Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry joined Instagram on June 1, 2017, with a photo of himself and a caption that began “Hello! I am Rick Perry.” In the year since then, he has become an enthusiastic Instagrammer, documenting his travels, speeches, and meetings. The overall impression from this feed is undeniable: It’s that Rick Perry is extremely proud of his big-boy job.
If his Instagram presence is any indication, Perry approaches his job like a kid on a field trip. This one time, he got to drive a 3D-printed car! He also got to see a supercomputer! And emcee a robotics competition! And wow: The man loves a hashtag. He posts about invented holidays like #muttday and cheerfully marks #SundayFunday and #FlashbackFriday. He litters his posts with the likes of #energy and #usa. When he ate outside at an In-N-Out, he clarified that his meal was “#food.” He remarks often on his #cooljob.
Perry also loves a thumbs-up. The pose has become popular in Republican circles lately because it is the president’s default affectation in photos. But Perry was known for loving the gesture long before his affiliation with Donald Trump. His Instagram grid is a veritable sea of phalangeal positivity. A thumbs-up while giving blood. A thumbs-up in front of a huge crane. A bittersweet thumbs-up to simultaneously honor Rep. Steve Scalise and celebrate some Texas college baseball teams. A thumbs-up while watching the World Cup.
It’s impossible to know for sure whether Perry runs his own account, but his feed feels authentic. He occasionally posts personal shots, like a snapshot of his children to mark something called “Son and Daughter Day.” (“Being @Energy Secretary is a #cooljob, but nothing beats being Dad.”) And he has gotten markedly better at Instagram over the year that he’s been using it, which suggests the account is not run by a young staffer who was already fluent in the medium. In August last year, just two months after he joined, he posted a screenshot of Bill Gates’ Twitter account to celebrate the fact that Gates tweeted about an Energy Department podcast. Today’s @SecretaryPerry is not exactly good at Instagram—he has only 6,500 followers, and most of his photos are extremely boring—but he would surely never make a rookie mistake like that.
Perry often looks uncomfortable while posing for photos but never unhappily so. In many photos, he appears to be thinking, “Am I standing normally? Maybe if I straighten my shoulders? It still feels wrong. Can people tell?” (Perry had back surgery back in 2011, but I am talking about a fundamental discomfort that runs far deeper than the spinal.) Posing with the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he seems to be standing up extra tall. Contemplating an art installation about the opioid crisis, he appears to be just staring into a corner. Standing in front of a row of police horses to celebrate something called “Meet a Horse Day,” he spread his legs oddly wide and—what else?—gave a thumbs-up.
One hesitates to use the term endearing to describe a willfully uninformed goofus placed in charge of the country’s nuclear weapons complex. But Perry has always displayed a wild-card openness that would be charming in most contexts. When asked about favorite movies on the presidential campaign trail in 2011, other candidates picked stock favorites like Braveheart, but Perry chose the sexy Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved. He joined Dancing With the Stars and then got eliminated because he lost a dance off to Vanilla Ice. Last summer, Perry thought he spent 22 minutes on the phone talking coal exports with the Ukrainian prime minister and a translator, but it turned out to be a prank call from the “Jerky Boys of Russia.”
Trump offered Perry the job of energy secretary less than three months after his fateful dance off. The New York Times reported that he had accepted the job without understanding what it was: He believed he would be a sort of roving ambassador for the oil and gas industry. (“It’s been a learning curve,” one adviser told the paper.) When he figured out what the job really was, he didn’t balk, despite the fact that he had called for the elimination of the Energy Department when he ran for president in 2012. His inability to even remember the department’s name in a debate led to the fateful “oops” moment that defined his campaign, not to mention his public persona.
At his confirmation hearing last year, Perry said he regretted his proposal to eliminate the department he now leads. Fifteen months into the job, Perry’s Instagram feed suggests that his regret was sincere. He seems to be having a wonderful time at work. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that he’s the only person in Trump’s Cabinet who is actually enjoying himself these days, perhaps because he simply hasn’t picked up on the tension and misery that have been widely reported to permeate the executive branch. Hey, why be unhappy about the state of American democracy when you have such a #cooljob?
Read more Trumpstagram here.