Perhaps we didn’t notice much when he first took office, but as Donald Trump appeared over and over (and over and over) in public, one thing became apparent to the astute observer: as he sought to project a certain image—strength and confidence—he wore a remarkably similar outfit: a black overcoat over his business suit, his excessively long red tie waving in the breeze.
It was as if someone had once told him that in business this outfit represented strength and power. And like the Generals who surrounded him in the early days of his administration (most of which are now gone), he regularly donned this look as a kind of uniform. He often wore it even in balmy weather. Perhaps it was his way of making up for his lack of military service—assuring the American public that he, too, had served his country—only in business, not the military, and that this service demanded recognizable attire which, he determined, was symbolized by the heavy black overcoat and the bright red tie. The “uniform” was to remind us that he was in charge. His self-styled outfit was a symbol that demanded deference and set him apart from his underlings.
But an interesting thing has happened on the way to the midterms. Where once the President was surrounded by aides scurrying about and currying favor, those close to him (and the world-at-large) grew tired of his erratic behavior, his demeaning attitude towards others and his quick dismissal of those who disagreed with him. Recent photos have captured the President in solitary moments, illustrating the increasing isolation that surrounds him as the revolving door in the White House continues to turn and the President becomes increasingly isolated. Now, the wardrobe that once portrayed a confident power seems to portend a very different symbol, one filled with foreboding about what the future holds for this President and his administration.
Where once upon a time, we might have viewed these portraits of the Commander in Chief as moments of contemplation about weighty world matters, we now know better. Contemplation is not one of the President’s strong suits. Where once upon a time, these solitary moments would have been seen as a Commander in Chief in thoughtful preparation for an upcoming summit, strategic planning around a national crisis, deep reflection on historical precedents or the place of the US in the world order, we now know that these are not strong calling cards in the Presidential deck.
And so, instead, the black overcoat seems to harbor a man in despair. Despite holding the most powerful office in the world, with its understandably weighty moments of internal debate and discernment, there is little depth to the occupant of a White House that seems increasingly petty and distracted. The coat’s fabric seems the only thing to have weight as it shields the President, armor-like, from the American people, his increasingly restless staff and, perhaps, even himself.
Donald Trump’s overcoat has become a symbol of the President’s covering over the truth, diminishing the rule of law, promoting an administration that lacks transparency in governance and shielding him from his own self-destructive proclivities. One can almost feel bad for him. And yet, winter is coming. It will be some time before we see him shed his overcoat and move to a lighter wardrobe.