Ivanka Trump, mother of three and stunning in a sheath, introduced her father at the Republican Convention. Many argue his kids seem great – certainly they appear loyal, attractive, alert, and sensible. But be that as it may. Both Adams and Franklin disowned sons. For most of us, raising children will be our most consequential task and Trump seems to be doing reasonably well. But it’s a thin reed.
Still, that dress! It represents what moved country after country out of poverty. Causes of that respect across class lines and the rise of a large middle class and greater health for all are complicated: some see the Bible in the vernacular, some see the marriage of the Great Awakening with the Enlightenment, Dutch and English traditions, sea routes. Surely living longer and with more health meant more productivity. Others rightly prize a concept motivating these views, that each has within the divine. Such a belief emphasizes human rights – the free market of commerce, of ideas, of innovations, of speech, of religion. Honoring the dignity and virtuous habits of the bourgeoisie led to a respect for everyman and everyman’s talents. It was huge, that change from 1700 to 2100. And a signifier is a presidential hopeful in the most powerful nation introduced by his daughter in that blush pink dress.
An average American, despite massive intrusions of modern politics that distort the free markets in energy, homes, and education (contemplate their place in our personal & public lives) goes into Dillard’s or Nordstrom’s (or Kohl’s – Scott Walker’s favorite) and comes out having chosen among many such dresses or shirts or . . . . .
What heartened me was Ivanka’s dress – lovely, simple, becoming. At this pinnacle of pride and gravitas, she chose a dress from her collection, one retailing at $138 – a price not unachievable for a rare and important occasion by a worker at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. That choice demonstrates respect for herself and her employees, for the stores and women who buy in them. Her husband, her three children, her father, her business: she embodied self-reliance as well as a place in family within community.
That dress (and familial unity) speaks the language of the bourgeoisie, of a trading society – a good dress for a good price. It reminds us of Ford’s desire to make a car men on the line could buy, of Sam Walton’s bringing affordable choice to a clientele he respected and Kroc’s desire to feed Americans on the run to carpools and from work with quick meals (including protein unimaginable in 1700).
Inventions created, medicines discovered because they were needed – and they were needed to make life longer, easier, more pleasant, more productive. This moved the world from 1700 to 2100, leaving behind “Hunger and Premature Death,” giving materialist riches, yes, but also health as well as political and personal freedoms: nurturing personal growth, valuing fulfillment, honoring the spirit in each to grow, respecting talents. Early on we had Franklin as a model – but many models arose with many gifts. This system strengthens the family. And the marketplace is a positive, respectful force for assimilation. Reaching a larger audience requires pride in a product, respect for customers, and a mutual language. Succeeding in a world in which welfare is more limited (and stigmatized) leads to an “alertness” (McCloskey’s quite useful term) to define a niche and then pride in filling it.
A friend convinced me to try the religious station (a quick channel change when Hannity is on) as I do errands: a speaker commented that often we are urged to vote because this is a decisive year – we dare not take the wrong road. He wasn’t all that enthusiastic about Trump (I’m not sure how much evangelical enthusiasm he deserves or will get), but, as the speaker observed, that isn’t true in 2016. We chose the wrong path in 2012 and took the wrong road – now we are out in the wilderness where we’ve got to scramble and gamble someone can find a way out. The speaker (and I suspect anyone who listens to that station much) was certain Hillary wouldn’t.
We were led into that wilderness by Obama but also his Secretary of State, both believing they were morally empowered to use institutions paid by the public to muzzle and defame that public. Both see themselves as apart from their subjects: not for them laws that apply to the little people, not for them consequences of bad choices. Are they primitive? Perhaps believers in cargo cultures? They assume education isn’t learning but sitting in school, a home isn’t representative of bourgeois thrift but magically appearing among the family’s assets, it magically signifies middle class; magically, a treaty, no matter what it actually says, gives peace as a war does not. Or do they believe that words, as well as documents, have no meaning – a ransom is not a ransom. Or perhaps they assume natural laws don’t apply – devaluing money, houses, education, rewarding inertia and stunting innovation and creation have no consequences. She long longed for a one-payer health system where graft and control could add levels of expense, slowing innovation in the most consequential of industries – medicine. That none of this works nor is likely to may indicate they are delusional – or perhaps they simply don’t care – they’ve got theirs.
Her disrespect of the bourgeoisie – of the choices they make, their self-respect – oozes from her. Sharing old heroes and beliefs with Obama, Clinton assumes Chavez’s and Castro’s policies have much to recommend them. With her, we’d remain in the wilderness, soon with neither food nor toilet paper.
But that dress hints this Trump thing might work. At least he knows that they – the elites, the nihilists, the bureaucrats, those who do not see a soul die when a man does – are not his friends. He knows consequences follow infractions of natural law. If his sense of branding seems overblown, at least he understands that a brand only means something if defined by good products and good service, answering public needs and garnering public’s respect. He’s defined an imperfect but real brand; the Clintons (and Obamas) have been connected to a revered brand – the American presidency – they repeatedly devalue.
Deirdre McCloskey’s respect for bourgeois virtues, Charles Murray’s sense of the ‘50’s that make Belmont and the unbourgeois ‘70’s that unmake Fishtown, Robert Sirico’s and Arthur Brook’s defenses of the virtues capitalism breeds – all value the habits of mind that put that dress on that stage. Trump’s family gets it.
Of course, he seems blustery, superficial at times; his glitzy marriages and Trump U and eminent domain beliefs create justifiable doubts; I liked opponents he defamed casually and viciously. He’s no thoughtful conservative. He can be crude and often personal in arguments where the personal shouldn’t intrude. He doesn’t have much that I liked about the other candidates and there’s little I like that is his. But, maybe, there’s something underneath that manner and it’s common sense. This week’s speeches, honest and clear-eyed, may signal that – or those policies may, again, be submerged in bluster.