Ideas are more powerful than guns, and fashion is more powerful than ideas.
Ever since Beau Brummel successfully snubbed the Regent, the Puritan aesthetic has been politically dominant. It has been the high status aesthetic, beloved by our rulers, most notoriously loved by city planners and university regents.
Trump has been challenging that aesthetic.
What is the Trump aesthetic?
The Regency aesthetic became, at the end, too much detail, too much stuff, too much obviously non functional or even dysfunctional decoration. People say that Kings lost power because of gunpowder, because of capitalism, because of the change from agricultural based sources of energy to fossil fuel based sources of energy, because of this and because of that, but if we look at King George losing power, it seems to me that the problem was in large part that he was too fat, too lazy, his taste was not good enough, and his mistresses insufficiently attractive, the reason he lost power is that Beau Brummel could snub the King and yet continue to set fashion.
Even when Beau Brummel was old, poor, broke, syphilitic, and dying, his mistress was cuter than the King’s mistress. I think if King George the Fourth had had a better tailor, a cuter mistress, and lost some weight, Kings might well still rule. It does not seem to me that gunpowder and all that had much relevance. Hence the propensity of the mainstream media to edit the color balance so as to adjust Trump’s skin tone to orange.
The Puritan aesthetic of Beau Brummel was elegant simplicity – less decoration, less stuff, and much less color. Which was good, and a proper reaction to the Regent’s propensity to excessive piles of expensive brightly colored decorations, but if simplicity is holy, more simplicity is holier, and so the puritan aesthetic became soul crushing brutalism, most glaringly evident in today’s ugly cityscapes of giant boxes.
Trump is pushing a new and distinctive aesthetic which rejects the Puritan Aesthetic.
It does not go all the way back the Regency complexity, detail and decoration, we still have Beau Brummel’s elegant simplicity and his predominantly monochrome palette, but with small splashes of much brighter, more intense colors than Beau Brummel permitted, fully saturated colors, colors that are clearly intended to invoke royalty, aristocracy, and old military dress uniforms. The Trump aesthetic somehow recalls and echoes the Regency aesthetic. It is not so much he has more details and decorations than the puritan aesthetic permits, but that the details are more ostentatious, colorful, prominent, and expensive than the Puritan aesthetic permits.
In calling back to the Regency, the last King of England who exercised real power, the Trump aesthetic is profoundly reactionary.
In deprecating the Puritan virtue of simplicity and modesty, it is mildly reactionary, and opens the door for more severe deprecation of the Puritan virtues in future.
While brutalist architecture announces its modesty with trumpets and cymbals, there is nothing humble or modest about brutalism. These unadorned boxes, because they lack small details, are larger than human scale, thus have a message, and that message is “I am mighty, I am vast, You are tiny. You are insignificant. You shall submit and I will crush you.”
Trump tower in New York, typical of Trump buildings, has a human sized entrance, which is embedded in a very similar larger than human entrance, which is embedded in a larger glass and steel box, which is part of many glass and steel boxes that make up the towers. Thus there is a hierarchy of scales connecting the human scale with the tower scale: the scale of the normal entrance, the scale of the big entrance in which it is embedded, the scale of glass and steel box in which the big entrance is embedded, and the scale of the tower in which the glass and steel box is embedded.
Brutalism is, among other things, intended to destroy the messy human street by making the roadway inhospitable – it is just a barren path beside an enormous wall. Puritanism does not want you comfortable.
Trump Tower in New York on the other hand extravagantly and ostentatiously spends a whole lot of very expensive square footage making the street adjacent to the tower comfortable for humans. The Trump aesthetic is intended to be relaxed and comfortable, hence the Trump aesthetic has a conspicuous touch of informality, without going all the way to Silicon Valley casual. Just a touch of informality, but like the touch of colorful decoration, a conspicuous and striking touch.
The Regency Aesthetic tended to extravagance and ostentation for the sake of extravagance and ostentation. The Puritan Aesthetic rejected extravagance and ostentation. The Trump Aesthetic needs some plausible excuse for extravagance and ostentation. The extravagance and ostentation has to be the outward sign of some genuine inward excellence, and be plausibly in the service of that excellence. Thus his plane has gold plated toilets, not gold plated wheel hubs. Because gold plated toilets are cleaner. Does Trump have gold plated toilets because he is germophobic, or is he germophobic to justify gold plated toilets?
Silicon valley casual is comfortable, but conspicuously egalitarian. Steve Jobs wore clothes that look very similar to the clothes that some unemployed white man purchases at Walmart using his girlfriend’s EBT card and were only subtly more expensive and better fitted than the clothes that some unemployed white man purchases at Walmart using his girlfriend’s EBT card. The Trump aesthetic is conspicuously inegalitarian.
The status markers of Silicon Valley casual are subtle and difficult to read, thus if you display them and can read them, this shows you are one of the smart people. But they are also easy to imitate. The status markers of the Trump Aesthetic are easy for masses to read, harder for the masses to imitate. Because Silicon Valley casual is so easy to imitate, it is tempting to counter signal by wearing clothes that are not merely similar, but the same as the clothes some white man bought at Walmart on his girlfriend’s EBT card. So is this silicon valley programmer subtly signaling elite, counter signaling elite, or did he actually buy clothes at Walmart with his girlfriends EBT card? It is hard to tell.
Trump’s towers are not a total break with brutalism. They still rely heavily on giant undecorated colorless boxes of glass and steel, but the giant undecorated boxes are substantially smaller, and there is decoration, the minimum necessary decoration, to connect the human scale to the giant undecorated box scale, and this colorful and ostentatious decoration is a towel snapped in the face of the Puritan Aesthetic. Trump is a status challenge to Puritanism, as Beau Brummel was a status challenge to monarchy. That is part of the reason that they are going crazy.
It is only a relatively small change to the Puritan Aesthetic. Trump’s towers are still rather brutal, relying as they do on unadorned giant boxes of glass and steel, but it is a challenge that goes right to the roots of the Puritan Aesthetic. His decoration is rather minimal, and almost conventional – but nonetheless, dramatic against the monochrome uniformity of the Puritan Aesthetic, and the unhuman scale of the Puritan Aesthetic in architecture. His decoration calls out “To hell with modesty and simplicity”, and by its immodesty, and by the saturation of its colors, calls out to the Regency Aesthetic of the last days of Kings who actually ruled.
The Trump Aesthetic sends a message that the ideas of our rulers are passé and low status. They have, like feminism, hit the wall.