And the absence is broader. Trump can’t readily cheer the nation in moments of triumph (championship sports teams boycott his White House). He doesn’t tenderly comfort the nation in times of tragedy (he tosses paper towels to hurricane victims, and does a double fist pump on the anniversary of 9/11). He doesn’t read books, talk movies, or go to the theater, and is unwelcome at even the Kennedy Center Honors, over which presidents have presided for nearly 40 years. This reality is striking, and sad: When it comes to those personal rituals of the modern presidency that Americans have long since taken for granted, Donald J. Trump is the man who isn’t there.
He plays no games of touch football on the lawn at Mar-a-Lago, à la the Kennedys in Palm Beach or Hyannis Port. No family rounds of speed golf or horseshoes, and no mountain biking, as with the Bushes at Kennebunkport or Crawford. No horseback riding or brush clearing, as with Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the mountains above Santa Barbara. No snorkeling, as with Obama and his girls at Oahu’s Hanauma Bay. He doesn’t toast his own English muffins like Gerald Ford. No romping with Buddy the dog or Socks the cat, those pet denizens of the Clinton years. Even that loneliest of loners Richard Nixon enjoyed bowling in the White House alley, and liked to hit the beach in wing tips, sometimes with his wife, Pat, by his side.
No, Trump does none of this. Perhaps the most striking image of him with his family came last winter, when he charged up the steps of Air Force One in a rainstorm in West Palm Beach, an umbrella shielding his own head, with Barron and his wife, Melania, scrambling wet and unprotected behind him to get in the door of the plane. In Israel, in Italy, in Florida, and on the White House lawn itself, Melania has repeatedly appeared to pull her own hand away when the president reached out to hold it.
Trump doesn’t eat out in any restaurants except his own. Not for him a plebeian trip to Ray’s Hell Burger, the Arlington institution where Obama took Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 for a burger with cheddar, hot peppers, and sautéed onions and mushrooms. Nor a visit to Filomena, the homey Italian kitchen in Georgetown where Bill Clinton memorably chowed down with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany. No date nights with Melania at the Bombay Club or the Blue Duck Tavern.
Trump doesn’t offer ready consolation in moments of national tragedy. After Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, the president tossed paper towels to a crowd and later bragged about his administration’s “incredible unsung success” at relief efforts that were widely criticized as inadequate. Marking the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in Pennsylvania last month, he tweeted about the prowess of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani on the day of the attacks, and allowed himself a double fist pump at the Johnstown airport, a gesture that seemed out of keeping with the solemn mood of the occasion.