In an interview with Kristen Powers, Trump said of The Fountainhead, “It relates to business … beauty … life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” (Here he’s right!) He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s architect hero, loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright. Trump builds buildings too, so no doubt a novel on the subject would interest him. But much of the resemblance between Roark and Trump ends there.
Roark treats people with respect
Howard Roark loves the creative work of designing buildings for the purpose of seeing them built just the way he designs them. His work is his source of pride. He doesn’t work for the approval of others.
Roark must struggle because in his world established architects simply want to imitate the styles of the past, mainly to impress other people who, for the most part, aren’t particularly impressed in any case.
Roark must find individuals and enterprises that want his buildings. But he is quite clear that “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” He does not bastardize his buildings—sticking columns or balconies on them just to make sales. He has his standards. He is honest with his prospective clients and tries to educate them. He respects them enough to treat them like intelligent individuals. If they can’t accept his style, that is unfortunate, but Roark will not pander. Roark has integrity.
Wynand panders to the lowest
Another major character in the novel is Gail Wynand, who rose from nothing to build a chain of “Banner” newspapers. Wynand is good at what he does but what he does is not good. He builds his empire by appealing to the lowest common denominator among his readers. He is a yellow journalist who feeds them scandal, sensation, and schlock. He sees his readers as basically stupid and irrational, and his idea of success is not to appeal to the best within them but, rather, the worst, assuming they deserve nothing better.
And that is how Trump approaches prospective voters in his political campaign. It’s all a sensationalist, headline-grabbing show. It’s saying the most outrageous things to appeal to emotions on the assumption that his audience can’t or doesn’t want to actually think.
But there is a major difference between Wynand and Trump. Wynand wants power over others but his sense of self-worth is not dependent on the adulation of the mob he wants to rule. Trump, on the other hand, seems to drink up the applause of his audience, and if someone challenges him, it’s personal and rates the response of the most insecure playground bully.
By contrast, in The Fountainhead, when the novel’s most malicious villain who has tried to block Roark’s career approaches him and asks “What do you think of me?” Roark responds, “But I don’t think of you.” That’s true self-esteem!
Which approach works better: Roark’s career built on dealing with people based on reason, or Wynand’s career built on treating people like idiots? Read The Fountainhead to discover the intriguing answer you probably already suspect. In terms of Trump’s political career, it will depend on how many voters prefer to be treated like idiots rather than with respect.
Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.
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