Publishing scion Al Regnery told a story last night about how the hoi polloi out on the campaign hustings appreciated the fact that Donald Trump always dressed to the nines. Always perfectly turned out, business suit, dress shirt, shined shoes, perfectly knotted four-in-hand tie, the working man appreciated Trump’s authenticity.
One man said, “This is how politicians ought to dress.” He took it as a sign of respect.
No Mitt Romney-flannel shirts that everyone knew were phony.
Somewhere along the line politicians got it into their heads that they needed to be one of the regular folks, which can only mean blue-jeans and flannel shirts.
There is a picture somewhere of then Governor Nelson Rockefeller trying to be one of the guys, eating a hotdog but he’s eating it—get this—sideways.
Trump did not pander in this way to his largely working man crowd and they appreciated it. He was their Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. He’s different from us, he’s a billionaire, but he gets us and we get him.
Yet one of the deep and abiding prejudices Trump faces from the intelligentsia is the fact that he is a businessman, a capitalist. Anti-business has been bred in the bone of those who consider themselves elites since the early part of the twentieth century. It was more than a simple prejudice against those in business, but a hatred of main street, of small town life, of regular people who were no more than gray shadows with their small-minded concerns keeping their betters creatively and morally shackled.
In the 1920s, D.H. Lawrence wrote a poem “How Beastly the Bourgeois is” that refers to the middle class male as “a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life/sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life than his own.”
Previous writers—John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert—all demonstrated their hatred for the middle class. The middle class were called “petty, ugly, miserly, laborious, stick-in-the-muds,” while artists were “great, beautiful, brilliant, and bohemian.”
Flaubert called for a “…government of Mandarins.” He wrote, “The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.”
Lesser known figures expressed it well, in this case 1920s literary historian Vernon Parrington, “Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class and the artists and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.”
It was Sinclair Lewis who set the elite imagination most negatively toward gray lumpy hideous small-town men and women. His bestselling 1920 novel Main Street was considered a true picture, practically a documentary account of American life.
Lewis’s heroine Carol Kennicott is an artistically sensitive young woman from the big city trapped in tiny “Rotarian dominated” “Gopher Prairie” in a loveless marriage to a middle class dolt, a business bore. The people who lived there were “men of the cash-register … who make the town a sterile oligarchy.” She considers her fellow Americans “a savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterward, coatless and thoughtless, in rocking-chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the greatest race of the world.” She tries to leave but ultimately comes back stricken with “Village disease … the contentment of the quite dead, who are scornful of the living for the restless walking.”
Lewis next created the iconic George Babbitt, a small town booster and real-estate salesman from the town of Zenith, who considers “toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, and instantaneous hot-water heaters” as “symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom.” He struggles mightily to break out of his ennui but is ultimately unsuccessful and he folds back into his boring small town existence.
Such novels spoke to generations who considered they were better than their parents, and that they aspired to better lives than the ones on offer to them, more like the lives of Europeans as they imagined them, with a hatred of middle-class America.
The war on the concerns of small town America—on their self-confidence, their work, their families, and patriotism—and on capitalism itself continued unabated down through the decades, often egged on by Soviet propaganda masters who encouraged youth and intellectuals to scorn their own country.
One can see a bright straight line stretching from the novels of Sinclair Lewis to the so-called counter culture of the 1960s that was supposedly a reaction against the awful small-minded conformity of the 1950s, which were actually years of great intellectual and artistic ferment, a time when the middle class and the popular culture aspired to high-culture, something eventually mocked by the likes of Susan Sontag.
And one can see the bright line continuing to our own days and the utter disregard and even hatred the intelligentsia has for those in so-called “fly-over country,” the tea-partiers clinging to their bible and their guns, the deplorables guilty of sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
It is being visited upon the Trump voter and now the country as a whole for having elected him. You can see it being visited on Trump himself, who does not help matters in some of the things he says and does. But at the heart of the complaint is the longtime hatred of regular folks and for the practice of vulgar business.
This is why elites hate the idea of businessmen running for office, most especially president. Remember the opprobrium heaped on Herman Cain who ran a massive business? And though Mitt Romney spent years in odiously named “public service” the left never let him off the hook for spending years in business.
It is said that businessmen cannot understand issues of public policy; they are too complicated except for those who have spent years on such minutiae. Moreover, businessmen spend their days barking orders and politics requires other skills, like persuasion, compromise, consensus, things that a grubby businessman couldn’t possibly understand.
What is comical is that this attitude evinces an utter lack of knowledge about how business works. Sure, businessmen can be barky, but they also know they must lead and persuade others to carry out the vision and mission. I saw this up close working for Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, Mort Zuckerman at The Atlantic, and Malcolm and Steve Forbes.
It is not like our betters among the elites don’t have businessmen they like, but those businessmen must be like them. Steven Jobs was a kind of genius, also a nut who hardly ever showered, practiced eastern mediation, an off-and-on vegan, and always downright dreamy. Consider Mark Zuckerberg whose Facebook is not in business to make him scads of money but to change the world and who has promised to give most of his smelly money away to leftwing causes.
These are not Rotarians but mystics!
Trump? He is not a mystic. He is a Rotarian, a rich one, but a Rotarian nonetheless. In the words of that uber-snotty 1980s humor magazine Spy, Trump is no more than a “short-fingered vulgarian” and—you know what?—to them, we all are.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is an image of downtown Frankfort, Michigan in the 1950s.