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Since the role of first lady is not actually an official position, there aren’t really any set rules about how she is supposed to figure into the presidential administration. Still, over the years, a number of traditions have emerged.
But so far, Melania Trump has strayed from these traditions a number of times. This isn’t always a negative thing, and a few of the more minor traditions that first ladies are expected to adhere to are quite outdated. At the same time, there have also been some fairly major ones that a lot of people were shocked to see the first lady choose to ignore.
Here are some of the ways that she has proven to be an unconventional first lady.
1. She went to the State of the Union separately from the president
People were quick to notice that Melania was not at her husband’s side. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
Generally, the first lady arrives at the State of the Union alongside her husband, with a limo taking them both from the White House. However, Trump broke from this tradition in 2018. She decided to come to the State of the Union separately from the president.
Trump instead rode to the event with her guests, a group of heroic individuals who were highlighted in the speech. The guests included a veteran who lost both of his legs in Iraq and a police officer who took in a child whose parents were addicted to opioids.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, told CNN that the first lady arrived separately in order to honor the guests, who she sat with at the event. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the first lady arrived separately for “no reason other than she can greet the guests and he can go straight in.”
Trump also held her own separate White House reception for these guests. This, too, was not traditional, as the president typically just meets with the guests in the Oval Office.
Next: Her break from tradition started right away.
2. She didn’t move into the White House after the inauguration
She didn’t seem in any rush to move into the White House. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
The first lady always moves into the White House after the inauguration. But in an unprecedented move, Trump chose not to.
The official reason for this was so that she could stay in New York while her son, Barron Trump, finished the school year. For the first few months of the administration, the first lady would appear in D.C. for major events, but she was living in New York that whole time.
In June 2017, though, the first lady did finally move into the White House, and she now lives there. However, the recent book Fire and Fury alleges that Donald and Melania Trump are sleeping in separate bedrooms. This would be the first time the president and the first lady have slept in separate rooms since John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Next: This major slight came in the second month of Trump’s presidency.
3. She didn’t accompany the Japanese prime minister’s wife during her tour of Washington, D.C.
Was this a snub or an error in miscommunication? | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
In February 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, visited the White House. The first lady will typically accompany the spouses of foreign leaders on their trips around Washington, D.C.
However, Trump broke from this tradition. She did meet with Akie Abe when she first arrived, but when the prime minister’s wife took pre-scheduled stops later in the day, Trump was not there.
After reporters raised questions about this, the White House released a statement saying, “The first lady was very much looking forward to welcoming Mrs. Abe to the White House upon her arrival in Washington; however, she was informed that Mrs. Abe had previous commitments during her stay in DC.”
Next: The first lady typically plans this event, but it didn’t happen in 2017.
4. She did not host a state dinner in 2017
Melania Trump did not host a state dinner in 2017 | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Traditionally, first ladies plan and host state dinners at the White House. However, in 2017, the Trump White House did not host one, making Trump the first president in almost 100 years to end his first year without a state dinner.
When asked why there wasn’t going to be a state dinner, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was no “singular reason” why. However, some placed the blame on Melania Trump, seeing as planning the dinner is typically the first lady’s role
Next: The first lady’s handling of the Christmas tree was unusual.
5. She took in the White House Christmas tree early
She doesn’t stick to a traditional schedule. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to the White House Christmas tree, the first lady typically takes it in on the Friday after Thanksgiving. However, in November 2017, Trump accepted the Christmas tree several days early, on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
The reason for this was that the Trumps decided to spend Thanksgiving at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, so they weren’t going to be at the White House on the day after Thanksgiving.
Next: The president and the first lady usually go to this event, but they skipped it in 2017.
6. She and the president both skipped the Kennedy Center Honors
The couple opted out of the event. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
The president and the first lady of the United States typically attend the Kennedy Center Honors. This event celebrates members of the performing arts and is accompanied by a White House reception. However, in 2017, both Donald and Melania Trump decided not to go. Their decision came after several of the honorees said that they would skip the reception in protest.
“The President and First Lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time. “First Lady Melania Trump, along with her husband President Donald J. Trump, extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
It wasn’t unprecedented for the president to skip the Kennedy Center Honors. It’s happened in the past, but only when there was some sort of unexpected crisis or a scheduling issue. In cases when the president wasn’t able to go, the first lady would at least be there, according to The Washington Post. So both the president and the first lady canceling months in advance for political reasons was highly unusual.
Next: She isn’t unconventional in every way, though.
7. She has carried on plenty of first lady traditions, though
She might surprise us by sticking to these traditions. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Just because Trump has broken with a few traditions doesn’t mean she’s not carrying on many others. After all, the first lady has kept up many of the big White House traditions, including the annual Easter Egg roll.
Upon moving into the White House, she also began appearing at more events that the first lady would usually be expected to attend. Plus, like first ladies before her, she has embraced a particular platform. She announced in November 2016 that she would fight cyberbullying as first lady, and she spoke on this issue at the U.N. in September 2017.
As is convention, Trump also introduced the White House’s Christmas decor in November 2017. Ironically, the theme she picked was “Time-Honored Traditions.”
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