At Melania Trump’s hat auction, even those who know her are scratching their heads

At Melania Trump’s hat auction, even those who know her are scratching their heads

She always saw the role differently from most of her recent predecessors. She resisted public speaking, rarely traveled, did not actively campaign, and sometimes expressed views or ideas alongside those of her husband, former President Donald Trump. Now her expensive opening bid reminds of her same preoccupation with doing what she wants rather than engaging with the American public, and it’s exposing the former first lady to renewed criticism.

“[Selling her hat]gives credence to the idea that the Trumps have always been shameless about making money and that Melania continues to prove she is a Trump through and through,” said Kate Andersen Brower, a CNN contributor and author of “First Women: The Grace and Strength of America’s Modern First Ladies.”

The idea that Trump is out for her own personal gain, at the expense of tradition and respect for her past role, has been echoed several times by the 10 people CNN spoke to for this story, including several former Trump administration officials. CNN contacted Melania Trump for comment and received no response.

In addition to the hat, Trump has added a watercolor of her face in profile, with the hat on — what her website calls “The Head of State Collection” — and a non-fungible token (NFT) of the watercolor, with some animation. An NFT is a digital collectible that has been verified by the blockchain and is often a piece of digital art. The NFT is second to itself. The first, a watercolor of her eyes, went on sale for a limited time, ending December 31. Bidding on the current auction — which includes the hat, watercolor and NFT — closes Jan. 25, according to Trump’s website.
Then-First Lady Melania Trump waits with then-President Donald Trump to greet French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron at a state arrival ceremony on the South lawn of the White House in 2018.

All items Trump sells can only be purchased through cryptocurrency. Her move to NFT, usually a trendy B-list celebrity money-grabbing genre, was questionable in terms of a post-first lady business, but it’s the sale of an item she wore to an official White House event that has people who know her scratching their heads.

‘What now? The jacket?’ a former close friend of Trump, who spoke to CNN under the condition of anonymity to speak freely without retaliation, said. The person referred to the “I really don’t care. You?” jacket Trump wore in June 2018 during her trip to Texas to visit facilities holding inmate families who had entered the United States.

“It’s not okay,” said another person who worked in a senior position in the Trump White House. “It’s inappropriate. She’s trying to build herself a nest of money, based on a role the American people have chosen her husband to take.”

Yet another person, a friend of Trump’s for many years before and during her White House tenure, was hesitant to criticize the former first lady, but questioned why Trump had not clearly stated whether most of the money goes to charity and not directly in her pocket. “If she’s going to do this, sell her personal stuff, she needs to make the financial records public,” said the person, who is no longer close to Trump.

A small paragraph on the page of Trump’s new website states her intention to spend at least some of the profits on a charitable effort.

Melania Trump steps back into the public eye

“A portion of the proceeds from this auction will provide foster children with access to computer science and technology education,” the website reads. CNN has asked Trump’s office several times to clarify the portion size and the exact beneficiaries of that portion, and has never received a response.

“When she was first lady, I thought she was tone-deaf and didn’t understand how some things would land,” Brower says. “Now I think she knows exactly what things look like and she just doesn’t care. There’s no way she went to this auction without knowing how unprecedented it is to sell state visit items.”

Traditional process

When a first lady wears an outfit, it is often cataloged by a member of her East Wing staff. During Trump’s tenure, this job fell to her director of communications, later her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, who kept copies of Trump’s looks for key public venues with detailed notes from the designers involved, according to a person familiar with personnel duties. The specification ostensibly takes place for posterity – much of a first lady’s wardrobe is preserved and often given to a presidential library or other museum.

“Many of these items have special historical significance—for example, the dress worn at an inauguration ceremony or the dress worn at an inauguration ball,” said Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, the nonprofit that supports the Lyndon Foundation. B. Johnson Presidential Library. “These items have been cataloged and housed in the library with other artifacts from the administration. Often they are available to be loaned to other museums.”

The LBJ library contains a section dedicated to the former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, with several important artifacts and a good selection of her clothing. Updegrove says the personal belongings help “personify these often distant historical figures, humanize them and make them more recognizable. It’s often the closest thing to seeing them in person.”

And a first lady’s wardrobe is often the most popular part of a presidential library.

“In 2014, when President and Mrs. Obama were at the LBJ library for the civil rights summit,” Updegrove recalled, “President Obama (Lady Bird’s) saw dresses and told me he had no illusions that many visitors to his presidential library to learn more about what happened during his reign.”They’re coming to see Michelle’s dresses,” he said.

With the sale of Trump’s signed hat, there will be one less item for the public to eventually see in person, should a Donald Trump presidential library ever come to fruition.

While it is her right to do so, it violates what other former first ladies have done by donating similar items to the National Archives and Presidential Libraries in the interest of preserving history and giving back to America. people,” Updegrove said.

‘Money is money. business is business’

Bypassing tradition and going for the greatest bang for your buck is a hallmark of Trumpian. For decades, Donald Trump and his descendants — and his wives — have piggybacked on the popularity of the Trump name and brand. Because of this, Trump and his family became revered and very wealthy.

Melania Trump dabbled in her own brand, designing and selling “Melania Trump” fashion jewelry and watches on QVC in 2010. She tried out a skincare company shortly after, but never got around to it. “I don’t know why everyone is so surprised about this,” a former Trump official and current Trump supporter told CNN of her efforts. “She’s married to Donald Trump. This is what they do. Money is money. Business is business.”

While Donald Trump makes noise about 2024, Melania Trump tries to stay out of the public eye

And yet the former first lady has been criticized for blurring the lines between business and American history for personal gain. It “buys” the position of first lady, Brower said, but she noted that many former first ladies have made a solid profit selling their memoirs and giving speeches and now — in Michelle Obama’s case — books and production deals. “But there’s something inherently opaque and lazy about what Melania does,” she added.

Many of the Trump acquaintances who spoke to CNN were unsure whether she was facing financial difficulties or concerned about future security. At least three people pointed to the idea that Trump is driven by the need to earn an income unrelated to her husband’s, citing her extreme desire for independence, which sometimes extends to her marriage. “She wants her own money,” said one of the people Trump knows who worked with her in the White House. “This is a quick and easy way to do that.”

Still, it may not be as lucrative as Trump would hope, based on past auctions of first lady memorabilia.

“When someone dies and their estate is sold, that’s usually when their items go up in price because it’s emotional and ephemeral,” said John Reznikoff, president and founder of the Connecticut-based University Archives. Reznikoff has handled several auctions of former First Lady items, including a Mary Todd Lincoln bible, which sold for $90,000, and accessories that belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy, including a pair of white gloves that fetched $2,400.

Reznikoff, who has valued historic items for auctions for 40 years, noted that Trump, who is alive and not as widely loved as Kennedy, for example, makes the opening quarter-million-dollar bid for her NFT, signed hat and watercolor wildly overvalued. “If I were advising her as a customer — and I’m non-political — I’d advise a customer that a better opening price for the hat would be $5,000 alone,” Reznikoff said. He thinks, “I really don’t care. Do you?” coat could bring in more, and maybe the pith helmet Trump wore in Africa would make headlines too. But he added that even those wouldn’t be close to $250,000.

Kennedy’s estate was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 1996, two years after her death, and the sale of her personal effects brought in millions of dollars for her family, with most items well above their original estimates. Reznikoff said Kennedy’s decades-long popularity and status as a fashion icon, as well as the vast array of historical and everyday personal belongings, were the ideal recipe for a multi-million dollar yacht.

“In my experience in this business, unless they’re broke, living people who are famous generally don’t auction their household items,” he said.

The impetus for Trump’s decision to auction a personal item of clothing may never be known. “She’s private, she’ll never say what this is about,” said the former government official who worked with the first lady for years. “And she never cares what anyone thinks of her, so all this criticism means nothing.”

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