As part of a series of columns on our Society, including our responsibilities (duties) to it, (see the link to the starting column).
I wanted to start with a discussion in more detail of a very small part of the current political environment – a general discussion on The First Lady. In this, I am actually talking in generalities and not of the specific/current First Lady Melania Trump, although I will obviously discuss some things relevant to her.
I do this in the hopes of making a very small contribution to the mellowing of our national mood in areas where we need to be mellow. Following our responsibilities to our Society, a la Cicero (see link), I think it is in all our best interests to try and act properly and fairly to individuals following what their behavior dictates they deserve. I would suggest that The First Lady should generally be immune to the crap we might throw at the actual politician she is married to (or he, if he is The First Gentleman).
Much is revealed about the state of our Society by how we treat The First Ladyof our country (or First Spouse, I will use the former as the more general name for this piece). Consider the odd position that person is thrust into when their spouse is given a huge amount of power and responsibility, and they inherit the stress, exposure (often un-wanted), and, at times, danger that accompanies their spouse’s position (e.g., Mrs. Kennedy could easily have been shot along with her husband on that awful day).
So, despite the politics of the spouse and its agreement (or not) with yours, the default should be to provide The First Lady with great respect and, in almost all cases, they should be off limits to personal attacks.
I remember that as being the way it was when I was young, although that might be the naiveté of my youth speaking. However, I can remember my own thoughts about The First Ladies that we have had throughout my life. This was obviously affected by the people around me and what seemed fair to me. In short, I have always followed the default off-limits approach, although that position did get a bit more complex as I got older and, hopefully, wiser.
The first one I remember, really, was Mrs. Kennedy and I always considered her very elegant. But that was all of an opinion I ever had or heard from anyone I knew.Her successor, Mrs. Johnson, was more down to Earth and folksy, in a way, but seemed hunky dory to me as well. I don’t have any negative feelings about either one. This despite a lot of people disliking both of their husbands.
There were lots of rumblings, and many snarky statements about both of those First Ladies, but most of the people I knew considered that more an indication of the failing of the snarker, and not anything bad about the snarkee.
Things got really complex from the late 60’s through the 70’s, as American politics got more and more divisive, especially given the war in Viet Nam and the rebound that occurred after it was over. However, despite a progressive worsening of my opinion on Mr. Nixon, as more and more problems came to light, I never thought badly about Mrs. Nixon. I did worry about her a lot as she seemed to be under a lot of strain, which was understandable.
Mrs. Ford also had her problems and had to deal with them in public. I never thought that was fair but wished her well. Mrs. Carter came across to me as a good Southern lady and I liked her, although really didn’t get to know her very well (that may be my graduate school period interfering).
So, up to 1980 it never occurred to me to have any negative thoughts towards the First Lady, whoever it was. Nancy Reagan came in—I lived and worked in the D.C. area at the time, so politics was a large cloud that was ever-present. She annoyed me with her use of astrologers and the like, at times, because it set a bad example for young people, but I never disliked her, personally, and she seemed to bring her husband mostly more towards the center, politically.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also come to realize Mrs. Reagan used those people because she was having problems dealing with the attempt on Mr. Reagan’s life, and his subsequent health problems. But, regardless, I never had any really bad thoughts about her.
Mrs. Bush, the elder, just seemed to be a good woman and it never occurred to me to dislike her, even if her husband strayed into political waters I didn’t like at times (although he strayed all over the political map during his tenure). There were nay-sayers about her, but I tended to dislike them for being such as I never saw a reason for it.
Mrs. Bush did get into some hot water with something she said after the 2005 hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, during her son’s presidency, but that actually smacked of a misstatement to me and seemed not in character. I thought it should have been dropped immediately.
At this point, the political environment was purposefully turned to poison, especially as Newt Gingrich came in and there was an all-out war between Republicans and the Clintons. The First Lady, Mrs. Clinton, tried to do something with health care and the Republicans of the time refused to work with her in any way. The greater political activity of Mrs. Clinton did open her up to more criticism and mistakes were made by everyone, but the hatred they threw upon her was, in my opinion, beyond the pale and did not serve the country. If they had cooperated, I suspect we’d have a health program that probably would be more like most Republicans want today than what we have now.
That brings us to Mrs. Bush, the younger. Now, I had little affection for that administration but The First Lady always seemed like a classy person to me.There were the inevitable snarky remarks, but these reeked of being misdirected attacks on her husband as she always seemed to act impeccably. I liked her then, and I Still do.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. Keep the respect for The First Lady, regardless of what you think of her husband’s politics.
That’s exactly how it didn’t work with Mrs. Obama. To be blunt, the treatment she got from Republicans/Conservatives was disrespectful, hateful, and often downright racist. Any life-long Republican who hasn’t been aghast at this treatment really needs to sit down and rethink their lives. I know a lot of them that have turned their back on that party because of this. And others should.
That brings us to Mrs. Trump. She has had relatively small political things to do, which is fine, and, frankly should never have been required to talk at the Republican convention. It was unfair to her. I have no idea what she is like as a person but that almost doesn’t matter, she deserves the default respect of the office. Generally, I ignore most of the attention the media gives her these days. So, I will treat her with the respect I treat all First Ladies.
It is probably wise for her to avoid political activities, given the current poisoned atmosphere and her unrelated professional background, but unless she does something really weird—like getting a swastika tattooed on her forehead, or following Justin Bieber around from concert to concert (one is a reprehensible, caustic malignancy, the other was the evil group we fought in WWIIJ). Otherwise, she should be off limits. Period. I wish her well.
As a thought experiment, here’s an absurdexample of responsibility to our Society (see above link) relative to The First Lady that uses Mrs. Trump as the context. Remember, this is just pretend. Also, remember, she is Slovenian and I presume English is her 2nd language (probably her 5th or 6th).
Let’s say you are a reporter interviewing Mrs. Trump and the State of Tennessee somehow comes up. If you hear her suggest that people from Tennessee are hypocrites, it should give you pause in the interview and prod you to try and figure out what she really means—remember English is not her first language.
After further discussion, you realize that what she was really trying to say is that it is ironic that the County where they make a certain Whisky is dry and you can’t actually drink it there (I gave a lecture in Cuenca, Spain one time, in Spanish. I’m sure I committed much worse crimes against that language than this misunderstanding by a fictional Mrs.Trump).
So, now you know she finds this as a bit odd and as interesting as the rest of us do. If you then report it in a way that expresses her intention correctly, then you are doing your job and doing your Societal duty.
But, if you use the first quote asa fake gotcha to make her look bad, then you are the problem, not her. I suspect Mrs. Barbara Bush’s Katrina misspeak was like this and should never have made the light of day.
I can’t make us all agree on many political things, but it is imperative for the good of our Society that we afford The First Lady the respect she deserves. Period.
Let’s do better from now on than we have been doing lately.