If Architectural Digest had a political team, the houses of two front-runner Republican presidential hopefuls could not be receiving more scrutiny. Unfortunately, the media interest in their houses is prurient and snobbish.
One can easily understand that Donald Trump’s faux Versailles perched high above Manhattan in Trump Tower or Dr. Ben Carson’s palatial, gold leaf encrusted, column-filled country house in Maryland isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But why such malicious glee over decor? What is going on here?
The headline for a Daily Beast article that “takes us inside” the dwellings of the Republican candidates blared, “Donald Trump Loves Gold, Ben Carson Loves Jesus,” (a reference to the by-now-infamous portrait of Dr. Carson with Christ). The Democratic candidates have yet to receive similar vetting from the decor police.
Scanning the Internet for pictures, I am disappointed to find that I can’t visit either of Mrs. Clinton’s houses vicariously. All I can ascertain is that Mrs. Clinton goes in for shades of yellow. Very tasteful. So why must the two leading Republican candidates for President be exposed as appalling vulgarians before it is too late to prevent them installing bric a brac in the White House family quarters? In fixating on their style of interior decoration, the media is saying the equivalent of the snob’s old saw, “But-they-don’t-even-dress-like-we-do.”
Although People magazine is no stranger to garish celebrity digs, it just couldn’t get over Trump’s and Carson’s decor. “Just when you thought Donald Trump had the market cornered on ego among GOP hopefuls, Ben Carson opened the doors to his Maryland mansion to reveal a house of worship – of himself,” the magazine reports. What particularly caught People‘s eye, of course, was that painting of Dr. Carson with Christ. The existence of this shocking artifact was “first revealed” by The Guardian newspaper in England.
“What did you think when you received that painting and why did you hang it in your home,” Katie Couric of Yahoo News asked Dr. Carson, speaking much as one would to a very slow child. Normal people in New York and Washington, Couric knows, cover their ego walls with autographed photographs of more socially acceptable VIPs than Jesus. (Reporters have also taken pains to point out that Christ in the Carson painting looks like he is wearing a taekwondo outfit and that his hair looks funny. A Yahoo writer, taking note of the hair, described the picture as “Ben Carson and Klingon Jesus.”)
The portrait of Christ and Carson is indeed kitschy, with Christ’s race indeterminate, but with his hand laid on Carson’s shoulder in an unmistakable gesture of encouragement. Carson didn’t reveal to Couric what possessed him to display the offending object or what he felt when he received the painting, which was painted by a friend, but his thoughts could have been something along the lines of, “I rely on Jesus to help me when I operate on the brains of seriously sick children.”
There are likely more portraits of Christ, or perhaps of children with their guardian angels, than Rothko reproductions in American households, so I am probably not the only person offended by this ridiculing of Carson. I would go so far as to suggest that there might be an element of racism in the nastiness. It is at the very least unspeakably rude to enter a man’s house and demand to know why he has hung that tacky painting on his wall. Nice people don’t do things like that. Another much-publicized lapse: a marble plaque in the Carson house quotes a Proverb but misspells proverb.
What I think so offends the media elite about Dr. Carson is that he is a self-made man, a striver, who has risen by his own talent and exertion and yet not bothered to come calling for admittance to their club. For all the talk about inequality, the mandarins don’t particularly care for people who escape poverty and then don’t try to be more like them, adopting their approved tastes, attitudes, and opinions. Talking about Carson’s supposedly tacky house is a stand-in for all of these feelings.
Like Carson, Trump offends the chattering classes with ostentation and celebration of his achievements–and by not being one of them. His apartment has the kind of wild taste you’d associate more with a robber baron (in medieval Europe!) than the second-generation rich guy Trump actually is. Your humble correspondent, as it happens, once gained entrance into Trump’s penthouse on the 66th floor of Trump Tower (it was former wife Ivana’s last party there before surrendering the premises to Trump as part of their divorce settlement, and I was a gossip columnist at the time).
A Trumpian word comes to mind: Incredible. All I can remember now is the color gold, the impressive view of Manhattan, and the fact that romance novel cover model Fabio (“I can’t believe it’s not butter”) was a fellow guest. This is enough to madden a mandarin. By way of put down, the Daily Beast observed of Trump’s current home, “Even Liberace might grimace at the excess of it all, and seek refuge in his sunglasses.”
Many of us might not appreciate Trump’s or Carson’s taste, and we might even be catty about it in private–but then we would repent and feel ashamed of being so shallow. Does it really matter if the media does the same thing in public? It matters. The media and many liberals have become the party of wealth; they are put off by self-made wealth unless the arriviste quickly apes ruling class habits and attitudes. In other words: They have become snobs.
This snobbishness exists even among those far below the grandees. Remember disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner? On a trip to England, Lerner wrote in one of her (available) emails to a friend about what she called an “Edwardian village” in England. The village had been ruined because they “permitted” (!) hoi poloi [sic] to move into the village. Like the maker of the Carson proverb plaque, Lerner is an imperfect speller. (She polloi’d with one “l” but it doesn’t matter). With her snobbery she expressed her membership in a certain echelon of modern Washington.
Ben Carson and Donald Trump refuse to do this. Trump seems not to care what anyone thinks of his lavish digs. Ben Carson may have risen from an impoverished childhood to become a renowned pediatric surgeon who separates conjoined twins, but he didn’t know enough to adopt the right opinions and to call Mark Hampton or Sister Parish to decorate his house. And for that, the media can’t forgive them.