The Empress' New Clothes

The potential First Lady has no clothes on and her husband's followers don't seem to mind her nudity nor the provocative poses in which she was photographed. They don't mind their candidate's blatantly dyed hair nor his bloated body nor his flapping, open suit jacket. They don't mind his use of vulgar language either. Nor his saying on national TV that a female opponent had to go to the bathroom

He's coarse, this candidate. So are many of his followers, who seem to revel in his coarseness, who love that his matches theirs. The late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was notorious for belching on the air when he addressed his nation as President. No American politico does that, as far as I know, but then neither did Fidel Castro, Chavez's role model. The chavistas did not mind the burps. It's what men did. Men who were not effete. Men of the people. Salt of the Earth.

The candidate is labeled a populist -- also a Fascist, but we'll leave that be. But I have not come to bury Trump nor -- God help me -- to praise him. I've come to talk, as usual, about culture. They call it, this downward spinning populist trend of which the candidate is an example, the coarsening of culture. What was called bad taste no longer matters. For who are you to say what is in bad taste, you effete, out-of-touch elitist? We the people don't give a fuck. See, we can say fuck.

We the people turns out to be, in this case, white males. But such was the thinking of the white males who used those words as the foundation of the United States, so what's the problem? That those white males belonged to an elite doesn't matter now to the anti-elitist populists. What matters is that white males no longer feel like their white maleness is triumphant, never mind that the populists' class standing, many for generations, is far from the privileged position of the Founding Fathers'. The latter would have also thought of these populists as "deplorables", though if they'd read Swift they might have used the word the candidate's opponent meant but dared not speak. Yahoos.

Culture plunges. No holds barred. No words taboo -- that's political correctness, a dastardly invention of the elite, as is global warming. The burping may start soon. Or maybe the farting. Where did it all begin?

I would point to John McEnroe. Until him, histrionics on the tennis court was considered bad form. But then tennis was an elite sport, played by gentlemen and gentle ladies. Populism engulfed it and today I see tournament winners with clenched fists and open mouths: victory gestures and voices, as in all sports. And, though I always admired his art, I would also point to Cassius Clay, as he was known then, for his braggadocio. It's all about I'm the greatest. The greatest tennis player, the greatest boxer, the greatest President if you elect me -- at least McEnroe and Clay/Ali had to prove their skills before they could be acclaimed.

Culture plunges. Or maybe, let's be fair, we are just becoming more democratic. Manners are a class construct, no? (Oh, I know I'm being a Marxist here, anathema to American populists, but in a twisted way so are they.) Years ago, on my return trips to Cuba, I was struck by what a bad-mannered people we had become. It was always there; we Cubans call it chusmeria, gross street behavior. But now it seemed institutionalized. Then one day back in the States, I was listening to NPR, as we cultural elitists are wont to do, and an Israeli journalist was explaining why Israelis are so ill-mannered. We began as a socialist country, he said, and socialists disdain bourgeois manners. Socialism didn't quite stick, but bad manners did. In Communist Cuba chusmeria rules.

Is that bad? Famously, a young Cuban artist, now in exile, once addressed the Minister of Culture in a public meeting with the words, oye tu (Hey you). The artist was no Communist; in fact, he was challenging the Communist government's authority. But his language, his chusmeria, was of a piece with the culture of the new Cuba. Is it wrong to display such bad manners with a member of one's country's cabinet? Is it wrong for a member of Congress to yell out "you lie!" at the President of the United States? Or is that how we the people behave, unfettered by elite manners?

I can now hide behind advanced years when I tsk-tsk about bad manners. O tempora, O mores. And when I disagree with what is right and wrong behavior. We the people had nothing to say about standing during the national anthem because the song was not around for we the people to judge. Today many American people think it's wrong not to do so. Those same people applaud when The Star Spangled Banner is sung in public. They do not seem to know, or care to know, that just like standing during the anthem is the right thing to do according to tradition, tradition also dictates that applauding the anthem is wrong. I agree with tradition in both these matters. If an athlete not standing for the national anthem is offensive to some, applauding after it is offensive to me. 

Good manners are a matter of tradition. And, yes, good manners spring from the elites, just like chusmeria springs from the streets (from sailors according to the origin of the word). I guess I'm no populist. And though I may occasionally slip into Marxist language, I'm no Communist (God help me). I guess I'm an elitist. I believe a President (our current one may go down in history as America's last gentleman) or a candidate to that office should watch his/her language and button his (this only applies to men) suit jacket while standing. I believe one stands for the national anthem, though one has the constitutional right not to do so as a political statement. And one should never applaud when it's over. Such applause is chusmeria. It's for yahoos.