You may not have known — but may not be surprised to know — that Donald Trump has a coat of arms: a shield featuring three lions surrounding a pair of chevrons, with an outstretched arm above it, holding an arrow at an angle. You may be equally unsurprised to learn that Trump’s coat of arms is plagiarized. It was taken from the family that originally built the Florida Mar-a-Lago estate, which the president now owns and calls his “winter White House.”
As reported by the New York Times, Trump’s coat of arms mimics the one “granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort.” From the chevrons to the matching diamond shape hanging over the wrist of the disembodied arm, the two emblems are exactly the same — but for one small, almost comical update: the text at the bottom has been been changed from “Integritas,” the Latin word for “integrity,” to “Trump,” an English word that has come to mean basically the opposite.
Apparently, Trump never asked permission to adapt the coat of arms to suit his own purposes, and members of the Davies family have considered, but thus far refrained from, taking legal action. What’s more, because coats of arms are registered in the UK, he was forced to amend the emblem on his golf courses in Scotland. Below are images of a plaque at the Trump National Golf Club outside of Washington, DC (commemorating a Civil War battle that never happened) with the American coat of arms and a sign at Trump International Golf Links Scotland that shows the updated one.
The coat of arms is just one in a string of Trump copies, from his dictatorial design choices to Melania’s cribbing of Michelle Obama’s convention speech to the inaugural ball cake that was an exact replica of Obama’s inaugural ball cake (minus the fact that Trump’s was mostly styrofoam). Trump seems to have no use for originality or creativity and instead appropriates others’ aesthetics to prove that he is worthy. Such behavior might represent his insecurity and corresponding social ambitions — or it might just tell us that he’s lazy.
When I read about the cloning of the coat of arms, I immediately thought of one of the many brilliant pieces that journalist Masha Gessen has written about Trump since the night of his election. A gay, Russian Jewish woman who lived in Russia until 2013, Gessen has consistently made insightful comparisons between Trump and Putin, in addition to analyzing Trump as a phenomenon all his own. In “The Styrofoam Presidency,” published in January in NYR Daily, she writes about the cake:
American political pageantry is aspirational. The extended ritual of the inauguration conveys an understanding of the importance of the office of president and awe and pride in the miracle of the repeated peaceful transfer of power. The ceremony, the concert, the lunch, the parade, the balls, and more — all of this serves to create a nationwide mood of celebration and self-congratulation. It is like a giant wedding designed to make even the most curmudgeonly of relations tear up. …
Trump had no use for any of it: the magnanimity, the generosity, the awe (unless it’s inspired by him personally), the pride (unless it’s his own), the aspiration. Indeed, the single quality he displayed repeatedly was his lack of aspiration. Take his speech. Better yet, take the cake. On Saturday it emerged that the inaugural-ball cake that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence cut with a sword was a knock-off of President Obama’s 2013 inaugural-ball cake. Obama’s was created by celebrity chef Duff Goldman. Trump’s was commissioned from a decidedly more modest Washington bakery than Goldman’s, and the transition-team representative who put in the order explicitly asked for an exact copy of Goldman’s design — even when the baker suggested creating a variation on the theme of Goldman’s cake. Only a small portion of Trump’s cake was edible; the rest was Styrofoam (Obama’s was cake all the way through). The cake may be the best symbol yet of the incoming administration: much of what little it brings is plagiarized, and most of it is unusable for the purpose for which presidential administrations are usually intended. Not only does it not achieve excellence: it does not even see the point of excellence.
In other words, the coat of arms story further confirms what we already suspected about Trump — that his highest aspiration seems not to be the creation of anything of his own, but the stamping of his name on what already exists. Why make it new when you could simply make it yours?