There are things that rich people generally like to do, or anyway are supposed to like to do, or more to the point were supposed to like to do during the years when Donald Trump was coming into his own as a famous loathsome person. Donald Trump reliably does all those things. He once played tennis and skied and committed adultery in various gilded rich-guy venues, but watching television has overtaken all those as he has gotten older and slower and more sour. He still golfs avidly and quickly, zooming around in his little cart and grimacing. He prefers to eat the type of fusty and tepid buffet food found in country club dining rooms while surrounded by the types of people found in country club dining rooms; he attends Events and makes remarks; he convenes meetings and sits in them, nodding, until they’re done.
Except for gossiping about other rich people, which has transparently always been Trump’s greatest passion, it is clear that Trump doesn’t get much out of any of this. He does not know what he’s waiting for, just that he is waiting. He doesn’t know when he will get to stop, but he’s very clearly afraid of it. The clenched sessions spent in the wash of some blaring television; the languid suspense that his own wild and suspicious idiocy forces into every interaction with the rest of humanity; the grim going-through of all these stilted luxury motions—the plump misery of the wary and worthless life he’s made is undeniable and unrelenting, but it is also not much consolation given that, for some time that will assuredly be longer than is healthy, we’re all stuck in it with him.
It was always recursive, always the same dull day over and over again, because that is what Trump thinks it means to live a rich man’s life. Now, in the last manic rationalizations and bleary score-settlings of his presidency, it is all literalized. Every week, he loses the states he lost in the presidential election that he lost all over again. Whatever fights are left, or however many turns at the old ones remain, are not grounded in hope so much as the function of a lifetime of curdled habit. “To retire is to expire,” his father Fred said, and like all the other lessons that Trump took from the monstrous man who shaped him into what he is, he appears to have swallowed it whole.
So Trump thinks he knows what happens if he stops, or anyway believes it strongly enough to fear it. Fred Trump Sr. “insisted on working even after his Alzheimer’s disease advanced in the 1990s,” Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman reported back in October. “Every day Fred Sr. would go to the office in Brooklyn and they would give him blank papers to sort through and sign,” a family friend told Sherman. “The phone on Fred’s desk was set up so that it could only dial out to his secretary.” He came in every day.
So what’s left for Trump, now, is both vital and insignificant. The important part, which is important above all else, is that it remains—that there’s more of it, that tomorrow could at least be the same as today. What’s insignificant is everything but that. The misery and suffering and isolation of the rest of the country, the cruelty and collapse that made Trump possible and that he relentlessly made worse, is not even a rumor to him. It is not on the television, it is not on his mind, it is not really his problem and has never really been his problem. Or more accurately it has never really interested him, because it is not really about him, and does not really look good on him, and because as far as he is concerned his days are full enough as is. There are papers to sort and calls to make. The television is on and they are talking about him.
On his way to play golf on Sunday, Trump’s motorcade went past people who had lined up on the sidewalks to cheer him on and other people who were there to jeer him; people out walking their dogs or taking some fall air paused to give him a thumbs-down as he rolled past. Where the supporters were, Trump flashed a contrary thumbs-up and said some things that were inaudible behind the bulletproof glass of the huge black vehicles taking him from one place to another. It looks like he is screaming, but he is probably not. It looks like he is saying something, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. He’s in there alone, and everyone else is somewhere else outside and away from him. This hasn’t changed, either.