By Caroline Santoro ’19

The first time I met my boss, he was accompanied by a swarm of Secret Service agents, and I was wearing a bright red bathing suit. Given my reputation as the “ethics girl,” people react pretty strongly when they hear that for the past two summers, I have worked as a lifeguard for President Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. Some people are fascinated by my brushes with celebrities, eager to know what Melania orders for lunch or whether I ever had to rescue Barron from the pool. Others are critical or supportive of my job based on their political views. With these reactions, whether shaming or praising me, I feel guilty because I am not trying to make a political statement through my employment. I feel obligated to make excuses, noting that it just happens to be the closest pool at which I could work or that I applied for the job in September before he was elected. From my many hours on the lifeguard stand, I have gotten a glimpse into the Trumps’ private lives and gained a much more complex understanding of them and myself.

On my first day of work, I was pushing an unwieldy bin of dirty towels when dozens of men in suits came rushing into the pool area, talking frantically into their earpieces. All of a sudden, in strolled the President in his golf whites, greeting me and asking how I was doing. I was freaking out. Here was the President of the United States, much taller and less orange than I anticipated. Seeing him there, removed from his place on the global stage, he seemed like nothing more than the owner of the club. Sure, there were security checkpoints and Secret Service agents everywhere, but greeting me, he was just a boss making sure that everything ran smoothly.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner spend many days at their cottage on the property by the pool. If you didn’t recognize them, you wouldn’t think they are different from any other family. Ivanka is just a mom, chasing her kids around the pool in a bathing suit and coverup, and Jared is just a dad on a lounge chair, throwing his daughter rings to retrieve in the water. After a year full of news regarding Mr. Kushner’s role in the 2016 election, I have many misgivings about his political choices. However, I still appreciate that he greets me every morning, eagerly asks my opinion on the club sunscreen selection, and thanks all of the lifeguards at the end of each day.  

The best part of my experience at Trump National Golf Club has undeniably been my interaction with the Secret Service. All I had known about these men and women was that in eleven seconds they could shoot down a plane in the no-fly zone around the golf course. Quite frankly, I thought of them as robots, trained to jump in front of bullets and defuse bombs. Every day I worked at Trump, I realized just how ignorant that perception was. I first talked to an agent while (again) taking the dirty towel bin to the laundry room. I was giving my best effort to lift the heavy bin over a door frame, with no luck. Seemingly out of nowhere, a muscular man in sunglasses appeared behind me and lifted the bin effortlessly, chuckling and commending my effort.

Since that day, Joel has become my favorite colleague. His face lights up when I walk into work, and he always has something encouraging to say, cheering me on for doing a great job because, as he puts it, “no one’s drowned yet.” He tells me about his family in Michigan, and I realize that not only are these people working one of the most difficult jobs in the world, but they are sacrificing so much to do it. I had complained about missing social events when I had to work late, but then I heard a phone call between an agent from San Francisco and his six-year-old son, who was sobbing because his dad missed his very first soccer game. Despite these tough circumstances, the agents are friendly, passionate, and funny, whether they are raving about the subs at Bedminster Pizza or fighting over college football rivalries. Their fun and mischievous nature make them my favorite part of work; I can’t forget how they pranked me by telling me that the bomb-sniffing dog found narcotics in my car.

Some people think that by working for Trump, I am supporting his policies and the way he treats people. After my summers as a lifeguard, I have learned that I can completely disagree with him but still appreciate the great aspects of my job – I’m getting paid to be in a beautiful place, keep people safe, and hang out with some pretty cool friends (who happen to be able to shoot down a plane in eleven seconds). I’ll still feel conflicted with every tweet and speech, but I know that instead of running away from my job, I can use it as an opportunity to learn to understand people with whom I don’t agree and see people not as caricatures but instead as the complex human beings they really are.