Sam Leith on the ludicrous rumour about the Donald's solid-gold toilet, and his even more vulgar attempt to become the ambassador of UHNWs.
The solid-gold toilet is, apparently, a malicious rumour. Donald Trump doesn’t have a solid-gold toilet. But he does — I established through such shrewd Googlings as ‘Donald Trump solid gold stuff’ — have a gold-plated helicopter, a private jet with gold taps, table legs, and seatbelt buckles, a penthouse suite with gold fixtures and fittings, lamps, vases and mouldings, and a gold motorbike with his name on it. He sells vodka with a 24-carat-gold T on the label. But he doesn’t have a gold toilet. Perish the thought. His toilet, as far as the record shows, is made of blue onyx.
That’s a missed opportunity. While gold fixtures and fittings are almost universally derided as vulgar — gold taps being an effective shorthand for the bathroom arrangements of ‘ghastly new money’ — the golden toilet has a distinguished literary pedigree. In Thomas More’s satirical Utopia, the inhabitants ‘eat and drink from earthenware or glass, which make an agreeable appearance though they be of little value; while their chamber-pots and close-stools are made of gold and silver; and this not only in their public halls, but in their private houses… And thus they take care, by all possible means, to render gold and silver of no esteem.’
In More’s imagined country, ‘while other countries part with these metals as though one tore out their bowels’, the inhabitants empty their bowels into the metals in question. We can speculate that Trump won’t do that because, for goodness’ sake, gold is special. Gold is sacred.
And here is the problem. I don’t propose to dabble my inky fingers in the stuff of politics. But I wonder, for HNW and UHNW readers, how the Donald looks as an ambassador for what you might call the UHNW community. Among the previous occupants of such a role — I think perhaps of Croesus, Trollope’s Augustus Melmotte and Mr Burns from The Simpsons — there have been a high number of, shall we say, rotters. That’s fine. Rotters — or buccaneering free-market capitalists, as you might more kindly term them — are not necessarily bad for the image. A certain steeliness is to be expected and admired.
But it’s the vulgarity that poses the greater problem. Most HNWs, I suspect, are keen on the idea that though money can’t buy you class, the classy person knows what to do with his or her money. You give quietly, and in six or seven figures, to charity. You buy art shrewdly. You invest in the best of everything but in a discreet, whisperingly taupe way. You pad quietly down the corridors of power in handmade shoes and belong to clubs most people haven’t heard of whose doors are barely marked.
You don’t, for instance, barge around wearing a baseball cap, shouting and plastering your name on everything from steaks to golf courses to perfumes to vodka to correspondence-course diplomas. You don’t wear your hair like that, or talk like that, or boast: ‘The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.’ You certainly don’t do anything so howlingly vulgar as run for president.
So the widely held liberal conviction that Donald Trump is a plutocratic huckster who is co-opting the votes of the angry and disenfranchised poor against the interests of women, Muslims, Mexicans, LGBT people and comfortably-off liberal film stars seems to me to miss the point slightly. That’s not going to work in any case. His presidential campaign still seems highly likely to collapse in a puff of bombast.
Actually, Trump is — at least culturally speaking — a fifth-columnist. He’s using the bully pulpit of a presidential run as a way of embodying all the most retrograde prejudices against rich people. He is to the community of the extremely comfortably-off what Stephen Colbert is to the global community of Fox News pundits: an anti-role-model; a giant spoof. Colbert is doing it deliberately. Trump? Who knows?
So in the interests not of politics, but of UHNW solidarity, a campaign must be mounted against him by the sort of zillionaires who hang real Renoirs on their walls rather than knock-offs, and who eat very expensive steaks and drink very expensive vodkas that don’t have golden letter Ts on them.
What exactly you’re able to do about it is harder to imagine. Could you practise what Herbert Marcuse called repressive tolerance — ie, grit your teeth and invite him to some properly high-toned parties and clubs so that he no longer feels the need to shout for attention? One way or another, he has to be stopped. He’s not so much a menace to world peace as a global Widmerpool. He is, right now, probably the most famous and visible very rich person in the world. And he is, in short, making you guys look like schmucks.
Much more than Mexicans, Muslims, or readers of the New York Times, it’s HNWs and UHNWs who really need to get organised and flush the Donald down the golden toilet of history.