“Be Best” Has to Be Bad on Purpose, Right?

US First Lady Melania Trump announces her 'Be Best' children's initiative in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 7, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
The best and the brightest: Melania Trump announces her “Be Best” children’s initiative in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Saul Loeb/Getty Images

First lady Melania Trump unveiled a youth-focused public agenda on Monday, and that agenda will go by the name “Be Best.” Among those watching on social media, the overwhelming reaction to “Be Best” was one of confusion about the name itself, which seemed, politely speaking, not the best.

Certainly we understood the words be and best, though we had rarely seen them arranged that way, as a two-word command. Its meaning wasn’t unclear, exactly, but it seemed apparent to everyone that there was a word or two missing, a the or a your that could have taken the slogan from incoherent to, if not clever or memorable, at least competent. It’s not like previous first-lady awareness-campaign slogans have been works of P.R. genius: “Just Say No” and “Let’s Move” are simple, but they get the job done. The bar here is very low, even for a first lady known for wearing stilettos to a disaster zone. And yet Melania tripped right over it with “Be Best,” which makes “Make America Great Again” look poetic in comparison. Hypothetical monkeys smashing away at keyboards surely would have come up with something more sensible.

Why didn’t Melania manage to give her initiative a better name than “Be Best”? I’m going to hazard a guess: The name is bad on purpose. Melania herself is said to have designed the logo, and that, too, is so sloppy, so ill-considered that I really can see no other explanation than that it was purposely designed to be that way.

There was some chatter on Twitter that attributed the slogan to Melania’s first language not being English, but as first lady, she works with a staff of people, even though it is smaller than the one usually housed in the East Wing—no, I can’t even make excuses. This is kindergarten stuff! Someone could’ve suggested tweaking this logo, and in fact, it’s the job of her staffers to do exactly that. Someone who knows better let this happen.

That person might even be Melania herself. As first lady, Melania has remained a bit of a cypher, and the truth is we don’t know all that much about how her mind works. Maybe someone gently brought up the grammar issue to Melania and, taking a page out of her husband’s book, she was too stubborn to hear it. Let them eat cake; let them be best. Maybe, as one Twitter user suggested, Melania was in 80-dimensional chess mode and “Be Best” was her bid to bait the greater internet, daring us to be really mean about it. We were the real cyberbullies all along!

Writing about the goals of “Be Best,” Ruth Graham pointed out in Slate that the program can be read as a rebuke to her husband. Is it possible that the slogan’s ungrammatical inelegance is part of that rebuke? That it’s Melania’s small rebellion, her middle finger to an administration she doesn’t care about? I want to believe. Because “Be Best” is simply too idiotic to have been an accident.