The Corner


Celebrities, Politics, and These United States

Part of me gets a kick out of Donald Trump. He has great gifts: for business, for money-making, for publicity, for showbiz. He has provided entertainment for millions. He has strongly backed the game of golf (which deserves it). He has been a reliable source of fodder for the tabloids.

Trump has “added to the gaiety of life,” as Paul Johnson would say.

I don’t think his gifts lie in politics or statesmanship, and I think his presidential campaign is unfortunate. It does neither the candidate nor his country any favors. But hey, it’s a free country, and you have a right to throw your hat in.

Unlike the other candidates, Trump is a celebrity in politics. (Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are famous, but that’s a little different from being a celebrity.) This country loves a celebrity. We are, to a degree, a vulgar country, as a glance at a television screen will confirm.

The Forces of Prudery, and even Decorum — and even Decency? — have been soundly defeated. Have no concern about that. No Comstock or Falwell is gonna prevent you from gettin’ your freak on, and filming it, and broadcasting it.

Our celebrity culture intertwines with our politics. I sense it’s doing so more than ever (though I’m happy to be corrected by Rick Brookhiser or some other historically knowledgeable sort).

Yesterday, I thought of a passage I read recently from Charles Moore: “I have always admired Elizabeth II for many things, particularly her 100-per-cent non-participation in celebrity culture . . .”

I know exactly what he means.

I also thought about something else I had read: “Talk about a great summer gig! Malia Obama landed the dream internship of a lifetime this summer — working with Lena Dunham on the set of HBO’s hit series Girls.”

That makes perfect sense, at this moment in the American story.

After the 2012 election, I wrote a series for NRO called “Against the Tide.” Lena Dunham featured in it. I’ll get to that in a moment.

President Obama had a campaign slogan: “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.” So true, so true — if by “us” you mean the culture represented by Lena Dunham et al.

I wrote,

Romney was a man out of his time. (Funny how the tendency is to refer to a losing candidate in the past tense. Romney seems to me full of magnificent life.) He was out of his time, and out of step. A throwback: a conservative businessman who believed in free enterprise, loved his church, gave a ton to charity. He didn’t even drink, poor bastard.

People said of him, “He went through the Sixties and was completely untouched by them.” Some meant this admiringly, others damningly.

I mean it admiringly, of course.

Toward the end of the 2012 campaign, the New York Times ran a (very good) article headed “Gosh, Who Talks Like That Now? Romney Does.” The candidate used such funny, fuddy-duddy words as “disembark,” “guffaw,” and “brickbats.” He employed such phrases as “darn good question.”

At an earlier point in the campaign, Obama’s political strategist, David Axelrod, said of Romney, “I think he must watch Mad Men and think it’s the evening news. He’s just in a time warp.” After the election, the Washington Post ran an article headed “The Republicans’ 1950s campaign.”

Etc., etc.

Okay, let me do some more quoting from my “Against the Tide” series:

During the campaign, Obama ran an ad featuring an actress named Lena Dunham. It was pitched to young women, and to the hook-up culture they inhabit — and that almost everybody inhabits.

“Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody,” said the actress. “You want to do it with a great guy.” She was not talking about a husband. (Hope I haven’t given you too great a shock.)

Question: In a country in which that ad doesn’t backfire but succeeds, can a man like Mitt Romney be elected?

I’ll say it again: There’s something perfect about a presidential daughter interning with Lena Dunham — perfect and also very sad.

People, to a degree, choose what they want to be, and the same is true of nations.

P.S. A little boilerplate: I’ve written a somewhat melancholy post, but there’s life in the old gal yet — America, that is. I love her, and I’m glad I was born within her borders. And that I live here still.

Betsy Ross, rah.


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