The series of shaky allegories continues. Today I’m bringing you two women originally from Eastern Europe, who both made it big in America. Dear readers: Melania Trump and Madeleine Albright in an episode “The Slippery Slope”.
The two ladies are both known for their sartorial choices. There is even book written about Madeleine Albright’s brooches, called Read My Pins. For a stalling negotiation Albright would choose a tortoise in lapis lazuli. For a friendly summit, the dandelion with a moonstone. When there was a contentious encounter ahead, she would go for a turquoise wasp or maybe a copper-pincered crab.
Melania Trump is equally calculating with her outfits, fully aware that every item of her clothing is being scrutinised the world over. At her husband’s inauguration she was channelling Jackie O. in a baby-blue suit by Ralph Lauren, complete with a pillbox hat. For a visit to Italy her wardrobe consisted of exquisite haute couture pieces by Dolce & Gabbana as a nod to the hosts. When she visited Mexican children in detention centres earlier this week, she chose to wear a €40 Zara-jacket which bore (an actual written) message “I really don’t care! Do u?”
There’s not much I can add to the #itsjustjacket-powwow, so many are the miles of reporting that have covered the topic. I have a slight aversion to extremely vocal clothing in general, but given that Melania Trump barely speaks in public, I cannot really blame her for letting her clothes to do the talking. (Although in all fairness she did wish the kids “Good luck” as she left the facilities to jet back to the White House. This totally strikes a chord with a pragmatic European such as myself. Luck indeed is what these poor kids need. Given that the US just pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Convention and that the country is run by a xxxxx xxxxxxxx her husband, luck, if anything, is probably anyone’s best bet at the moment.)
What I actually wanted to discuss, however, was Madeleine Albright’s fairly recent book Fascism – A Warning. The book draws on her experiences in the post-war Europe and on her work as the US Secretary of State. Needless to say, the book is extremely timely also for us Europeans. Half fascinated, half paralysed by horror I read how contemporary leaders employ many of the tactics the fascists used in the 20s and 30s. In some cases down to the slogans: As soon as Mussolini secured leadership in Italy, he started a campaign in Rome to rid the administration of superfluous civil servants. His campaign slogan? Drenara la palude (Drain the swamp).
One of the points Albright makes throughout the book is how quietly movements like fascism can start off under the radar and then spread their ways until they become mainstream. How the normalisation of extremism happens so unnoticed because it is introduced bit by bit. Small changes in language that we start accepting as the norm. Tiny changes that snowball into political movements – all first accepted in the name of freedom of speech and expression.
I took part in the Brussels Women’s March in January 2017 when Trump was inaugurated. There was a global buzz then, yet I, the eternal pessimist that I am, could not help but wonder how long it would take for people to start choosing “Netflix’n chill” instead of marching in protest. How long until cynicism and helplessness would settle and take over anguish and outrage. That’s my fear also with things like Melania’s jacket.
It is a piece of clothing, not a nuclear weapon, yes I get it. I also get that the Trump couple are here to break every single rule and norm we used to hold dear. Until the conspiracy theorists figure out the meaning of the jacket, I am not going to lose sleep over it. My worry are people who say that it is not worth talking about.
Here comes the shaky allegory part: Since so many red lines have been crossed anyway, are we taking this kind of behaviour by the Flotus as normal now? I am not comparing Melania Trump’s jacket with fascist take-over in the US. I am just worried whether the bar for “important things” (as in a sentence “there are more important things in the world to worry about”) keeps creeping higher and higher by the day, so that soon the world actually needs nuclear bomb to have something sufficiently important and serious to chew on.
In the larger scheme of things the clothing choices of the Flotus can probably be considered absolutely insignificant. It’s the hair, and Hillary Clinton knows it. When she served as the Secretary of State, she made the near-fatal error of tying her hair back with a scrunchie. So unprofessional was the woman that she had the audacity to appear at the UN wearing one. “Hillary in UN Hair Fail”, screamed the headlines. Numerous experts gave her advice on how to cut her hair to show her in a more professional light.
In her Yale University commencement speech Clinton told the graduates to “pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will“. In her Twitter bio during her years as the Secretary of State she would jokingly describe herself as a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado”. So much were her looks, hair and clothing mocked during her being in office that she joked about writing a book called “The Scrunchie Chronicles, 112 Countries And It’s Still All About The Hair”.
Returning to my shaky allegory – if the world was in a collective shock over Hillary’s scrunchie with “metallic paillettes” just some 10 years ago and now it should be a-OK for the Flotus to literally show the middle finger at us – can we already talk about the slippery slope effect here? Even if it’s just unimportant women’s stuff like hairbands and outfits?
Rather than concentrating only on the Flotus’ clothes, I’ll be paying very close attention to those who say we should not be discussing them. Who are these people? Clothes and appearances speak a million words and always matter in politics and public life. People should never get used to n’importe quoi. Small things can easily turn to, well, bigger things, like the Trumps running the White House.
Albright’s book is really good, as it is not fear-mongering, however she clearly admits her worry of the current state of the affairs. Have a look at the book despite the sartorial allegory I used to present it!