Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Linda McMahon, the 69-year-old World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder who now serves in Trump’s Cabinet as the Small Business Administration chief, has an expertly crafted Instagram account. Her page serves as a travelogue for her “Ignite” tour, aimed at reinvigorating small businesses across the country, and this turns out to be a plum setup for churning out post-worthy content. Apparently almost all the establishments she visits have interior decorators who work exclusively with bright, social media–friendly color swabs, and her staff is quite adept at finding “fun” small businesses, like racecar tracks, candy shops, and bee farms, all of which naturally lend themselves to the Instagram tropes of food pics and ridiculous outfits. The captions on her posts, usually purely descriptive, occasionally include a corny joke like, for a rock climbing business, “Owner of @trianglerockclub tells me, ‘@SBAgov’s loan really got us off the ground!’ Anyone catch that pun? #SmallBusinessWeek.” Under McMahon’s deft leadership, the Small Business Administration is not the staid bureaucratic entity its name might suggest.
McMahon has received uniformly favorable, if muted, press coverage of her role as SBA administrator. She’s consistently named as one of the more capable members of the Trump Cabinet, a feat she’s accomplished by not blatantly loathing the existence of the agency she runs or making headlines for shameless self-dealing. The two sitting Democratic senators from Connecticut, who both defeated McMahon when she ran for their seats as the Republican nominee in 2010 and again in 2012, even endorsed her appointment and have applauded her performance thus far. In the initial stage of her tenure, she’s managed to increase lending to women-owned businesses by nearly 7 percent and has helped facilitate billions of dollars in loans to hurricane victims. All of this is pointedly tracked and proffered on her Instagram page, where she presents herself as an industrious administrator with a busy travel schedule and endless enthusiasm for the small businesses she supports.
McMahon always appears in these photos with the poise of a diplomat, exhibiting the sort of impeccably good posture that exudes competence. There is barely any trace of the buffoonish alter ego that she assumed during her cameos on WWE in the early aughts, the highlight of which was when she miraculously awoke from a coma to take a pot shot at her husband Vince McMahon’s member during a scripted feud.
Scrubbing an image clean is nothing new for Linda McMahon. She has long tried to distance herself from the more risqué elements of the WWE, first by working to shift the program’s content rating from TV-14 to PG-TV while she was still an executive, and then by convincing the company to remove the misogynistic, sexual, and gratuitously violent content from its online archives during her 2012 senate run. Her Instagram page is yet more proof of this metamorphosis: McMahon’s genial tours and resulting posts effortlessly evoke the sort of wholesome folksiness that candidates try desperately to affect during the Midwestern primaries.
The various pictures of her disaster relief efforts and visits with the troops would also suggest to the cynical spectator that she will have plenty of ad fodder for a future run for elected office:
We actually have a peak into what it takes to filter the administrator into the picture-perfect woman of the people her social feeds display, thanks to American Oversight, a watchdog organization that acquired text messages between two SBA staffers via a Freedom of Information Act request in October. In the exchange, McMahon’s social media manager Roma Daravi and external affairs director Allie Schroeder choose between what looks to be half a dozen pictures of the administrator speaking at a meeting of Louisiana business leaders at the Trump International Hotel for a Twitter post. The two agree that they should avoid pictures with the hotel’s tiny logo in it, and Schroeder promises to “crop the opulence out” of the image. That’s a lot of thought dedicated to making sure the head of the SBA isn’t associated with Trumpian garishness in what appears to be a simple tweet:
It isn’t a stretch to assume that Daravi, who also manages the administrator’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, according to LinkedIn, is training the same discerning eye on McMahon’s other feeds. The Instagram videos of McMahon climbing out of charter buses, which seem to be her preferred mode of transportation, or donning a hairnet to walk a factor floor bely the fact that she and her husband earned more than $100 million during her first year in office.
McMahon’s Instagram account is supposed to be a testament to her talent for business, but it’s really an argument for her aptitude at politics. She may be among the handful of figures to leave their offices unscathed, managing to dodge the current referendums on whether working for the Trump White House means that you are complicit in its most contentious deeds. Her pleasant, mellow feed featuring visits with humble entrepreneurs is an illustration of just how she’s pulled it off. Small businesses, one of the widely adored fixtures in American politics, are her refuge from the hyperpartisan fray that this administration has wrought, and she’s consistently sure to put them front and center—and through the perfect filter.
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