WASHINGTON — For the eighth and final time Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama honored students who use the arts to counter bullying, highlighting a commonality between her agenda and that of her successor.
“Don’t ever lose hope, don’t ever feel fear,” Obama told the 12 students honored for their artistic endeavors at a White House event. “You belong here.”
During her time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama has prioritized the fight against bullying — hosting the first-ever White House conference on bullying prevention at which she and President Barack Obama pledged millions of dollars to support the cause. The president provided $132 million in his 2012 budget for anti-bullying programs.
In a fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, she made famous a catch phrase subsequently repeated throughout the divisive election: “When they go low, we go high.”
She used as examples when “someone is cruel or acts like a bully,” questioning a person’s citizenship — apparent references to statements by President-elect Donald Trump.
Melania Trump, who will assume Obama’s role in the White House on Jan. 20, has also pledged to put bullying at the forefront of her agenda.
“It is never OK when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied or attacked,” Trump told supporters in a rare speech earlier this month. “It is terrible when that happens on the playground, and it is absolutely unacceptable when it’s done by someone with no name hiding on the Internet.”
The former model has largely kept private her priorities as first lady. But after the campaign speech in suburban Pennsylvania, one thing became clear: Trump will focus on cyberbullying — a phenomenon she called “absolutely unacceptable.”
Critics have pointed out the irony in her pledge. Her husband has used his massive online following — more than 30 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — to launch attacks against the “corrupt” media, political rivals and even a former Miss Universe.
“.@MELANIATRUMP to say u will stand for ‘anti-bullying’ is hypocrisy. Your husband is 1 of the most notorious bullies we have ever witnessed,” tweeted Grammy-winning singer Lady Gaga.
The two women met last Thursday to tour the White House, sip tea and discuss child care — continuing an age-old tradition meant to project post-election unity. It was an extraordinary meeting for Obama, who has previously called Donald Trump an “erratic and threatening” man who “traffics in prejudice, fear and lies.”
Adding to the awkwardness, Melania Trump was accused in July of plagiarizing lines from the first lady’s convention speech eight years ago. Since that speech, Trump has remained largely on the sidelines, opting to remain home and care for her 10-year-old son.
On Sunday, however, she emerged from the shadows and told CBS’ Lesley Stahl during a “60 Minutes” interview that she rebuked her husband “all the time” for his social media presence — setting herself up as a potential gatekeeper to the president-elect’s expansive online kingdom.
Trae Weekes, honored Tuesday for her role in a Boston theater group that provides a safe space for LGBTQ youth, said she hoped the future first lady would continue combat bullying and encouraged her to be “authentic.”
But when asked if Trump could live up to Obama’s legacy, Weekes’ answer was clear: “Never.”