I hate to open with a cliché, but—to cite another cliché—clichés are clichés for a reason. These, my good people, are extraordinary times. And when the times are extraordinary, they call for extraordinary measures.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats; Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War; Kim Kardashian’s use of Snapchat to go Battle of Yorktown on Taylor Swift’s ass. We must all rise to the occasion when the stakes are high. Again I say: these are those times.
We feel treacherously close to actually electing a deranged, blustering demagogue with a guinea pig sitting on his head to the highest office in the land. Never before has it felt more likely that Donald J(esus fucking Christ) Trump will become the next President of the United States and have at his disposal the most powerful military the world has ever seen and the ability to destroy the White House vegetable garden.
More generally, some of the most awful, insane occurrences that I have to assume are signs of the impending doomsday are happening on what seems like a regular basis. On top of all that, Frank Ocean still has not released his damn album. I do not recognize this world!
These are the times. These are the times. These are the times. We must all step up and do our part in whatever way we are able. So it is with, admittedly, some apprehension, but also a great deal of patriotism and sense of duty that I slip my robe back on, lift my gavel and return to the bench that Dorian Cory built for this very special emergency edition of Shade Court.
The Case: A week ago, Melania Trump gave a speech at the Republican National Convention which contained portions that were lifted verbatim from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Last night, Michelle Obama gave a speech at the 2016 DNC and opened with the following:
You know, it’s hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be president.
Remember how I told you about his character and convictions, his decency and his grace, the traits that we’ve seen every day that he’s served our country in the White House?
The Defendant: Interestingly, it wasn’t so much that people labeled Michelle’s speech an instance of shade towards Melania, but that they hoped for it deeply before the event even took place.
And this noble public servant who boldly shouted “SHADE!” from her rooftop:
The Deliberation: You know Michelle had to do it. She had to do it. The question was simply: how?
Melania’s theft was not just a continued display of the utter incompetency that is the Trump campaign. For people of color and the woke among them, it was yet another instance of white people emulating or completely stealing the work and creativity of black people and attempting to pass it off as their own. Michelle had to put Melania in her place not simply because common sense demanded it. Michelle had to do it for the culture.
The shade came by way of two very simple lines.
“You know, it’s hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you,” she said, reminding Melania of who came first and who came hardest. Of course, it made sense to reference her first speech on a major platform like the DNC, but it was also a way of conjuring the memories of the exact speech Melania and Company stole from. She didn’t have to bring it up, but she did.
Then Michelle iced that stone cold cake with: “Remember how I told you...” Oh, we remember, because we just heard your exact words repeated a week ago.
The nature of the shade thrown by politicians and the Obamas in general tends to skew more delicate, in part because of the conservative nature of politics and the potential for ugly backlash at anything too overt. But be clear, the shade was there. And in some gaudily expensive hotel suite somewhere, Melania sat on a plush couch—her designer dress beginning to wrinkle, Donald’s musty breath breathing down her neck—and she felt the chill. She felt it.
The Ruling: Shade
You see, Hillary has spent decades doing the relentless, thankless work to actually make a difference in their lives… advocating for kids with disabilities as a young lawyer, fighting for children’s health care as first lady, and for quality child care in the Senate.
And when she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned.
The Defendant: Many
The Deliberation: It’s easy to read these remarks as a somewhat generic musing on Hillary’s tenacity and commitment. Still there are many different ways to describe those qualities so we must pay special attention to Michelle’s vocabulary choices.
Michelle did not say that after her 2008 loss Hillary buckled down and kept her chin up. Rather, Michelle pointed out what she did not become: “angry or disillusioned.”
Angry and disillusioned (in addition to ridiculous) are two of the best words to use to describe the crowd of rowdy Bernie supporters who pulled some staggeringly childish shit at the convention like heckling Elizabeth Warren—the woman their candidate likely wanted as his Vice President.
It’s a very clever shade tactic—appearing to be talking about another person when you’re really describing your target—executed to perfection by your First Lady.
The Ruling: Shade
I want someone with the proven strength to persevere, someone who knows this job and takes it seriously, someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.
The Defendant: CNET
The Deliberation: Referring to the “140 characters” bit, the author of the article wrote:
Obama took a subtle jab at the Twitter echo chamber and Donald Trump’s social media presence
As you, the sophisticated shade critic, can probably tell, she got close, but did not bring things all the way home. CNET also loses points for mostly suggesting that the shade being thrown here is at “the Twitter echo chamber.”
Had they not doubled down on Twitter as a whole as the target, I might have let this slide. But I cannot betray this court, and like Marcia Clark, they didn’t quite make the case.
The Ruling: Not shade
The Case: In this instance, we must consider Michelle’s speech as a whole, in addition to a few key passages:
How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.
Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.
I want a president with a record of public service, someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase form and fortune for ourselves, we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed.
So, look, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!
The Defendant: Errrybody
The Deliberation: Some of the most masterful shade-throwers this world has ever seen are such because they, like all great warriors, follow the teachings of the not very shady, but highly effective Sun Tzu who instructed:
So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even if you have a hundred battles.
One must then ask, in regards to the enemy: What is going to hit the hardest? What insecurity can I best exploit? Is there a certain delivery that will shade the hardest? Do I shadily imitate their mannerisms? Do I insult their golf course?
Proving that she knows exactly what she’s doing, Michelle revealed that the genius of her shade was in channelling Dorian Corey’s wise words: “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly ... and that’s shade.”
When suggesting that, “when they go low, we go high,” she didn’t need to identify “they” because we know exactly who “they” is and, more importantly, they know who “they” is.
Michelle knows the only thing that narcissistic clown loves more than the sound of his own voice is the sound of his name and as a result, she gave him nothing.
The best shade is both obvious and open-ended. Did she or didn’t she? I think she did but maybe she didn’t? It sends the target reeling into a spiral of self-doubt, leaving them unsure if they should respond when their name was not even uttered.
My girl Michelle robbed Trump of the ability to hit back. He made fun of Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in part because they all mentioned him by name. It gave him the opportunity to volley back with some cruel, sophomoric insult.
Michelle Obama spoke for fifteen minutes about Donald Trump without ever having to talk about Donald Trump. It was her way of saying: I see you. And you know I see you. But I won’t give you the satisfaction of acknowledging to the world that I see you.
And in doing such, Michelle Obama, our Lady of Elegant Eyerolls, she who never wades into the muddy waters of pedestrian drama, stood on that stage in a majestic blue gown, bangs swooped to next Sunday, and threw shade for the ages and, more importantly, for the American people.
The Ruling: Shade