A World Without Trumps
Undaunted by his embarrassing “Let’s do Lunch” column, which was so offensively dumb that it drew a rare rebuke from his NYT colleague Paul Krugman, David Brooks wrote another unintentional howler today:
Very few people have the luxury of being freely obnoxious. Most people have to watch what they say for fear of offending their bosses and colleagues. Others resist saying anything that might make them unpopular.
Tellingly, he fails to mention that he gets paid to be obnoxious and offensive, and he doesn’t realize, cosseted as he is in the beltway bubble, that he’s as popular as crabs in a whorehouse. Feel the luxury….
But, in every society, there are a few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern. Each morning they take their own abrasive urges out for parade. They are so impressed by their achievements, so often reminded of their own obvious rightness, that every stray thought and synaptic ripple comes bursting out of their mouth fortified by impregnable certitude. When they have achieved this status they have entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.
How’s the air up there, David?
These supremely accomplished blowhards offend some but also arouse intense loyalty in others. Their followers enjoy the brassiness of it all. They live vicariously through their hero’s assertiveness. They delight in hearing those obnoxious things that others are only permitted to think.
Thus, there has always been a fan base for the abrasive rich man. There has always been a market for books by people like George Steinbrenner, Ross Perot, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Knight, Howard Stern and George Soros. There has always been a large clump of voters who believe that America could reverse its decline if only a straight-talking, obnoxious blowhard would take control.
This is where Brooks’ snotty faux-omniscience always fails him; the facts don’t fit his little story, wherein Goerge Soros is JUST LIKE Bill O’Reilly, but he didn’t have time, nor inclination, to come up with better examples that could have possibly made a stronger argument.
And today, apparently, Donald Trump is that man. Trump, currently most famous for telling people that they are fired, has surged toward the top of the presidential primary polls. In one poll, he was in (remote) striking distance in a head-to-head against President Obama. Many people regard Trump as a joke and his popularity a disgrace. But he is actually riding a deep public fantasy: The hunger for the ultimate blowhard who can lead us through dark times.
Are people hungering for this? Maybe Fox News watchers, but no normal people; check out the approval ratings for, say, Chris Christie or Paul LePage.
He is riding something else: The strongest and most subversive ideology in America today. Donald Trump is the living, walking personification of the Gospel of Success.
Bankrupt four times, functionally illiterate, multiple failed marriages, and the stupidest hairdo on the face of the earth. I call that success.
It is obligatory these days in a polite society to have a complicated attitude toward success. If you attend a prestigious college or professional school, you are supposed to struggle tirelessly for success while denying that you have much interest in it. If you do achieve it, you are expected to shroud your wealth in locally grown produce, understated luxury cars and nubby fabrics.
Ah, the poor oppressed rich, who got their money the way Trump did, by inheriting it. Cry me a river, David.
Trump, on the other hand, is utterly oblivious to such conventions. When it comes to success, as in so many other things, he is the perpetual boy. He is the enthusiastic adventurer thrilled to have acquired a gleaming new bike, and doubly thrilled to be showing it off.
He labors under the belief — unacceptable in polite society — that two is better than one and that four is better than two. If he can afford a car, a flashy one is better than a boring one. In private jets, lavish is better than dull. In skyscrapers, brass is better than brick, and gold is better than brass.
Tacky is better than tasteful, and a wife thirty years younger is better than one fifteen years younger. Values to live by.
This boyish enthusiasm for glory has propelled him to enormous accomplishment. He has literally changed the landscape of New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and many places in between. He has survived a ruinous crash and come back stronger than ever.
No mention of the bankruptcies, offensively crummy buildings, and ripped-off business associates, natch, which would kind of spoil Bobo’s Randian narrative. And those “many” places in between? Which? Can’t Pinch Sulzburger afford fact-checkers anymore?
Moreover, he shares this unambivalent attitude toward success with millions around the country. Though he cannot possibly need the money, he spends his days proselytizing the Gospel of Success through Trump University, his motivational speeches, his TV shows and relentlessly flowing books.
Take that, Andrew Carnegie, with your stupid libraries; to Brooks, I guess even Amway is a charitable outfit.
A child of wealth, he is more at home with the immigrants and the lower-middle-class strivers, who share his straightforward belief in the Gospel of Success, than he is among members of the haute bourgeoisie, who are above it. Like many swashbuckler capitalists, he is essentially anti-elitist.
Which is easy to be in your private jets; no doubt Trump HATES uber-elitists like David Brooks, despite the abject fawning.
Now, I don’t mean to say that Donald Trump is going to be president or get close. There is, for example, his hyper-hyperbolism and opportunism standing in the way.
That, and the fact that he’s so widely loathed. Brooks doesn’t get out much, for good reason.
In 2009, Trump published a book with a very Trumpian title: “Think Like a Champion.” In that book, he praised Obama’s “amazing” and “phenomenal” accomplishments. “Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen — and in an exceptional way,” Trump gushed.
Consistency, evidently, is the hobgoblin of elitists. Here Brooks helpfully feigns unawareness that Trump doesn’t, well, “write” what’s in his “books.” Or, more likely, he doesn’t think his audience does.
Now he spouts birther nonsense and calls Obama the worst president in American history. Now he leads rallies that make Michele Bachmann events look like the League of Women Voters. Even angry American voters want some level of seriousness, prudence and self-control.
Imaginary awareness of what voters “want” is the hallmark of every Brooks column, and it always happens to be exactly what Brooks himself wants. What a coincidence.
But I do insist that Trump is no joke. He emerges from deep currents in our culture, and he is tapping into powerful sections of the national fantasy life. I would never vote for him, but I would never want to live in a country without people like him.
I know how he feels. Whenever I’m feeling blue, all I do is imagine that Donald Trump exists to grace my humdrum life, and I feel better. Just like Bobo. The flip side of thinking ordinary voters want what you want is the risible delusion that voters care what you think. They don’t. The only thing better than a world without Trump would be a world without David Brooks. And that’s no joke.
(The video above appeared just hours after Brooks got done typing, but nonetheless was online the same day. After seeing that, you’d think even a shameless toady like Brooks must be wishing he hadn’t thought that last paragraph was Fit To Print… Maybe there is a God)