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On the American obsession with wealth and the Trump phenomenon



Don’t get me started on the irony—or hypocrisy—of the Wall Street Journal, which has a weekend section called “Mansions” that’s an eat-your-heart-out, too-bad you-can’t have it ode to pool houses, chandeliers and thread counts. Then, yesterday, they had a front-page article, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” explaining how Americans are revolting against “aspirational images of upscale urban living.”

Talk about mixed messages!

The Wall Street Journal has a lot of deplorable things about it, especially the editorial pages, but none is as disgusting as “Mansions,” which celebrates envy of the rich as America’s secular religion. The Murdoch family (like the Trumps) is fabulously wealthy; they seem to think that everybody wants nothing more than to have a mansion, a $150,000 car, and wear Christian Louboutin.

I read the Journal just to see what they’re up to, but I throw “Mansions” away without opening it. Throwing it away is better than throwing up. I can’t stand the way “Mansions” force-feeds us on gaudy crap nobody needs, which is a way—when you think about it—of telling those of us who don’t have a mansion that it’s our fault because we’re too damned lazy to afford one (and that, my friends, is basically the Republican Party’s governing philosophy. Paging Gov. Romney! The 47% is calling!).

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. The Journal’s story, “Advertisers Search for Middle America,” not only contained the quote about Americans fed up with “aspirational images of upscale urban living,” it went on to associate this mood with Trump’s victory. He was elected by “the same…rural, economically frustrated, elite-distrusting, anti-globalization voters” who do not “desire to be like coastal elites.”

Count me among them. But before I going any further, let me clear something up: this smear about “coastal elites,” which is a driving meme of the tea party (as if the tea partiers don’t consider themselves elite). I do think we on the East and West Coasts of America are special. After all, we’re Blue, while the non-coastal states are Red. That, in my opinion, makes us smarter and more decent human beings. (Did I really say that? Yes, I said it. So sue me.)  But it doesn’t mean that all of us coastal types aspire to be portrayed in “Mansions.” I share the disgust of red state people who view this obsession with wealth, amounting to idolatry, as amoral. It is, and while I live on a coast and voted for Hillary Clinton and think Trump is a dangerous sociopath, it doesn’t mean I’m a vacuous, Kardashian-worshipping climber. I’m just a blue collar guy whose values happen to be progressive and humanistic, rather than fascistic and authoritarian.

But I digress. What disgruntled Democrats and Republicans have in common is a had-it-up-to-here disgust with the endless pursuit of wealth as the goal of life. This concept trickles through our entire society like a virus in the bloodstream. I happen to subscribe to Vanity Fair, which epitomizes this trait (and I’m not going to renew my subscription). They can put Bruce Springsteen, the all-American working class hero, on the cover, but the advertisements are about the pursuit of money and image: Ralph Lauren, Prada, Gucci, Dior, Armani. (It’s so funny that the fashion models they hire to be in the ads probably can’t afford to buy the clothes they’re pitching.)

Most Americans don’t want to wear Gucci. They’re happy in bluejeans and T-shirts. If they have to dress up, they go to outlet malls or Men’s Wearhouse. They don’t shop at Cartier, don’t know anyone who does, and they suspect that they don’t want to know anyone who shops at Cartier.

You know who shops at Cartier? The elite—and they can be Republicans or Democrats. And, yes, I have had it up to here with them. I’ve had it with “Mansions,” Vanity Fair, and even the supposedly liberal (but Hearst-owned) San Francisco Chronicle, whose Sunday “Style” section is an ass-kissing pucker-up of the city’s socialites. It shoves wealth and privilege, and the vulgar pursuit of it, down our throats, totally misreading the Bay Area’s mood (which is one reason why the Chronicle is losing readers). In this, I feel I have everything in common with the people who voted for Trump.

Except for one thing: I use my cerebrum when I decide whom and what to vote for, not my reptilian brain. I don’t vote on resentment, fear and hatred, the way the tea party does. I don’t vote according to superstitious religious nonsense, the way evangelicals do. I vote with my head. If everybody did, no Republican would ever again even get elected dogcatcher.

Well, maybe I’m being too harsh on my Republican friends. Apparently they like the fact that Melania Trump and those delightful Trump spawn will now be the fashion icons gracing the pages of “Mansions” and Vanity Fair. I’m sure all those unemployed Rust Belt factory workers can’t wait for that.

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