Somebody once said photography makes us all tourists in another person’s reality. If that’s true, and I suspect it is, then…wait. You know, if I had to guess, I’d guess it was probably Susan Sontag who said that. I mean, she was always offering some weighty opinion about photography, and she had the terribly annoying habit of generally being right. Anyway, regardless of who said it, let’s acknowledge the truth of it. There’s absolutely no way to accurately depict four years in anybody’s life in four photographs, let alone the life of one of the most powerful people on the planet. So this is really just a tourist’s…wait. I had to check, and yes, it was Sontag.
The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.
Okay, back to my point, such as it is. My point is that this is basically a tourist’s quick view of the Trump years. It’s not meant to be anything more than a sketch of the guy’s presidency, written mainly for my own amusement. Still, I hope it makes a few valid points about the type of person Comrade Donald J. Trump is and what sort of president he’s been. Which, yeah, is a lot to ask of four photographs.
So let’s start with this: Trump, at age 74, is a spoiled, petulant, selfish child who insists on getting his way. When he can’t get what he wants when he wants it, he pouts. Or he throws a tantrum. Or he finds somebody to blame. Or he claims he was deprived of what he wants because of someone’s personal animosity or jealousy. Like every peevish, impatient child, Trump is thoughtlessly, carelessly rude. It’s more than just a lack of courtesy; it’s an inability to consider the wants or wishes of others. He’s been indulged his entire life. Until now. Now he’s being denied a presidency he only wants because he enjoys the attention and because somebody is trying to take it away from him. He seems incapable of understanding why his pouting/tantrum routine isn’t working anymore.
Trump is an angry person. He’s resentful, petty, and vindictive. He assumes everybody else is equally angry, resentful, petty, and vindictive. He’s easily offended, and when offended his first impulse is to strike back, to offend the offender. Trump holds onto a grudge like a leech. Even if he eventually gets what he wants, he remains bitter and spiteful toward anybody who either opposed him or who wasn’t, in his opinion, sufficiently supportive. He has no sense of loyalty to others, though he expects unquestioned loyalty to himself. Worse, Trump is cruel. Deliberately cruel. He wants his ‘enemies’ to suffer, to be humiliated. Their humiliation and suffering makes him feel powerful and justifies his anger, resentment, pettiness, and vindictiveness. This makes him a bully.
Trump is tacky. He’s vulgar. Crass. It’s not just that he’s personally gauche and physically graceless (though he is), and it’s not only that he lacks any grasp of art or any appreciation of artistry (though he does). It’s that he has a profoundly shallow concept of beauty. His aesthetic sensibility is limited to the surface of things; he is taken by the gaudy, the glittery, the garish, the bright twinkle of tinsel. He is trapped by the belief that bigger is better, that more expensive is better, that extra is better. This flashy sensibility applies to everything from home furnishings to women (which, I suspect, he also views as a home furnishing).
If his tastes were lowbrow, that would actually be an improvement; there’s honesty and integrity in lowbrow tastes. For example, I believe he genuinely enjoys fast food and junk food — fried chicken from KFC, Diet Coke, a Big Mac with supersize fries, Doritos. Most of us have some lowbrow tastes (confession: I’m a sap for the sweet chemical taste of Orange Hostess Cupcakes). Many people may be horrified by the way Trump likes his steak prepared (well done, served with ketchup), but the fact that he insists on having it served that way suggests he truly likes it. His taste in food is perhaps the only area of his life in which he seems totally sincere and authentic.
Trump has no friends. I find this terribly sad, but revealing. He has followers, he has servants, he has sycophants — but no friends. It appears nobody, with the possible exception of his children (and I’m not convinced about them) really likes him as a person. People may want to spend time with Trump the Businessman, or with Trump the president, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody who actually wants to spend time with Trump the person.
He’s a hollow man. He has no human warmth. It’s impossible to imagine him playing with children, or tossing a ball with a dog, or having coffee and a chat with a friend. It’s impossible to imagine Trump sitting back in a chair, relaxing, reading a novel. It’s impossible to imagine Trump hanging out with a buddy. It’s impossible to imagine Trump having a hobby — a simple, regular activity done purely for his personal enjoyment during his leisure time. Golf is probably as close as he gets, but he’s a well-known golf cheat. You only cheat to win, and winning involves a desire to beat others.
This, in my opinion, is the saddest, most tragic, and most revealing photograph of the Trump presidency. One of the most powerful persons in the world climbs the steps to Air Force One with toilet paper stuck to his shoe. The president travels with hundreds or thousands of people attending him — members of his administration and all their aides, Secret Service agents, medical staff, communications staff, hospitality staff, the news media. Not one person was willing to tell him he had toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Not one. Everybody around him was either too afraid of him to mention it, or they didn’t regard him enough to save him from this moment of embarrassment, or they simply disliked him enough to let him appear in this humiliating fashion in public. The President of the United States — and they let him climb those steps with toilet paper stuck to his shoe.
That’s shameful. But that’s who he is. Donald Trump is the sort of person who, at the end of the day, isn’t respected enough or liked enough for somebody to say, “Excuse me, but you’ve got toilet paper stuck to your shoe.”
That’s the sad but appropriate epitaph of his presidency.