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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tom Barrack & Mrs. Reynolds: The seductiveness of (phony) testimonials to Mssrs. Trump & Darcy

Last night at the 2016 Republican Convention, Donald Trump’s old friend Tom Barrack gave a stirring personal testimonial to The Donald’s character, as a key leadup to Trump’s own acceptance speech. Here’s a transcription of key sections of Barrack’s 13-minute Rhapsody in Trump:    Donald Trump has been one of my closest friends for 40 years...I’m the son of a very humble Lebanese grocer from Culver City California...for me to be here tonight to talk about my friend, my partner, and the future president of the United States, Donald Trump…I have nothing negative to say about Hillary I have only amazing things to tell you about Donald. He's tough enough, smart enough, and he's well-versed enough to do it on his own merits….I’m talking to you about...the man without his armor, without his weaponry…what is he made out of... You've all had the great opportunity to see his kids over the last couple days what do you think of that? …my mother used to say you learn what a man is by listening to your mother, but you learn how to be a man by watching your father. You watch this man, you get it. Those of us who are married or have a partner understand that the best reflection on us is our wives…in Donald's case for sure it's his wife Melania….and her grace under pressure.
…I’m going to use words that you probably haven't heard about him…I had the great fortune of working for Robert Bass in Fort Worth Texas in the 80s. We bought a company which, in addition to lots of other things, happened to own the hotel that was right behind Donald's window at his office. Well, you know Donald well enough by now to know that he needed that hotel. I was a young pup, he was a big giant in New York real estate at the time…I'm scared to death because my boss is going to fire me for selling to Donald, who is smarter & better, and who will end up getting a much better deal. In the midst of this, Donald did something I’d never seen before…He said ”I want to do this, but I don't know what I should know. So I will pay your boss the price that he wants and I'll close it in one week on one condition: that you tell me everything I should know that I don't know…I'm not doing a contract, you and I shake hands right here, you just tell me the things that I should know how to fix it and I'll do this deal”…. He played me like a Steinway piano…He was incredible.
He practices an unbelievable set of disciplines. Everybody says OK that the man is rich…how does he do it? He is relentless and something beautiful happens. He shows up on time, he believes punctuality is the courtesy of kings. He pushes everybody, including you, to go over barriers that I never thought that they could ever ever shatter. He does all this with the discipline of an animal in the jungle. His motto is if a lion wakes up every morning and knows one thing, that it has to run faster than the fastest gazelle. And that gazelle knows something, she knows that she needs run faster than the fastest lion. Whether a gazelle or a lion, when you wake up in the morning, you get the hell going.
…I want to share with you two stories that really stuck in my mind…I'm telling you after 35 years of being with a man through the valleys in the mountains he really is better than the billing that you see--
as an administrator, as an executive, as a guy who can actually take care of the people he works with…  It was 1989…it was a Tyson fight, it was big and Atlantic City, and he calls me and says, OK let's go... I said I had with my little sons with me. He said no problem I'll bring Johnny…we hop in the Trump helicopter, fly to Atlantic City. When we land, 1,000 paparazzi, 1,000 people everywhere. We go in his limo, go to the front of the convention center and there's 10,000 cameras….we start walking in, people harassing him like mad. At the side of the door there's a little nondescript man and he calls out to Donald. He walks over to the door, and he says, “I'm so happy to see you and thank you for what you done for my boys and thank you for what you do for me and I just want you know that my critically ill son thinks you’re the greatest man in the world.”
Well everything is going crazy to get to the fight, but Donald he's focused on this man who at that moment thought that he was the only star in Donald’s universe. He said, “Louie, I'm not the greatest man in the world, you are.” So we take the kids, and it's five minutes into the fight, and Donald is fidgeting. I can't figure what happened, I said what's wrong, he said give me your program, he wrote something, and calls the security guards over and sends it back to the guy. I asked, what was that you said, I just want to know what the note said. He wrote, “Louie, I came here tonight to see 2 champions, Mike Tyson and your dad. “ True story.  In the middle of his celebrityship, he has the presence to focus on the littlest guy in the shop. And that is Donald Trump.
10 years later the greatest man in Donald's life passed away, Fred Trump. The funeral was being held, he calls me, says I'm going to go over early, come over, I said fine. We’re sitting, two middle-age guys thinking about when your father leaves, what's the difference between relevancy and mortality… we are really questioning what's important and what's not important. It's not about money, it's not about power. ….And all the agony that you have with your father at that instant just evaporates.…I said how do you feel? He said, “I'm thankful that I have my dad’s strength and my mom’s sensitivity and all I want to do is leave a legacy of the Trump name that they build, brick by brick, a little bit better than I found it.” He's done it.
The world is a mess, this necklace of globalism that we talk about has crumbled and shattered into 1000 shards, we need a jeweler to take those jewels one by one starting with America its diamond, and polish it, and put it back together….We’ve been on an adventure, and people say wow Donald, it's like a fairy tale from businessman to celebrity to father to potential president of United States. And I say to you, it is a tale. But it's up to you…to make once upon a time once upon this time. Thank you.”

Powerful stuff, right? As much as I’m appalled, daily, by Trump’s candidacy, and his frightening ability to stay close in the polls despite (or because of) his daily gaffes, lies, and excesses, I had to acknowledge that Barrack’s testimonial sounded really good. I had to work to remind myself, more than once, that just because a gifted motivational speaker is skilled at humanizing even a moral monster, it doesn’t prove his vignettes were true. We’re all vulnerable to persuasion by talented orators and writers --it’s hard wired into our deeply social human genetic inheritance to believe a simple, “sincere” version of a complicated reality, and it’s hard to hear, and read, against that “natural” grain.

I say all of this because what immediately came to my mind’s eye as I listened to Barrack’s paean to Trump, was the imposing profile of Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice---who, during the first 42 chapters of the novel, gives every evidence of being exactly the same sort of narcissistic, selfish, super-rich, status-obsessed (i.e., Trumpian) jerk he seems to be upon his arrival at the Meryton assembly:

“[Bingley’s] friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend….What a contrast between [Bingley] and his friend!...His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters…”

Those who know the story of P&P well do not need me to recount the dozens of ways, in the first 42 chapters, that Darcy behaves and speaks, providing confirmation of such very negative universal first impression of him. Most of all we have his over-the-top narcissistic, insulting first proposal of marriage to the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet:

Barrack’s speech about Trump specifically brought Darcy to my mind, however, because of the uncanny and disturbing resonance of his political testimonial to the following passage in Chapter 43 of Pride & Prejudice, in which we observe, firsthand, the conversion experience of Elizabeth and the Gardiners. This “miracle” is crucially enabled by the compelling, salt-of-the-earth testimonial to the excellence of the “real” character of Mr. Darcy, given by a seemingly unimpeachable “witness”, claiming to have known his true character since he was a child. As you read along, substitute “Pemberley” with “Trump Tower”, “the housekeeper Mrs. Reynolds” with “Tom Barrack”, and “Georgiana, Darcy’s ward & accomplished younger sister” with “Trump’s accomplished children”, and see if the parallels don’t give you shivers:

“The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight. As they passed into other rooms these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
"And of this place," thought she, "I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. But no,"—recollecting herself—"that could never be; my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me; I should not have been allowed to invite them."
This was a lucky recollection—it saved her from something very like regret. She longed to inquire of the housekeeper whether her master was really absent, but had not the courage for it. At length however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, ‘But we expect him to-morrow, with a large party of friends.’ How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journey had not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham, suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantelpiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was a picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expense. "He is now gone into the army," she added; "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.
"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, "is my master—and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other—about eight years ago."
"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."
Mrs. Reynolds respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.
"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth coloured, and said: "A little."
"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, ma'am?"
"Yes, very handsome."
"I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the gallery up stairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this. This room was my late master's favourite room, and these miniatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them."
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
"And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?" said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Oh! yes—the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished!—She plays and sings all day long. In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her—a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him."
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were very easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either by pride or attachment, had evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
"Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?"
"Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months."
"Except," thought Elizabeth, "when she goes to Ramsgate."
"If your master would marry, you might see more of him."
"Yes, sir; but I do not know when that will be. I do not know who is good enough for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, "It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so."
"I say no more than the truth, and everybody will say that knows him," replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never known a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good-tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying:
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said. You are lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, sir, I know I am. If I were to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed, that they who are good-natured when children, are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. "Can this be Mr. Darcy?" thought she.
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him—just as affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subjects of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain. Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits as they proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men."
"In what an amiable light does this place him!" thought Elizabeth.
"This fine account of him," whispered her aunt as they walked, "is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend."
"Perhaps we might be deceived."
"That is not very likely; our authority was too good."
On reaching the spacious lobby above they were shown into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy's delight, when she should enter the room. "And this is always the way with him," she added. "Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her."
The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her—and she beheld a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen when he looked at her. She stood several minutes before the picture, in earnest contemplation, and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery. Mrs. Reynolds informed them that it had been taken in his father's lifetime.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt at the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship!—how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to bestow!—how much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned downstairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall-door.”  END QUOTE

But those of you who know Pride & Prejudice are now objecting, “Hey, Mrs. Reynolds was telling the truth about Mr. Darcy being a really good man, who has been unfairly misjudged to be a bad man.” And my reply, which will be familiar to those who know my theory of Jane Austen’s six novels (including Pride & Prejudice) as being double stories, is this: (1) in the overt story of P&P which is familiar to all, Darcy is indeed a good man who is sincere in his loving motivation for repairing damage to the Bennet family caused by his earlier behavior-which makes P&P one of literature’s greatest love stories. But (2) in the cautionary shadow story of P&P which I’ve been “excavating” during the past decade, Mr. Darcy is in fact and indeed every bit the dreadfully narcissistic jerk he seems to be at first, and he only pretends to reform and repent, because he is, like Donald Trump, the kind of man who just can’t take “No” for an answer, especially when that answer has been given to him by a woman who dares to challenge his “droit du seigneur” as a Master of the Universe to have whatever—and whomever—he wants.

So, please, don’t be taken in by Tom Barrack, and recognize that two centuries ago, Jane Austen was very familiar with the dangers posed by powerful men who offer us a feeling of security and status, who have the resources and influence to be able to deploy “honest” surrogates who “prove” to us that their “masters” are really good men. She satirized the dissolute Prince Regent as the “Prince of Whales” in Emma, and my more recent research has shown that the character of Darcy is based on disturbingly dark models like King Henry VIII, Fielding’s Blifil, and the Marquis de Gange. Janeites thinks Mr. Bennet is just being ironical, when he says the following to beloved daughter Elizabeth when she asks him for his consent to her accepting Darcy’s second proposal, but now you know better: 
"Lizzy," said her father, "I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything, which he condescended to ask. I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about."

America, let us not have the grief (and grave danger) of seeing us, after January 2017, unable to respect our President. Don’t drink the tasty Kool-Aid offered by snake oil salesmen likeTom Barrack; dare to refuse Donald Trump the most powerful office in the world.

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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