Trump’s furniture fail: that’s not a desk, Donald – it’s a table for TV dinners | Design
H.how Donald Trump deliberately granted the presidency? Does his choice of furniture reveal an unconscious admission of defeat? When the outgoing US president gave a speech this week saying he would be leaving if the electoral college voted for Joe Biden, his words were less shocking than the desk he was going to sit at. It was tiny. It gave a clear signal. And that signal was “loser”.
Jokes about the shrunken size of Trump’s desk – a photo from below captures his legs that barely fit underneath – are simple. So let’s not. Would you like to see a real ruler’s table? The Resolute desk in the Oval Office is the definition of one: a massive fortress of a workspace, like an aircraft carrier with legs, carrying the US eagle at the heart of its heavy Victorian carvings. The woods are of British origin: They come from a sailing ship of the Royal Navy, the HMS Resolute, which once braved the icy waters of the North Pole. And in a final addition to defensive machismo, Franklin D Roosevelt had the front bulwark so that no one could see his leg supports and determine that he was disabled.
Trump’s appearance behind this little piece of flotsam shows why Roosevelt and other presidents have always chosen to moor behind the grandiose Resolute. It locks them out. What Trump was leaning against wasn’t even a desk. It was just a table. It does not meet all of the design criteria required of a desk. It’s not even an escritoire that might be cozy but at least has important looking drawers. It also failed to qualify as a secretary. In fact, there is no memory at all. Has he cleared everything up yet?
Seat of Power … Barack Obama uses the Resolute desk to lose weight. Photo: Pete Souza / The White House
The furniture – an early 19th-century federal-style end-table with the President’s seal awkwardly affixed to it – was not in the Oval Office, but in the much less imposing diplomatic reception room, which can be entered directly from the gardens. In 1963, Jackie Kennedy had this parlor decorated with wallpaper depicting famous American landmarks and furnished it with antique federal furniture. That was a time of vision and teaching. Trump’s tiny table was originally intended for playing cards – or something to pop a plant on.
So what does it mean that he’s sat behind a passably elegant piece of furniture that is clearly not intended for work? See, the authority is weakening. Solid desks signal electricity. A desk with compartments and space to roll out maps and battle plans can indicate that you control distant businesses or plan wars. Winston Churchill was often photographed sitting at a spacious desk with papers neatly arranged. Even the idealistic Jimmy Carter knew the symbolism of a busy desk. Here he is sitting behind a highly polished specimen the size of a double bed. There are zones, even a series of books, held by wooden Founding Fathers. Put it on Trump’s desk and it would collapse.
Of course, it’s possible Churchill and Carter were in the middle of some very important work when photographers caught them at their desks. Workstations have been used as a symbol of endeavor since the Renaissance. A German merchant, portrayed by Hans Holbein at the beginning of the 16th century, stands by him with a letter in hand, surrounded by urgent mail, accounts, seals and ink. The message is clear: he hardly has time for all these portrait sessions.
It’s getting busy … Winston Churchill at his desk. Photo: Nat Farbman / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
It’s not great that a desk should project as much as busyness. And Trump didn’t seem very busy lately. He plays golf, tweets his real or feigned disbelief over the election results, and doesn’t seem too preoccupied with big government affairs. This little table that pretends to be a desk is a confession of inaction. Far from directing urgent matters in the historic Oval Office, Trump crouches in this small facility where he may have a light meal while watching TV. Perhaps the next level is a fold-out tray on his lap.
There is a table for retirees, a desk for TV dinners. This is Trump gradually giving up the pretense of running a huge country and settling into a leisurely life instead. Like his furniture, he takes it down before our eyes.