I kind of miss the man.
I have to confess, as traumatized as I was by the last four years - and particularly the last year or so - it has been difficult this week, surfing the headlines, looking for the next sign of Armageddon and finding nothing but cautious optimism. It's not that I dislike cautious optimism; I like it a lot. It's just that my central nervous system has acclimated to ridiculously high levels of cortisol and adrenaline during the pandemic-soaked election cycle, and so excuse me if I wake up every morning LOOKING for something to be desperately wrong.
But there hasn't been, until today.
Today the other shoe dropped. The headline said, "Joe Biden Removing Trump's 'Diet Coke Button' From the Oval Office..."
Say what, now?
Yup, so I'm not sure how I missed this, but former President Trump (take a moment, let that sink in) had a button installed in the Oval Office that, when pushed, summoned a butler with a glass of Diet Coke on a silver tray. The existence of this button, and this practice, was confirmed by multiple journalists and other White House visitors.
I have so many questions, as perhaps you have - if you didn't know about this already.
Apparently, Donald Trump consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 Diet Cokes a day. Why is he so fat? Look, I'm fat, and I can tell you precisely why. It's not because scientists say diet soda is actually a risk factor for obesity, not a cure for it (though that is true, look it up). So don't get on my back about calling the guy fat. He golfs as often as I go to Wawa, and he's mainlining Diet Coke; he should be slimmer. I'm just saying.
Next question: A butler? Was this a full time civil service position? With health insurance and a pension? If someone needed to be on standby for a dozen button-pushes a day, clearly they needed to have flexibility in their schedule. How much does something like that pay?
Next: Was it Diet Coke, for real, or was it Diet Coke, the lazy catch-all for any diet cola drink? Did he PREFER Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi? What about Coke Zero - that's technically a diet Coke. If the butler mistakenly filled the glass with Coke Zero, is that grounds for termination? How about Pepsi Max, my personal favorite - is that a capital offense?
I don't think there's really anything fun about being President. You have no privacy. You have all this responsibility. You shoulder all the blame. If you surround yourself with people smarter than you, you're a dolt. If you surround yourself with people dumber than you, you're a failure. If you get butt-hurt and throw a tantrum because no one likes you anymore, people laugh and say mean stuff on social media. There's literally nothing fun about being President.
Do you think Trump discovered that the hard way, and installed his Diet Coke button as a tiny, sly wink of rebellion? Like, "Hey this job blows and I don't know half of what's going on, but I can always get me a Diet Coke, am I right? Watch this shit!" I'm reminded of the scene in Big where Tom Hanks is talking to his childhood friend in his snazzy, new office, filled with toys, and calls his secretary to come in and bring snacks and football highlights. Billy, his friend says, "You're the luckiest guy I know!"
Of course, Big is about a kid - what, around 13? - who finds himself in a man's body and a man's world. His habit of looking at life through a child's eyes, without the cynicism or ruthless self-interest, is charming. I don't think the metaphor translates well to the Trump White House. But I could be wrong.
The thing is, I want a Diet Coke button! Who wouldn't want a Diet Coke button? Or a fill-in-the-blank button? Who wouldn't want instant gratification, name your poison, to help make the crappy parts of your day a little more bearable? That is just human nature.
The thing is we, normal people, don't get to have that. We have to install Diet Coke buttons in our brains and lean on them for survival. Lean on them hard! We have to talk to ourselves, tell ourselves it's not a big deal, it's going to be fine, we will take a nice vacation this summer, we can grab a drink after work, it's cool. We build defenses, and we build mental Diet Coke buttons, and we hope they are enough to get us by.
But rich people, powerful people, get to have real buttons. They grow accustomed to different rules, different tolerances. Or, as comedian John Mulaney says in one of my favorite standup bits, "Celebrities are weird as shit!" In this bit, Mulaney talks about getting to work with Mick Jagger while he was a 20-something staff writer on Saturday Night Live. In addition to Mick being alternatively appreciative and loudly critical of his talent, Mulaney recalls that every time Jagger said, "Diet Coke," one would appear in his hand. "The way I was raised, you're supposed to say, 'May I please have a Diet Coke please,' and then maybe you will get one," Mulaney says. "But if all of us could go, 'Diet Coke!' and one would appear in our hand, we'd do it all day long!"
But not Joe. Joe had the button removed, and I don't think it's because he doesn't drink Diet Coke. I think it's because he was elected on a platform of equality and equity: I know your worries, I feel your pain. I grew up in Scranton; I took the train to work; I lost a child. That's his shtick, he's empathetic. And that plays well against the uncouth, self-absorbed cyclone that was Donald Trump. I mean, Joe is a first-name President! Not the first one - Bill Clinton was just-Bill first. During his presidency you said, "Bill" and everyone knew who you meant. And of course both Obama and Trump were one-name presidents, but it was their last names - like Nixon. No one ever called Richard Nixon "Dick" without irony and some snark.
But Biden is just "Joe." He can't have a Diet Coke button because WE don't have a Diet Coke button. He's like our grandpa: he's rich enough to drive a nice car but he'd rather have something practical, just to teach us an object lesson about being frugal and modest. We love Grandpa Joe! We elected Grandpa Joe.
But it still bothers me, it's still not fair. Like a parent wants the best for his children, shouldn't we want Joe to be able to have something to make being President a little less shitty? I mean, even the 10 Commandments say you're not supposed to covet your neighbor's button. Can't we wish good things for our President rather than reinforcing the notion that he is no better than we are? Because let's face it, he'd better be better! I wouldn't want to be President and, I don't think I'm breaking any ground here, but you wouldn't want me to be President either! I would have to think long and hard to find someone I know who I WOULD want to be President, if there actually is somebody. He's not like us - he needs to be better FOR us.
Give the guy his button, for God's sake. Tell him it's OK.
He's going to need it.