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Old Money, New Money, Blue Money

August 17, 2015


I once had a conversation with a wine waiter of some experience and finesse who knew about serving wine in the most upper crust and oak paneled of London clubs as well as the hippest and trendiest nightspots.   I asked him who was worse – the hipsters or the aristocrats and he told me, with a note of some authority that nobody, but nobody does rudeness like old money.  Posh and Becks may not always know what knife or fork to use, but they have a tendency to smile at people and say thank you.  It’s the old families, the families with the longest and most ingrained sense of sheer entitlement, who know how to cut you, who know how to register the purest forms of contempt.

I suppose there’s a logic to the fact that so many aristocrats are so foul mouthed.  You only have to look at the British royal family for empirical validation of the fact that the older the money, the fouler the mouth.  Those of us who are no good at swearing and feel awkward doing it, or those who swear for playful or boisterous effect only are defined by a certain contractualism.  We feel as though we are only entitled to respect insofar as we show respect for others.  Respect is something that we never feel we can take for granted, it needs to be constantly earned and re-earned through social interactions.  Politeness and hereditary entitlement are almost incompatible because for the true aristocrat respect is owing not to what someone does or how someone act but to what someone is – to the name they carry.

Which brings us back, yet again, to Donald Trump.  Trump’s rudeness is a necessary function of his aristocracy.  And aristocrat he most certainly is – he’s as much an aristocrat as any belted earl in Merrie Olde England – and he’s almost as crass and tasteless and rude and vulgar as any belted earl in Merrie Olde England.  Donald Trump inherited an immense fortune.  He lost something like a fortune, but was bailed out by family fortune.  He has never known what it’s like to be poor, never known what it’s like to struggle. For Trump, rudeness and brashness is not some concomitant side effect of entrepreneurial drive but rather something he was born with.  Only an aristocrat can lose money with as much casual contempt as Trump does.  Only an aristocrat born and bred can reject the notion of ever ever ever apologising for anything like Donald Trump.

Yet the successfully promulgated fallacy that coarseness and vulgarity belongs to so-called “new money” – the “nouveaux riches” has managed to persuade people that something that behaves like Donald Trump must be some sort of “self made man”.  All of which serves to bolster the larger ideological purpose of somehow tying immense wealth to some version of “hard work”.

The truth is, of course, that capital begets capital.  If Trump does work hard (and I’m not saying he doesn’t), it’s because it amuses him to do so.  If you’ve inherited as much as he has, there’s no need to work hard to increase your wealth.  You can pay others to work hard and be imaginative on your behalf.  We live in a world where a staff nurse working dangerous, frantic and prolonged hours on an emergency ward and barely paying the rent is deemed to be a less successful example of a work ethic than someone who phones his or her broker once a week and who drags their signature across a document about as often.


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