certainly always going to be on her radar. Teaching children the values of empathy and communication, which are at the core of kindness, integrity and leadership, will lead to a future generation of happy, healthy and morally responsible adults.”

Monday marks Trump’s fourth solo travel as first lady. She was in New York City in September to give her luncheon speech at the US Mission to the United Nations, focusing on her intent to use her platform as first lady to help children. Later that month, she attended the opening ceremonies of the Invictus Games for wounded warriors, in Toronto, Canada. On October 10, Trump traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, to visit an opioid recovery center that specializes in caring for infants affected by addiction.

Her trip to Michigan on Monday marks her first public outing focused on the topic of childhood bullying.