President Donald Trump’s spending of public money on his own ease and comfort is lavish and wasteful. His attitude toward taxpayers seems to be, roughly: Let them eat “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”
That is how the president described the dessert he shared with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida estate, which has become his weekend White House. Trump chose that moment of indulgence to inform Xi that U.S. cruise missiles had been fired into Syria. War is hell, but I guess Trump also sees it as an opportunity to indulge his sweet tooth.
I don’t begrudge Trump his empty calories. But his frequent trips to Florida, complete with the entourage that necessarily attends the modern presidency, have put him on pace to spend roughly as much on leisure travel in one year as Barack Obama spent in eight.
The president made a show of declining the $400,000 annual salary that comes with the job. But the most widely cited estimate of what one presidential trip to Mar-a-Lago costs – based on the known price of one Florida trip Obama took – is $3.6 million. And of the 13 weekends since Trump was sworn in, he has spent seven in Palm Beach.
A conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, estimated that Obama cost taxpayers $97 million in leisure travel costs during his two terms. As a private citizen, Trump was sharply critical of Obama’s travel spending, calling him a “habitual vacationer.” But Obama now looks like a relative cheapskate, while it is Trump who seems unable to break the habit.
Of course, it is possible that Trump will spend less time at Mar-a-Lago during the summer, when the Florida heat and humidity soar. But he might decide instead to weekend at Trump Tower in New York or at one of his other residences – excursions that would also bear significant costs.
For much less, he could opt to spend time at Camp David, the rustic presidential retreat in Maryland. But whatever else Trump might be, he’s not a rustic kind of guy.
His idea of the great outdoors isn’t the woods, it’s the golf course. Trump vowed last year that when he became president, he would be working so hard that “I’m not going to have time to play golf.” That turns out to have been wrong. A more accurate prediction would have been, “I’m going to play golf all the time.”
Trump has found time to play golf 14 times since his inauguration. At this point in his presidency, Obama hadn’t yet taken up the game; when he did, one of his most vocal critics was one Donald J. Trump, who complained that a president should have more important things to do. Maybe now Trump has figured out how to Make America Great Again with a pitching wedge.
Am I being petty? Certainly no more than Trump, though I realize that’s not saying much.
Being president may be the toughest, most stressful job in the world. No one begrudges Trump a little down time. One could argue, in fact, that the world would be better off if this particular president spent every single day on the links and hired competent, experienced professionals to run the country.
But Trump’s love of leisure is yet another example of the gaping chasm between the kind of president he claimed he would be and the kind he actually is. Trump portrayed himself as a man of the people, not in any literal sense – he also portrayed himself as worth $10 billion, you will recall – but in the cultural sense. He was used to wearing a hardhat. He could safely navigate a construction site. He knew the value of an honest day’s work. He was Joe Sixpack, if Joe Sixpack didn’t drink and had a supermodel wife.
Trump also promised a set of populist policies designed to help the working class. Instead, he has tried to deliver an orthodox Republican agenda that offers tons of goodies for the wealthy and nothing but lumps of coal for everyone else. His first attempt to pass major legislation would have taken health insurance away from 24 million people.
His foreign policy has been incoherent. His immigration policy has been mean-spirited and unserious. His fiscal policy seeks to punish the poor. His top aides spend much of their time stabbing one another in the back.
A president with that kind of record hasn’t earned the right to spend our money playing golf and eating cake.
Eugene Robinson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.