During an impromptu “humanitarian visit” to an immigrant children’s center in Texas on Thursday, First Lady Melania Trump wore a seemingly simple olive green Zara jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do U?” written on the back in white. In the wake of a reported 2,324 children forcefully separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, the backlash of her tone-deaf and possibly intentional fashion choice was swift. But so was the defense, first from Republican pundits and then from the first lady’s communication director, Stephanie Grisham. “It’s just a jacket. There was no hidden message,” she said in a statement. “After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn’t going to choose to focus on her wardrobe.”
Let’s suspend reality, for a second, and pretend that the clothes of any president and first lady have never been criticized before this now infamous moment. After all, Republicans lost their collective shit in 2009 when then-First Lady Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress for her first official photo as FLOTUS, claiming her choice was too “informal” and didn’t convey the “seriousness of the occasion.” And in 2014, when then-president Barack Obama wore a tan suit during a press conference, one New York lawmaker claimed the suit “put the nation’s national security at risk.”
Let’s pretend that hours after Melania’s communications director claimed there wasn’t a “hidden message,” President Donald Trump didn’t say there, in fact, was, tweeting: “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!”
Hell, let’s simply forget that Melania’s jacket choice came after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, responsible for carrying out the separation of immigrant families, chose to eat at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night, a day after she defended the policy during a White House press briefing. Or that Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to President Trump and reportedly the man behind the “zero tolerance” policy, also chose to dine at a Mexican restaurant in D.C. earlier in the week.
Instead, let’s focus on the first lady’s actions, as was the request of her communications director. Because while many of us would like to think Melania is a sad, lonely woman stuck in a situation she never wanted, with a husband she feels zero affection for, she is a heartless, complicit participant in the Trump administration. She just didn’t need to wear a jacket highlighting just how little she cares to prove it.
While many of us would like to think Melania is a sad, lonely woman stuck in a situation she never wanted, with a husband she feels zero affection for, she is a complicit participant.
Melania has defended her husband’s immigration policies since before his time in office, telling MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinsk in 2016 that she “supports her husband 100 percent.” She said she didn’t feel he insulted Mexicans after calling them rapists, and said “he was only talking about illegal immigrants.” But Melania is an immigrant, born and raised in Slovenia before moving to Milan and Paris to start her successful modeling career. She moved to New York City in 1996. Among growing concerns that Melania did not, in fact, migrate to the country lawfully, President Trump promised a press conference in 2016 to provide documentation that proves the legality of her immigration. That press conference has yet to occur.
She also defended her husband’s proposed Muslim ban. When asked if her husband was “going too far” or if she “worries about it,” she said, “What he said is that it will be temporary, and it’s not for all Muslims. We need to screen who’s coming to the country. He wants to protect America. He wants to protect people of America, so we have a country and keep the country safe. That’s very important to him, and what’s going on in the world… it’s very dangerous. We have people coming in the country, and we don’t know who they are, we don’t know what they’ll do. And that’s why he’s talking about it.”
She has claimed she doesn’t agree with her husband on everything, specifically his cursing and the way he talks about women. But she followed her statement by saying, “I don’t try to change him. He’s an adult. He knows the consequences, and so I let him be who he is.”
And therein lies the glaring problem with Melania—she doesn’t try. While her silence and “hands-off” approach to her husband’s presidency has been described as mysterious, or even sad, it is much more than that. It is insidious. It is smug. It proves that if those consequences that she knows her husband is all-too aware of don’t impact her, she is more than happy to sit on the sidelines—or in the East Wing of the White House—and watch them impact other people.
Like the 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother and is now being held at a border detention center. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky mocked the girl on Fox News after hearing her story, saying “womp womp.” He later said he refuses to apologize for his comments.
Or the father from Honduras who, after being forcefully separated from his family at the United States border, died by suicide in a holding cell.
Or the thousands upon thousands of other children and their families whose stories we will never hear, whose faces we will never see on the cover of TIME, and whose names we will never know.
Perhaps the focus, and rightful criticism, of the words on Melania’s jacket are necessary because she, herself, has said so few. In a written statement released to CNN by her spokeswoman, the first lady claimed she “hates to see children separated from their families.” She’s content to allow written statements from third parties to speak for her; sometimes statements penned by former-First Lady Michelle Obama herself. In this case, though, it was a statement mirrored by President Trump, who claimed he hates “the children being taken away” before blaming the Democrats for the very policy he implemented. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who now claims he “never intended to separate immigrant families” after publicly hoping that very same policy would serve as a deterrent.
When it comes to this administration, it’s the actions of those in power, and not their hallow words, that matter most. And since Melania Trump refuses to act in any way, we are left with the words sprawled on the back of a $39 jacket she chose to wear when visiting immigrant children forcefully taken from their parents.
She really doesn’t care. Do you?