Trump and the '21' Club

Yesterday brought us the news that the “reporters” camped out at Trump Tower are outraged that the president-elect has frustrated their ability to monitor his activity by secretly de-camping with his family to enjoy a steak dinner at the “21” Club, five blocks away from his office and penthouse residence in the tower.

One wonders whether “reporters” is the correct term to describe these people.  Hovering near the building entrance on Fifth Avenue, their method is to confront those coming and going from meetings with Mr. Trump with a microphone, a camera, and a shouted question, in the hope that an unscripted response will be sufficiently camera-worthy to serve as an appetizer for the political junkies, helping to satisfy the broadcast media’s insatiable need for fresh “content."   

But make no mistake: this is not reporting.  There is no analysis, no insight, no investigation, no expression of facts.  Instead, there is unrelenting speculation about the many choices to be made as the new administration ramps up before January’s inauguration day – speculation that provides Trump’s many critics with further opportunity to denounce him for what they expect he will do, even before he has done it.  

Much of today’s commentary about this event highlighted the break with the prevailing protocol, which in effect attaches the press pool to the soon-to-be commander in chief in much the same way as a pilot fish follows a larger ocean predator, hoping to harvest a few morsels for its own sustenance.  Perhaps a swarm of mosquitoes would be a better analogy.

But of course Mr. Trump is a private citizen, and his comings and goings, while naturally of interest to the public and the press, are nonetheless his own business, even now.  Whether or not it was his intention to deceive the press pool by removing himself from Trump Tower, it is good that he did so.  Even the president-elect deserves a zone of privacy – it may serve the purposes of the press and other professional participants in national politics to establish 24/7 supervision of Mr. Trump, but it is doubtful that it serves the public interest. 

It is a feature of the modern presidency that the chief executive lives in the proverbial bubble, kept a vast distance from much of the world.  Such isolation is likely a contributor to the emergence of establishment groupthink, a frame of mind that is not conducive to sound decision-making.  Mr. Trump’s success as a candidate and Mrs. Clinton’s deficiencies in the same role likely demonstrate the advantages of thinking outside of that particular box, and the dangers of confining oneself within it.

Some early reports have suggested that Mr. Trump may maintain a presence at Trump Tower, even after he occupies the White House.  Doing so might result in an occasional inconvenience to his neighbors and to other New Yorkers, but it might also help to preserve his attachment to the world he occupied up until this time.  Yes, in many ways it is a rarified world – Trump is by far the wealthiest person ever to have been elected president – but despite his wealth, it appears that he has preserved, even cultivated, a genuine affinity for “real” people, accompanied by sensitivity to their views and values.  We will all be better off if this remains true, even as his courtiers and the press demand that he abide by “protocol” and surrender to the bubble.