Sunday, November 20, 2016
The New York White House–Donald Trump’s No Thanks To 1600 And Foggy Bottom
There have been rumors that Donald Trump will not move into the White House but will do business from his penthouse in Trump Tower in New York City.
When pundits wrote of political revolution – the rise of populism, the dismantling of the Eastern Establishment, and the radical reordering of Washington power – they overlooked, as they did throughout the campaign, image, meme, and signifiers. They missed the popular appeal of a man who embodies Hollywood glitz, Las Vegas high-rolling, and the brawling, bare-knuckle street-fighting of New York. Coddled for decades in old-style privilege – Georgetown homes, summers on Nantucket or the Vineyard, and winters in Aspen or Gstaad – these journalists, editors, and publishers turned up their noses at real nouveau riche tinsel and excess and banished the thought that a family like the Trumps could possibly move in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
As much as they harped on Trump’s racism, sexism, and homophobia, they really were criticizing the rednecks, crackers, and trailer trash that were his constituents. Not only were these lower middle class, white families ignoramuses and retrograde racists, but they actually admired Trump for his grandiose towers, outsized television personality, arm candy women, private jets, and third and fourth homes. More than that, they wanted to be Donald Trump; and would have been uncomfortable around Chippendale, Wyeth, bone china, Montesquieu, touch football, sailing, and Yale. The homes of the Bushes, the Kennedys, and the Roosevelts - Kennebunkport, Hyannisport, and Hyde Park – have always been off the cultural map of America’s middle, but never farther than now.
Journalists of a certain age, now editors of mainstream news media, have never gotten over Camelot and the days of Pablo Casals, Robert Frost, and the grace , sophistication, and refinement of the Kennedy White House. They tolerated country-bumpkin LBJ because of his commitment to civil rights, but turned on the President, ridiculed his Texas cowpoke roots and syrupy accent once he refused to get out of Vietnam.
The same was true of Bill Clinton whom Washington journalists knew was trailer trash at heart, an Arkansas hillbilly who couldn’t keep his hands off backwoods tarts; but kept a respectful distance because his own social commitment. They were not surprised when Gennifer Flowers surfaced and rumors of many other smarmy liaisons followed. They were certainly not surprised when it came out that the President was having his way with Monica Lewinsky.
It was all so déclassé – half-sex in the oval office with an intern – and far from the heroic exploits of JFK who had bedded Marilyn Monroe and a hundred other starlets and European beauties before his tragic and untimely death. The press corps, for all their snootiness about LBJ and his cattle-country beginnings, admired the sexual appetites of this Western Lothario. The Secret Service, who were complicit in the President’s tomcatting, rarely held their tongues; and few in Washington were out of the loop on his escapades. They had a begrudging admiration for the machismo of the man and wished that they too could escape from their wives, climb down the fire escape and up an open window to bed a passionate lover.
Richard Nixon was neither here nor there – an asexual, rigid and pissy man with no pedigree, no animal instincts, and no charm or personality whatsoever. He was admired for his overtures to China and Russia, but then all admiration stopped with his continued bombing of North Vietnam and Watergate.
The point is that there has been no First Family like the Trumps. Ronald Reagan might have been a man of Hollywood, but he had also been President of the Screen Actors Guild and a two-term governor of California. He was a decent, modest, and respectful man of principle who may have trusted his advisors far too much, but could never be accused of chicanery or moral failing. He was an attractive man, and although he came from the Coast and from a milieu far removed from that of the Old World Northeast, he was acceptable.
Donald Trump was also a man of Hollywood but cut from a different cloth. While Reagan took acting seriously and as a profession even though he never made it above B-movie status; and represented actors for years as the head of their union, Trump acquired only the trappings. He was not an actor but a star; he had never played a part on the set, but played the role of celebrity perfectly. He was as much a part of the People and E! magazines stock-in-trade as Beyoncé and the Kardashians.
He had all the trappings of Hollywood celebrity – lavish homes, big cars, gorgeous women, controversy, and unmistakable allure – and reveled in it. His professional society – the producers of reality television and real estate moguls – were just like him. Perhaps they lacked the star power or visibility, but their society and culture was just as middlebrow, showy, and macho as his.
So Donald Trump comes to a staid, frumpy, hidebound, traditional Washington unapologetically uninterested in it. For a high-flyer like Trump, why should the bureaucratic, partisan, gridlocked capital have any allure whatsoever?
No doubt the Oval Office itself has appeal. Trump has certainly already imagined himself in endless celebrity photographs taken with world leaders who come to pay their respects, dancing with Melania and the gorgeous wives of Presidents and Kings, and presiding over sumptuous state banquets.
But being in Washington full time? Where does the Constitution say that The Leader of the Free World has to stay cooped up in a house that is the very image of Old World, WASP, Eastern Establishment?
Yes, there is a five-star chef in the kitchen, but what fun is it to eat foie gras with truffle oil and raspberry reduction having to look at paintings of John Adams and Alexander Hamilton? And even if President Trump were to want to go on some outside excursions, where would the excitement be a some overstuffed, overpriced, restaurant that passes Secret Service muster?
Given his recent cabinet appointments (11.20.16), it is clear that he will not stray far from his campaign promises; and he is as good as his word when it comes to laying down hardline, radical rules of policy and governance.
While this is appealing to his supporters, it is not what they really want. The last thing in the world they want to see is Donald Trump tied, tethered, harnessed, and bound to the very Washington he railed against. Image is everything, Trump always knew, and it was his image and outrageous, independent personality that won him the election. Of course his stances on immigration, political correctness and free trade helped; but no one – except Washington pundits – ever doubted the importance of his social allure.
Living in a New York Penthouse and continuing his familiar lifestyle of ‘21’ and the Manhattan glitterati while still ruling the nation is what Trump’s faithful want to see. What could be more essential that their man living in high style while the putrid swamp is drained?
There has been no confirmation that the Oval Office will be moved to Trump Tower anytime soon; and maybe, as antiquated and quaint as the White House may be, he will warm up to the trappings of history and stay put. Or he may split his time between New York and Washington; or spend time with his wife and friends in New York on weekends. It is surely a better bet that Melania will stay put in Trump Tower. As hard as it might be for some observers to imagine Donald Trump in the White House, it is even more difficult to imagine her as First Lady.
Yet as far-reaching as any of Donald Trump’s policies on foreign trade, China, and immigration might be, nothing would shake up and wake up Washington more than a move of the White House to the penthouse in Trump Tower.