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Friday, January 20, 2023

America The Lowbrow–Why We Will Always Be Bourgeois And Proud Of It

Pablo Casals played the cello at John F Kennedy’s Inaugural celebration, and Robert Frost read lines from his poetry at the new President’s swearing in.  High culture had its moment, a memorably sophisticated time which seemed to usher in a New Age.  America had class after all, and was not just the world’s showy playground, all glitz and glamour, Hollywood and Las Vegas, sequins, and soap operas.  it was more than crooks, wheeler-dealers, con artists and make-money-quick shell gamers.

Kennedy Center Arts Festival Celebrates Anniversary Of JFK's Inaugural : NPR

Poetry came out of the archives, and Whitman, Longfellow, Emerson, and Thoreau were not just college required reading.  Classical music stations were flush with donations.  Aaron Copeland, John Cage, Leonard Bernstein, and Cole Porter were featured, and a new pride in American native artistry and creative genius was in the air.  The works of Faulkner, Hawthorne, James, Updike, and McCarthy flew off the shelves.

There was a new dialogue in Washington, a new, lively art scene. Ballet was no longer just for fairies, opera a boring, ridiculously melodramatic show, and Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann the talk of the town.

Of course this highbrow moment did not last, and once Kennedy’s assassination had ushered in Lyndon Baines Johnson, a good ol’ boy with a hardscrabble, dustbowl past, a big Texas ego, oil wells and cattle herds in his blood and rough, no-holds-barred politics on his hands, it was gone for good.

It might have taken time for Americans to forget the urbane, witty, sophisticated, moneyed Kennedy and to embrace the awkward, big-eared bullring cowboy Johnson, but the affair had already been made in heaven.  It was a perfect match.  Kennedy was no real American, an Irish Catholic no more patrician than LBJ, son of an Irish Catholic crooked manipulator and corrupt politician; but prep school and Harvard had done for his culture and reputation what his father had always intended – get the stink of the bog Irish out of the family, make the Kennedys look as good as the Cabots and Lodges, and present John as an entitled legatee of WASP sophistication.

How Joseph Kennedy Made His Fortune (Hint: It Wasn't Bootlegging) - HISTORY

Kennedy put on a good show.  Camelot lived within the public fantasy for his few years in the White House.  Jackie did her turn as cultural Ambassador, purveyor of high culture to the lowbrows who had elected her husband.  She floated in and out of the Oval Office, the Rose Garden, and the East Wing, replacing tchotchkes and cute ceramic dwarves with the work of real artists and designers.   Under her careful curation, the White House became an American Winter Palace, a showcase of elegance, taste, and distinction.  And then came LBJ and Lady Bird who scrapped all the highbrow knickknacks and replaced them with saddles, lassoes, and branding irons.  The White House was to be once again the people’s home.

US President Lyndon B. Johnson in a cowboy hat at his Ranch July 5, 1968 in  Stonewall, Texas Stock Photo - Alamy

Only the Eastern Establishment winced and turned away at the new Administration’s return to the bourgeois.  To them Johnson was a rube, an unwashed cowpoke.  Kennedy had chosen him as Vice President for political reasons only, not with any love, affection, or respect, never even considering his possible ascent to the Oval Office.  This scorn bled out into the halls of Congress.  What were we doing with this bully, this unsophisticated horse trader who got what he wanted as Speaker of the House but at what price?  He sold bad horseflesh for running water and roads for votes.  Everything was for sale in the Congress and in America, nothing was sacred, and having this bullying braggart in the White House was too much to bear.  Where was Pablo Casals, Robert Frost, and Jackie when we really needed them?

Of course the real America came back with a vengeance, and every President after Kennedy was more at home on the range than in either corporate offices or on K Street.  Nixon was a greedy crook who never could get past his charmless persona, lonely childhood, and totally unlikeable personality.  He was proud of rising to the top from modest beginnings, but he remembered those who kept him down rather than those who helped him up.  He was an unpleasant, vindictive, creepy man who was cut more in the American mode than any Kennedy, Cabot, or Lodge.

Video Richard Nixon: 'I'm Not a Crook' - ABC News

George H.W. Bush, son of Connecticut patrician politicians with a proud sense of noblesse oblige, did the right things and exemplified the best of the old, traditional white Anglo Saxon values.  Yet he was no Kennedy, and lived simply and temperately – nothing exaggerated about spending the family fortune.  Typical of his class, temperance, moderation, and simplicity were his bywords. He was a man of principle, Ambassador, head of the CIA, fighter pilot, and dutiful Vice-President – all of which was understood by his Yale classmates and Kennebunkport neighbors but lost on the electorate who simply wanted lower taxes and a solidly Republican Administration.

Everyone else in the lineup was real American, even Bush II who had moved to Texas and made his fortune and political bones there.  No one could confuse Georgie with his patrician father and he liked it that way.  He was determinedly lowbrow because he knew the country was just like him.

Then, along came Donald Trump, the very epitome of the American bourgeois culture. He was unabashedly lowbrow, squire to beauty queens, owner of sumptuous mansions and million dollar yachts.  He was a man of the mean streets, the runways of Las Vegas, and the Hollywood sound stage.  He was bigger than life, a vaudevillian, a master performer, a big top circus showman

There was nothing old line or old guard about him, not a trace of the old Kennedy charm or Bush I rectitude. He was outrageously cheap and loud.  He was an American’s American – bigger than life, wealthy beyond anyone’s dreams, lover of the good life, beautiful women, tall, handsome, and powerful.  He was crude, off-color, politically incorrect.  He was a bruiser, a mauler, and a leader of the pack.

Univision pulls plug on Miss USA pageant after candidate Trump's Mexico  slur | The Japan Times

The Eastern liberal establishment hated Donald Trump more for what he was that for what he did.  While they carped and whinged about his misogyny, racism, and homophobia, they really hated his unapologetic crass bourgeois image and appeal.  The elite of Boston, New York and Washington had something more ‘presidential’ in mind.  A man of reserve, thoughtfulness, compassion, and respect – not this bellowing showman with no respect for anyone or anything.  They simply couldn’t get over how a real American – lowdown lover of trinkets, lawn furniture, patios, and inflatable pools – could have gotten to the Oval Office.

Now America is paying the price for such lowbrow exuberance.  Joe Biden is one of the dullest, bumbling, uncertain, hobbled and led president in recent history.  No one listens to his speeches or press conferences, so scripted are they that nothing of any interest can possibly happen.   He runs his administration on race, gender, ethnicity and giveaway, catering to his progressive shills on Capitol Hill; hopes that he won’t stumble badly before the next election; and goes to bed early.  No penance for Trump-love was this harsh.

The French have always known that America was a profoundly cultureless, bourgeois, petty society.  They are la fille ainee de l’Eglise the country that saved Europe from the Saracen Muslim invaders, the guarantor of civility, culture, and logic, and the caretaker of thousands of years of storied history.  America? A Johnny Come Lately wall flower, tarted up and pimped out in rhinestones and sequins, hoping to make a splash.  Pay attention to their money and nothing else say the aristocratic elite.

We Americans don’t care, for we are proud of our humble beginnings and our love affair with image, glitter, and show.  We are still the country where every refugee and his brother want to come, land of opportunity to make money and to spend it on things that look great.

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