During the Obama years, one of the ways the White House presented itself to the public was through a dedicated in-house photographer named Pete Souza, who would post all manner of glamour shots of the administration’s doings to social media feeds. The actual White House news photographers weren’t big fans of the arrangement ― let’s face it, the administration’s aim was to cast itself in the best light ― but it left us with some iconic images. (Plus, it allowed MTV News’ Ana Marie Cox and me to make a lot of silly jokes about it over at The Awl.)
Souza, of course, is gone from the White House, and is now repurposing his work as a means to troll the current occupant of the Oval Office. With him has gone his relentless pursuit of a presidential era through the eye of a camera lens. Yes, the Trump administration has its own Flickr feed, and generates its own photo-opportunities. At some point, the Trump White House could find a similar photographic groove. But Souza’s self-consciously artful approach created an interesting prism through which to view a presidential era ― a sort of sidelong glance at that world that we’re now lacking.
Or so I thought. Recently, New York magazine’s Brian Feldman suggested that one could find this intriguing prism again, simply by looking at the Instagram geotag for President Donald Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. So I did, and discovered a pretty unique universe there, one that mirrors the oddness of our times. So join me now, in a journey into Trump’s gilded world.
Welcome to beautiful Mar-a-Lago, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s one-time Palm Beach haven, now rechristened the “Southern White House” by Trump. That’s a re-rechristening, actually: Trump first referred to it as the “Winter White House,” but he’s been going there a lot more often. The resort will soon close for the summer ― and it’s looking like it may be Bedminster, New Jersey’s, turn in the barrel for hosting Trump getaways.
So, my working theory of Mar-a-Lago is that it’s basically a weird, bubble universe like “Portlandia,” except it’s focused on 1980s anomie-and-bonhomie rather than post-1990s hipster wish-fulfillment schemes. (The odd thing is that Kyle MacLachlan is the mayor of both universes.)
Also, many of the partiers at Mar-a-Lago are reminiscent of Max Greenfield’s pre-housing crash mortgage broker character from “The Big Short,” but here in this Palm Beach hideaway, they are all somehow unscathed from the ravages of that world. Here, the only bubbles that have popped are in champagne flutes, and the only subprime commodity appears to be the food.
The caption reads: “The architecture, sculpture, planning and craftsmanship that went into Mar-a-Lago in 1924 could not be duplicated today.” So, it’s not all bad news.
One thing you can say about Mar-a-Lago is that it’s a good substitute for the “Infinity Mirrors” show that’s been all the rage at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington. (To be fair, Mar-a-Lago is also a lot easier to get into than the exhibit.)
Graydon Carter really nailed it with that “short-fingered vulgarian” remark, huh? (Kinda makes up for The Waverly Inn.)
I recently read a tweet that attested to the existence of rompers being made for men. At first glance, that’s what I thought we were dealing with in the image above, but thankfully not. Nevertheless, if the rompers-for-men fad takes off, Mar-a-Lago will almost certainly be Ground Zero.
As you can see, Mar-a-Lago attendees can be pretty mixed on Trump. Still, what I’d point out is that you should have an innate distrust of any organization that hands out a “Six Star” award. Five stars is more than enough, man. Don’t be a try-hard, American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
Mar-a-Lago’s sinks are from Kohler’s “A Bit Much If I’m Being Honest” line of designer bathroom fixtures.
This will be a sight Mar-a-Lago goers will rarely see if Trump gets the $1 billion cuts to the Coast Guard budget that he wants.
Melania, leaving him hanging.
The baby’s face says it all: “Thank God I’m too young to read ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’”
Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem like Trump’s two adult sons are a Las Vegas act looking for a casino to call home? I have a strong feeling about it, anyway. But is it a lounge act? A terrible magic show? Maybe it’s just Don Jr. and the other one shooting super-soakers at each other. (I’d pay to see that.) The exact contours of the future Trump Sons Vegas show are maddeningly hard to conjure in my imagination, and I think the reason is that we’ll all probably be dead soon.
Speaking of, here’s the obligatory mention of the famous “unsecured phone who dis” moment that so captured the imagination of a Mar-a-Lago paying member, who maybe should have thought whether this was the sort of thing about which one should be enthusiastic.
Meanwhile, let’s check in with The Resistance, which apparently use the Mar-a-Lago geotag to riddle its Insta feed with memes and anti-Trump content.
Mmmm. Yes, this will be the meme that finally brings Trump down.
I think what this image is getting at is that Trump promised to stay in D.C. and keep his nose to the grindstone, but now he’s jetting off for near-weekly getaways. Just your typically subtle content from user “@impeach_dictator_in_chief.”
Guys, if you’re going to make a “Hangover” joke (circa 2009), then you have to get the casting right. Paul Ryan is the Ed Helms character, and Mike Pence would be the Zach Galifianakis analogue. Steve Bannon, like it or not, would be the Bradley Cooper ― but this is obviously a dated photo now that Jared Kushner has taken over.
Well, that’ll show him. Let’s get back to Mar-a-Lago, now.
Trump conducts a lot of important work while at Mar-a-Lago, including what he sees as his chief duty: promoting his business, Mar-a-Lago. But here he is making his best, “I’m-stuck-with-my-second-choice-of-national-security-adviser” face.
Perhaps this is Trump receiving that 10-minute Cliff’s Notes version of Far East foreign policy from Chinese President Xi Jinping that convinced the president that solving the thorny issue of North Korea was actually “not so easy.” Take that, Holiday Inn Express!
And here’s Trump abruptly changing his mind about the Syrian conflict and hoisting a bunch of cruise missiles at the country in a totally “Jacksonian” move.
Sometimes, the actual president and first lady come to Mar-a-Lago as well.
But if you spend any significant amount of time paging through the “Mar-a-Lago” geotag (not recommending you do this!), you will quickly discover that Trump is not the real star of the resort. That honor goes to this woman and her impressive array of statement sunglasses. Future’s so bright!
I think the big takeaway from this photographic study is that for all of Mar-a-Lago’s gold-plated opulence, there’s something canny about the way Trump makes it work for him ― even as someone who’s posing as a champion for working stiffs. Mar-a-Lago is the kind of place you dream about when you aspire to be a rich dude. You don’t identify it as a haven for the Davos set of plutocratic elites.
There’s never going to be an Ideas Festival at Mar-a-Lago. But the lawns will, from time to time, be filled with sweet-looking Ferraris. That’s the difference that made Trump a cool and populist class-traitor in the eyes of his most ardent fans. Images from his resort really give this idea potency. Without a doubt, there is definitely an extent to which Trump’s Florida redoubt actually helps boost Trump’s political brand.
The open question, of course, is whether he might overdo it.
Still, I wonder what he’s daydreaming about! Maybe it’s “a way out of this.”
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.