The cameras were trained on the president and his wife on May 7 as Melania Trump unveiled her signature platform as first lady. After a few tense public appearances between the couple in recent weeks, all eyes were watching to see how the two would interact on Monday. As it turns out, Melania and Donald Trump's body language at the "BE BEST" campaign launch was a far cry from what the couple has displayed recently.
The campaign, centered around a broad theme of supporting children's wellbeing, was unveiled Monday at the White House. After a speech by the first lady, the event was capped off with the president signing a proclamation to designate May 7 as national Be Best Day. During the signing, the couple exchanged an embrace. I spoke with body language expert Traci Brown about the first couple's exchange on Monday.
Right off the bat, Brown notes how unified they appear. "This is one of the few times we've seen them working together as a team, operating as one unit," she says. And Melania, who's often conservative with her smiles, didn't hesitate to flash her pearly whites.
"We see Melania with a big smile and her eyes lit up," Brown notes. "She puts her hand on his back in support while he's signing the proclamation."
In fact, they appeared genuinely supportive of each other on the whole. In a video taken by a local Fox affiliate of the president signing the proclamation, Donald can be heard saying, "I'm proud of you," to Melania in the first few seconds of the video. After he signs the proclamation, around two minutes in, he hugs her and says, "Thank you, sweetheart. Congratulations."
Monday's exchange was a far cry from the visibly tense moment the couple shared just two weeks ago, when the French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte were in Washington for the Trumps' first state dinner on April 24. At an arrival ceremony for their guests of honor earlier that day, Donald tried, for a painstaking amount of time, to hold Melania's hand before she finally caved in.
"They are much more a team here than at [the ceremony]," Brown says of Monday's moment. "It's good to see them finally on the same page! I think it's because he finally did something to support her instead of it being all about him!"
As for the kiss itself, Brown wasn't overly impressed. "The kiss is just a little awkward," she says. "Why did he kiss her on the cheek and then hesitate to go fully into the European double cheek kiss? Clearly they don’t do it a lot. I'd expect a kiss on the lips. So they're showing that romantic disconnect that I think we all know is there."
Since their time in office, the first couple has had a rocky public presence as a couple. A quick recap in case you forgot: Melania has numerous times blown off — intentionally or not — her husband's attempts to hold hands with her in public. The saga of the Hand Swat began in May 2017 while the Trumps were on their world tour, and that was a two-fer, with Melania avoiding Donald's hands not once but twice. Then there was that time on their way to Ohio in February 2018, that awkward coat incident on Easter, and the arrival ceremony in April. (This is to say nothing of their other public appearances in which hands weren't the problem but their presence still didn't quite scream happy couple; look no further than their dynamic together on New Years Eve, which another expert described as "disturbing.")
A story in The Washington Post on May 6 showed how separate the lives of president and first lady reportedly really are. BuzzFeed reporter Tarini Parti noted the convenient timing of the kiss following that article. "After WaPo story on the president and first lady's relationship," Parti notes in a tweet, "Trump joins his wife for her 'Be Best' event and kisses her on both cheeks before coming up to the podium."
And in fact, Brown thinks the couple may have been performing a bit to the media. "I think the kiss may have been for the cameras," she says. "It just went so wrong! When you fake affection, things like what we saw happen."
To put it in context, the couple needed a win here. The first lady was already getting some pushback about the campaign itself, given the irony of its cyber-bullying component in light of her husband's online behavior, and the fact that her initiative's reference booklet appeared to be eerily similar to one written by her predecessor Michelle Obama.
Needless to say, the couple's interaction at Monday's campaign launch was surprisingly smooth, and in many ways a departure from their more recent displays, perhaps signaling a return to the kind of closeness they showed more earlier on in their relationship.
"Coming together is not a normal thing for them to do," Brown says. "You can't coach your way around that. Body language always reveals secrets."