Driving out of Mar-a-Lago was a bit disorienting in the dark. The Secret Service agent, dressed in black, directed us past several government vans through an exit onto Ocean Road, leading to Southern Bridge. I soon realized we were using the private driveway of the former President as it was far off the main road where most of the traffic went in and out of the Mar-a-Lago compound–otherwise known as the “Southern White House” when Trump was in office. Patti and I had been invited to a gala event there as guests of the Major of the local Salvation Army, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the organization. The Salvation Army is a faith-based charitable foundation which Patti and I support through their scholarship program.
When I first received the invitation, I was uncertain whether we should attend. It had only been two weeks since Trump broke bread with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rap artist Ye, both notorious antisemites. That was on the heels of the subpoena raid by the FBI in August searching for government documents which Trump allegedly illegally removed from the White House. Then an article in the Palm Beach Post reinforced how Trump sympathizers use Mar-a-Lago as a venue to curry favor with him. All of this made me uncomfortable about attending the event. But my friend Bill, who is head of the Board of Trustees at Salvation Army, assured me that the Salvation Army gala would not turn into a political affair. The landlord would not be there to promote his recently announced candidacy.
Mar-a-Lago, as most readers may know, was originally the estate of the late Marjorie Merriweather Post, built in 1927. The exterior architecture is in the style of a Mediterranean villa, while the extravagant interiors could be described as Trump’s version of Versailles. The Salvation Army event was men in white tie and women in long ball gowns. It felt like something from a bygone era. I found myself standing aside most of the evening observing the grandiose furnishings and architecture. I kept looking for signs of the owner, but the only evidence were secret service agents milling about, identifiable by their earpieces and the official-looking badges hanging from their belts. I must presume if Trump intended to make a surprise appearance the metal scanners would have been present, no cell phones would have been allowed and the women’s purses would have been searched. The only telltale signs of Trump in the house was his name on the wifi and a single framed award at the entrance to the women’s bathroom, honoring his restoration of Mar-a-Lago. I never made it into the men’s room, but having been to his golf club in the past, the walls there are filled with his pictures and awards.
My takeaway is that Mar-a-Lago will return to its historical significance as Marjorie Merriweather Post’s once magnificent home and not Trump’s preferred venue for favor seekers, once his political career ends. Going by the comments overhead around the pool before dinner, the Salvation Army event was the beginning of the end of Mar-a-Lago as a club to “meet and greet” Trump. Notwithstanding the fact that this was a Florida crowd, the attention to Trump will fade and membership to the club will not be Trump driven. In my view, if Trump had shown that night, there would have been a “fire drill” – some would have headed over to shake his hand, but most would’ve headed for the door. But he didn’t show up fortunately, and Patti and I got a few dances in before we left.