The Never-Ending Interest in Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club

My piece last year on Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago has been a hit on this site.  There’s a great deal of interest in the subject, either by his supporters (who think he’s a SJW hero for the club) or his detractors (who are trying to find out some dirt about the place.)  Neither of these quite hit the spot, although his supporters have the better argument.  My last piece was a little brief, so some background is in order.

It’s easy to get sidetracked in an issue like this, because Palm Beach’s social system is different (or sui generis to use the fancy term) than what most Americans are used to, either in the past or now.  Donald Trump’s concept of a club for everyone in the place–black, Jew, gentile–was revolutionary, but that has to be seen in the context of Palm Beach, not some egalitarian utopia.

First: Mar-a-Lago wasn’t a club until Trump bought it.  It was the estate of Marjorie Meriwether Post, the cereal heiress, and it was the largest private home on the island.

Second: until around the First World War, Jews and Gentiles mixed pretty well in Palm Beach.  That changed with the growing perception among the Gentile community that the Jews, God-chosen achievers that they are, were a threat.  Probably the most shameful manifestation of this was the change in the admission process of the Ivy League schools, who de-emphasised academic excellence and went for this “well-rounded” (usually Gentile) student.  We’re seeing a repeat of this with the Asians.

Jews in Palm Beach, not wanting to be at the bottom of the place’s social system (and that’s a bad place to be, as I found out the hard way) started their own clubs, most prominently the Palm Beach Country Club.  The segregation of Jew and Gentile was a prominent feature of Palm Beach society for many years.  The one place that wasn’t extended to was the schools, where I had Jewish friends whom I remember fondly.

Turning to the issue of black people, South Florida is in many ways an extension of the Northeast.  However, looking back the Southern influence was a lot stronger in Palm Beach than I used to realise.  Gentile Southerners brought their racial attitudes to the place just as their Northern counterparts brought their religious ones.  The first time I heard anyone I knew called the N-word was a schoolmate at Palm Beach Day School, something that still blows me away.  Having said that, when some enlightenment started to sink into the place the big issue, IMHO, was economic.  Living on the island is a dreadfully expensive proposition, joining the clubs isn’t any easier.  The Jews had that problem in hand; most black people have not.

Into this segregated/stratified situation enters Donald Trump.  As I noted in my review of Lawrence Leamer’s book:

The inrush of that kind of money has changed the landscape of Palm Beach more than anything else, both physically (to the extent that those who want to build can get past the preservationists) and socially.  At the vanguard of that change is Donald Trump, whose transformation of the Mar-a-Lago estate into a private club, with the concomitant opportunity of the clubless arrivistes to have their own place in the sun free from the constraints of places like the Everglades Club, the Bath and Tennis (B&T) Club, or even the Palm Beach Country Club.

From my viewpoint as someone who grew up in Palm Beach, Trump’s opening of the club scene to nouveaux riches was the biggest innovation that he made.  Putting together a club where Jew and Gentile could mix freely was and is an achievement for which he needs to be given credit. Iconoclastic as that was, Trump saw that an “old money” town like Palm Beach was changing with the billions generated by the newly wealthy, and he put Mar-a-Lago at the centre of that change.  And there’s political significance to that.

As distasteful as nouveaux riches are, they are a necessity for a vibrant economic system.  They show that people can and are moving up.  Unfortunately there are many “gatekeepers” in our society who don’t want others to move up as it would involve them to move out. Some of them are the recently successful people in the tech industry, who know better than anyone that glory is very fleeting.  Others are in academia, who have convinced everyone that the credentials people pay them dearly to hand out are the key to a unruined life.  Still others are in government, the usual laggard, which finds it easier to block change than to adapt to it.

Most of the discontent is coming from the American people’s decision that they’re getting the shaft from all of these “gatekeepers.”  That’s true of both Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters; they share the basic perception of the problem but not the solution.  As long as our haughty masters attempt to lord over us the way they have, they will have blowback.

The fear of Trump is that, if he can take on a social system like Palm Beach’s and win, he could do the same with them.

Yes, he can.

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