Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump and the Rat Pack

John Podheretz locates Trump's personal style in the early 1960s era of the Rat Pack:
The Rat Pack made sleazy mob-run casinos seem glamorous — they danced and sang and gambled and drank and made “Ocean’s 11” in and around them — and what business more than any other drew Trump in during the 1980s? The casino business.

He may be vulgar, but it’s a formal kind of vulgarity. He is “Mr. Trump,” not “Donald.”

But it is the way he acts around women and talks about women that reflects this Rat Pack-ness more than anything else. The failed New York Times hit piece last weekend about his relations with women began with an anecdote about Trump hosting a pool party at his Mar-a-Lago estate resort and asking a 26 year-old model to put on a bikini. “That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?” he declared, thus horrifying the New York Times — and puzzling the woman herself, Rowanne Brewer Lane, who was flattered by his attentions, went on to date him, and did not intend the anecdote she told the Times to be cast in a light disadvantageous to Trump. That pool party sounds like a Sinatra special in Palm Springs — or like a more sedate Playboy Mansion shindig, another favorite Trump locale.
Ross Douthat expands the idea, connecting Trump to JFK and Mad Men, suit-wearing avatars of male sexual liberation:
Much of what seems strange and reactionary about Trump is tied to what was normal to a certain kind of Sinatra and Mad Men-era man — the casual sexism, the odd mix of sleaziness and formality, even the insult-comic style.

But while that male culture was “conservative” in its exploitative attitudes toward women, it was itself in rebellion against bourgeois norms and Middle-American Christianity. And if Hillary is a (partial, given her complicated marriage) avatar of Gloria Steinem-era feminism, her opponent is an heir of the male revolutionary in whose club Steinem once went undercover: Hugh Hefner.

It was Hefner who fully embodied the male sexual revolt. Today he’s just a sleazy oldster, but in the beginning he was a faux philosopher, preaching a gospel cribbed from bohemia and various Freudian enemies of repression, in which the blessed pursuit of promiscuity was the human birthright. But really a male birthright, for a certain kind of man: The sort of hep cat who loved inviting the ladies back to his pad “for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.”
It's a fascinating notion: that while Hillary's identity was largely fixed in the 70s world of leftish feminism, Trump's is a throwback to an era when he was just a teenager. In 1963 it was not at all surprising to be a suit-wearing rebel, a patriarch at home and a public advocate of women's liberation, a violent nationalist who dismisses most foreign entanglements, and a conservative Republican who stands up for coal, steel, cars, and the men who make them.

These days we tend to equate conservatism with religion, but as Trump's success shows many Americans are not nostalgic for small town virtue. They remember a world when men did what they wanted, moralism and the establishment be damned.

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