Melania's silence sets Washington - and US public - talking

Mrs Trump and her son Barron at the inauguration last month. She has made no public appearances since a prayer service the morning after the inauguration, given no media interviews and has not indicated with any specificity what she has planned for h
Mrs Trump and her son Barron at the inauguration last month. She has made no public appearances since a prayer service the morning after the inauguration, given no media interviews and has not indicated with any specificity what she has planned for her new role.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • Mrs Melania Trump has finished her first week as First Lady - a title that automatically makes her one of the most prominent women in the US. And yet she was barely visible.

She cut an elegant figure at her husband's swearing-in and at the inaugural balls. But two days later, she returned to New York, as she had said she would, to tend to her 10-year-old son, Barron, who remains in school there.

She has made no public appearances since a prayer service the morning after the inauguration, given no media interviews and has not indicated with any specificity what she has planned for her new role.

"There's a public expectation for communication, and she's not providing it," said political scientist and author Lauren Wright.

Last week came word that the First Lady had made her first hire: New York party planner Stephanie Winston Wolkoff will serve as a senior adviser.

Still, several key positions on her staff have not been filled, including chief of staff, communications director and press secretary. That last job is so essential that a volunteer has stepped in to field calls.

The volunteer, Ms Jessica Boulanger, is a former Capitol Hill staff member who is now the senior vice-president for communications at the Business Roundtable.

Most strikingly, the Trump team has not yet named a social secretary, a position responsible for planning all White House events.

Internet wits spent days dissecting Mrs Trump's facial expressions and body language during the inauguration. But all seemed well on the couple's official social media accounts. President Donald Trump's @POTUS account tweeted a thank you to his family, with a photo of his wife smiling. But Mrs Trump has not tweeted from her personal account since Election Day.

She entered the White House with the lowest favourability ratings of any modern first lady: Just 37 per cent of the public had a favourable view of her in a Gallup poll.

Mrs Michelle Obama, whom Mrs Trump has said she admires, was also a reluctant first lady. She, too, worried about raising her children in the spotlight. But she positioned herself as a vital part of her husband's administration.

Americans are accustomed to seeing the first family together, said communications professor Myra Gutin at Rider University, author of The President's Partner. And the Slovenia-born former model's decision to live in New York for now may be compounding any negative perceptions of her.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Melania's silence sets Washington - and US public - talking'. Print Edition | Subscribe