Donald Trump thinks that the White House, a building designed to capture the understated elegance of America’s institutions, preserved in the form envisioned by George Washington himself, and gracefully appointed by the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, is . . . wait for it . . . a “real dump.”
That’s right — Donald Trump, the custodian of a gaudy monstrosity called Mara Lago and the man responsible for the noxious feng shui at 725 5th Avenue in New York, finds the people’s house to be a ramshackle sty unsuited to housing his gold-plated posterior. That’s why he doesn’t want to be there. As offensive as that is, it might signal the coming of some small measure of national consensus, as Quinnipiac reports that two-thirds of Americans don’t want him there, either.
It’s true that the White House is not the world’s most glamorous dwelling. Its exterior walls were built from sandstone (not marble), then splashed with white paint, so its builders were — to put it as generously as possible — economical. By the time of Harry Truman, piano legs were poking through ceilings from floors above (true story), and the whole place had to be gutted and rebuilt.
But all of that misses the point. The mansion, first occupied by John Adams, has been the symbol of the American experiment throughout our history, and, for much of that history, the symbol of the most powerful nation on the planet. In that vein, the White House is unparalleled in its magnificence. I’ve been there, and the confluence of kinetic power and history in the air all about the place is intoxicating. Any occupant of that building with any sense of a universe outside his own being would spend every moment thinking, at some level of consciousness, “I can’t believe I’m here.”
But some don’t get it. George W. Bush had no use for the place; he’d rather have been clearing brush in Texas, because for him, Texas was the machismo representation of the self; the White House was about . . . something else. But compared to Donald Trump, Bush was a scholar and a statesman — a man with the sublime historical sensitivities of Cicero.
Donald Trump is a personality-disordered vulgarian. His entire sense of worth derives from the garish metals and minerals with which he surrounds himself — the lifeless stand-ins for a soul that fled many decades ago. To Trump, the walls of the White House are not witnesses to a nation’s story, but dried muck from the nearest quarry — shitty construction that he could have done much more beautifully, believe me. To him, being installed in a house that is not all about him was a sentence, not an unimaginable blessing.
But maybe Trump is onto something. Having turned the presidency into a reality-television freak show — starring a D-list cast of clowns and misfits — America’s voters have corrupted the whole institution.
On moving into the White House, John Adams prayed, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” So much for that. Can a structure manifest the intellectual and moral rot of its occupant? If it can, then Trump is right — the White House surely is — presently, at least — “a real dump.”