Why Everyone Is Still So Fascinated With Trump’s Diet Coke Button
Explaining our obsession with the most banal gadget left in the Oval Office
Object of the Week is a new column exploring the objects a culture obsesses over and what that reveals about us.
A presidential transition requires a heady array of delicate and complex challenges and coordination, ensuring that the mighty apparatus that is the United States government moves forward as smoothly as possible. And this year, it has also brought a surprising amount of attention to a “Diet Coke button.”
The red button, built into a stained-wood box with a gold seal, about the size of a Kleenex package and often situated next to the phones on the Resolute Desk, was reportedly used by Donald Trump during his presidency to prompt a flunky to bring him a Diet Coke. Trivial as that may sound, this attracted particular attention when it appeared that Joe Biden, settling into the Oval Office, had gotten rid of the thing. Suddenly outsized significance was foisted onto an inanimate doohickey.
This reading of the object as childish, gauche, and embarrassing surely informed the interest in its apparent disappearance: Biden’s sleeves-up, middle-class persona could never tolerate such an absurd convenience gadget.
But let’s back up. The button box first attracted notice back in April 2017, when the Trump presidency was new. An Associated Press account of an interview with the leader of the free world mentioned that midway through the conversation he pushed a red button. “It didn’t trigger a nuclear launch or send advisers scurrying into the room,” the AP later recounted. “Instead, a White House butler walked in with a single glass of Diet Coke on a silver tray for the commander in chief.”
Trump appears to have shown off the button as a Diet Coke summoning machine to a number of reporters and interviewers at the time. Stephen Colbert was among those taking note. “He’s turning the Oval Office into an eight-year-old’s drawing of a dream treehouse,” the Late Night…