Melania Trump marked one year of “Be Best.” What is it, and what has it accomplished?


WASHINGTON — First lady Melania Trump marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of her “Be Best” initiative by announcing an expansion.

The first lady used her remarks today to announce an expansion of parts of the Be Best initiative, broadening the focus of the opioid pillar to include all children, and including online safety as part of the cyberbullying pillar.

“I will continue to make every effort to promote the many successful wellbeing and character education programs that exist today,” she said.

What is “Be Best?”

The first lady’s initiative initially aimed to focus on addressing three main “pillars”: well-being, social media usage, and opioid abuse among children. The initiative almost immediately faced criticism for its focus on cyberbullying within the pillar of social media usage. It seemed at odds with President Donald Trump’s Twitter usage. The president frequently uses Twitter to criticize his political opponents and gives them derisive nicknames on social media.

Most of the initiative’s work has focused on raising awareness of the issues within its pillars, rather than specific policy solutions. Last March, Melania Trump chaired an interagency White House working group that sought to learn about ways to implement the Be Best priorities through the federal government.

What has “Be Best” accomplished so far?

Since announcing the program, the first lady has traveled around the world and within the United States to promote it.

In November of last year, the first lady went on a weeklong trip through four African countries to learn about American aid efforts and initiatives in Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt.

“Meeting those children and understanding their different way of life is why I wanted to travel here,” during a stop in Malawi, where she donated “Be Best”-themed soccer balls to students and chalk to teachers.

In March of 2019, she went on a two-day, three-state trip through Oklahoma, Washington state, and Nevada to talk to business and community leaders about implementing the pillars of “Be Best.” The trip marked her first major solo domestic trip during her tenure as first lady.

It is unclear what concrete effects the initiative has had, though. Regarding one of its core pillars of online safety, Stephen Balkam, the CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, told USA TODAY that it was “hard to tell” if Be Best had actually reduced cyberbullying over the last year, though the first lady’s efforts had helped to raise awareness of the issue.

What’s next?

The first lady has acknowledged criticism of the initiative, but the announcement of the program’s expansion today shows that the Trump administration is committed to maintaining the program.

The first lady’s office has signaled its willingness to wade into legislative debates involving “Be Best” priorities. In an interview with CNN, Trump spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham mentioned potential endorsements of legislation.

“As we work with agencies, groups and various stakeholders, our office continuously monitors legislation, private sector initiatives, and the work that our agencies are doing,” says Grisham. “As appropriate and if it makes sense in terms of aligning with Be Best, Mrs. Trump will support, sign on to, endorse, those initiatives.”

That said, advocates like Balkam expressed caution about the new approach to online safety, noting that it posed “risks” as well as “rewards.”

“In some ways, it makes it a much broader pillar, and therefore you need to put in even more work and effort to make a difference,” he said. “But the benefit is that it encompasses not just the negative but also includes things like digital civility and digital citizenship.”