Full Mental Jacket
Yesterday, I wrote elsewhere about The Jacket Affair, where Melania Trump went to visit some incarcerated immigrant children in Texas, and was wearing a jacket with a bizarre slogan on it. She got ripped by many, though her spokesperson Stephanie Grisham chastised the press for focusing on clothing when she there for a far more serious and important matter.
Honestly, I really don't care all that much about fashion. This isn't especially because of any great devil-may-care attitude, but more a case of reality, which anyone who knows me can attest to.
(In graduate school, we had a semi-fancy party in the dorm, I got dressed up, went to get my date, and upon opening the door of her dorm room, the first words out of her mouth were, "Bob, nothing matches." When I worked at Universal Studios, one of the fashion plate woman in the department came storming into my office one day, threw out her arms in exasperation, cried out, "Wear a different pair of pants!!!!!!!!" and then turned and stormed out. I have a friend who I think still hasn't forgiven me for ruining her wedding photos because I didn't let my mother dress me for the occasion -- despite be being in graduate school at the time. I once went on a date with an actress who had a bit of a career, and we planned to meet at a screening of a movie I'd worked on. She showed up directly from an audition, dressed in pedal pushers like she'd been in the backyard gardening -- and mortified to learn it wasn't just a screening, but the premiere with red carpet, TV cameras and press, and the other women in gowns, all glamorized. I tried to convince her that I honestly, truly, really, genuinely couldn't care less how she was dressed, and it was absolutely fine by me, whatever she wore. As you might imagine, it was like I was talking a foreign language to her. But I really didn't care. Hey, I was just happy t have a date with a beautiful girl.)
The point here is that what a person wears doesn't matter to me. But even I understand the concept of limits.
To be very clear, unlike some of those reacting to the controversy, no, I don't think that Melania Trump was sending a "message" with the words on her jacket that, as some were suggesting, she doesn't care about the children being separated by her parents. That takes conspiracy theories and cruelty far too deep, and besides she wouldn't have even gone. Mind you, I also don't think remotely it was a "mistake" -- you don't make a mistake when wearing that and not notice what it says (let alone buy that jacket in the first place for no reason -- and who knows when she bought it, days ago or months, or longer), but what its point was is another matter entirely. For all we know, maybe it was a comment on her press attention after disappearing for 30 days. Or something more benign -- or far more crass, obnoxious and malicious. Who knows?? I have no idea why this was worn. I don't know if it was even her choice, but maybe that of her husband. In fact, being Trump World, for all we know she she got a kickback from the company for promoting it or because the family wants to sell it on their website next to bottle openers. I don't know. But I don't believe for a second she was sending the message she didn't care about the children being separated from their parents.
That said, her spokesperson Ms. Grisham is wrong -- the press was absolutely right to highlight this jacket in its coverage. Choosing to wear that jacket shows pure, tone-deaf cluelessness by both the First Lady and, almost more importantly, her staff because it's their job to watch over ever single thing she does, and as the First Lady of the United States...image matters. A LOT. In fact, image is pretty much the full-time job of a First Lady.
Years ago, CBS News reporter Lesley Stahl told about having done a very critical story on Ronald Reagan, which used clips from a speech he gave with an emotional setting as the backdrop. She got a call the next day from his press secretary, sure she'd be screamed at for being so critical. Instead he loved the piece. Thought it was great. Totally bewildered, she asked why? "Do you think people heard anything you said?", the Reagan press secretary told her. "All the TV audience will see as they watch or flip channels or wander through the room is the President giving a speech in front of such a great background." She said she realized that, as much as it bothered her, he was right.
This photo of Melania Trump, amid the massive, galling immigration scandal, viewed with no context, just the photo alone, will go out to the world and be seen everywhere. And that's all most people will know. The First Lady of the United States, going to see children torn from their parents, and her wearing a jacket that says, "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?" When you do that, that's what the story will become. Rightly so.
Spokesperson Grisham was wrong, too, in saying the press shouldn't have focused on the jacket for another reason. That's because Trump himself made an issue of it, sending out a tweet that his wife was making a statement, meant to be a slam against the media. That's a lie, this being Trump, of course, but when the president comments, it's a story.
It should also be noted that even another reason Ms. Grisham was wrong is because Melania Trump made two stops that day -- and though the Internet blew up over the coat after the first appearance, she wore it again for the second one. So, even if she wasn't sending a message about the children, she and her staff were utterly thoughtless and crass to the point of clueless about their responsibilities and image to the world at such a traumatic time. (And it's worth noting, as well, that the only facility she ended up attending because of the heavy rains was not one of the many, large and controversial detention centers, but a small, genteel one holding just 50 children run by Lutherans. She didn't have the jacket on there...)
Do clothes actually matter seriously? Of course not. But tell that to the Republicans who cried bloody hell when Barack Obama wore a cream colored suit. This though is worse. Far worse. It's not just a fashion decision. And it was not a mistake. It has specific words that were picked to wear by choice -- whether the choice was by her, or her staff. Or even her husband -- picked to wear on a visit to children taken from their parents because of a policy by Melania Trump's husband. And the photo will go to the world. Whatever the reason it was worn -- it was brainless.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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