Melania Trump might end up being nation's first 'telecommuter' FLOTUS

The "hardest unpaid job in the world," as a former first lady once described it, might be slightly easier for Melania Trump, who could end up being the nation's first telecommuter first lady, at least for the first six months.

President-elect Trump told reporters Sunday that his wife, Melania, and 10-year-old son Barron will not move into the White House right away in January. Instead, they'll stay at Trump Tower in New York until at least June to avoid disrupting the school year for the youngest Trump child.

Regardless, Slovenia-born Melania, 46, will still be the first lady and today, as millions of working moms have discovered, it's possible to work from home thanks to the magic of modern technology.

"She very well may be the first telecommuting first lady," says Myra Gutin, a first-lady scholar at Rider University in New Jersey.

That means Trump could add another to her list of historic "firsts" as America's next FLOTUS — the job former first lady Pat Nixon famously described as difficult and unremunerated, not to mention high-pressured.

As is routine with anything to do with Trump, reaction to this is divided, among first lady scholars and on social media.

 

 

 

 

 

It's not that big a deal, says Patricia Krider, executive director of the National First Ladies Library at the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio, in the former home of 25th President William McKinley and his first lady, Ida McKinley.

"I can understand why (the Trumps) are doing this and I don't see anything wrong with it," Krider says. "The Obamas are staying in Washington until their (younger daughter) Sasha finishes school."

Besides, New York is not that far away from Washington. "Just because she'll be living in New York doesn't mean people won’t see her, ," Krider says. "The public elected Trump because they wanted change, so it will be very interesting to see how the public reacts" to the Trump domestic plans.

But Gutin wonders if Melania Trump can carry out what Gutin sees as the main functions of FLOTUS — ceremonial entertaining, political adviser and sympathetic listener to her husband, and advocacy — if she's living in New York.

"The public is split on what it wants the first lady to be," Gutin says. "Half prefer she just serve tea and be ceremonial. The other half says you have an incredible platform here, what are you going to do with it? If we're not seeing her, if she's hiding away, I can't see it as helpful (to the Trump administration)."

Katherine Sibley, a first-lady scholar at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, says the "conscious decision" by the Trumps to stay away at first is unusual. She wonders if it could reduce the first lady's platform and ability to be effective as an advocate.

"The job of first lady is a different kind of job (not as suitable) for telecommuting," says Sibley, editor of a new book of essays, A Companion to First Ladies. She says the job has become more visible and active in recent decades, plus it's become important in "humanizing" the POTUS.

"The White House is a unique place and the East Wing is a mechanism for doing the kinds of things first ladies do," Sibley says. "(Being in New York) could slow development of the relationships she needs in Washington, which could prevent her from being as visible as first lady "

Trump has suggested that she will take up campaigning against cyberbullying as her FLOTUS cause but much depends on how activist she will be, says Gutin. "It's much easier to do that if you're in Washington in the East Wing where the first lady's staff is located."

Still, there is nothing that requires Melania to live in the White House; in fact, according to Krider, it wasn't unusual for 19th-century first ladies to stay home at first. "For many years, many (first ladies) stayed on their plantations or homes and spent more time there than at White House."

Hard as it is, the one advantage to the first lady role is that there are no hard and fast rules — no constitutional job description, no laws governing what she must or must not do. "That’s part of the beauty of the role — spouses have the freedom to choose," says Krider.

There is no precise comparison between what the Trumps plan to do and past first ladies: Anna Harrison never moved in because her husband, 9th President William Henry Harrison, died a month after taking office in 1841.

Some presidential wives didn't want to be first ladies to begin with. Jane Pierce, wife of 14th President Franklin Pierce, delayed her move to the White House a few weeks because her sole surviving son died in a train wreck on the family's way to Washington for inauguration in 1853. Once there, she was often too depressed, understandably, to carry out first-lady duties, and she loathed Washington.

Perhaps the most recent apt comparison is to Bess Truman, wife of 33rd President Harry Truman, who disliked the fishbowl life in Washington and escaped home to Independence, Mo., with daughter Margaret every summer, Gutin says.

"The pragmatic reason was the White House was not air-conditioned, although I can’t say Independence was a whole lot better," Gutin says. "The more important reason was that Mrs. Truman wanted Margaret to have a more down-to-earth upbringing."

As the first foreign-born first lady in nearly 200 years, whose first language is not English, and who isn't known as a political wife deeply involved in either the campaign or the transition, Trump has been a "reluctant conscript to politics," Gutin says.

"It will be fascinating to see how this plays out," Gutin says. "I wonder whether she really will come to Washington (after June). I have nothing to base that on but I wonder."

An email from USA TODAY to Trump spokesman Jason Miller was not returned.

 

USA TODAY


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