This post is also available in: 繁體中文
Twitter exploded on Thursday when photos came out of Melania Trump wearing a Zara jacket that read “I Really Don’t Care Do U?” on the back as she left to visit immigrant children at the Texas border. The First Lady claimed the “I Don’t Care” jacket was just an innocent mistake; she wasn’t paying attention when she put it on. But was Melania’s jacket choice really just a careless error? We’re not so sure, so we took a deep dive into the background of the story.
Melania’s jacket: The Backstory
On Thursday, Melania Trump left Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to fly to Texas to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. Though she took off the jacket before she landed in Texas, she was seen boarding the plane in Maryland with it on, and again when she was returning home to the White House.
Immediately people took this as a comment on the administration’s current situation with ICE, under which children have been separated from their families for crossing the border — even from those who crossed the border seeking asylum, which is legal. Though Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday ending family separation, this does nothing to address the more than 2,300 children who have already been separated from their families.
Trump Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told HuffPost, “I’d hope you guys would want to cover her visit with children today. It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn’t going to choose to focus on her wardrobe. (Much like her high heels last year).” The reference to high heels relates to the time when Melania Trump visited Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey while wearing Manolo Blahnik stiletto heels.
But while the heels were just gauche, there may be something more sinister about Melania’s jacket.
Zara, the designer of Melania’s jacket, has faced several controversies
Zara, the Spanish retailer behind Melania’s jacket has had a number of controversies of its own. It’s been repeatedly accused of plagiarizing other designers. In 201, a Zara dress was found with a dead mouse sewn into it. And last year factory workers were sewing notes into Zara clothing about long working hours, unsafe conditions and not being paid.
Any of these controversies alone would be bad enough, but there are more Zara controversies that are relevant to Melania’s jacket. In 2014, Zara plagiarized another designer — mainly, the Nazis. They designed a shirt with a star, very similar to the uniforms Jews wore in the concentration camps.
That same year, Zara sold shirts reading “White is the new black.” Earlier, in 2007, the label sold handbags with swastikas on them. And just last year Zara came under fire again for selling a skirt decorated with off-brand Pepe the Frog drawings. Pepe the Frog has long been linked with the alt-right movement and is considered a hate symbol by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While any one of these could be written off as a careless mistake, the repeated instances of flirting with fascism give us pause. After all, other fashion designers have incorporated alt-right dogwhistles into their clothing; the idea that Zara may be doing the same is not far-fetched.
But still, even though Zara’s clothing has in the past incorporated nods to fascism (unintentionally or not), what does that have to do with Melania’s jacket? Simply wearing an “I Don’t Care” jacket, no matter how tasteless the situation, isn’t fascist, right?
The Fascist History of “I Don’t Care”
“Me ne frego” — which translates to “I don’t care” or “I don’t give a fuck” — was adopted by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as a slogan. The slogan came from a poem by Gabriele D’Annunzio, about the arditi, World War I soldiers who volunteered to fight. The poem used the refrain “me ne frego” to explain that the soldiers didn’t care if they died, because their fight was noble.
Though the arditi disbanded after World War I, many of the original soldiers formed the Black Squads, Mussolini’s goon squad. The Black Squads were essential to Mussolini’s power grab and declared loyalty to the fascist leader.
Mussolini adopted “Me ne frego” as not just a slogan but the prevailing philosophy of his movement. Mussolini explained:
The proud Blackshirt motto “I don’t care” written on the bandages that cover a wound isn’t just an act of stoic philosophy or the summary of a political doctrine. It’s an education to fighting, and the acceptance of the risks it implies. It’s a new Italian lifestyle. This is how the Fascist welcomes and loves life, while rejecting and regarding suicide as an act of cowardice; this is how the Fascist understands life as duty, exaltation, conquest. A life that must be lived highly and fully, both for oneself but especially for others, near and far, present and future.
Italian writer and translator Giovanni Tiso wrote an excellent essay about the history of “me ne frego,” and we highly recommend reading it for more history on the slogan and its importance in fascist ideology. And, of course, “me ne frego” never went away; you can buy shirts and stickers from fascist retailers — even with pictures of Mussolini or the fascist “fasces” symbol on them, making the connotations clear.
Did Melania know about the fascist history of “me ne frego” and what it means? It’s impossible to know — but Melania does claim to speak Italian. And though some have questioned that claim, we see no reason to. Aside from the fact that many Europeans are multi-lingual, early in her modeling career she lived in Italy. Honestly, we’d be surprised if she couldn’t speak Italian.
As for whether or not Melania knows the context, again, we can’t be sure. But it is worth noting that Melania’s hometown is the Slovenian city of Nova Mesto. Nova Mesto was part of Fascist Italy. Her father was in the League of Communists of Slovenia, which fought against the fascists during World War II. So it’s reasonable to assume she knows the fascist meaning of “me no frego.”
While we can’t know if she made the connection between “me no frego” and “I really don’t care, do U,” it’s definitely a bigger gaffe that it seems on its face. (And more evidence that the “Free Melania” meme is utterly misguided.) After all, this is what she chose. She chose to get (and stay!) married to a repulsive yet powerful man.
Furthermore, before her husband became president, she pushed racist conspiracy theories about President Obama’s American citizenship and tolerated anti-Semitic attacks against a Jewish writer who wrote a slightly unflattering profile of her.
She’s as complicit as the rest of them, and this controversy surround Melania’s jacket is more than the press merely having a field day following a thoughtless misstep.