In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.…
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
— T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
As you walk through a fine arts museum, as Prufrock did, you might be struck by how classical painters conveyed the idea of wealth and abundance through paintings of food and drink. Tables are laden with sumptuous platters of ripe fruit, exotic spices, and goblets of wine. The cornucopia conveys a sense of luxurious overabundance that symbolizes a flourishing prosperity.
In more bucolic settings, the earth willingly yields its bounty. Trees are heavy with fruit. The young lover need only reach up to grasp an apple for his mistress. But he must reach languidly. There must be no straining, no work.
Marie Antoinette and her friends play at being milkmaids. Wearing specially designed peasant frocks, they visit a model dairy bearing Sèvres milk pails. English nobles enjoy a stroll on their grounds. Hundreds of gardeners are required to maintain the natural look of the English garden. The picnic in a bucolic setting, protected from the grazing cattle by a “ha-ha” — a hidden ditch that prevents nature from getting to close.
It wasn’t until the advent of the French Barbizon School in the mid-19th century that human beings were introduced into art’s universe of things. One might then see French peasants, hoe in hand, working the fields. This was revolutionary because the process by which things are acquired carries with it the idea of commerce and industry, the marketplace with money changing hands. The Dutch, being a commercial nation, had no problem with this sort of thing, and Dutch paintings going back to the 16th century showed merchants bargaining over spices from abroad.
Though America was supposed to be a classless country, there was always something a little disreputable about making money. Thomas Jefferson and the pre-colonial Virginia elites sneered at the North’s mercantile class, and a subsequent generation of Virginia writers incorporated his ideas in defense of slavery. To this day America’s elites — both left and right — are conflicted about wealth. They like it of course. The folks who work at NPR will sit down to a fine dinner at Milano’s, only the over-priced food must be organic and sustainably farmed. The writers at National Review and the Weekly Standard will happily dig into a dish of free range chicken at Nora’s, while they tsk tsk about Donald Trump’s plan to stop illegal immigration. The fact that they can afford these meals at all only because of the brown young men and women who are willing to work for $5 an hour is delicately avoided.
The American elite is uncomfortable with the universe of people who bring them the universe of things. They’re uncomfortable with entrepreneurship and the haggling and deal-cutting that is part of it. A concern with the bottom line is unseemly. Wealth is good so long as you don’t have to work for it. Entrepreneurs have to work for it, and so there is something déclassé about them.
“Did you know that Donald Trump dealt with the Mob?” whisper the elites. He must have done so because he was in the construction business in New York in the ’80s. That’s terrible! I confess that I also dealt with the Mob. For in Montreal, in the ’80s, the Mob had a monopoly on gardeners. If you wanted your lawn cut, or your shrubs trimmed, you had to deal with the landscape company that was assigned by the Mob to your neighborhood. But then I’m not running for the presidency of the United States.
Donald Trump had to do the things that entrepreneurs do to stay in business, and one of these things was to make donations to both Democrats and Republicans. America’s political class is a kleptocracy, and you can’t succeed in business unless you play by their rules. My husband and I learned something of this when we moved to the United States in 1989. Even though he was a mere academic, and not yet able to vote here, we were informed that unless we made a substantial (for us) donation to a certain congressional aspirant, he wouldn’t have any friends unless he played by the rules. I was astounded by how far down the food chain the kleptocracy extended its reach.
In the course of his business dealings Donald Trump resorted to the use of our bankruptcy laws, the elites sniff. Disgraceful! But then the elites are mostly salaried folks who never had to take a risk. They know nothing about business or creating wealth, and so they are not aware that risk-taking is necessary to wealth creation. That’s why we have bankruptcy laws. We want to encourage the risk-takers; they are the entrepreneurs who create jobs. Had Donald Trump taken a job in his father’s firm, and waited for his father to die so that he could inherit his wealth, Donald might well have emerged both rich and squeaky-clean.
Mention Kim Kardashian to one of the elites and you can expect an apoplectic fit. The most vulgar of the vulgar! Yet, for Gene Marks, a small business management columnist, author, speaker, and business owner, Kim is a “bone fide, true and real entrepreneur” and thus she represents “what’s right with America.” Like Trump, Kim’s from a wealthy family, but was expected from a young age to create her own success in life, and so she became an entrepreneur. Marks admires her because she’s a risk-taker who was able to “endure the withering abuse from many… who detest her kind of entrepreneurism.” She’s a marketing and branding expert, and successfully runs a family business. Marks says that great entrepreneurs make their success “more than just about money.” By embracing her own ample figure, and that of her even more zaftig sister, Kim’s made it possible for a lot of women who don’t have the anorexic bodies of fashion models to feel good about themselves.
Gene Marks is an expert in the small businesses of America. His views would be anathema to someone like Kevin Williamson, National Review’s resident emoter, who recently released a rant about another American entrepreneur, Paris Hilton. Kevin observes that,
[T]here are now Paris Hilton–branded stores in 40 countries. Her dozen-and-a-half varieties of perfume have done nine-figure sales. She made a hit record with Lil Wayne and licensed her name to a beach club in the Philippines. She has at least 16 merchandise-licensing deals…. She earns more than $10 million a year from product licensing… [and she] makes more than $1 million per “performance” working as a party DJ.
And Kevin thinks that all this is very, very bad. You see, Paris has a very rich granddaddy and might have spent her time knitting while waiting to inherit his fortune. Like Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return home. Only she chose to create wealth rather than inherit it, and Kevin calls her “a publicity whore.” That’s how real entrepreneurship looks to men without chests.
Paris Hilton is actually very smart, funny, and outspoken. She got into trouble by saying that she disliked gay men, advised Sarah Palin to make the most of her good looks: “Why wear a pantsuit when you can wear a swimsuit?” In a mock presidential campaign video she announced her foreign policy: She’d make America a proactive superpower “that will use diplomacy and incentives to head off trouble in unstable regions before they unravel out of control.” When meeting foreign dignitaries, she’d wear platform heels to accentuate the curve in her calves. She’d behave like a woman, in short.
Domestically, she’d support the American workforce by wearing “only American designers: Calvin Klein between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Donna Karan the rest of the year. Unless I wake up and the day is screaming for me to put on a bikini for my fellow Americans. Country first.” She’s a lot smarter and way funnier than Kevin Williamson.
Like Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian, Paris lacks the languidness that American elites so admire. Like them, she’s a hustler (in the good sense). Like them she has an exuberance and love of life that is uniquely American. She loves America and the pioneer spirit that built America. Trump, Kardashian, and Hilton are larger than life in the way only Americans can be. They are Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, who will not be contained by the arbitrary conventions of the bien pensants. And so those in our society who lack their vigor, who value the effeteness reminiscent of decayed nobility, would like to play Nurse Ratched: to lobotomize, castrate, or otherwise neuter them.
You know what? I’ll bet the girly-boys who scorn Trump today will kowtow to him in a year’s time.