Donald Trump is on vacation, but the White House has made it clear that it’s not a real vacation. It’s 17 days away from Washington, but it’s a working vacation. Actually, it’s more of a working remotely situation. Actually, he’s working so hard he may as well be at the White House, do you understand? If you don’t, just check Twitter, where he will be giving hourly updates about how not relaxing this getaway is!
For many people in Washington, where everything is a competition, vacation seems to be a perpetual point of pride — that is, how little vacation you really take. What better way for people to show you just how important they are, how indispensable, than by checking email on the beach?
The new normal in work culture is for everyone to be in touch. Always. No exceptions. A friend of mine who works in public relations has taken to wearing an Apple Watch because she’s not allowed to go more than three hours without responding to a client. That’s on the weekends. During the week, it’s an hour. Another friend, a former White House staff member, had to leave a wedding to take a work call. This was for his new job, where he is no longer working for the leader of the free world, and he still felt that he couldn’t wait until the couple said “I do” before jumping on a conference call.
That President Trump is a vacation-taker denier isn’t surprising. What is surprising is how well it makes him fit into the Washington culture — and the August tradition of vacationing without vacationing — that he professes to hate. After almost eight years in the city, I’ve just about become used to the not-so-subtle bragging about jobs and responsibilities and proximity to very important people. But the summer version of this takes it to a whole new level as people make plans to leave the city all the while making sure you know they can’t really get away from work.
When did “vacation” become such a dirty word? People are so quick to tell you that they’re not really going to be taking time off when they go to Bermuda. “I’ll be checking in,” they say. Their “out of office” replies are carefully constructed to let you know that they have limited access to email, so many apologies if it takes more than five minutes for them to respond to you. This is usually followed by detailed instructions on how to reach them through their assistant, spouse, parent or priest. It’s common to get an out-of-office email followed immediately by an actual response. You just told me you weren’t in the office, so unless I’m emailing you about needing a kidney, we’re all set with a delayed reply. I promise!