As she boarded a plane to head to McAllen, Texas, for a surprise visit to the heart of the family separation crisis at the southern border, Melania Trump was spotted wearing a coat with these words scrawled on the back: “I really don't care. Do U?”
Hmmmm. Double hmmm.
Then she wore it again when she deplaned back at Andrews Air Force Base after the trip — and after the wave of initial outrage.
Nothing to see here! insisted Melania spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. “It’s a jacket,” she told CNN. “There was no hidden message.”
Grisham tweeted along those same lines: “Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @FLOTUS greatly. If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids - rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe - we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket”
Look. I get what Grisham is trying to do here. Shame is a powerful emotion. The media is self-flagellating. So maybe Grisham winds up guilting the media into ignoring or underplaying the jacket story — particularly given the ongoing border crisis, in which more than 2,000 kids have been separated from their parents as a result of the ramped-up “zero-tolerance” policy.
Here’s the thing: The jacket decisions made by the first lady aren’t as big or as important a story as the crisis along the border. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a story. It is. She is the first lady of the United States. What she says, does and, yes, wears, matters. Disagree? Ask yourself whether the media would have (and should have) covered Michelle Obama wearing the exact same jacket. The answer is: Of course.
So let’s agree to dispense with the whole “how dare you miss the real story” piece of this. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can cover the family separation crisis — as CNN has done extensively online and on TV — and report on the jacket Melania Trump wore too.
And let’s also disregard Grisham’s spin that a jacket is just a jacket. We are talking about the first lady of the United States here. And not just any first lady. One who has meticulously minded her public image for decades — not just since her husband started running for president. The idea that Melania just grabbed any old jacket without regard to how people might interpret it goes against literally everything we know about her.
Now to the matter at hand. The way I see it, there’s only one explanation for why she wore what she wore: She wanted to send a message.
To who? Her husband? Her detractors? The media? I don’t really know — and don’t even want to speculate. But she has lots and lots of jackets. LOTS. She picked this one for a reason. Or someone picked this one for her for a reason — and she went with it.
The only other option is that Trump (and her staff) are so oblivious to her public persona — and that of her husband — that it wouldn’t even occur to them that the message on the jacket might cause controversy. If you believe that, I have a print newspaper industry I think you might be interested in.
President Donald Trump himself seemed to contradict the idea coming out of the East Wing that the First Lady didn't mean to send a message with her wardrobe choice.
He tweeted, “‘I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?’ written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”
There simply aren’t coincidences like this in politics. Particularly in a situation like this one with this first lady. Melania Trump knew her surprise visit to the border would draw massive amounts of media attention. Given that, wouldn't you think she and her staff would be even more attentive to which signals she was sending?
Of course you would think that. Because it’s the only conclusion that a) makes any sense and b) comports with what we know about the first lady and her staff. In politics, as in life, the obvious answer is almost always the right one.