Interior Decorator in Chief

Trump's fixation with surface effects and appearance marks the man and his brutality.

Given the latest news about these immigrant raids, this post will seem out of touch, tonally off. I apologize in advance, though I wonder if there’s a connection.

Like all of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about Trump. His The Art of the Deal has been sitting with me, in my head, for the last several weeks. The book’s salient theme, the thing that marks Trump most, is not, as many people have noted, that he’s any kind of great capitalist or builder of buildings.

Nor is it that he’s any kind of great dealmaker. When you read about his deals, you feel as if he is as bored as you are, though, God, can he drone on about the details.

But there is one type of moment when you really feel like you’re in the presence of the man himself, when you feel as if the response he is registering is genuine. And that is when he’s decorating.

Trump seems to be sincerely moved by the surface of things. The surfaces are garish and gauche, but you sense some kind of inner stirring in him when he writes about those surfaces, a stirring you otherwise never feel.

This is just one representative passage, where he’s talking about the atrium in Trump Tower:

Der, Ivana, and I looked at hundreds of marble samples. Finally, we camp upon something called Breccia Perniche, a rare marble in a color none of us had ever seen before — an exquisite blend of rose, peach, and pink that literally took our breath away. . . it was a very irregular marble. When we went to the quarry, we discovered that much of the marble contained large white spots and white veins. That was jarring to me and took away from the beauty of the stone. So we ended up going to the quarry with black tape and marking off the slabs that were the best . . .

The effect was heightened by the fact that we used so much marble — on the floors and for the walls six full floors up. It created a very luxurious and a very exciting feeling. Invariably, people comment that the atrium — and the color of the marble particularly — is friendly and flattering, but also vibrant and energizing —all things you want people to feel when they shop: . . .

Of course, the marble was only art of it. The whole atrium space was very dramatic and different. Rather than making the railings out of aluminum, which is cheap and practical, we used polished brass, which was much more expensive but also more elegant, and which blended wonderfully with the color of the marble. Then we used a lot of reflective glass, particularly on the sides of the escalators. That was critical, because it made a fairly small core space look far larger and more dramatic.

Notice the specificity of his observations, his eye for certain details. Notice the irrepressible joy, almost awe, he experiences and expresses. Notice how loving, wistful, aroused he is, by the play of surfaces. It’s hard to believe he’s faking any of this. It seems, to me at least, quite real.

As I said, these are the only types of moments when you feel as if he’s truly present, engaged with what is happening around him.

What’s more, he seems to have brought the same sensibility into the White House. When he’s not fretting about his ratings or ranting about what’s being said about him on Twitter or TV, decorating is the only thing that captures his attention:

To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

. . . He will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden drapes, which he told a recent visitor were once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt but in fact were patterned for Bill Clinton. For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.

Again, in building after building that he describes in The Art of the Deal, it’s a similar story: not a mention of plumbing, electricity, basic architectural or engineering design; instead, there are long, loving descriptions of the various window treatments he’s considering.

It’s that Wildean obsession with surface effects, that almost tender regard for the beauty of appearances, that marks the man.

That, and his brutality.