Donald Trump: The Beauty Pageant President


The saddest short story of the 21st century was published over the weekend, but it didn’t appear in the pages of the Paris Review or the New Yorker. It was the work of Reuters, a profile of President Donald Trump, reflecting on his first 100 days in office, and it was as emo as a My Chemical Romance record fucking a Fall Out Boy T-shirt in a Hot Topic dressing room. “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” President Bummer told Reuters, presumably while sauntering around the Oval, eyes cast downward, while piano music played. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” Hey look everybody, the entitled rich white male celebrity says being president is hard! Pour out a little Cristal.

But somehow, that’s not the saddest moment in the piece; nor is it when a man who’s been driven around Manhattan for his entire adult life insists, “I like to drive. I can’t drive anymore.” (Fred lets him drive slow on the driveway. He’s an excellent driver.) It’s this:

Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map. “Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.” He had copies for each of the three Reuters reporters in the room.

Trump’s obsession with that electoral victory – with restating it, turning unconnected discussions towards it, and (of course) lying about it – has been one of the odder flourishes of his young presidency. Why does he keep bringing it up? It would be tempting to guess that it’s mere desperation; winning that election is the only thing he can point to as a success, and pretty much the only campaign promise he’s managed to deliver on. But there’s more to it than that. To really understand Trump’s obsession with his victory, we have to look at one of the less-discussed areas of his pre-2016 biography: his involvement in beauty pageants.

Sure, it’s come up – mostly in relation to his sexual harassment and body-shaming of contestants – but it’s worth considering how that world influenced him politically. He was immersed in it for nine years, as co-owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, and reportedly took a (pardon the pun) hands-on role in the operation of those organizations. And what, exactly, does being Miss USA or Miss Universe entail? You travel across the country/world, speak at events, crown other pageant winners, and promote your brand. Your position is ceremonial and your achievement is being a winner – and the fact that you won this contest is your defining characteristic. It’s mentioned every time you appear. Sound familiar?

Trump obviously saw President of the United States as the same kind of ceremonial position; that was clear as far back as last summer, when Donald Trump Jr. reportedly reached out to Republican primary rival John Kasich, offering to make him “the most powerful vice president in history,” in charge of domestic and foreign policy, while Trump’s responsibilities would consist of “making America great again.” Any reasonable person could tell that Donald Trump wanted to win the presidency, but he didn’t actually want to be president, and his misery isn’t subtle. The questions of preparedness and expertise that haunted him through debate season, transition, and the first 100 days were moot – he wouldn’t need to brush up on foreign policy, government structure, or even American history, because knowledge in those areas wasn’t part of the job as he saw it. He just needed to smile and wave, and be the winner.

So that’s what he’s done. That’s why he brings up his electoral victory at the drop of a hat. It’s why he’s still tweeting about it, five months later (even while insisting, six minutes later, “The election is over!”). And most of all, it’s why he keeps holding giant, campaign-style rallies, at which he can stand onstage in his MAGA sash, and be praised for winning. That’s all he’s done, and as far as he and his deplorables are concerned, that’s enough. He doesn’t have to know American history, or foreign leaders, or the branches of our government, or even what country he’s bombing.

And as for foreign policy, well, here’s a riddle: What’s the difference between this…

…and this?

Simple: the second one doesn’t have access to the nuclear football.