Apparently Melania Trump wore stilettos as she boarded a plane to visit a disaster zone. How do I know this? Because Twitter keeps telling me about it. I don’t care about her sartorial selections. She could wear a gold bikini and knotted side braids ala Princess Leia and it wouldn’t matter a whit. One of our nation’s largest cities is underwater. People are dying. Children are going without medicine and food. We are seeing photos of elderly men and women up to their necks in fetid, sewage-filled waters. What the first lady does or does not wear is of no importance right now or ever. But I think I understand where this comes from. Plenty of people are still rightly angry about the past eight years when our former first lady was repeatedly berated for wearing sleeveless dresses and our former president was viciously mocked for donning a tan suit. It is tempting to stoop to the level of the mean-spirited idiots who trafficked in such nonsense, but we should do better. Let’s not go low over one pair of high heels.
Millions of people are currently struggling to find any shoes or clean clothing for themselves and for their families. And that need pales in comparison to the need for adequate food and drinking water and medical care and basic shelter. This is not a crisis that will pass anytime soon. It will take years, possibly decades to rebuild. Some areas in and around Houston may never fully recover. And the people who lived in those areas will be set adrift to find a new place to live and a new way to make a living. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
Imagine being a person with a minimum wage job and no health insurance. Now imagine losing that job, because the place where you work was destroyed by the same flood that destroyed your rental home. You have no car. You have no equity or line of credit or insurance. You have no money. What do you do? How much help will the government provide for you? And what if you are an undocumented immigrant? It’s tragic to lose everything in a natural disaster, no matter who you are. But if you are lucky enough to be an American with access to things like insurance and reliable transportation and savings accounts, you have a safety net. According to the latest U.S. Census, more than 22 percent of Houstonians live below the poverty level. More than 400,000 Houston residents are undocumented immigrants. What are those people supposed to do now?
In the weeks leading up to this horrific flood, the current administration eliminated a program designed to shore up flood prevention infrastructure in federally funded projects. That means contractors can come in and rebuild low-lying areas in Houston with little to no thought about the next flood. What shoes were our lawmakers wearing when they signed off on that decision? And back when New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were under assault from Hurricane Katrina, our current Vice President stood in front of Congress and argued that it was too expensive to fund the rebuilding efforts. Were his leather loafers appropriate for that speech? Should he have donned a pair of waders? And, of course, much has been made about Ted Cruz’s appeals for federal assistance for his own state after his refusal to vote to help the citizens of New York and New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. What’s the right footwear for a cold-hearted snake?
Melania Trump may fancy herself a fashion-forward FLOTUS, but Melania Knauss was an immigrant who happened to be pretty enough to get modeling jobs in the United States. There’s been some debate about whether she lived and worked here illegally for a time. She says she followed all the rules. Regardless, she ought to be able to put herself in the shoes of the displaced Texans. She should speak up for them loudly and publicly. She should use whatever sway she has over her husband to argue for their rights—not as citizens, but as human beings. If she can do that, I don’t think anyone will give a damn what kind of shoes she wears.