Welcome to the Era of the Sixties Throwbacks
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are almost exactly the same age, but they don’t even seem to be from the same generation. “I come from the ’60s, a long time ago,” she said during a 2015 debate. Trump does too — but not the campus 1960s. He’s from the Rat Pack 1960s.
Welcome to the election of the Sixties Throwbacks.
It’s remarkable how his mannerisms, his speech patterns and his general mien precisely reflect the ring-a-ding-ding heyday of Frank and Sammy and Dean — the hippest cats in show business, circa 1962.
Like them, he’s not Jewish but speaks an English comically inflected by Yiddish — which made sense at the time, as the Rat Pack took over the world during the American-Jewish cultural moment when Jewish writers and performers were suddenly as cool as Lin-Manuel Miranda is right now.
When Trump, speaking in front of massive audiences in Indiana, rolled his eyes and dismissed his rival by saying, “That Ted Cruz — oy,” he wasn’t reading words written for him by his Jewish son-in-law; he was channeling Francis Albert.
Even the insult comedy he brought into American political discourse seems to date back to a Rat Pack show at the Sands — to Joey Bishop or Don Rickles, the only two men ever allowed to tease Sinatra about his mob ties. Trump has some of those too.
The Rat Pack made sleazy mob-run casinos seem glamorous — they danced and sang and gambled and drank and made “Ocean’s 11” in and around them — and what business more than any other drew Trump in during the 1980s? The casino business.
“He may be vulgar, but it’s a formal kind of vulgarity. He is “Mr. Trump,” not Donald.”
But it is the way he acts around women and talks about women that reflects this Rat Pack-ness more than anything else. The failed New York Times hit piece last weekend about his relations with women began with an anecdote about Trump hosting a pool party at his Mar-a-Lago estate resort and asking a 26 year-old model to put on a bikini. “That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?” he declared, thus horrifying the New York Times — and puzzling the woman herself, Rowanne Brewer Lane, who was flattered by his attentions, went on to date him, and did not intend the anecdote she told the Times to be cast in a light disadvantageous to Trump. That pool party sounds like a Sinatra special in Palm Springs — or like a more sedate Playboy Mansion shindig, another favorite Trump locale.
He is Pre-Feminist Man, the guy who brags about never having changed a diaper and expects subservience from his wives — but whose protestations that he loves women (as long as they’re thin) and advances them in his own business without reference to their gender ring true, or at least, as true to him.
Everything about the man screams 1963, the year he turned 16. The same gold-and-marble decorating tastes that seem genuinely out of step today would have made sense in a time when Americans still believed that true elegance was to be found in the more ostentatious palaces of Europe.
He may be vulgar, but it’s a formal kind of vulgarity. He is “Mr. Trump,” not Donald. From the day he graduated from college in 1968 and went to work for his father at the old man’s anti-flashy real-estate offices in the hardscrabble Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend, he was never seen without a suit and tie. The increasingly casual nature of American public life and business was never in fashion at Trump Enterprises.
When Trump speaks of the way “political correctness” has choked our speech, he isn’t just dog-whistling about immigrants or radical Islam. I think he is also hearkening back to the world in which he came to adulthood, in you could crack ethnic jokes without being called a racist and talk gleefully about women’s anatomies without being brought up on harassment charges.
Trump and his life and times represent a timeline of United States history all but unknown to Hillary Clinton. She rejected the conservative politics of her parents when she attended Wellesley College and delivered a speech at her 1969 commencement praising herself and her classmates for rejecting “our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life” and “searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living.”
She doesn’t talk that way any longer, and she probably doesn’t listen to Judy Collins (after whose version of the song “Chelsea Morning” she and Bill named their daughter) or wear peasant dresses and clogs. But her politics and her worldview are consistent.
While she was becoming politically aware at Wellesley, he was studying business at Fordham and Penn and then going building to building in his suit and tie collecting rent from straggling tenants in his father’s buildings in Brooklyn and Queens.
Hillary went to Yale Law School and to Washington. She worked for liberal groups. She sought Richard Nixon’s impeachment. She married and didn’t take her husband’s name.
Hillary’s post-college mentors were left-liberal icons — the radical theorist Saul Alinsky, the child-liberationist Marian Wright Edelman, the prosecutor John Doar.
Donald moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan and reverse-commuted to Gravesend. He began hanging out at Le Club on East 58th Street, a place that advertised itself as swanky and aristocratic but whose clientele was also made up of bridge-and-tunnelly arrivistes.
The mentor he found at Le Club wasn’t a left-wing do-gooder or revolutionary. It was the fixer-lawyer Roy Cohn, one of the most powerfully sleazy backroom dealers of the 20th century, from whom he learned the take-no-prisoners aggression that characterizes his behavior to this day.
He and Cohn had a lot to talk about at Le Club, because — and this is the key difference between Trump and the Rat Pack — he did not then and has not to this day had a drop of alcohol.