Much has been made about the paucity of celebrities and attendees at President Donald J. Trump's official inaugural balls, or the fact that there were just three compared to President Barack Obama's ten, at his first inauguration. But the relative smallness had an added benefit beside the "soft sensuality" promised by organizers: absolutely anybody who was anybody stopped by the the Liberty Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the first and most intimate of the new regime's authorized shindiggers on Friday night.
"It's fun," said Steven A. Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund manager. "They're big parties. It's not a New York crowd."
Cohen, who last year settled an insider trading case against him for a paltry $135 million, had been in town since Wednesday for the new president, whom he knows, though they haven't, like, "had a meal together." "He's just an easygoing guy," Cohen continued under the blacklights of the VIP room. "I hope he's successful with a lot of stuff he's talking about."
Like what? "Oh..." Cohen paused to chew on that for a second. "Corporate tax reform," he said finally.
Inside this venerated VIP room, each performer on the main stage was announced by an unseen Michael Buffer-like M.C. whose primary purpose seemed to be assuring everyone that the person they were about to see was very famous. There was of course "...one of the most watched channels on the planet! Please welcome: The Piano Guys," a band that offered cover versions of Katy Perry and One Direction that involved literal banging on a piano. Or: "...the man who introduced the world tho the art form of Irish dance. Please welcome the Lord of the Dance himself: Michael Flatley." And: "The original 'Soul Man' Sam Moore," who performed that song accompanied by two white boys in suits who pretended to play along with plastic trombones.
Despite the dim star power, there were heavy-hitters in the midst besides Cohen, acolytes of the new administration like casino magnate and billionaire fundraiser Sheldon Adelson ("I don't want to be interviewed," he said in a diamond studded tuxedo and a Caddy brand mobility scooter), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was mingling with Caitlyn Jenner.
Had he met Jenner before? "Uh, I suppose not," the Energy Secretary nominee said. What did they discuss? "We talked about how to make America great again!"
And how was that going, learning about America's nuclear capabilities, as he prepared to take over a department whose name he forgot once during a presidential debate and wanted eliminated altogether.
"I spent 14 years running the 12th largest economy in the world. That's pretty good background," he said, nodding. But nukes are kind of different right, I offered. "No," he said. "You hire people that know about nukes, just like you hire people that know how to run universities." Ah.
The only person representing Hollywood besides Jenner was Oksana Lada, best known for playing Tony Soprano's suicidal Russian girlfriend, accompanied by the designer Anne Bowen, who'd dressed her in absurdly revealing red.
"I'm apolitical," Bowen said. "I love Kick Kennedy and I love Tiffany. That's our target demographic. They're millennials, they're finding their own way. I just enjoy dressing those kinds of women."
And how was Lada liking her first inauguration? Had she met many politicians? "Not yet," she said.
"No," Bowen said. "You met Governor Rick Perry. You just met former Governor Rick Perry."
"Exactly," Lada said. "I did that." And what did she think of him? She rolled her eyes. "Not much."
Then it was time for the 45th president of the United States. Every billionaire that could walk shoved through the velvet curtain to the tune of a somewhat hollow "Hail to the Chief". All of the inauguration committee's $100 million was on display, and the blood red Academy Award-style set featured moving parts and high-definition screens.
"You're going to see things happening over the next few weeks," Trump assured them, eating the microphone. "Oooooh you're gonna be so happy. Because you know. They're very elegant people [here] tonight. But they're also political people. We want to see great things happen for our country. We want to make America great again."
The crowd cheered but no one as loudly as the pair of teenage boys in tuxedoes behind me who drooled "Ohhhhhh Ivanka!" when she emerged with the rest of the families to dance with her father and stepmother. The song was, of course, Frank Sinatra's "My Way," though a collaborative version with multiple singers, almost a duet version, of "My Way."
The announcer finally introduced "the unforgettable Silhouettes," a group from America's Got Talent who performed shadow scenes of frontier life before a video of the plains over Neil Diamond's "America," and the Liberty Ball wound down shortly after, so that the only real personality left in the room was campaign manager and main Trump svengali Kellyanne Conway, in a maroon gown and bare feet. Donors were so excited to meet someone, anyone from the new administration that she was soon mobbed. She escaped to a corner to collect her shoes and her children. But then she was surrounded by all her admirers and couldn't leave. A friend tried to create a perimeter.
"She just needs 10 minutes," the friend said, with outstretched hands. "I'm so sorry. She needs about 10 minutes with her kids. Please, I'm so sorry."
The crowd did not disperse.
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