For a first lady who has promised to dedicate her platform to the wellbeing of children, Melania Trump proved very slow to respond to the border crisis unfolding over Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy and the family separation policy that his administration is using to enforce it. In fact, the first lady’s willingness to stay silent and avoid addressing the crisis has prompted many to criticize her as a modern-day Marie Antoinette, the French queen known for her frivolity.
Vanity Fair reported that the first lady had gone “full Marie Antoinette” as the furor over separating migrant children from their parents reached a fever pitch. Many in the Trump administration had had to respond to the crisis. But in Vanity Fair’s estimation, the response that Melania Trump made through her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, amounted little more to the lament, “This is so bad, I really hate it, if only there were something we could do.”
After Grisham delivered that statement, Melania went back to business as usual, even sharing a photograph of herself alongside Spanish monarchs King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. According to Vanity Fair, “The Marie Antoinette of it all was perhaps inescapable: the two women — one a literal queen from the country that helped colonize Mexico wearing a pink Michael Kors sheath — having tea in the White House’s Red Room.” Melania Trump said that the two discussed “children,” and Americans had to wonder whether the border crisis came up at all.
Melania Trump chose to respond to the crisis later in the week, leaving Washington to visit migrant children at a Texas detention center. But as she boarded the plane in Maryland, she wore a jacket emblazoned with the message, “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” The insensitive choice sparked immediate outrage among Americans aware of the careful efforts that Melania Trump typically puts into her outfits.
Despite the first lady’s spokesperson stating that the jacket didn’t mean anything, many Americans think it means something. As The Hill reports, CNN analyst Kirsten Powers criticized Melania Trump as the “Marie Antoinette” of the Trump administration.
“This is a woman who spends a lot of time very carefully picking out what she’s going to wear,” Powers said. “This was not an accident. This was intentional.” The CNN analyst also said of Melania, “She’s officially the Marie Antoinette of this administration. It should just say ‘let them eat cake,’ that they literally just don’t care about what’s happening there.”
Of course, historians say that Marie Antoinette never actually said, “Let them eat cake.” Though it’s one of the most famous quotes in history — “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or “Let them eat cake” — historians believe that the remark would have been uncharacteristic of the French queen, according to History. The queen donated generously to charitable causes, despite her lavish lifestyle. And she showed sensitivity toward the poor (something that many Melania Trump critics likely think the first lady would do more often).
Multiple other royals have also been blamed for the callous remark, which had been floating around for years before 1789, when Marie Antoinette is said to have made the proclamation. As History notes, “Whoever uttered those unforgettable words, it was almost certainly not Marie Antoinette.”
Meanwhile, the future of many of the families separated at the U.S. border remains uncertain. Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop the practice of splitting children up from their parents. But as The Daily Beast notes, that executive order does nothing for the families whom immigration officials have already separated. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their families, and advocates fear that they will never see their parents again.
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