Politics & Policy

Nobles without Nobility

(Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
A summer of coronations

People will always tell you the truth about what they really want, if you listen.

Donald Trump wants to be an aristocrat. This is understandable, given that the Trumps are essentially a less interesting and less accomplished version of the Annenbergs.

Like Moe Annenberg, Fred Christ Trump built a fortune and a little bit of a name, but there was a lot of mud on him: The Mayflower types looked down on the arrivistes and their immigrant parents (both of Fred Trump’s parents were born in Germany, but being German was unfashionable, so he pretended to be of Swedish origin; the Jewish Annenbergs were born outsiders among the Main Line WASPs), and both the Trumps and the Annenbergs have been linked to organized crime. Both families made the leap from rich to wildly rich via the same definitively American medium: television, Donald Trump as a reality-show grotesque and Walter Annenberg as the publisher of TV Guide. They had money, fame, power, political connections — everything a man could want, except for a pedigree.

Trump speaks of his father slightly derisively as a man whose vision never went much beyond Brooklyn and Queens, while Donald Trump’s adventuring extended all the way across the East River: A “kid from Queens” who stormed Manhattan armed with nothing other than his family’s business connections and a few hundred million dollars’ worth of real estate. The Trumps’ story and the Annenbergs’ story are great American tales, but, for some families, a great American success story isn’t enough. The United States is a country in which titles of nobility are constitutionally suppressed, but the Kennedys still fancied themselves lords living in a new Camelot. Walter Annenberg maneuvered to have himself named ambassador to the Court of St. James’s and built Sunnylands, the great American palace.

RELATED: Donald Trump Is Not Your Father

Donald Trump has a funny fixation on a particular title of nobility: baron. “John Baron,” you’ll remember, was one of the imaginary friends Trump invented to say nice things about him to the press, whose good opinion Trump has always (conservatives beware) coveted above all things. That wasn’t a random choice — he’d later name his youngest son “Barron.” Southerners may have a few Dukes and Earles in their family trees, but Barron is a much less assimilated name. Trump is a little like Michael Jackson in his late royalist phase, when he named his son Prince Michael Jackson II.

Trump being Trump, he has spent years driving home the point — “I am the new aristocracy!” — with his usual vulgar aesthetic, all that ersatz Louis XIV furniture and his mania for gold-plating and gold-leafing anything that sits still for more than 20 minutes, including the seatbelt buckles on his airplane. Of course he went bankrupt trying to build a Taj Mahal in Atlantic City: For a man obsessed with building golden monuments to himself, the prospect of playing Mughal emperor must have been irresistible.

(Of course our great businessmen call themselves “moguls.” Of course. And what do you suppose Trump’s Secret Service codename is?)

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If you want an indicator of whether a President Trump (good God) would resurrect old American republican manners and reverse the presidency’s decline into caesaro-papist monstrosity, consider that the man apparently really wants to be known as Baron von Trump. You can imagine a Trump State of the Union address as being something like a Japanese imperial enthronement as performed by the World Wrestling Federation. Kingly? Given his resemblance to an impulsive Lewis Carroll character, he is more like the Man Who Would Be Queen.

Maybe he’ll pick up a nifty Charles C. W. Cooke accent, like Madonna.

#share#Down the road in Annenberg’s old stomping grounds, practically everybody agrees what’s going on: The Boston Herald, the Daily Mail, the Observer, Fox News, the Economist, the Sacramento Bee, the Irish Independent, the Toronto Sun, the Omaha World-Herald, and forty dozen other outlets all described Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nominating convention as a “coronation.”

Mrs. Clinton is of course the great royalist in the race, her entire political career having been a tribute to her surname. It’s a human instinct that simply refuses to die decently: Having submitted to one member of a family, natural-born serfs desire, intensely, to submit to another member of the same family. Jack and Bobby Kennedy were one thing, and I’ll even give you Teddy: But Patrick J. Kennedy II of Rhode Island and the (this is not made up) Congressional Boating Caucus? Are you kidding? There are dachshunds that inspire more confidence.

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But apparently the Clintons are to be our royal family. Even poor dopey Chelsea has given up the pretense of doing anything useful with her life and has retired to the foundation, the great refuge of shiftless heirs and idiot sons-in-law. The Clintons are a strange choice: The Kennedys at least had aristocratic hobbies (boating caucus — seriously), and even the Trumps have the baronial weakness for huge tracts of land (in Queens, no less). President Clinton was only a jumped-up hillwilliam who, like Lyndon Johnson dealing with an irascible Robert Byrd, was nearly undone by his inability to control the Exalted Cyclops. My colleague Michael Walsh might argue that they’re more like a crime family than a royal family, though some of the crusty old libertarian types aren’t sure there’s much difference.

It’s a funny old world: HBO viewers are transfixed by a fantasy story in which the Yorks and Lancasters are transformed into the Starks and Lannisters, fighting a fantastical War of the Roses with dragons. In the great contest between the House of Trump and the House of Clinton, sensible patriots are rooting for casualties.

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