Everything is not coming up roses in America — so the first lady has decided to plant a few.
Melania Trump has announced a significant renovation of the White House Rose Garden, which will be modified to resemble its 1962 design by horticulturist and philanthropist Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.
The green space next to the Oval Office, first commissioned by President John F. Kennedy, has become the site of many of President Trump's press conferences due to social-distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The renovation will include electrical upgrades for TV events, two limestone walkways, and new drainage systems. CNN reports that the decision to revamp the garden was made several months ago and will take several weeks. It will be funded by the National Park Service and private donations.
"The very act of planting a garden involves hard work and hope in the possibility of a bright future," Melania Trump said in a statement. "Preserving the history and beauty of the White House and its grounds is a testament to our nation's commitment to the care of this landscape and our dedication to American ideals, safeguarding them for our children and their children for generations to come."
On social media, some critics of the Trump administration said the renovation was a tone-deaf and heartless move in a time of national crises. "As the nation approaches 150,000 dead from COVID-19, and millions of Americans face eviction and homelessness, Melania trump is renovating the Rose Garden. I really don't care, do you?" tweeted user @mmpadellan. The last line is a reference to the controversial jacket the first lady wore on a visit to immigrant children being held in a detention center on the U.S. border.
Author Don Winslow pointed out how many of these children remain in detention and that the news of the garden comes as Melania's husband, President Trump, is sending federal agents to teargas and club protesters in Portland and Seattle.
In addition to the Black Lives Matter uprising against police brutality, the country is also facing an unemployment crisis, which is further threatened by federal inaction in areas like housing and the extension of benefits. "With her usual myopia, Melania believes that Americans who are facing eviction & horrifying death will be pleased and comforted by her landscaping efforts," wrote Dr. David A. Lustig on Twitter.
"That’s some Marie Antoinette shit right there," responded bisexual politician Katie Hill, a former California congresswoman. The 18th-century queen of France was infamous for her lavish spending in a time of financial crisis; she was executed by guillotine following the French Revolution. First Daughter Ivanka Trump had her own "Let Them Tweet Cake" moment in 2017 when she posted a photo of herself in a gown to Instagram in the midst of the national uproar over the Muslim ban.
The New York Times reports that the renovation is part of President Trump's "Rose Garden strategy," a reelection strategy used by incumbent presidents that involves dedications, press briefings, and Rose Garden appearances. While the renovation may appear to be a move toward tradition for Melania as well as her forebear Jacqueline Kennedy, her husband is anything but traditional, including in his use of the space.
The Times writes:
Over the course of his term, President Trump has ushered reporters into the garden in 40-degree weather to rail against Democratic leaders and announce an end to a record-length government shutdown. He has hosted gatherings with his fans, who have picked profanity-laced fights with journalists among the roses.
Lately, largely confined to the White House and struggling to respond to the dire economic and public health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Trump has taken to delivering meandering news conferences in 90-degree heat. Aides say he believes the natural lighting favors his complexion.
Previously, Melania Trump's signature Be Best campaign against youth cyberbullying has been criticized as being hypocritical in light of her husband's use of social media to menace. In March, she also faced blowback for overseeing the renovation of a tennis pavilion during the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
“I encourage everyone who chooses to be negative & question my work at the @WhiteHouse to take time and contribute something good & productive in their own communities. #BeBest,” Trump told her critics on Twitter.