The olive green sweatshirt goes to the convention
The olive green sweatshirt goes to the convention
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He never wore the political camouflage of a suit.
The olive green sweatshirt with his small Ukrainian trident hanging from his neck, cargo pants and tactical boots worn by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his trip to Washington seem to be the least important part of the highly choreographed and powerful piece of political theater that it is was of this diplomatic event, but they were also a revealing detail: a reminder of what exactly the purpose of the surprise visit had been.
This is despite the fact that it was Mr Zelenskyy’s first trip abroad since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and despite the fact that Ukraine has held out against all odds for 10 months against an aggressor who was widely expected to he Ukraine rolls over land with ease, should the watching world know: the fight was far from over.
Dressed in his war uniform, Mr. Zelensky was a constant, living symbol of that battle, no matter the pomp and circumstance that surrounded him.
His DIY suits caught the eye from the moment he stepped out of his diplomatic vehicle on the White House lawn to be greeted by President Biden and First Lady, Jill Biden. They contrasted starkly with the President’s classic navy blue suit and the First Lady’s sky blue coat dress and pumps. They caught the eye when Mr. Zelensky posed with the President for a photo op in the Oval Office right in front of a fireplace decorated with Christmas wreaths, and in the joint press conference the two men held afterwards, with the flags of the United States and Ukraine behind them.
And they were particularly noticeable in the Capitol’s large, wood-paneled halls, where Mr. Zelensky stepped onto the podium to address a joint session of Congress and gazed out at a sea of dark suits, occasionally lightened by lawmakers in jackets and jackets became accessories in the blue and yellow of Ukraine.
“As far as we know, no one has ever addressed the United States Congress in a sweatshirt,” Tucker later sneered at Carlson on his Fox News show, comparing Mr. Zelensky to both “the manager of a strip club” and Sam Bankman – Fried, the disgraced cryptocurrency financier. (Perhaps the idea was to imply that both men dropped the lawsuit and used the people’s money for their own purposes — although that seems a bit far-fetched given that one has been accused of fraud and the other is fighting for his country.)
Mr. Carlson may have been right about it being a first for the sweatshirt and Congress, but he missed the symbolism behind the election. And there’s no question that it was a decision in advance.
After all, Mr. Zelensky had enough time during his overseas trip to change clothes if he wanted to, even given their secretive character. And he clearly understands the power of optics. Not only because of his background as an actor, but because of the consistency with which he has performed his role in public speaking, addressing his people and allies via video message from a bunker in Kyiv, Ukraine, mostly in an olive green T shirt, connecting with the men on the ground and putting a human face to the fight. Military clothing has its own hierarchy and associations. That Mr. Zelensky chose the simplest, most democratic garments of all to make his own is no coincidence.
And his decision to remain in office for Congress was as strategic a decision as any operation, this one aimed at an image-wasting age. To say that he understands some of his marketing and branding work is not to dismiss his performance as purely performative, but rather to acknowledge that he uses every tool at his disposal in the service of his goal.
Coincidentally, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made her own comparisons regarding Mr. Zelensky’s trip and compared it to Winston Churchill’s 1941 address to Congress, also in December, also in wartime. (The Churchill comparison was popular.) But while Mr. Churchill had arrived at the White House with his own symbolic accessories – he wore a Navy cap, a walking stick, carrying a flashlight as a relic of the London blackouts – he was speaking to Congress in the traditional , stately familiarity of a suit that appeals to like-minded people by looking like-minded.
Mr. Zelensky proceeded differently, knowing that had he changed his style he would have painted a different picture of his circumstances, perhaps indicating that the war had also changed. Instead, he stayed the course.
When, at the end of his speech, Mr. Zelensky presented Ms. Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris with a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers fighting on the Donbass front and they unfurled it like a frame behind his olive-green silhouette, it was the picture of the evening . Chances are, if history is made, it will be the image that stays.
It was impossible not to read in this picture the point that the President of Ukraine also expressed in words: that he was not there as a sovereign leader who reconciled with a global colleague, but as a sovereign leader turned soldier, to reiterate not only to those in the room, but to all sorts of listeners (the people watching at home, surfing the internet, sitting in the Kremlin), that he and the country he represents are not only fighting for himself, but for the values that are dear to the heart of the western world. That they were fighting for everyone and that it was about heads as well as land.
The sweatshirt said it all.