Donald Trump is finally going to make his mark in Washington.
No, it's not going to be as president of the United States, although Trump is still trying to have a hand in the presidential race, giving an unhelpful endorsement to former Gov. Mitt Romney (who can do better, and who should know better). Trump has won the right to turn Washington, D.C.'s historic Old Post Office into a "luxury" hotel. And that prospect is almost as unnerving.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Old Post Office, a beautiful downtown building with a striking clock tower, was doomed to some sort of transformation. It could be—and should be—a solid tourist destination, a place to shop and eat and visit. But there's not much to see at the Old Post Office, and the security just to enter to building—going through a metal detector—seems a little silly, given that it's basically a shopping center with a food court. So without an ambitious plan to turn the building into something more culturally compelling, it was probably inevitable that it would need to be developed into something else, something more profitable.
But Trump? Really? Are things that bad?
Ivanka Trump, the failed presidential candidate's daughter and an executive in his firm, hasn't made any suggestions that the lovely building will be turned into a shrine for her father or neon advertisement of the Trump brand. She told the Washington Post:
"The Trump Organization is committed to making this the finest luxury hotel in the world and we think the building's location and historic nature will allow us to do that."
And Trump (who will lease the land) will be entering into talks with the federal government about retaining some of the history of the site (the clock tower, the Post reports, will still be under control of the National Park Service and will be open to the public). But given Trump's history in real estate décor, there's reason to be nervous.
Will we see a huge, blaring sign carrying Trump's name out front? Will the lobby be a gaudy, tacky foyer that looks like Saddam Hussein's old palace? Such displays might work in Las Vegas, and even New York, but Trump—who has not shown a very good understanding of Washington, either its politics or it traditions—needs to understand that such things are not suited to Washington.
Yes, this is arguably a dowdy city, full of smart but not very fashionable people whose idea of fun is watching reruns of presidential debates. Yes, Washington is quite possibly "Hollywood for ugly people," as some on the Left Coast have said (we could argue that Hollywood is Washington for shallow people, but why start an fight?). This is a serious town, one in which "celebrities" do not travel by stretch limo. If you see a gleaming stretch on the streets of Los Angeles or Las Vegas, you might assume it's an actor or casino executive. Here, two categories of people ride in stretch limousines: the president and vice president, and prom-goers.
Nor is Trump likely to develop an enhanced power in Washington simply by opening a hotel here. He may get invited to certain parties and events, but it's not because anyone particularly respects his opinion. They just want his money. Money got him the rights to develop the Old Post Office site. Let's hope he keeps it toned down.