Adapted with permission from the author from Facebook posting 3/27/17.
THIS is what makes my head spin: The president is not a moral figure in any idiom, any land, any culture, any subculture. I’m not talking about the liberal enlightenment that would make him want the country to take care of the poor and sick. I mean he has no Republican values either. He has no honor among thieves, no cosa nostra loyalty, no Southern code against cheating or lying, none of the openness of New York, rectitude of Boston, expressiveness and kindness of California, no evangelical family values, no Protestant work ethic. No Catholic moral seriousness, no sense of contrition or gratitude. No Jewish moral and intellectual precision, sense of history. He doesn’t care about the life of the mind OR the life of the senses. He is not mandarin, not committed to inquiry or justice, not hospitable. He is not proper. He is not a bon vivant who loves to eat, drink, laugh. There’s nothing he would die for — not American values, obviously, but not the land of Russia or his wife or young son. He has some hollow success creeds from Norman Vincent Peale, but Peale was obsessed with fair-dealing and a Presbyterian pastor; Trump has no fairness or piety. He’s not sentimental; no affection for dogs or babies. No love for mothers, “the common man,” veterans. He has no sense of military valor, and is openly a coward about war. He would have sorely lacked the pagan beauty and capacity to fight required in ancient Greece. He doesn’t care about his wife or wives; he is a philanderer but he’s not a romantic hero with great love for women and sex. He commands loyalty and labor from his children not because he loves them, even; he seems almost to hate them — and if one of them slipped it would be terrifying. He does no philanthropy. He doesn’t—in a more secular key—even seem to have a sense of his enlightened self-interest enough to shake Angela Merkel’s hand. Doesn’t even affect a love for the arts, like most rich New Yorkers. He doesn’t live and die by aesthetics and health practices like some fascists; he’s very ugly and barely mammalian. Am I missing an obscure moral system to which he so much as nods? Also are there other people, living or dead, like him?
Virginia Heffernan writes regularly for The New York Times. Her most recent book, Magic and Loss (Simon & Schuster), reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet. In 2005, Heffernan (with cowriter Mike Albo) published the cult comic novel The Underminer (Bloomsbury). In 2002, she received her PhD in English Literature from Harvard.