When President Trump headed for one of the busiest areas of Texas,
Thursday morning at the Mexican border, he was dressed for a natural disaster. A round table on immigration and border security in McAllen, Texas, and a security briefing at the Rio Grande were scheduled. Yet there was no fire, earthquake or violent hurricane that hit any of these places. Frankly, weather forecasts seemed pleasant enough. The terrain was not changing. But it does not matter. The point was not whether there were burned rubble to navigate or water-impregnated sofas and mattresses around which to maneuver.
The clothes were a symbolic gesture to underline the message: the border itself is disaster.
Trump is a creature with sartorial habits. He likes his baggy clothes and his very long red ties. And when he traveled to places where nature has ravaged, he usually arrives wearing khaki pants, a white open-necked shirt, a dark blue anorak with the presidential seal on his chest and a baseball cap. Mostly, wear boots.
He wore this look when he was on the ground following hurricanes Florence, Harvey and Irma. (Often, the first woman was with him – she in his version of disaster equipment, which typically includes a safari style jacket and a baseball cap.)
There were some variations on this theme, such as when he visited the border in Laredo, Texas, as a presidential candidate in July 2015. He wore a dark blue blazer – because he still did not have a presidential windbreaker. Typically, his baseball cap is white in these cases, even if he wore a camouflage suit to visit Paradise, California, in November 2018 – perhaps because he was worried that all the ash and smoke from mortal fires would ruin his original appearance .
The baseball hats were decorated with "USA" or with the slogan of the "Make America Great Again" campaign. It is particularly surprising when he chooses a white version of the so-called MAGA hat, because it is the red iteration that is best known; it's what made it famous. But the white hat suggests that you see it coming as a white knight – the president who benevolently, or hypocritically, swoops on the scene. The characterization depends entirely on inclinations.
The Trump disasters ensemble has a striking resemblance to his golf suits. But it is not surprising. Trump has limited imagination when it comes to clothes, so every raid from behind a desk or lectern leads him to draw from a particularly narrow range of self-modifying choices. In this regard – the self-editing part – Trump is not unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who once told Vanity Fair that he wore only gray or dark blue clothes to reduce the number of decisions he had to make on a given day .
But when Trump looked in his uniform wardrobe on Thursday, he did not choose the suit and tie that talks about the management of white-collar workers or the blazer that remains a favorite of the casual business set. Trump has selected the uniform that announces: Unexpected chaos, danger and destruction in sight!
In the Trump battle on the border, the facts have disappeared, they have been wrong or have been mutilated so as to make them unrecognizable. Its concrete boundary wall has been rebranded like steel slats, transparent barricades, a luxury enclosure or simply border security. Mexico will pay for this; Mexico is already paying for it. Asylum seekers have been turned into violent hordes who take drugs and climb the barriers that already exist. The history of the border has become a drama invented with consequences in real life. And Trump was costumized as the hero of fiction he studied with skill.
When Trump arrived in McAllen, he was followed by Air Force One by a supporting cast that included Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Whose wardrobe seemed inspired by "Walker, Texas Ranger", along with Acting Chief of the staff Mick Mulvaney and the national security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, both with the jaunty look of the urban outback of people who maintain an account at REI. (Senator John Cornyn [R-Tex.], dressed for a completely different adventure, was in a dark blue blazer with golden buttons.)
All presidential voyages to the disaster areas must be symbolic, even if they provide the master commander with a taste of the situation in real time. They are an opportunity for the public to see the president take over the recovery of a city. They offer the President a few moments to reassure those in difficulty and that their government, at its highest level, sees them and listens to them. And the importance of every word of his and every handshake is full of meaning. Throwing paper towels in a crowd of displaced US citizens in Puerto Rico, which the president made in October 2017, reads like an inhuman sniffing their situation. Arriving at the US border with Mexico, dressed as if it were headed to the periphery of a furious storm of fire, it is in itself a form of heated rhetoric.
The president chose not to wear a jacket, which would have suggested that this is not a situation that requires a national declaration of emergency – that no major wave of terrorists and pestilence breaks at the border. Instead, it would have been a nod to the slightest possibility of civil discourse. A lawsuit would have suggested that perhaps now, it was about to begin.
Instead, his clothing flashed that he had come to inspect the damage. And certainly there is damage. Widespread wreck. But there is nothing natural about this.