The Great American Novels and Our American Renewal

The Great American Novels and Our American Renewal

If I have any real complaint about the presidential campaign being waged by Joe Biden it’s how pedestrian, how paint by numbers it is. It’s utter lack of sexiness grates. It’s workmanlike nature is galling.

Maybe this is how politics is now. There’s something for this group and there’s something for that group and it’ll all be tweeted out by his rapid response team.

OK, fair enough. But not enough, you know? It’s not enough!

To defeat Trump you’ve got to take on what Trump represents in the American imagination. You’ve got to show that his self-invention comes at your expense. You’ve got to show that Trump isn’t American but foreign. You’ve got to show that he’s the villain.

When Biden said the “American public is tired of being played for suckers,” he might have delivered a death blow. But he let up.

Joe Biden is the real deal. No malarkey! He’s building the factories. He’s putting us to work. The image of the prime minister of Japan — once an American foe — waving in springtime got us part of the way there but it’s not enough. It’s not enough.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden wave from the Blue Room Balcony with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife Yuko Kishida.

There are really only two American novels — The Wizard of Oz (1900) and The Great Gatsby (1925), both first published coincidentally in April, or Springtime. (E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952) — published around the Fall — is likely too Christian for the country America has become. We’ve got a loneliness epidemic. No one sacrifices for their friends anymore.)

I’ve come to think both novels present the way out for America in our time of great social unrest.

The first concerns progress. Dorothy is the first American heroine. She is confident and surefooted on her yellow brick road, alternating between the Good Witch Glenda and the Wicked Witch of the West.

You’re encouraged to put on your emerald goggles to see a warped version of the world and not to ask too many questions about the man behind the curtain.

How can you not think of the Apple Vision Pro (or the Oculus) when you don the goggles? The Wicked witch’s poppies and our video game culture serve much the same function — and that’s before we get there with Chinese-produced fentanyl.

Do you not think about Elon Musk or Peter Thiel when you think about the Wizard of Oz?

We live in an age of foreign imposition, of flim flam men posing as saviors before they move onto the next hustle, of selling us back our heritage while putting us in a trance.

Do you think it’s an accident that Musk owned Willy Wonka’s house?

Dorothy realizes that what matters most is family — and home. Americans are realizing that there’s no place like home — and we can really build up American industry and supply chains.

Of course we might realize that Americans don’t really like to work nearly as much as they promised. Might we be becoming France? And is that even a bad thing?

There’s a danger that we’ll become too pessimistic as we become too French. French cinema isn’t known for being particularly upbeat.

But then again neither is American culture these days.

It wasn’t always so. The Great American Novel — the Great Gatsby — was read by our boys as they liberated France 80 years ago this week.

To be sure in some sense the American novel was displaced by film and from there, film gave way to Silicon Valley. But both Silicon Valley and Hollywood asked us to absent the world — through cinema and the phone. It’s far easier to escape that way.

And yet America invented technology to give the American — and then the global — middle class something to hope for.


The Plaza Hotel

I think often about The Great Gatsby, especially the penultimate scene at the Plaza Hotel where Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby have it out. It’s in that august hotel that Gatsby is unmasked — as a bootlegger.

Gatsby’s a criminal, of course, and yet all the characters love the speakeasy culture. They can’t get enough of it though Gatsby remains sober and in control. Gatsby drives the woman he loves — Daisy — home in Tom’s car — only to run over Tom’s mistress, Myrtle.

If I close my eyes I can still remember reading it in high school, wondering if there would ever be any justice for the Daisies and Toms of this world. Now I think a lot more about Gatsby — all that money, nothing to buy. Was Daisy even worth it? Was the American dream he pursued real? Or was it a kind of prison? Is his death at the end a suicide?

I wasted a lot of my youth wondering if there would ever be any justice for the Toms of the world. There never is. Fittingly President Donald J. Trump bought the Park Plaza Hotel from another Tom — Tom Barrack, who would have his own brushes with the Justice Department.

We now know that Barrack was thought to be an asset from the Emirates and so there’s a larger question here about what’s going on with these sorts of transactions.

“To me the Plaza was like a great painting,” Donald Trump said of the hotel he agreed to buy in 1988 and later lost in bankruptcy. “It wasn’t purely about the bottom line.”

What was it about then? The New York Times doesn’t say.

Donald Trump in front of his prized Park Plaza Hotel

Lest you think I’m picking on Donald Trump there’s another photo that I’ve been thinking about in recent years. It, too, appeared in the New York Times — this time in 2007 — though I’ve come to doubt whether or not it’s authentic.

Barack Obama, in 1981 allegedly.

Never you mind that that photo is impossible — you can’t get the angle.

In my MAGA era. Circa 2016.

Of course we’re not allowed to talk about how the Obama photo ran on the front cover of the New York Times.

No, I’m not trying to say that Obama is not Amuhrican or a secret Muslim (hilarious that that would be).

The real story is that fraud is essential to the American story. I’m trying to say that Obama and Trump are arguably too American.

This country wouldn’t know what to do if it was governed by someone real, someone like say, President Joe Biden.

They’d create their own stories about him. Oh he’s senile, oh he’s corrupt. And yet he keeps to keep winning on issue after issue. He’s freeing the debt slaves.

We can and we must close the various loopholes by which the U.S. dollar comes back into the United States. We’re closing it in art, in real estate, in tech, and venture investing, and of course, in military spending.

President Joe Biden is said to have said to a recent advisor that he doesn’t want the American taxpayer “to buy any more shit” before its sent to Ukraine.

I think that that would make a fitting campaign slogan — “No More Shit,” or, if you prefer it in Bidenese, “No More Malarkey.”

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