It was a small moment — lost amid the swirl of a whirlwind day of history and protest in the nation’s capitol. But, when President Trump stood to speak at the bipartisan congressional lunch, he revealed something absolutely essential about himself and how he views the world.
Here’s the clip, courtesy of NBC’s Bradd Jaffy:
“My generals.” “Central casting.” “If I'm doing a movie.”
These words make clear just how much appearances matter to Trump. He likes the idea that he has generals that look like the sort of generals you might see in the movies.
Another example: Trump likes the idea that James Mattis’s nickname is “Mad Dog.” When he announced he had picked Mattis, Trump couldn’t get enough of the nickname — saying it over and over to the crowd. (I wondered aloud at the time whether Trump would have picked Mattis if his nickname has been “Squeaky” or “Tiny.”)
And another example: One of the reported reasons that Trump was so intrigued by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state was because Tillerson looked like Trump’s idea of a diplomat. (Tillerson is quite tall.)
And yet one more: During the presidential primary campaign, Trump was quoted as saying the following about Republican Carly Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Remember that the formative experiences of Trump’s past 15 years have come from reality TV. It’s reality TV that turned him from a celebrity in New York City to a national and international celebrity. Trump has been playing the role of “high-powered CEO” for as long as he can remember, and he plays it to the hilt: the hair, the suits, the gold. It’s all aimed at looking the part.
It’s natural then that someone who has spent so much of his life tending to maintaining an appearance and an image would be attracted to other people who fit his preconceived notions of what members of a Cabinet should look like.
“It is no coincidence that a disproportionate share of the names most mentioned for jobs at the upper echelon of the Trump administration are familiar faces to obsessive viewers of cable news — of whom the president-elect is one,” noted Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post last month.
For Trump, appearances matter because looking the part is essential to acting and being the part. If you look and talk like a strong leader you are, de facto, a strong leader. It’s a simple equation on which he has premised the theory of his entire adult life.
His Cabinet then is a perfect reflection of the Trump mind-set. Generals need to look, talk and act like the generals in the movies. (Think the opening scene in “Patton.”) Diplomats need to look and act like the people in a Bond movie. And the president needs to act like the always resolute, totally confident, perennially correct man of our big-screen dreams.
The world is, for Trump, a stage. The presidency is simply the latest in a series of increasingly high-profile roles for which he has been chosen. And he wants to have people who look the part around him.