The Theme Park President

Having watched the outrageously inappropriate Air Force One Texas Tour and Hurricane Photo Opp™, it’s become clear that we have something far more malignant here than a Reality Show Presidency. Even reality shows offer some modicum of reality that this White House appears to lack. What we are facing is a Theme Park Presidency.

(With all due respect to theme parks. Which I love.)

I remember visiting Las Vegas as a kid for the first time, so excited to see the great Excalibur, that glorious castle with all the turrets and the flags and the knights and the maidens…until we got inside. I turned to my dad and said, “wow. What is this wall made out of? I think I could put my fist right through it.”

“Well you’re not supposed to look too closely,” he said.

Today, we aren’t supposed to look too closely at our Theme Park President.


Everything about Trump has been carefully constructed for your fairly distant viewing pleasure — then optimized for Tweeting of course, and for sharing and meme-making of all kinds: Print out that photo of the Theme Park President waving in front of a Phoenix auditorium. That’s it…a nice, tight close up. Applaud as he sits in the big boy fire trucks parked on the White House lawn, ignition off and emergency brakes safely on. Snap away, as he pretends to sign important documents while holding prop pens and pads at a secretary’s desk in The Not-Exactly-Hall-of-Presidents.

This week, you can even grab a carefully staged snapshot of our Theme Park President waving a Texas state flag; I might swear that if you pulled back just a bit, you might see a field trip of 27 students waiting patiently in line behind him to do the same. (You too, can wave the Texas flag in front of a blue screen in this interactive exhibit then take home your very own commemorative video of the moment!)

Except, Hurricane Harvey has been incredibly, overwhelmingly, tragically real. Not at all a situation for a man playing at president with props and costumes and scripted words he doesn’t understand.

20 trillion gallons of water fallen. 13 million people impacted in the area. Up to 40,000 homes destroyed. 381 lives tragically lost so far, including Police Officer Steve Perez, and a mother who drowned as her 3-year-old daughter clung to her for survival. And now, risks of a major, toxic chemical plant explosion. Mosquito-borne illness. Children swimming in dangerously polluted retention ponds. And that’s just in the short-term.

Yet. Not one ounce of real compassion. Not one genuine word of empathy, one heartfelt reassurance, one commitment that didn’t feel scripted by an equally uncaring, unqualified staff or prompted by public outcry until he finally, resentfully — as always — did the absolute minimum he could do to appear the least bit caring.

How far we’ve fallen, now begging for the tiniest scrap of humanity from our White House.

Photo: Pete Souza

As Jack Moore perfectly stated in GQ:

Donald Trump went down to Texas for photo ops that made him look like a leader while not actually taking the time to meet any people hurt by the storm? That is next level craven.

Also craven? Trump’s own premature self-congratulations. Craven…but not unexpected. Because he’s done it before. A lot. And why not?

In theme parks, as everyone knows, whatever goes terribly wrong (Earthquake! Twister! Runaway mine car!) it all works out just fine in the end and we emerge unscathed, heroic even, feeling pretty pumped and hungry for churros.

Or two scoops of ice cream.


The final indignation of this facade of a presidency however, may be the Exit Through the Gift Shop mentality of every single moment in this man’s embarrassing stint in the People’s House. Does the product placement ever end?

Hats for sale! Steaks for sale! Private golf club memberships for sale! (Oops, the price just doubled. Gotta act fast.) Knock-off designer shoes for sale! Hotel rooms for sale…with special deals for you foreign governments, wink wink.

Host your wedding or prom at a Theme Park President-branded property, and you may even get a visit and an autograph from the Theme Park President himself.

Hey, it’s all right there in the brochure:

If he is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple. He may take some photos with you

Of course he can stop by. Just pick your weekend. He’s likely to be there.

Isn’t that the very definition of a character breakfast?

The problem is, it won’t change. This is who he is. It’s who he’s always been.

Trump is the name on a building he doesn’t really own, the face of a fake university he never really ran, the “billionaire” spending money that was never really his, and now, the global leader in a world he doesn’t really understand.

(EVAN VUCCI/AP)

It’s why the president’s fitness to be president and questionable grasp of reality is finally being discussed by those once thought least likely to do so.

“How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?” — James Clapper

When you’re on a theme park ride, the sweet college kid wearing the captain’s hat tells you to keep your arms inside the boat or else — but we’re all in on the joke. We all know they’re just animatronic alligators with styrofoam teeth and chipped paint on their bellies and some prerecorded hissing sounds.

But in America, right now, we’re stuck on the boat with a pretend captain — only the alligators are real.

It’s time to get off this ride.