Nearly All US Presidents Had a First Friend: Did Donald Trump?

 


January 20th, 2017 – A behind-the-scenes look as Donald Trump walks out to be sworn in as America's 45th President. (Photo by the White House | Wikimedia Commons)

January 20th, 2017 – A behind-the-scenes look as Donald Trump walks out to be sworn in as America’s 45th President. (Photo by the White House | Wikimedia Commons)

One of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently in the six weeks since my book on first friends of U.S. presidents was released is: “Who is Donald Trump’s First Friend?”

 

The question arises because, in my chronicling of nine first friendships and the impact they had on American history, I don’t include a chapter on Donald Trump and his closest friend.

 

That’s not because I didn’t want to. I did, and spent weeks looking for someone from his childhood, the two colleges he attended, his early years as a developer, or his later years as a mogul and influencer, to designate as his best friend. I wanted to find someone who shared fully his interests and values, could speak honestly and bluntly to him, provide him with emotional support and respite, and because of this unique relationship, had an important influence in his rise to the presidency, and then the presidency itself.    

Until I made a disquieting discovery.  Donald Trump doesn’t have a best friend. What I found instead was that Trump – perhaps alone among the 45 men who have occupied the Oval Office – not only lacked a best friend but neither needed nor ever wanted one.

Whether a president can claim a close friendship may at first glance seem trivial. A person constantly surrounded by and attended to by family and staff, burdened by issues of international import, might seem to have little need for a best friend. With time a precious commodity and access to anyone in the world assured, tending to a close friendship could appear more a frivolous indulgence than an imperative. 

But after spending years researching and then writing a book about the role of first friendships in American history, I found that those presidents who had a best friend – and then relied on that friend during his presidency – were almost always the better for it. And perhaps more importantly, so was our country. 

 

Which was why I was so curious to find a Trump first friend. 

 

But what I came to understand from people closest to Trump was this: He was constitutionally incapable of having an intimate friendship. This was due to his narcissism, for sure, but also because of his fierce independence. To have a close friend meant giving up something from within himself, sharing a part of him, and that was anathema to him, as people close to him explained. 

 

It also required some amount of empathy, and that too was not part of Trump’s emotional makeup.

 

To be clear, Donald Trump has friends. Throughout his life, he’s accumulated plenty of people he would call to check-in on, invite for a round of golf, or have ready to accompany him on weekends away from work – either to one of his many clubs or Camp David when he was in office. 

 

But when it came to those moments when he needed someone intimate yet independent enough to speak to him in blunt, honest terms… he had no one. 

 

A trusted friend could have saved him from some of his most divisive personnel decisions, like firing the former FBI Director James Comey or attempting to fleece the Ukrainian president for political favors. Most glaringly, a real friend could have steered him in those final two months of his presidency to a more dignified, less calamitous exit.

 

Instead, so-called “friends” like Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell – more interested in pleasing him than challenging him with facts – allowed him to perpetuate the “Big Lie,” which led to January 6th and his second impeachment. 

 

Furthermore, he did not seem to seek or need any emotional respite from close friends during his years in office. So often he appeared in public agitated, off-kilter, annoyed at the world. Could a best friend have tamed some of his more brutish behavior when it was most needed?

 

And when he took family and friends to Camp David for weekend getaways, he wouldn’t use the time to relax or unwind with them, take walks, or enjoy long leisurely meals. Instead, as one aide told me, he most often could be found alone in his cabin, on the phone, calling supporters around the country seeking affirmation that he was doing a good job.  

 

His best friend could have been just that: the amorphous masses who gave him such adoration without ever challenging or admonishing him or appealing to his better angels. Or to shorthand it, his best friend could have offered the support he craved from his since-closed Twitter feed.

 

Another question to consider as we ponder the possibility of Donald Trump returning as our 47th president.


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