It’s not as if Donald Trump wants for self-amusement, but still I pity him the apparent end of his search for a secretary of state. He had such a blast with it.
Luminary upon luminary genuflected before him. Oracle upon oracle plumbed the mists of his utterances. (“Just met with General Petraeus,” he tweeted. “Very impressed!”) He was the star yet again of a top-rated reality show, this one with the heightened stakes of war and peace – “The Apprentice: Armageddon.” I assume that Mark Burnett helped to vet the candidates.
In fact I know it, because of something I’ve kept secret until now: I was in the running. It was fleeting but electric, and Trump cut me a break, letting me escape media notice by transporting me to Mar-a-Lago in a leaky dinghy at midnight. After a choppy voyage, I made a soggy entrance for my audition – sorry, interview – which consisted of Trump’s telling me which countries he already had hotels in and which he wanted to expand to. Then Ivanka swept in, modeling a choker and matching tiara from her jewelry collection, and asked me if I sensed a potential market for them in sub-Saharan Africa.
I jest, but not about the air of absurdity surrounding this previously staid process of selecting someone to be the nation’s top diplomat. Decades from now we'll still be talking about Trump’s version, which presented a crystalline window into the man himself, revealing the titanic whole of his tortured psyche: the bloated ego, the boundless need, the capriciousness, the obsession with appearances.
It was a fitting coda to his campaign and, I fear, a harbinger of his presidency. It was also a microcosm of the convention-defying, coherence-flouting month since his election. Has any other president-elect (or president) been so quick and so content to put the lie to his words?
He spouts off against the elites, then stuffs his administration with billionaires, several from the very banks he vilified. He rails about big government, then pulls a big-government move with Carrier, the air-conditioner manufacturer.
He painstakingly enunciates the consonants LGBTQ in his convention speech, then ignores the LGBTQ-hostile records of people he’s pulling into his Cabinet. He claims (against all evidence) to respect women, then recruits a labor secretary who once defended the pulchritudinous ads for his fast-food chain by saying: “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” Little-known historical fact: In the initial design for the Statue of Liberty, she wore a two-piece and raised a Big Mac instead of a torch, but then some prudish vegans protested, and here we are.
Does Trump laugh at his misdirection and his head fakes, as when he played footsie with Al Gore on Monday of last week and then, on Wednesday, kicked him hard by naming a climate-change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency?
He surely sits back and grins as he watches aspirants vie for his favor. Before Trump, the way to land a top spot under a new president was to be discreet, but discreet does nothing to fortify his ego. He wants the whole world to see how many important people hanker to work for him. So they show the world, posing for pictures with him and fanning out on TV to proclaim their ardor and aptitude.
David Petraeus, angling to be the secretary of state, appeared on the ABC News program “This Week” to try to demonstrate that he could quell misgivings about his mishandling of classified information during an extramarital affair. But there was more to his performance than this aria of expiation. Speaking via a video feed from Germany, he signed off in German, telling George Stephanopoulos, “auf Wiedersehen!” That settles it. Such a multilingual man of the world must get the job!
Rudy Giuliani, who was one of his competitors, had previously done a Fox News interview with a goo-goo-eyed Sean Hannity that was all about establishing his international bona fides.
Hannity ever so helpfully asked him how many countries he’d been to. Giuliani said that since 2001, when he ended his time as mayor of New York City, he’d visited about 80.
“Wow,” Hannity said. Then, continuing his swoon: “A lot of people sought your expertise.”
Mitt Romney took a pass on the television bragging and, apart from smiling for photographers during his dinner with Trump in one of the magnate’s shimmering Manhattan hotels, kept the sycophancy to a minimum. He didn’t do what some in Trump World would have liked and issue some extravagant apology for that blistering anti-Trump speech during the Republican primaries.
But he had hair and handsomeness in his favor. The Times’ Maggie Haberman and Jeremy Peters reported that he appealed to the president-elect in part because he was “a camera-ready option to represent the country around the globe.” I’m convinced that being camera-unready undid me. To Trump, all the world is baubles, and he reaches reflexively for the shiniest one.
A week and a half ago, a Trump spokesman, Jason Miller, announced that the field was down to four candidates. Just a few days later, the Trump whisperer Kellyanne Conway said it was expanding. Such is the mixture of Trump’s signals, the roller coaster of Trump’s mood, the brevity of his attention span and his belief that a certain degree of chaos yields the optimal outcome.
Besides, discipline is for wallflowers. Disorder keeps the spotlight on you and the audience rapt.
And what fun to advertise the plenitude of suitors and extend the orgy of self-congratulation. Last week, Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, was suddenly en route to Trump Tower. Fast on his heels was James Stavridis, the retired Navy admiral who had once been mentioned as a running mate for Hillary Clinton.
Dana Rohrabacher, a California congressman, and Alan Mulally, the former chief executive of Ford, were late additions to the mix. Someone in Trump’s orbit even mentioned onetime Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, and that was no ordinary name drop. The Romney-Huntsman feud is legendary. Had Trump picked Huntsman after flirting with Romney, it would have been an act of vengeance – and well within Trump’s character.
In the end Trump tilted toward the corporate titan Tillerson – an announcement was expected soon – and thereby affirmed anew his veneration of private-sector experience over public service.
By that yardstick he could have chosen me! Plus, I’ve hit five of the seven continents, and can manage a polyglot parting of my own. Sayonara, dear reader. Arrivederci. Au revoir.