These aren’t depictions of a sportsman or a statesman. For Donald Trump, who has recently turned golfing into his prime presidential duty second only to tweeting, they are portraits of a reckless man in full — specifically a man full of himself.
Trump is the unmasked duffer clutching the wheel of a golf cart, zipping over knolls while his caddie — also unmasked — hangs off the back. Trump has noted that these outings are an efficient form of exercise — practically medicinal, which is about as accurate as saying that being borne up the side of a mountain on a donkey is a form of good-for-you cardio.
The picture of a well-fed White man in a golf cart at a private club is a familiar trope in film and literature that has long been used to telegraph a narrative about fat-cat economics, stifling social hierarchies and inherited advantages. The golf course is the ground on which business is conducted by those on the inside track. It’s a place of backslapping, trash-talking and — in pre-pandemic days — handshaking.
It’s a classic metaphor for privilege and disregard — and sometimes establishment ineptness — and one that is also terribly apt for Trump. While a pandemic rages across the country, the president works on his swing. While images of unemployed Americans in seemingly endless food lines sear painful scars into our national psyche, the president is a man at leisure, rolling across the lush, manicured greenery of his private playground while his supporters cheer him on from outside the secure perimeter — and his critics protest.
In truth, Trump doesn’t even look like he’s having a particularly good time golfing. He simply appears to be avoiding the dreadfulness of his responsibilities. Such is his privilege.
In these long days since Joe Biden became president-elect, Trump’s refusal to concede or at least stop obstructing a peaceful transition of power can be described as many things — delusional, childish, unpatriotic, dangerous — but above all else it has been a tremendous display of the deference afforded to this man. As a man, who also happens to be White and wealthy, he has been able to muster the breathless support of both men and women — from Rudolph W. Giuliani in Pennsylvania court to Kayleigh McEnany in a full-throated media assault — because he lays claim to the benefit of the doubt even where there isn’t even a shadow of it.
Supporters have asserted that the president should be allowed to exhaust all of his legal options; he should be allowed to get used to the idea of loss; he should be given a chance to collect himself. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in formal remarks spoke about the president like an indulgent parent blaming everyone else for his child’s bad behavior. “Let’s not have any lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.” McConnell seemed not to understand that when the Democrats moved to investigate Trump and impeach him, that meant his critics had, in fact, accepted the reality of his victory. Disliking a president and being determined to hold him to account for malfeasance is not the same thing as denying his existence.
White male privilege is powerful. It overrides facts. It excuses horrendous behavior. It exalts the unqualified. It drew thousands of Trump supporters to the streets of the nation’s capital in their “Make America Great Again” gear and with their flags hoisted high, rubbing shoulders with members of hate groups because they believed the current president — the birther president — was righteous in his denial of his loss at the polls. They came to enable the illogic of a man who repaid their fervor with a drive-by appearance on his way to the golf course.
Others who might well have liked to choose fantasy over fact didn’t have that privilege. Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote but lost the electoral count to Trump in 2016, was barely given 24 hours to nurse her wounds before much of the country was tapping its toes anxious for her concession. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 gubernatorial race to Republican Brian Kemp, a man who was also serving as secretary of state, which is to say he was overseeing the election in which he was a candidate.
Abrams spoke up about voter suppression. Protesters converged on the state capitol to demand that all legal votes be counted. Abrams took her concerns to court. She took her time. But then, 10 days after voters had gone to the polls, she accepted the reality of her circumstances.
“I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor in the 2018 gubernatorial election. But to watch an elected official — who claims to represent the people of this state, baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote — has been truly appalling. So, to be clear, this is not a speech of concession,” Abrams said.
“Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede. But my assessment is that the law currently allows no further viable remedy.”
It has been two weeks since Election Day. Trump has neither conceded nor formally and finally acknowledged Biden’s victory. He simply golfs.
In recent days, former president Barack Obama has noted in interviews that Trump’s concession is long overdue for the sake of our democracy. Michelle Obama posted a long missive on her Instagram in which she recalled how difficult it was for her to welcome the Trumps into the White House, but that she did so because she felt compelled to put country before personal animus. She implored Americans to accept the vote tally. And one could only think of Trump’s more than 73 million voters and all those deaf ears on which her words almost certainly landed, people who have no intention of letting the pleas of a Black woman rise up to drown out the drumbeat of White male privilege because that hierarchy has always been essential to Trump’s appeal.
The only voices that can silence that privilege come from those who also have it. And so it’s significant that Michelle Obama turned her attention to the nation’s leaders and called on them to stop enabling Trump for the sake of national security. Perhaps they will listen. Perhaps they will pull the president aside and broker a deal with a bit of straight talk and an elbow bump.
Perhaps they will do so. Just a couple of lucky White guys on the golf course.