On his television reality show, "The Apprentice," viewers could see that Donald Trump took a certain pleasure in saying "You're fired!" Those are the two saddest words any employee can hear. But that's the way high-stakes business is played, and every CEO knows the importance of keeping the best performers in the company and getting rid of the chaff.
The president-elect is taking obvious delight now at Trump Tower, telling successful applicants for important jobs in his administration "You're hired!" It's a different kind of reality show.
The lobby of the building is the green room for candidates who have been granted an audience upstairs. We watch it as live theater, where many characters — as in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern in "Hamlet" — are called on to swell a scene from which a few are called and fewer still are chosen. Trump is no Hamlet (dawdling over decisions), but he's taking his time, and he's ahead of the pace of predecessors.
What's extraordinary about this interim before the inauguration is that the entire country is paying attention to television scenes of people going in and out of the tower elevator, providing a glimpse of the way the man we've elected to run the country conducts his business.
The Donald has engaged a fascinating cast of characters. Some are there to decorate the set. Kanye West, so far as we know, was not there to apply for secretary of state, though he may play a gig at an inaugural ball. Former Vice President Al Gore may not be a fan, but he wants his point of view heard in the place where Trump meets, greets and tweets.
The president-elect could be a merciless director bent on humiliating actors like former Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in second for the most coveted role of secretary of state, or former Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, whom the Donald ruthlessly denigrated in the debates. But both emerged from their interviews with appreciative words. The disappointed do not sound bitter, and most appear to be genuinely impressed with the smarts and savvy Trump brought to their conversation, appreciative of his questions and eager to put campaign rhetoric behind.
Are the unchosen merely posing, offering flattery to allay the anger of the famous counterpuncher? Or are they actually discovering impressive qualities?
Trump is sui generis, the original in a new time in which anyone with a smartphone or laptop has something to say about what's going on. The noise of social media is deafening and defiant, often in the form of unedited sentences of 140 characters (exclamation points included). The mainstream media hasn't recovered from its disastrous coverage of the campaign, and the ink-stained wretches and talking heads are still licking wounds in anger.
For the rest of us, this is great theater. The Trump penthouse is a stage that Croesus or Gatsby could have designed. "What amazes a lot of people is that I'm sitting in an apartment the likes of which nobody's ever seen," the Donald tells Time magazine, which elected him Person of the Year. "And yet I represent the workers of the world."
Money was new to Hillary Clinton when she first came to Washington, D.C. When she left the White House after her tenure as first lady, she packed up some of the furniture that didn't belong to her, which she was shamed into returning. She was beginning to prize wealth and what money could buy but was not yet at home with it.
Trump's bad taste, by contrast, knows no bounds. There's no guilt with a gilt edge. It seems to suit him, as Gatsby's suited him, in the background rather than the foreground. The "forgotten man" of the campaign voted for Trump because he spoke his language. Great wealth didn't stigmatize Trump; it actually seemed to have been earned by the sweat of his brain. The forgotten man could reasonably hope the creator of deals would create a job for him.
When Trump the candidate traveled into decaying towns in the Rust Belt, he saw the empty storefronts, the peeling paint on the homes of the unemployed and the underemployed, the depressing signs of decline in the quality of life. He said he could help the forgotten men and women do better.
In those last days of the campaign, as he crisscrossed into Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton wasted valuable time at extravagant fundraising dinners, ignoring Wisconsin. Voters were listening to what the Donald had to say over the din of his detractors.
The losers, now desperately trying to stop the Electoral College from going about its business, clearly want Trump to fail. That's too bad. Whether they like it or not, he won. Now it's time to see what he can deliver, and the early signs — optimism with big steel and IBM — reflect hope and change.