Monday, June 6, 2016

The Man in the Palm Beach Suit

In honour of Donald Trump's presidential bid, I am re-reading All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren.

The last time I read the book, arguably the best ever written about American politics (and, certainly, the best ever written about the cult of personality in American politics) was--yikes!--some decades ago.

So far, it seems to be holding up quite well:
The fellow ran up to the Boss, and the Boss took a couple of steps to meet him, and the fellow with the white coat grabbed Willie's hand as though he were drowning. He didn't shake Willie's hand, not by ordinary standards. He just hung on to it and twitched all over and gargled the sacred syllables of Willie. Then, when the attack had passed, he turned to the crowd, which was ringing around at a polite distance and staring, announcing, "My God, folks, it's Willie!"
The remark was superfluous. One look at the faces rallied around and you knew that if any citizen over the age of three didn't know that the strong-set man standing there in the Palm Beach suit was Willie Stark, that citizen was a half-wit. In the first place, all he would have to do would be to lift his eyes to the big picture high up there above the soda fountain, a picture about six times life size, which showed the same face, the big eyes, which in the picture had the suggestion of a sleepy and inward look (the eyes of the man in the Palm Beach suit didn't have that look now, but I've seen it), the pouches under the eyes and the jowls beginning to sag off, and the meaty lips, which didn't sag but if you looked close, were laid one on top of the other like a couple of bricks, and the tousle of hair hanging down on the not very high squarish forehead. Under the picture was the legend: My study is the heart of the people. In quotation marks, and signed, Willie Stark. I've seen that picture in a thousand places, pool halls to palaces.
Replace the "My study is the heart of the people" with "Make America Great Again!" (or, for that matter, with "Change We Can Believe In") and it's the same old sloganeering--and the same old cultish adulation.

Update: From this month's cover story in The Atlantic:
“I’m the king of Palm Beach,” Trump told the journalist Timothy O’Brien for his 2005 book, TrumpNation. Celebrities and rich people “all come over” to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach estate. “They all eat, they all love me, they all kiss my ass. And then they all leave and say, ‘Isn’t he horrible.’ But I’m the king.”

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