Who or what is really to blame for the dump President Trump has to live in?

Aug 2nd, 2017 | By Citizen X | Category: In Brief

What a Trump White House could look like. Thanks to Catey Hill, MarketWatch.

I am not supposed to be doing this right now. I have allegedly more urgent work to attend to. But it is the middle of our short Canadian summer. And there is nothing quite like stealing time from more urgent work for a summer flight of fancy.

For my text see : “Did Donald Trump Call the White House ‘A Real Dump?’” ; “Trump reportedly described White House as a ‘real dump’” ; “Donald Trump Brands The White House ‘A Real Dump’” ; and “Report: Trump Tells Members Of His Golf Club The White House Is ‘A Real Dump’.”

All this was sharply brought to my attention this morning, almost as if it was somehow my fault. And there is a sense in which, if President Trump actually did call the US White House a dump or words to that effect, I think I can sort-of see what he means.

Marine Band performs on the South Lawn of the White House in 1921.

(Well … without in any way implying that there is anything on planet earth about which I agree with President Trump. Most people up here really liked President Obama. I was one of them.)

I base my own White-House-as-a-dump views largely on visits to US state legislatures back in the 1980s and 1990s — when my traveling companion and I had time for such things. And I should note we also toured Washington, DC during the same period (though I have never actually visited the White House inside, as it were).

Back from his own late 1950s and early 1960s visits, the American literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote that “Toronto [the Canadian city where I live today] also differs from the States, in spite of much Americanization, in preserving a British tradition of good order and capable handling.”

“In 1950, The White House was gutted of its interiors to undergo a massive restoration project set forth by President Truman. This painstaking process would eventually save the rapidly deteriorating building as it approached condemnation.”

My impression from my state legislature and Washington, DC tours of the 1980s and 1990s was that — perhaps in more of a “European” or even “Old World” legacy nowadays — public buildings in Canada are still typically better maintained than they are in the USA.

To me one crucial side of this just comes down to money, and especially tax dollars.

Canadians are at least somewhat more willing than Americans to spend money on government — including government buildings. (In 2015, eg, employment in general government as a percentage of total employment was 18.2% in Canada and only 15.3% in the USA.)

Moreover, as best as I can make out Donald Trump embraces the American political tradition that very aggressively demeans all forms of government activity as less worthy than virtually any form of private business enterprise — and less entitled to the economic resources that finally make the world go around.

* * * *

Jackie Kennedy’s green room in her early 1960s interior renovation: “In the early stages of the project ... the $50,000 allotted for the refurbishment was spent within a matter of weeks ... Henry DuPont and other high-powered allies helped “lobby Congress to officially designate the White House a museum,” and raise more funds.

From this angle President Trump currently has to live in a dump because people like him (and the voters his rhetoric is calculated to attract) are just not willing to pay to maintain the White House in the high-luxury style of Mar-a-Lago or Trump Tower in New York City.

At the same time, along with being not quite as well maintained as our public buildings in Canada, the various US state legislatures I visited in the 1980s and 1990s were also typically much more open and accessible to the public than our comparable Canadian buildings.

I have a photograph, eg, of my traveling companion sitting in the Speaker’s chair of the New York State Assembly in Albany.

I have no such photograph of the same person sitting in the Speaker’s chair of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto. And I cannot imagine how it would ever be possible to obtain such a thing.

President Obama and Vice President Biden have White House lunch.

At no time in my memory could an ordinary Ontario voter — let alone a tourist from neighbouring New York State — get anywhere near the Legislative Assembly of Ontario unattended. Legions of soberly dressed security guards have always protected Canadian public buildings from the depredations of the great unwashed.

My traveling companion urges that, ever since September 11, 2001, popular access to US public buildings is almost certainly more restricted than it used to be. And I’d concede that this is probably true.

Two different if not necessarily incompatible conceptions of democracy’s deeper meanings nonetheless flow from what I remember of the way we were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Donald Trump, center, with Lt. General H.R. McMaster (l) and Keith Kellogg (r) at the Mar-a-Lago resort, February 20, 2017. Photo : Al Drago, NY Times/Redux.

At the same time again, it is probably true as well that even the somewhat higher standards of public building maintenance in Canada would not really satisfy President Trump. What he seems to want is a palace fit for a king.

And — quite apart from any strictly financial considerations — it is part of the history of democracy in America that the president of the United States is not supposed to be a king.

And that does seem to be yet another thing that President Trump does not really understand about the country that has been so good to his father’s family.

UPDATE AUGUST 3 : The White House has officially denied that President Trump called the White House “a real dump,” and the president has himself tweeted to the same effect. As US journalists increasingly point out, however, the problem with anything the president and/or his White House says is that he (and they) have advanced so many demonstrable lies in the past. In any case Citizen X says his argument here stands up regardless. As he explains above : “there is a sense in which, if President Trump actually did call the US White House a dump or words to that effect, I think I can sort-of see what he means.” (As an old bureaucrat the Citizen knows how to cover his backside.)

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