"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, December 2, 2016

American Glitz And Glamour And The Coming Of The Trumps

There is something very gratifying about the promise of a Trump White House and the obsequies for the old, liberal, intellectual, Eastern Establishment which has held sway in Washington for so long.

The Congressional representatives of Iowa, Wyoming, Mississippi, and North Dakota make no claim on JFK’s legacy of European sophistication, Roosevelt’s patrician tastes, or George H.W.Walker Bush’s Anglo-Saxon cultural parsimony; and are proud of their homespun roots. No academic or coastal pretensions.  They are the sons and daughters of farmers, factory workers, field hands, and shopkeepers and as such have no culture to offer Washington other than plain talk, faith, family, and enterprise.

These political hirelings provide the cultural inertia of Washington.  Whatever happens in the White House, whether the high culture of the Kennedys, the middle-brow years of Richard Nixon, or the high-professional black upper middle class reaches of the Obamas, Congressmen plod on with little notice other than for their votes.  They are in substance, background, culture, and class no different from their bureaucratic brothers and sisters down the Mall from the Capitol.  They have neither sophistication, class, or elegance; nor any showgirl tinsel and sequins.  They are simple, unleavened émigrés from the heartland with few pretenses and no cultural ambitions.

So what to do with the Trumps?  They are not Main Line, Nantucket, Beacon Hill, Rittenhouse Square old Anglo-Saxon Park Avenue privileged wealth.  No Society of the Cincinnati, Cosmos Club.  No sailing off Block Island.  No winters in Gstaad.  No Pablo Casals, Robert Frost, or Chippendale appointments of the West Wing.  No history of tweeds, paisleys, and the Yale Fence.

Image result for images pablo casals at white house

Nor are they from pig farming or cattle-ranching stock; nor from the rag trade, whiskey, or construction.  

They are a new breed of high lowbrow Americans.  Bourgeois to the core, children of Hollywood, Seventh Avenue, and Las Vegas.   Nary a Gilbert Stuart on the walls, nor a Cotton Mather on the bookshelf, nor a Bruckner among the CDs.  Nothing by Eugene Victor Debs or Samuel Gompers. No Faulkner, Joyce, or O’Neill.  There has been no time for intellectual dalliances.  True to form, they have trusted only their instincts, their personal tastes, and their ambitions.

Most importantly Donald Trump has no elitist associations.   He dismisses the Rittenhouse Square crowd as antediluvian and impossibly hidebound.  He has no use for Bill Clinton, Arkansas trailer trash and intellectual wannabee flirting with high culture and intellect at Renaissance Weekends.  He, despite his populism, wants nothing to do with Walmart greeters, Target checkers, McDonald’s warming trays, digging asparagus, or handling a lathe.

He and his family are unique One Percenters – not the Wall Street financiers or corporate magnates of multinationals; but among America’s few glitterati – celebrities, People Magazine favorites, E! cover personalities for whom image, allure, and attractiveness are the only currency.

Washington has never seen a family like this.  Ronald Reagan was a product of Hollywood, but he was a B-actor, never a celebrity, always a campy joke, and a Los Angeles nothing until he got into politics as head of the Scree Actors Guild.  LBJ had bombast, personality, and Lonesome Dove Western grit and determination, but never set any agendas other than the failed Great Society and the even worse failure, the war in Vietnam.   Carter was an octoroon – a mélange of farmer, politician, and religious evangelist.  George W. Bush was a quadroon – an equally mixed stew of patrician Ivy League New Englander and Texas arriviste wannabe.

The Trumps not only are Hollywood, Las Vegas, Times Square, and the fashion runways of Milan, Paris, and Rome; but the most American of families Washington has ever seen.

Why? Not because they are like most American families but because they reflect the aspirations of middle Americans.  They are our fantasy.  We don’t want to be Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, or the Presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.   We want to be like the Trumps and have gorgeous children, penthouses in New York, hotel-resort-homes in Palm Beach, cabanas in St. Tropez, chalets in St. Moritz, yachts harbored in Rimini, St. Bart’s, and Eleuthera.   Men want his arm candy and his power.  Women want his bangles, stewards, and money.

Much has been made of the divisions in American society and how Trump and Hillary Clinton have characterized them.  Yet the focus has been misplaced.  Yes, Donald Trump represents the white disaffected and Hillary the marginalized minorities; and yes, Trump reflects an uber-Republicanism which even more than Ronald Reagan champions nationalism, patriotism, and civic duty.  And yes, he is the resonating board for the anger, resentment, and frustration of the working class. 

Hillary Clinton is the Woman of the Year, finally breaking through The glass ceiling; heroine in the fight for LGBT rights, supporter of Black Lives Matter and soldier in the continuing war for civil justice; and tireless fighter for the rights of the Earth.

Yet this characterization is simplistic and too eager.  While these political differences should not be minimized, the cultural differences are even more pronounced.  The Left in America is academic, idealistic, and bound to the idea that progress is possible.  War, famine, civil strife, income inequality, social injustice can all be eliminated if only the desire and commitment is there.  Political investment is not simply electoral but philosophical and personal. 

The campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was not so much a debate of ideas but a conflict of purpose and meaning.  The Left, given its absolute belief in the perfectibility of man and our collective responsibility to attain it, cannot be frivolous or nonsensical.  The election of Donald Trump was far more than an electoral defeat; nor even just a defeat of political principles.  It was an existential defeat.

Trumpists on the other hand have never bought into the idea of human perfectibility. Life is Hobbesian – short, brutal, etc. etc. – and there is no need to fret.  Yes, we would all wish for a better life; but there is more to existence than that.  God, for one thing; and enjoying what we have, another.

Nietzsche would have delighted in the Trump presidency.  Not because he is Superman, nor even because of his indomitable will; but because of his dismissal of the serious, the mundane, and the herd.   Donald Trump has not only rejected received liberal wisdom– arrogant, self-serving media; Leftist Castro, Indian, Black Lives Matter sympathizers; gender-race-ethnicity bowdlerizers – but he has unabashedly revived and revitalized classic lowbrow American culture.

What could be more of an anathema to the liberal Left than the the gorgeous, runway-trim, confident, white, wealthy, and impossibly glitzy Trumps?  And what could be more appealing to the 60 million plus disaffected, disheartened, and angry Trump supporters?

Trump’s election is truly revolutionary.  Forget the politics, the radical populism and all that.  His ascendancy marks the final vindication of the essential America – lowbrow, anti-intellectual, People and E! magazine-fixated, reality-TV addicted; glitz, glamour, and show personified. 

The Trump White House years will be like none other.  We all wish him well and hope that he can consolidate our economic gains, restore respect from our international allies, defeat our enemies, and return American society to that envisaged by the Founding Fathers; but whatever his successes, we will be with him in every fashionista, celebrity, Hollywood, braggadocio moment.

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