How does that line go? All fast food served warm is alike, but every fast-foodstuff consumed after it gets cold is unhappy in its own way?
Regardless: Taste was not, by all appearances, a top concern when it came to the culinary offerings that the White House presented to visiting members of the Clemson Tigers football team on Monday evening. It was the visuals, instead—items from McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King and Domino’s, many of them piled, in their branded packagings, atop silver platters—that were the point: the gleaming tongs next to the wilting boxes of Filets-O-Fish. The plastic containers of dipping sauces, sorted by flavor, stacked cheekily inside gravy boats. The many faces of Wendy, wrapped recursively around a series of Singles. The French fries arranged, haphazardly, in cardboard cups bearing the seal of the White House. The gilt candelabras lending soft light to the guilty pleasures. A little bit P. T. Barnum, a little bit Hieronymus Bosch, a little bit Beauty and the Beast, had “Be Our Guest” been staged by Willy Wonka and also set in the apocalypse: The scene was grinning and a bit grotesque, and that was the point. A portrait of Lincoln gazed down upon the spread and at the man who would claim credit for it, perhaps wondering anew what God hath wrought.
The answer was as evident as the silver-plattered salads: This was a thoroughly Trumpian strain of spectacle, its images meant to hijack attention and go viral. The president invited members of the press into the State Dining Room on Monday, before the diners were invited in, to take photos and shoot video of the tablescape, rendering an otherwise ordinary White House event—a victorious athletic team, rewarded with a presidential visit—into something remarkable. And the feast that ensued (“great American food,” Trump called it), was the distillation of some of his fondest visions of the country: corporate, homogeneous, teasing, unapologetic, and revolving, above all, around the whims of Donald Trump. Images of the president, presiding over piles of cardboard-boxed burgers, quickly attained their virality; there was pretty much no way for them not to. Trump bragged like so about his own role in the procuring of these postmodern loaves and fishes: “Because of the Shutdown I served them massive amounts of Fast Food (I paid), over 1000 hamburgers etc. Within one hour, it was all gone. Great guys and big eaters!”