I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day. One of my friends had posted a recent example of Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling, and one of his friends had commented that “you can buy education, but you can’t buy class.”
Class doesn’t require money, or a privileged upbringing. There isn’t even a correlation. (Barack Obama oozed class; his “Look at me, I’m rich” successor is wholly without it.) In this usage, it refers to that old-fashioned thing we used to call manners.
Time Magazine recently had an article about Emily Post, whose name has come to be identified with proper decorum, and it reminded us that “good manners” don’t have anything to do with which fork to use or the proper way to address nobility. Post made it very clear that people who thought wealth or status entitled them to count themselves among the classy elite were wrong.
She insisted that good breeding was far more than knowledge of, and compliance with, the rules: “Best Society is not a fellowship of the wealthy, nor does it take to exclude those who are not of exulted birth; but it is an association of gentle folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognize it’s chosen members.”
It’s hard to read this description about who qualifies to be considered in Post’s “Best Society” without recognizing how completely it is at variance with the behavior of Donald Trump, who could never be accused of “good form” in speech, who is the antithesis of charm, who displays no knowledge of social amenities–and who has never publicly displayed the slightest consideration, instinctive or not, for the feelings of anyone.
[Post] also recommended ignoring “elephants at large in the garden,” otherwise known as wealthy know-it-alls: “Why a man, because he has millions, should assume they confer omniscience in all branches of knowledge, it something which may be left to the psychologist to answer.”
This is what confounds me: I understand partisanship; I understand that placing “conservatives” on the Court is important to religious fundamentalists, and that tax breaks are catnip to the greedy rich. I understand that Trump’s racist promises to expel immigrants and harass Muslims resonated with the substantial number of voters who are also racist.I am prepared to believe that people who wanted these outcomes held their noses and voted for the vulgarian who promised them.
But we have had three years of acute embarrassment, three years of Presidential behaviors that most people would punish their children for exhibiting. Is this the face of America that these voters want the world to see? Aside from the massive amounts of substantive harm being done by this buffoon and his corrupt and inept administration, there is the less quantifiable–but no less real– damage being done to America’s image, at home as well as abroad.
Our children see the head of state modeling behaviors we want them to avoid: bullying, lying, tantrums, self-aggrandizement, aggressive ignorance. (And if the President of the United States can’t spell or construct a grammatical or articulate sentence, why should they have to learn?)
Our allies are horrified–and wonder if this administration is an aberration, or whether America is no longer to be trusted.
And yet, his “base” continues to support him.
Emily Post would be appalled. I certainly am.