Trumpstagram is Slate’s pop-up blog that close-reads Instagram accounts in the Trump orbit.
Imagine a world where Donald Trump never became president. It’s a better world, one where America doesn’t strive to ban immigrants on the basis of their religion or lock children in cages. But it’s also one with a bewildering expanse of psychic space—the president’s sticky cadence does not creep into every conversation and his epithets aren’t summoned by every mention of Hillary Clinton or the New York Times. One liberal in Ohio actually created such a world for himself—but he had to block out virtually everything else that happened to do it. He watched the NBA playoffs on mute, like a vampire who would be vanquished by even a single photon of Trump light. But the president, apparently, is less like the sun, which does blessedly disappear for a spell each night as the Earth turns, than like the planet’s carbon dioxide–suffused air, which at once creates civilization-altering floods and droughts and moves silently in and out of our lungs every three seconds.
You don’t need to ask your barista to hide the newspaper, though, to embrace the alternate reality in which “pee tape” is what the nurse puts on the side of a paper cup at the doctor’s office. That illusion is fastidiously maintained in one place: the Trump Organization, where “Trump” is still just a brand of hotels, golf courses, and condos, a place for the president’s children to pretend that their name stands for anything but their rotten father’s rotten politics.
Deep beneath the everyday bullshit is the foundational lie of the Trump presidency: that the president is not getting rich off his office. We mostly pay attention to how Trump Sr. flirts with this firewall, branding his private Florida club the “Winter White House,” thereby turning diplomatic meetings and missile launches into ticketed events, and spending millions of taxpayer money at his own resorts. (His Cabinet members, somehow, manage to be even more transparently corrupt.)
The Trump Organization, like the related family brands, runs a tighter ship. (Though who doesn’t?) Mostly, foreign interests just book a phalanx of rooms at the Trump hotel or issue a few dozen patents to the president’s daughter and wait for the favors to roll in. Even when the Trump Organization all but invokes the power of the Oval Office—as in an April letter to the president of Panama asking for help with a dispute at the Trump International Hotel in Panama City—it does so with plausible deniability. The letter to the Panamanian president coyly omitted that the company’s founder and namesake is the president of the United States.
But the purest form of this political blindness can be found on the Instagram of the Trump Store, which (true to the social network at large) offers apolitical shlock and lifestyle porn. The account has only ever known the Trump presidency—it launched in November of last year—but it paints a comprehensive picture of the Trump brand without Trump politics, a blindingly dull collage of golf, white wine, and dogs. There are at least 50 people in the photos; every single one of them is white. Won’t you join them for a boozy, politics-free poolside lunch? There are more dogs (seven) than minorities (zero).
Even the world’s most evil companies manage to present a group of diverse stock photo models in their promotional material. This oversight on the part of the Trump Organization probably accurately reflects the brand’s sense of self, but I see it also as a reminder of what a Podunk, two-bit operation it is.
Most of what they sell is Ralph Lauren knockoffs, “golf polos” for a used car salesman near you. They are not a cheap buy, which again serves as a reminder of what a facetious, Janus-faced marketing program this is. We all know that if you truly wanted to look like a new car salesman on the links you’d spring for a more innocuous name brand. Wearing a big Trump logo across your chest will never again be anything but a political statement. But the company can’t say that, because it—like congressional Republicans and the General Services Administration operatives that manage the Trump Hotel lease—is pretending that there’s effectively no link between Trump Inc. and the Trump administration.
If it weren’t for the occasional regram of the president’s loudmouthed, InfoWars-adjacent son, Donald Trump Jr., looking swollen and a little frightened of his own reflection, you might be able to forget that Trump was anything but a brand of overpriced golf shirts.
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