Brooks: Trump and the Gospel of Success

April 19th, 2011 at 3:20 am | 6 Comments |

| Print

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

Very few people have the luxury of being freely obnoxious. Most people have to watch what they say for fear of offending their bosses and colleagues. Others resist saying anything that might make them unpopular.

But, in every society, there are a few rare souls who rise above subservience, insecurity and concern. Each morning they take their own abrasive urges out for parade. They are so impressed by their achievements, so often reminded of their own obvious rightness, that every stray thought and synaptic ripple comes bursting out of their mouth fortified by impregnable certitude. When they have achieved this status they have entered the realm of Upper Blowhardia.

These supremely accomplished blowhards offend some but also arouse intense loyalty in others. Their followers enjoy the brassiness of it all. They live vicariously through their hero’s assertiveness. They delight in hearing those obnoxious things that others are only permitted to think.

Thus, there has always been a fan base for the abrasive rich man. There has always been a market for books by people like George Steinbrenner, Ross Perot, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Knight, Howard Stern and George Soros. There has always been a large clump of voters who believe that America could reverse its decline if only a straight-talking, obnoxious blowhard would take control.

And today, apparently, Donald Trump is that man. Trump, currently most famous for telling people that they are fired, has surged toward the top of the presidential primary polls. In one poll, he was in (remote) striking distance in a head-to-head against President Obama. Many people regard Trump as a joke and his popularity a disgrace. But he is actually riding a deep public fantasy: The hunger for the ultimate blowhard who can lead us through dark times.

He is riding something else: The strongest and most subversive ideology in America today. Donald Trump is the living, walking personification of the Gospel of Success.

It is obligatory these days in a polite society to have a complicated attitude toward success. If you attend a prestigious college or professional school, you are supposed to struggle tirelessly for success while denying that you have much interest in it. If you do achieve it, you are expected to shroud your wealth in locally grown produce, understated luxury cars and nubby fabrics.

Trump, on the other hand, is utterly oblivious to such conventions. When it comes to success, as in so many other things, he is the perpetual boy. He is the enthusiastic adventurer thrilled to have acquired a gleaming new bike, and doubly thrilled to be showing it off.

He labors under the belief — unacceptable in polite society — that two is better than one and that four is better than two. If he can afford a car, a flashy one is better than a boring one. In private jets, lavish is better than dull. In skyscrapers, brass is better than brick, and gold is better than brass.

Click here to read more.

Recent Posts by FrumForum News



6 Comments so far ↓

  • hisgirlfriday

    It is obligatory these days in a polite society to have a complicated attitude toward success. If you attend a prestigious college or professional school, you are supposed to struggle tirelessly for success while denying that you have much interest in it. If you do achieve it, you are expected to shroud your wealth in locally grown produce, understated luxury cars and nubby fabrics.

    Where are these Americans who are against success? Even the pretentious elitist liberals he derides for not valuing ostentatious displays of material wealth absolutely care about success when it comes to academic achievement. Americans are strivers. That’s who we are whether liberal or conservative.

    And David Brooks needs to get out more if he thinks there’s a shortage of self-important blowhards like Trump in this country who aren’t afraid of touting their riches. Apparently he’s never heard someone recite the classic Wall Street catchphrase “Greed is good.” Apparently he has no awareness of the Prosperity Gospel teachings in American Christian churches. Apparently he’s never met someone who identified with Ayn Rand’s philosophies. Apparently he’s never seen a rap video where someone made it rain.

    I also find it interesting that Brooks completely ignores just how phony most of Trump’s bluster about his success is given how much of his “success” relates to his ability to dupe and stiff creditors. But I guess the facts got in the way of whatever narrative Brooks wanted to construct here.

  • anniemargret

    And let’s not forget that Trump’s father was a slum overlord, and where he primarily earned his riches, which was then handed down to The Donald. It is a lot easier to be ‘successful and rich’ if one’s parent give you the foundation for it.

    Everyone needs to read ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. Some bubbles should be pinched. Trump’s included.

  • PracticalGirl

    Here, here to the first two responses.

    I’d also add that when “success” can be applied as a term to a serial bankrupt who has a string of businesses and people that he stiffed along the way to riches and to a “business man” who is also a jobs killer (take a peek at how many people his gaming concern alone has fired in the last 18 months), then I think it’s time to redefine the term.

  • Primrose

    Well said all!

    I would also take this article a lot more seriously if Brooks hadn’t written about seven in which he scolds us all for not being modest enough. You can’t deride people who have a (slight) desire to hide wealth, who understand the idea of modesty and then make fun of them. You can’t say we all should think a little less of ourselves and then say society requires us to be modest.

    Which is it sir?

    Also, might I add, it is one thing for the child of immigrants, or general poverty, who got their wealth through sacrifice, hard work, a wellspring of talent and wild streaks of luck to revel in their new wealth and prestige. It was a long, hard road and maybe not a certain one. They know it might all disappear some day.

    It is quite another for a child of privilege to wave it around as if they’d done something to earn it, as if it meant something.

    So no Mr. Brooks, when Trump shows off his, well, anything, he is not being anti-elitist. He is an elitist, by definition.

  • ScoopAway

    “If he can afford a car, a flashy one is better than a boring one. In private jets, lavish is better than dull. In skyscrapers, brass is better than brick, and gold is better than brass.”

    ‘Financial success’ and ‘good taste’ are not synonyms.

    Donald doesn’t understand that for many people, in terms of taste, less is more.

  • ottovbvs

    Another helping of pop sociology and pyschology from Brooks. His standard cover when he hasn’t got anything sensible to say about a situation which he knows is a deep embarrasment to the Republican party. Here we have a clown entertainer leading the field in the Republican primary polls for president. It couldn’t be much worse if it was Ronald McDonald. As of now The Donald is the Republicans favorite pick for president while over here Ryan is proposing to scrap Medicare and Medicaid to fund huge tax cuts for the wealthy. This is a party that has lost it’s mind. But Brooks can’t say that. They might cancel his invite to the GOP convention.