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Mar. 11, 2017: Trump and Mirrors

I just finished reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. It's a good book in that it offers a well-researched, organized, and concentrated history of the post-Industrial Revolution built environment in the United States. I was familiar with much of this history going in, but it's good to get a refresher on the various technical and legislative developments in house- and highway-building that have shaped this country. There are two issues with the book in my view: first, that, having been published in 1993, it's a bit dated; and second, that Kunstler sees the landscape in terms of aesthetics and old-timey, Eurocentric ideals of "community." Relatedly, he's too blanketly against a) modernism and b) cars, and too enamored with pre-Industrial town planning, so as to not fully consider the experiences of certain people—namely poor people and racial minorities—under, not modernism, but capitalism.

Anyways, late in the book Kunstler has a chapter called "Capitals of Unreality," in which he describes three towns that, in his mind, deserve that label: Disney World, Atlantic City, and Woodstock, Vermont. Writing about Atlantic City, he looks inside Donald Trump's Taj Mahal hotel and casino and presciently diagnoses the condition of the present-day, "American Dream"-deluded Trump supporter: "a person finding himself surrounded by so much symbolic opulence must unwittingly succumb to the delusion that he was already rich and therefore in a position to wager any amount of money for the sheer 'fun' of it... It was so subversive of the whole democratic ideal. Every man a king! And every king a sucker!"

Another nice observation of Kunstler's is to point out the prevalence of mirrors in the Taj. "It might be safe to say that mirrors are Donald Trump's favorite building material," Kunstler writes, "and one could see why. They make any room seem bigger, even a large room. They make it look as though twice as many lights are blazing without actually adding any illumination to the murk or jacking up the utility bill. They hold up to wear and tear much better than paint, wallpaper, or any other wall covering... A little swipe of Windex and they look good as new." This may not be a revelatory passage, but it struck me for a few reasons that, one day, I may want to flesh out: first, I'm interested in the symbolism and aesthetics of mirrors, whether the real things or in paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, photographs by Lewis Stein, or songs by Kraftwerk, et al. Second, there's definitely a connection to be made with Trump's current political maneuvering: making things (crowds, et al.) look bigger, keeping the "murk" (swamp, et al.) intact, not jacking up the utility bill (the things Trump pays for, et al.), being able to "fix" things with a "swipe of Windex" (Trumpcare, et al.). Smoke and mirrors, Trump and mirrors: it's an apt metaphor that Kunstler forecasted, and I may want to use it more intelligently at some point... Here it is for posterity.

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