While we were all focused on the dramatic confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, First Lady Melania Trump packed up and headed off on a goodwill tour of Africa. Her schedule includes visits to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt, traveling in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development. This trip is notable as it is her first solo overseas trip as First Lady.
Melania previewed her trip during a spouses reception at the United Nations General Assembly. She wants to learn about the issues facing children, which comes as no surprise and also about the history and culture of the continent.
“There are many programs across the country that are doing great things for children, and I believe we can replicate many of these programs overseas,” said Trump in her remarks on Wednesday. “This is why I am pleased to be working closely with USAID as I prepare for my first major International trip to Africa. By working with developing countries around the world to help them with their journey to self-reliance, USAID’s work embodies much of what ‘Be Best’ stands for.”
The First Lady’s love of children has produced her signature focus – the Be Best program she has created for school children across the country. Supporting the welfare of children is clearly her passion. In Ghana, her first stop, she will promote USAID’s healthcare programs. In Malawi and Kenya, her focus will be on USAID’s efforts in education and skill development, conservation and disease prevention. And in Egypt, the focus will be on tourism. Trump’s spokeswoman said that a trip to Africa has been in the works since February, as she expressed her desire to make it her first real solo venture.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of our First Lady. Though I never suspected it in the beginning, she has become perhaps the most substantial First Lady in my lifetime. Her quiet dignity and determination to set her own agenda and form her own opinions while coordinating with the policy goals of her husband’s administration have been impressive. She is a natural as an overseas goodwill ambassador, as it is not lost on other countries that Melania is America’s first immigrant First Lady.
We all know Melania is a woman of fashion and she uses it to her advantage diplomatically. I’ve written previously about her penchant for choosing clothes by designers picked as a nod to other world leaders’ wives as she performs hosting or other social duties in her role as First Lady. Remember the white hat that got so much attention during the first state visit from the French president and his wife earlier this year? Well, her time in Africa is proving no different. But, this time the white hat being discussed is a pith helmet accessorizing her safari attire. No, really.
Picture it. Nairobi, Kenya. Melania bottle feeds baby elephants and enjoys watching them play on mounds of red clay. She’s dressed in practical khaki pants, riding boots, and a basic white shirt. So far, so good, right?
A member of the @SecretService jumps in to brace @flotus after a elephant bumped into her while visiting the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage at the Nairobi National Park in Kenya. #FLOTUSInAfrica pic.twitter.com/x6rcvdIM4H
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) October 5, 2018
After the fun with the elephants, she moves on to a guided safari tour in Nairobi National Park. And then it happened. The press caught sight of an addition – a “pristine” white pith helmet. Oh no! Suddenly Melania was Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. You can’t make this stuff up. And this leads to the charges of colonialism in her choice of clothing.
However, with the hat, Trump’s outfit might have tipped the scales, moving from a practical accessory dangerously close to costume territory evocative of colonialists.
The Guardian went so far as to call the hat a symbol of status and oppression.
But it was the headgear that attracted most attention. Pith helmets – so-called because they are made of the material sholapith – were worn by European explorers and imperial administrators in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East in the 19th century before being adopted by military officers, rapidly becoming a symbol of status – and oppression.
This is snarky criticism for the sake of criticism. I’ll remind you that Melania Trump is an immigrant from Slovenia, a country with its own history of occupation and annexation. I am quite secure in giving my opinion that imperialist motivation isn’t a worry anyone should have about Mrs. Trump. There are no nefarious signals being sent here.
It’s a freakin’ pith helmet. They are available online for purchase and to the regular Kenyan people, it was no big deal that Melania wore one, though it wasn’t really necessary as she was in a covered vehicle.
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) October 5, 2018
The same New York Times journalist chronicling the trip on Twitter also said that there was no indication that actual Kenyans were offended. Seems it was just the triggered liberal journalists suffering from the throes of white guilt.
By now she’s traveled to the other countries on her itinerary. She’s done interviews with the traveling press, including offering a statement on the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh and on her husband’s tweeting.
Melania Trump on the president’s tweeting habits, “I don’t always agree what he tweets and I tell him that,” she said. When asked if she ever took his phone away, Mrs. Trump quickly replied, “Yes!” https://t.co/HyaSBjc8sf
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) October 6, 2018
Sounds like a normal spouse to me. She’s not, of course, because she is married to a Republican president. She has been ignored by all the big fashion magazines in the country and even women’s magazines. Remember the coverage Michelle Obama received during her eight years in the White House. Let’s be honest, she was a hot mess for about the first two years of her time in Washington, D.C. Melania Trump has been impeccably dressed and mannered from the start. You’d never know it, though, as the press only cares about hats and gossipy stories about whether or not the First Lady is really happy. It’s too much. Leave her alone. She is exceeding expectations. And she will not embarrass us at home or overseas.
I’ll leave you with some tweets that include some great photos of her travels. You’ll note she is relaxed and the people are happy to be in her company.
Day two in #Ghana was so impactful. My visit to Cape Coast castle was a solemn reminder of a time in our history that should never be forgotten. Thank you to Chief Osabarima Kwesi Atta & the chieftains for the warm welcome & cultural ceremony. #FLOTUSinAfrica2018 pic.twitter.com/pdf9yrmQL8
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) October 3, 2018
Thank you Malawi! 🇺🇸 🇲🇼 pic.twitter.com/rE03LMNzOZ
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) October 5, 2018