If only we could return this presidency to sender
The photo of Kim Kardashian with Donald Trump at the White House pretty much sums up how much things have gone wrong
At the end of 1970, in the middle of the night, the most famous person in the world boarded a plane to Washington DC.
Once airborne, he scribbled a letter on American Airlines stationery to the man he intended to visit that day.
“Dear Mr President,” he wrote. “First I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office.”
In the now-famous letter, Elvis explained that he was worried about the America he loved: the “drug culture, the hippie elements … Black Panthers, etc” were all threats that needed close watching, and he was offering his services as a watcher.
“I have no concern or motives other than helping the country out,” he wrote. This wasn’t technically true. Elvis was flying to Washington in the hopes of adding one more badge to his impressive collection of law-enforcement trinkets: he wanted to be made a federal agent. Specifically, he wanted a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, a magical object that would, he believed, allow him to tote his huge collection of guns, along with his personal dispensary of recreational drugs, anywhere he wished, unmolested.
At 6.30 that morning. he delivered his letter to the White House, and waited. Richard Nixon’s people thought it would be a good photo opportunity, and so Elvis entered the building for a meeting of suspicious minds.
According to those present, the summit was a satisfying one. Elvis explained that The Beatles were one of the major threats to American morals, and that he had also been looking into Communist brainwashing techniques. Nixon agreed that Elvis should get a narc badge (the singer was so delighted he gave Nixon what was probably only the third or fourth hug of his life), pictures were taken, White House cufflinks were given to Elvis’s entourage, and the meeting came to a close.
That bizarre encounter has been one of the strangest images of the American presidency for almost 50 years.
But this week it was given a twin.The meeting of Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian is, in many ways, a continuation of the story begun that day in 1970. Both figures in the new photograph are direct descendants of those in the original: Trump is president because Nixon broke America’s belief in the presidency and politics in general; Kardashian is in the Oval Office because enough people believe that fame, however it is generated, is a measure of human worth – a belief entrenched as dogma by the first high priest of celebrity, Elvis Presley.
The differences between the two pictures, however, are telling.
In the 1970 picture, Nixon seems amused by Elvis, while the singer plays it cool, trying not to scream at the sheer delight of being surrounded by all that law and order. They are front and centre in the frame, side by side, Butch and Sundance ready to save the world from hippies and Lennonism.
Trump and Kardashian, however, are literally dwarfed by the office of the president. They look like children trying on adult clothes; like self-conscious hunters posing on the corpse of an elephant.The image is formally composed, a crude attempt at authority and posterity. Trump cannot stand next to Kardashian as Nixon stood next to Elvis because he has to sit behind the desk to prove that he is president. And so she stands to one side, opening up a giant hole on the right side of the picture; a hole that draws the eye and asks the mind to fill it.
Who should be standing there who isn’t? The still-absent Melania Trump? An actual expert on prison reform, the reason for this meeting? The half of Americans who didn’t vote for Trump precisely because they understood that this image would be inevitable? History, standing invisibly off to one side, laughing at Trump and the society that saw fit to elect him?
Of course, Trump’s meeting with Kardashian is no sillier than posing with a drug-addled sequined-jumpsuit-wearing pop star who wants to be a narc. But for those who despair at having a hound-dog for a president (he ain’t no friend of theirs), and who long for him to make a jailhouse rock, this would have reminded them that, at least until 2020, they’re caught in a trap and can’t walk out.