What it’s really like to be a White House Insider
Orange is the New Black (Jan 30th to Feb 3rd, 2017)
My name is Jim Richardson. I am a White House junior staffer. This is my diary. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. The previous week’s entries can be found here.
Monday 30th January, 2017
‘Dark-Past Month? The Weeks of Blackness? The History Brothers? Back in Black?’
Alexa is brainstorming a rebrand of Black History Month and she doesn’t care that I’m trying to research Australia. (Steve had Slacked with the instructions: ‘Research Australia, stronzino. Like what’s bad down under. The snakes. The beer. The language. The teeth. Strewth. Or is that Britain? I don’t know. Grazie.’
I find an Aussie celebrity called Rolf Harris, who’s currently in jail for sexual assault offences. He’d scored a chart hit with a song called ‘Two Little Boys’. And one called ‘Tie My Kangaroo Down’.
‘Why not call it ‘African American History Month’?’ I say. Over the screen of her MacBook, she stares. Like I’d suggested she swallow a mouthful of my vomit. ‘Or not? I don’t know.’
She continues staring.
Tuesday 31st January, 2017
This morning, Alexa and her MacBook, are missing from Carter’s converted toilet (our office). As I enter, my first thought is that Hillary Clinton is sitting at the empty desk. My body quivers in part-excitement/part-fear because maybe Steve has discovered my history of voting Democrat. He’s called in a favor to have Clinton to fire me personally. Because that’d be ironic or something.
It’s not Hilary. The stanger turns, smiling at my footsteps. She stands to offer a hand in greeting. I’m all elbows and knees as I negotiate the handshake while holding a coffee and my laptop. In time, I manage it. I’m good like that. Adaptable.
Here’s the thing. Hilary is super-hot. She’s wearing a baggy pantsuit and has her hair like exactly like Mrs C, but her face is as delicate as to have been created by God using the latest version of Photoshop and on a day during which He was feeling very happy with the whole creation stuff. (Her name is Tess.)
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ says Tess. I’m about to crack a joke about how Clinton probably stole the look from her. ‘It sucks to be white. You have to be black to get any advantage around here. Am I right?’
I smile. I dump my stuff at my desk. Is this a test? Has Steve planted this woman here? Is there a secret camera?
‘I wasn’t thinking that,’ I mumble.
‘You’ve not heard?’
‘Heard what? About the firing?’
I’m talking about the acting AG. Because that’s all people are talking about.
‘She’s not been fired.’
‘I’m sure she has,’ I say. ‘It’s been on the news. And the real news. Not fake news.’
I narrow my eyes. Is Tess for real?
‘I’m sure it is on Fox.’
‘Alexa is on Fox? Well, I’ve heard it all now.’
For twenty seconds, I stand in silence, a daft grin plastered across my face.
‘Not Alexa. The acting AG,’ I say at last at the blinking Tess.
‘Oh,’ she replies, ‘I was talking about Alexa.’ We laugh. And only slightly awkwardly. ‘Because we whites have got to stick together.’
I wonder if I could marry a beautiful racist. I could sleep with one. Making big decisions is all about taking little steps.
‘Where is Alexa?’ I ask.
‘She’s been bumped up to support DT. She’s in his entourage this week. Because it’s Black History Month. And, you know, go figure.’ I nod. ‘I mean the official line is that Alexa’s got a promotion due to being the one to come up with the rebrand. But if you’ve heard the rebrand, you’ll know that is BS. Fucking politics.’ She lowers her voice. ‘I thought DT would be above all this.’
‘What’s the rebrand?’ I ask, sipping from my coffee.
‘African American Month. I mean.’
I spit out my coffee in a fine spray. Tess, to her credit, doesn’t flinch.
Later, I email Steve to let him know the true origin of the phrase ‘African American Month’. He doesn’t reply.
Wednesday 1st February, 2017
Steve is sitting at my desk. He’d messaged me at 1145, Tuesday night, asking whether my PhD meant I could explain the difference between ‘wise’ and ‘sagacious’ because he was helping out with the press release for Gorsuch. I didn’t reply. It’s important to set work/life boundaries.
However, seeing him sitting at my desk and leaning across to Tess, and hearing Tess giggle, I feel a bizarre mix of jealousy and fear. Fealousy.
‘I got your message when I woke. My roomie thought it funny to add crushed sleeping tablets to my wine and I was spark out. You know how it is.’
‘You have a roomie?’ asks Tess, flashing high eyebrows at Steve. ‘Tell me he’s white at least.’
Even Steve looked alarmed at Tess’ unbridled racism. He didn’t say anything, but -
‘Well,’ I say, ‘A housie, technically.’
‘Jimbo,’ says Steve. ‘Dear Jimbo. Two things to do today: set up a few more NYT-reading, poetry-writing, homosexual liberal Twitter accounts. Tweet the usual whiney nonsense. And run a few anagrams of Gorsuch. Any puns too. Gorsucks. That type of thing. Send the best to me.’ He grins his nasty teeth. ‘And make it better than your Australian sex pest work.’
He tells Tess that it was beautiful to catch up and he leaves, soaking us in a wake of heavy aftershave and regret.
Tess smiles at me as if I’m a simpleton.
‘And what are you meant to be doing?’ I ask.
She nods. She says she should have said yesterday.
‘I’m the Racist-in-Residence. Because it’s important for DT to have a plurality of views.’
I think of saying a million things. But then I consider her face and it stops my tongue.
I’m a terrible person.
I open my MacBook and I begin the tiresome process of creating new email accounts in order to create new Twitter accounts in order for the White House to ‘own’ liberal criticism on the internet.
Thursday 2nd February, 2017
I wake at 4. I’m haunted by a single thought. Have they put Tess in my office because it’s the racist office? Do they think I’m racist? My heartbeat slows as I begin to consider that being racist might not necessarily be bad for my career.
I’m in the WH extra early, but Tessa is too. There must be a lot of racism to get through. I put on my earphones and she mouths the word ‘rude’ and says something unspeakable (and half-heard) about rap.
The new CIA deputy director is a fan of torture. I’m tasked with building a bank of euphemisms that can be used in future communications about torture. It’s harder than it sounds. Like torture, I guess. Somebody’s already done ‘enhanced interrogation’.
Heavy questioning. Overly persuasive. Medieval determination. Less carrot, more stick. Focused attention. Physical persuasion. Reverse freedom. Wartime interview. Nasty necessity. An unfriendly chat.
My face is screwed in concentration. Tess says. Her face is completely without line. Maybe that’s the secret to a flawless beauty — overwhelming racism. It’s like Dorian Gray. In real life. And with less homosexuality. And more bigotry. I wonder if there’s a homophobe-in-residence. And I wonder what pay grade they’re at.
Friday 3rd February
Alexa is back. And she’s mega-pissed, Sonic-style. I don’t even ask. Steve shouts the details from a bathroom cubicle late in the afternoon. Turns out they only wanted Alexa in the retinue for the photo ops midweek. DT addressed some meeting. BC was there too. Turns out her position was ‘work experience’; a transfer, not a promotion.
The same can’t be said for Tess. She’s a rocket ready to explode at the very heart of government. She wrote a paper about inner-city crime, supposedly, that SB took a shine to. She’s going to be his race-relations advisor. There must be a word for an advisor to an advisor. Lucky? I don’t know. I shook SB’s hand once and I felt a pull at my soul.
‘But she wears Clinton’s suits and she’s got the same hair.’
‘DT loves it,’ says Steve. ‘$50 says they’ll be at it by the end of next week. Cigar in the OO style.’
Say what you like about SB, but he doesn’t have to return to a shared home that smells of burnt coffee and I’m sure he doesn’t lay awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering where it all went so right.
‘I’m a White House staffer,’ I repeat to myself when I can’t sleep and I try not to remember the conversation when my mother, sobbing, told me she’d have preferred I’d turned out to be a truck-stop rent boy like my 8th grade Math teacher said I would.
But Mr Tucker had a vivid imagination. And tomorrow’s another day. DT will calm down eventually. Everyone’s always in such a rush to make a impression when they take a new job. But the initial earnestness soon fades into that familiar cynicism. And if it doesn’t, maybe we’ll go to war. I’ll join the Marines. We’ll see what Mom has to say about that.