Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Unable to Resist

I promised myself I would say nothing at all about politics and the result of the American presidential election, but now I give in. The reason I didn't want to say anything is that I know nothing really. In addition, there is barely anything on the Internet about any other topic at the moment, and I am beginning to find it gets me down.

The reason it gets me down is that, much as I want to wait and see before making judgments, I can't help worrying about the apparent lack of interest or belief in anything but making deals that the president elect has manifested up until now - and thus his election is rather sobering/worrying, since the main function of a head of state should not be to amass large profits for himself. He doesn't seem enormously stable either.

Of course, I may be completely misjudging the man, but, based on the evidence I've been exposed to - and, yes, who knows, possibly it is all skewed and slanted - he doesn't come across as a very sensitive, nuanced person. Or at least not sensitive, except about himself.

Anyway a couple of things happened that made me decide to break my promise to myself. The first was I came across a passage that seemed oddly apposite. Some will say that it is not and the parallel with Trump that I think I see in Tom Buchanan is false, since Tom Buchanan is from the established New York upper class rich, whereas Trump is from new money. Also, Tom Buchanan is a fleshy, violent bully who has no integrity, emotional or moral, so that is nothing like Trump either, is it?

On the point of social difference, I would argue that all new world wealth is new money and the idea of a new world aristocracy is absurd, and therefore on that level the analogy works just fine.

So let's hurtle on to the passage in question - but before I get to that, let me just add that I do fully recognise that another flaw in my analogy is that things were not as perfect in the world before Trump as they appear to be in the scene Fitzgerald describes here just before Buchanan enters and sucks the joy out of everything:

"The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor."

The great F Scott Fitzgerald, ladies and gentleman, what an absolute genius. How in heaven's name did he end up poor - and how in heaven's name did that truly wonderful novel Tender is the Night not become an instant and overwhelming success? That is an even bigger mystery than the question of how Trump won, which, of course, has been a preoccupation of many since 9 November.

And actually I must admit that, leaving aside the fact that anything is possible in a world where such a great work of art could be overlooked and underlining the lack of delight I feel about what has happened, I do think it is not impossible to make out one or two possible wisps of sort of almost reasons for the result.

I noticed one of these scraps of possibility - just a tatter of something that may have gone a little way to creating the outcome - while I was  watching Hillary Clinton give her concession speech. It was when she got to the bit where she was encouraging her younger supporters not to become too disheartened to continue political work, that I thought perhaps I'd discovered a clue to what went wrong for her.

The thing she said that immediately struck me was this:

"Never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it."

She had missed something, I thought, and perhaps everyone who shares her beliefs had done the same throughout the campaign. The thing I thought she had missed was an acknowledgment that "what is right" is not a given; different groups have different views about what "what is right" actually means. Therefore, it seemed to me that what she ought to have said was this:

Never stop believing that fighting for what YOU THINK is right is worth it."

The addition of those two words would have kept one important element at the forefront - the recognition that not everyone believes what you believe and you need to engage with them and PERSUADE them.

But perhaps I am biased because of the weird ways of the little bubble in which I live, a place where, as I have mentioned, I have to entertain often and nowadays - a very new development - etiquette requires that I ask people whether there is anything they might prefer not to eat. Manners, as I understood them once, meant that a guest would always reply with, "Why no, just give me whatever you are eating; it is so kind of you to offer me your hospitality at all", but this is no longer the case. Everyone seems to believe these days that they should fight for what is right for their digestion. Worse still, a recent experience, when it was stipulated by a prospective guest that, should I be including any fish on my menu, I must ensure that said fish be sustainably sourced, suggests that someone has taken Mrs Clinton's words to heart and brought them to my table and a fight between me and my guests about what we believe is right is about to be undertaken.

Much more of this sort of stuff, and I might begin to feel almost sour enough to vote for Trump myself.


  1. "Old money" in an American context seems to mean third generation or older. By that standard, Trump is not from "old money", I agree. Was Tom Buchanan? Perhaps: he seems to have been born in the 1890s; his grandfathers would have been grown men about 1860, old enough to make money in "the gilded age."

    On the other hand, the Kennedy brothers, John, Robert, and Edward, were definitely second-generation but managed to give a more patrician impression than the president-elect. This may have owed something to the reticence of the press before the last quarter century, and something to the differences between Boston and New York. Of course you are correct in saying that no New World money is particularly old.

    Who can deny that Hillary Clinton spends little time considering the possibility that she might be wrong? Few enough of us do. In any case, I have come to tire of attaching "in my opinion" to the front of statement; the hearer or reader can take that for granted. If however I am reading from a stone tablet handed to me on Mount Sinai, then I will mention that.

    1. I have the idea that Gatsby was the new money & Buchanan was supposed to represent the point of contrast. The Kennedys surely never looked like old money - it strikes me that Obama is the direct descendant of JFK. Both are hugely glamorous, possibly both are as beguiled by themselves as the electorate &, where Obama is breaking new ground as first non-white president, Kennedy broke new ground as first Catholic, didn't he?

    2. I would find it hard, in the US, to name anyone with more than third-generation wealth. I know that there are plenty of Rockefellers and Fords about, and a Ford evening running Ford Motor Company. But they don't hold the public eye the way John Kennedy or Nelson Rockefeller did. And it is my impression that it would be hard to distinguish the manner of a Nelson or David Rockefeller from that of a John or Robert Kennedy, for all that the Rockefellers had an extra generation between them and the founder.

      Kennedy did break ground as the first Catholic, but no other has come close since. I suppose that Muskie had as good a shot as any in 1972. At the time Obama was nominated, I thought that he would be following in the steps of Al Smith; but a recession set in that doomed McCain.

      I think, by the way, that the next time someone wonders whether your seafood is sustainably sourced, you should pretend to misunderstand, and tell him "Oh, don't worry, there's plenty of sauce."
      Kennedy definitely broke ground as the first Catholic.

    3. I think McCain was doomed by choosing Palin and by the superficial charisma of Obama, which reminds me of that of Kennedy. Never trust charm is quite a good motto. Not that I'm saying Obama is untrustworthy - more that no-one can live up to the kind of dreams created by a star dusted image. Kennedy probably wouldn't have either. I wonder if anyone has done a speculative counter-fiction where Kennedy wasn't assassinated.