Time recently published a wide-ranging, insightful article called “Donald Trump After Hours,” for which a team of reporters and photographers was given leisurely access to see how our president lives and works, four months into his presidency.
It goes about how you’d expect.
Within a few paragraphs, Trump has taken the reporters to the West Wing dining room, where he installed (at his own expense) a crystal chandelier and an enormous television. Beneath that chandelier he offers musings like, “This is one of the great inventions of all time—TiVo,” and needles himself toward anger by rewatching old videos of opponents giving interviews. It’s clear that grudges he nurses—like, say, people thinking he wouldn’t win last year—are reinforced by tape-watching sessions like this. Passages like this have the feel of someone tonguing a canker sore:
The next clip starts to play, this time showing Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley asking Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates if they ever requested that the names of Trump, his associates or members of Congress be identified by name, or unmasked, in a legal intelligence intercept. “Watch them start to choke like dogs,” Trump says, having fun. “Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath.”
Clapper, on the screen, pauses several beats to search his memory. “Ah, he’s choking. Ah, look,” the President says. After a delay, Clapper finally answers, admitting that he had requested an unmasking, which would have been a routine occurrence in his former job. The running Trump commentary continues. “See the people in the back, people are gasping,” he says, though it’s unclear who he is referring to on the screen. He also mentions the sound of photographers’ cameras clicking on the television.
The article isn’t salacious—it manages to contextualize these anecdotes as an obsession of the president with how he is perceived by the public, the final metastasizing of, as they describe him, “a man who has spent so much of his life grading himself by headlines.” At this late stage, it is a sort of illness, especially given his position. The normal mental health strategies that keep public figures sane feel like dangerous insulation for a commander in chief:
To cope with this new reality, the President says he is trying a mindfulness trick: he has tried to tune out the bad news about himself. “I’ve been able to do something that I never thought I had the ability to do. I’ve been able not to watch or read things that aren’t pleasant,” he will say later in the night, listing off the networks he tries to tune out and the newspapers he struggles to skim. Of course, as his public outbursts indicate, he does not always succeed, but he says he no longer feels a need to know everything said about him. “In terms of your own self, it’s a very, very good thing,” he says. “The equilibrium is much better.”
The article also describes his life wandering alone around the 20,000-square-foot mansion residence of the White House, showing off various rooms to guests at any chance that he can get. Some of these details are weirdly humanizing, like when he says, “People have no idea the beauty of the White House. The real beauty of the White House.”
Others remind you exactly of the type of person he is, gaudily slurping down a second helping of sauce as an ostentatious display of power:
The waiters know well Trump’s personal preferences. As he settles down, they bring him a Diet Coke, while the rest of us are served water, with the Vice President sitting at one end of the table. With the salad course, Trump is served what appears to be Thousand Island dressing instead of the creamy vinaigrette for his guests. When the chicken arrives, he is the only one given an extra dish of sauce. At the dessert course, he gets two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his chocolate cream pie, instead of the single scoop for everyone else.
It is almost comical to compare anecdotes like these with those of pretty much any former president, let alone Trump’s direct predecessor, who kicked back each evening with an indulgence of seven lightly salted almonds. The full article, which covers Trump’s working habits and furtive attempts to influence the magazine’s coverage of him, is well worth reading, if only to clarify your internal image of what the president does when he is not trying to get us all killed.