American statesmen have a long history of embracing the rugged outdoors. New York elite Teddy Roosevelt decided to become a cowboy, leading the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American war and later using his political heft to more than quadruple the size of protected national forests. Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service, Chester Arthur loved fishing so much that political commentators at the time made fun of him. Even George W. Bush had his brush piles.
First Ladies have brought an outdoorsiness—or at least a toughness—to the White House as well. Lou Hoover served as the president of the Girl Scouts and majored in Geology at Stanford. Michelle Obama tended the White House garden herself. Even Jackie Kennedy knew how to handle herself on a fishing boat.
Today, Donald and Melania Trump headed to Texas, where rising flood waters are choking the fourth largest city in the country. When they left Washington, the President and First Lady were dressed like two people who have never gotten dirty in their lives. Living avatars of city softness. Indoor kids.
When she left Washington, Melania Trump was wearing a silk bomber jacket and sky-high spike heels that could only be useful in a flooding emergency if they’re removed and used to bash in Houston windows in search of trapped people and animals. Michelle Obama used to advise White House visitors to refrain from wearing heels, as they would sink into the estate’s soft grassy yard. Looking at the First Lady’s outfit, one wonders if she’s ever gone into the White House yard.
Criticism of the ensemble must have reached somebody in a position to right the ship, because by the time she’d landed in Texas, the First Lady had tied her fresh blowout back into a ponytail, donned a baseball cap and a white button down, slightly better than what she started the day in but still more befitting a golf course than a disaster zone.
Focusing entirely on how silly the First Lady looks would be sexist, especially considering how equally dumb the president’s outfit makes him look. Jezebel’s Ellie Shechet describes the outfit as “khakis pressed in preparation for a light drizzle on the golf course.” His leather shoes are completely unsullied by dirt, much like the brand new hiking boots the president’s largest son Don Jr. wore in that now-famous photo shoot wherein he demonstrated that he is incapable of looking natural while sitting on a rock. His light rain jacket looks like it smells like a new car, bearing telltale creases that indicate that it’s spent its short life as a jacket hanging on a hanger and not being worn by a person who goes outside when it’s not sunny. Unlike his wife, he didn’t change outfits. No matter what he wore, the president would not look comfortable outside anywhere but one of his many Trump-branded country clubs.
In a normal setting, the first couple’s disaster chic faux pas would be a fun distraction from 2017, a year that has felt like the mental equivalent of an hours-long pap smear. The Trumps are weird, their friends are weird, and sometimes it’s funny the way that hearing a doctor say “whoops” right before you succumb to the anesthesia is funny. But there’s no way this can be construed as wacky; they’re going to visit a place reeling from utter devastation, not a casino ribbon cutting. They’re supposed to be offering comfort to people whose lives have just been overturned.
I wonder what will be going through the head of the president, a self-professed germaphobe, an aficionado of manicured lawns and manicured women, when he’s forced to spend time in an environment where he’ll have to stand very close or perhaps touch something natural that hasn’t been sanitized into bloodlessness. Like most Americans, I hope he doesn’t blow it.