When Donald Trump chose to attack (where else but on Twitter), basketball superstar LeBron James for calling out his divisive agenda earlier this week, he likely knew that it would provoke reactions from a wide range of people. But the best-laid plans of a president appear to have been waylaid and it’s an inside job. Almost immediately after Trump’s tweet, First Lady Melania Trump’s office expressed support for James’ philanthropy, and expressed a desire to visit the school he has adopted. At least for the last couple of days, it’s Melania’s contrary view from the White House that has ridden the news cycle into the sunset.
Melania’s endorsement of James fits a pattern. Last year, she swatted away the President’s hand when he reached for her awkwardly at Tel Aviv airport during an official visit. Her decision to wear a pant-suit at the 2016 State of the Union address was interpreted by many as an ode to Hillary Clinton. Another fashion choice that seemed to mock the president, by holding up a mirror, was her jacket that said — in large bold letters for all the cameras to see — “I don’t care, do you?” — at a time when her husband was under fire for allowing immigrant children to be separated from their parents and detained.
The pattern would seem to indicate that the first lady, an immigrant and a woman, is standing up subtly for groups and minorities targeted by the ill-disguised bigotry of her husband. Unlike the president, Melania is not constantly vocal, and the odd statement provides fodder for the liberal optimist clinging to hope during a presidency that seems to stand against the values she holds dear. But there is a cynical explanation as well: Could Melania be the mukhauta, her apparent disagreement a clever ruse to prevent alienation of the undecided voter who may find Trump’s appeal to a right-wing base unpalatable? Either way, the first lady may be slowly staking claim to the one thing that her reality-TV star husband craves — the limelight.