When the Times first reported last year that President Trump prefers his steak “so well done” that, in the words of his butler, “it would rock on the plate,” I took it as another unusual detail in the unusual life of an unusual man. Let it not be said that Donald Trump lacks conviction: on matters of cuisine and decoration and foreign trade he is wedded to his beliefs, will not deviate from patterns established decades ago. Well-done steak with ketchup is an entrée from childhood, a comfort-food recipe Trump clearly has seen no reason to abandon in his 70 years of life on this planet. That’s his business. No more important to his life, or to the life of this nation, than his tendency to wear white baseball caps when he is happy and red baseball caps when he is annoyed.
Over the last year however the press has fixated on the steak and its accompaniment, returned to them again and again, fetishized them, contorted them into a metaphor for the childishness and vulgarity and gaucheness that Trump’s opponents so despise. “Putting ketchup on his $54 steak drives a wedge between Trump and his fans,” reports Marketwatch.com, citing a silly PPP poll in order to expel Trump from the in-group. Does Trump put “Bernaise? Chimichurri? Peppercorn?” on his steak? Negative. “Instead, Trump went with ketchup, that most pedestrian of all condiments.” Lock him up!
I am fascinated by the condescending use of “pedestrian,” with its connotations of déclassement, to describe one of America’s most popular condiments. What it suggests is that the fixation with Trump’s manner of eating is in reality a fixation with the persistence of habits and attitudes and trends that the over-schooled and undereducated metropolitan producers of news and opinion do not like, deem retrograde, wish would recede into the past as humanity progresses toward its gender-neutral, multicultural, borderless, medium-rare steak au poivre future. “For real, Mr. President?” asks the Washington Post‘s food critic when confronted with Trump’s menu choices.