Normally I keep political commentary off of this page, but since I usually have a book, podcast or film of the week I thought I’d showcase a writer who may be helping to shape the worldviews of people who will be shaping our world for the next four years. So far the incoming administration is planning to nominate huge Rand fans as Secretary of Labor, Secretary of State, and head of the CIA. The PEOTUS names Rand as a favorite of his:
The president-elect said this spring that he’s a fan of Rand and identifies with Howard Roark, the main character in “The Fountainhead.” Roark, played by Gary Cooper in the film adaptation, is an architect who dynamites a housing project he designed because the builders did not precisely follow his blueprints. “It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything,” Trump told Kirsten Powers for a piece in USA Today. (from an article in the Washington Post)
Break it down!
First of all, since everyone agrees that Donald Trump never reads books, we can be pretty sure he’s just seen the movie. (Fountainhead is about 700 pages long. I’ve read it multiple times.) I have no idea how faithful the movie is to the book.
However, the question of whether or not Trump has actually read any of Rand’s books is sort of beside the point. What is completely to the point is that a number of his Cabinet picks are big Rand fans. Is that a good thing? Well . . .
Here’s another quotation from the article:
For many Republican elites, Rand is someone whose books they read one summer in high school or college and got super excited about but then grew out of once they were exposed to more sophisticated intellectual influences and/or tried to reconcile her world view with the precepts of the Christian faith.
That statement really resonates, as they say. I don’t remember how I got introduced to Rand’s books, but I think it was probably from one of my best friends in college. As I said above, I’ve read The Fountainhead several times and plowed through the 1,000+ pages of Atlas Shrugged at least once (although, as I’m sure I’ve admitted elsewhere, I pretty much skipped the pages-long rant of the hero, John Galt, near the end of the novel). I’ve even read We the Living, Rand’s first novel. As I recall, that one ends with the heroine forcing her way through the snow as she tries to escape from something or someone, and you know she’s going to die and she knows it, too. By all accounts it’s pretty bad, but I read it anyway. My appetite for Rand was insatiable.
But I remember very clearly—I am not making this up, I promise–sitting in my dorm room at the Christian university I attended, reading one of her books, and then looking up from the page and realizing that my mind was having to switch gears from the philosophy in the book to my own beliefs in the real world. It was almost dizzying. (But I went back to reading her, undeterred.)
Years later I was reminded of Rand by some mention or other and thought, ‘Hey, I really enjoyed those books in college. Maybe I should re-read them.” So, I think I checked out Fountainhead and started in. But . . . it wasn’t at all as good as I remembered. Kind of stilted and pedantic, and obvious. And the sex scenes! Goodness to gracious and merciful heavens me! They were awful. I thought, ‘But is this how she sees relations between men and women? It’s so violent!’ Actually, although I didn’t use that word in my thoughts at the time, there are scenes of flat-out rape. (“Roark, the character Trump says he identifies with, for example. rapes a woman in ‘The Fountainhead.’” I think I’ll just let that statement lie right there on the floor.)
And as I revisited Rand I remembered a scene from Atlas that I’d been rather struck with when I first read it even though I didn’t at the time quite get how demeaning the man’s actions actually were, a description of the aftermath of a night together between Hank Rearden (who is married) and Dagny Taggart, both of them rather nauseating people who deserve each other but who are the respective hero (at least at the time) and heroine:
“A bruise . . . with dark beads that had been blood . . . after hours of a violence that they could not name now.”
To which I now say, “Yuck! El Yucko of the highest order! What a load of total and complete baloney!”
But however vile Rand is on the subject of human sexual behavior, she is just as vile in her overall philosophy, which she called Objectivism. I’m not going to quote the fawning descriptions of this philosophy from her fans but just sum it up in one word: selfishness. You must never, ever, ever do anything that is a out of charity or as a favor. Never. All human interactions must be based on an exchange or payment on the one hand and goods or services on the other. (I’m not quite sure how she works that into her “love” story and I’m not about to wade through pages of glop to find out.)
Anyway, there’s this scene in the Utopian community that the movers and shakers, the makers and not the takers, have retreated to in order to let the world destroy itself, when there has been a concert and now everyone is leaving, and one of the older women asks John Galt, the one who has set it all up, for a ride home. He asks her, “How much will you pay me?” and she says, “One dime.” And she hands over a thin silver coin minted there in the community. Dagny is astonished. “Couldn’t you give her a ride as a favor?” she asks. “Don’t ever say that word here,” Galt answers, or some such. (I’m reconstructing this scene from memory, although I did try to find it in via Amazon’s search function.)
No pity, no charity, no generosity. No favors.
Even Steve Bannon disapproves of Objectivism: “It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost.” (Can you buh-leeve it?)
One more quotation from the article:
The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing. They will now run our government.
Here’s the final, priceless line, which I did track down:
“The road is cleared,” said Galt. “We are going back to the world.” He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar.
So, I guess if you’d like to get an insight into the mindset of American leadership over the next few years you could take a dip into these waters. Might give you a glow of superiority, if not of happiness, exactly, as you read it and think, “My goodness, this stuff is terrible.”