A bit after 4 p.m. Thursday, the doorbell rang in my hotel room, Room 446 at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington. It was my Koran. I had ordered it from housekeeping.
I had checked in to experience the just-opened hotel, spending $856 of Jeff Bezos’s money, not including taxes, the $59 I spent on a salad and the $49 for half a bottle of undrinkable bubbly from the Trump winery.
Examining my posh surroundings — Italian bed linens, French table linens, Chinese duvet, Korean TV and, yes, Mexican tequila ($14 for a shot of Patrón Silver) in the minibar, er, “private bar,” I came across the Gideon Bible in the nightstand with a note on “TRUMP HOTELS ™” stationery:
“If you would like to continue your spiritual journey, we also offer the followings [sic]: Talmud. Quran. Gita. Avesta. Tripitaka (Pali Canon). Shri Guru Granth Sahib. Book of Mormon. Kindly contact Housekeeping should you wish to have one delivered to your room.”
Sure enough, minutes after my call to housekeeping, a pleasant woman arrived with a copy of “The Glorious Qur’an” in Arabic and English, along with a brown prayer rug and a compass pointing in the “direction of al Kaaba” in Mecca. I expressed skepticism to her that the hotel also kept a copy of the Talmud: millions of words and many volumes of Jewish law.
“I will find it for you,” she vowed.
I tipped her $4 for bringing the Koran and declined the Talmud.
The exchange, which I undertook wearing a made-in-China “Trump Hotels” bathrobe and Trump slippers, says everything you need to know about Donald Trump. Trump the candidate has talked of banning Muslims from the country and forcing those here to register and submit to surveillance. But Trump the hotelier welcomes Muslims with Korans and prayer rugs.
It was a further reminder, as if one were needed, that the man who would take up residence just five blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from his new hotel is a charlatan.
He campaigns on an “America First” theme — yet about the only American-made thing I could find in my hotel room was the small package of milk-chocolate Trump gold bullion ($25).
He portrays himself as a populist friend of the little guy, yet he makes money renting out a presidential suite for $18,000 a night (a sign informed me that the maximum nightly rate for my room was $5,600).
He derides the “establishment” but makes his living catering to it. The hotel lobby features a Brioni boutique and 3-foot-tall bottles of Veuve Clicquot sharing a bar top with Dom Pérignon; the room comes with a copy of Wine Spectator (“The Cheese Issue”); the hotel charges $15 to launder a shirt, $12 for Peanut M&Ms and $26 for a hamburger (sorry, no taco bowls).
In my room, I found a Trump logo bathmat and towels from India, bone china from Japan, Italian cutlery and tiles, two telephones from Malaysia, a Swiss refrigerator, German coffee cups, Trump soaps and lotions from Canada and, from China, all four lamps, the coffee machine, the bathroom scale, the valet stand and the shower cap. The hotel’s managing director is from France. Most hotel workers I met during my stay had Caribbean or African accents.
Accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Trump portrayed a nation and world facing the End of Days: “moment of crisis . . . violence in our streets . . . chaos in our communities . . . we don’t have much time . . . disasters unfolding . . . worse than it has ever been . . . poverty and violence . . . war and destruction.”
Trump’s new hotel suggests things may not be quite so bad. Moments after I arrived, a waiter came unbidden with a white chocolate model of the Capitol dome, delicate macaroons, truffles and chocolate-covered strawberries. The in-room bar had Macallan 12-year-old single-malt Scotch and Johnnie Walker Blue Label. A sign on the desk informed me that the “Trump Attache Service” would put me in a “VIP” frame of mind, “where desires are intuited and requests anticipated.” A marketing brochure told me that the still-unopened Spa by Ivanka Trump would “create pathways for each guest to inner health and external beauty.” My welcome letter promised “Wine by the Spoon.”
There was a feeling that the opening had been rushed to precede a certain date — say, Nov. 8 — and, indeed, Trump scheduled a news conference at the hotel for Friday morning. Utility workers were laying cable outside, and my confirmation letter referred to me as “Mr. **.” There was also symbolism in the naming of the second-floor meeting rooms: Eisenhower, Bush, Roosevelt, Reagan, Wilson, Adams, Kennedy and Jefferson — “Jeff” in the marketing brochure — and, among them, the “DJT Boardroom.”
In this one aspect — hubris — Trump the hotelier and Trump the candidate are the same.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."