Oscar Wilde only penned one novel. One he didn’t likely imagine as allegory for future American politics. Though given sufficient time to germinate, every moral of man’s frailty eventually finds purchase in life.
Wilde, the once married but frequently homosexed playwright and poet, produced The Picture of Dorian Gray in July 1890. Only God knows whether the rise to preeminence of neoconservatism almost exactly a century later was intended as divine trolling. Though the coincidence probably shouldn’t be discounted. Regardless, the story’s titular character–a vision of the author’s personal aspiration–was a handsome and charismatic aesthete. A young man who, eschewing morality, comes to find fulfillment only in self-indulgence.
At some point Gray poses for a full-length oil portrait, and afterwards contemplates its permanence against his own fleeting physical beauty. Determined to a maintain a lifestyle of amoral licentiousness into perpetuity, he trades his soul so that he will age and wither only in the portrait. And so he does. His face eventually becoming a ravaged monstrosity in its secreted away painting. The moral scars of vice, venality, and deceit written only to oil. He peddles lies abundantly, perhaps most generously to himself. Though in the veil of sunlight, he remains a man of unblemished attractiveness.
Eventually Dorian becomes so dissolute, and his portrait so correspondingly abominable, that he can no longer bear its sight. He feels mocked by this manifestation of his malign existence and wants no silent testament to it. So he slashes it with a knife…and falls himself mortally wounded. The devil collects his due. Later the corpse of a hideous old man is found lying before a pristine portrait returned again to dazzling youth.
Gray learned too late that consequence is a relentless creditor, and every man’s debts eventually come due. He sought to evade the consequences of his crimes by destroying their proof in the portrait. That he fell by the lunge of hands that had so harmed others is enjoyed as just reward.
And that is The Picture of Dorian Gray. By the way, did you know it was Oscar Wilde who coined the phrase life imitates art? It’s fascinating how assiduously modern conservatism has worked to substantiate his claim. For in observing the establishment’s increasingly frantic reactions to the Trump phenomenon, one will see the unmistakable progression from teeth gnashing to portrait slashing.
In the beginning, the Dorian Gray conservatives wished to pursue only a life of soft pleasures and rhetorical beauty. Of cocktail parties and sinecures, insipid platitudes, and value-molding in meticulous self-interest. Even more, they came to abhor both the unpleasant obloquy of political opposition and the unseemly interests of grubby constituents. To their delight it was discovered that shunning the latter would avoid the former. The absence of both stressors serving as miraculous anti-aging salves.
And so the Faustian bargain was struck. Dorian Gray conservatives were granted perpetual beauty to corporate sponsors, absolution from terms ending in ‘ism, and respect from blow-dried heads inside the media archipelago.
Of course that was merely conservatism’s agreeable outward appearance. Its hidden portrait was turning repellent with betrayals and malign neglect: Consistent efforts to pry open the border, H-visas, foreign aid, foreign wars, and foreign politicians explaining “our values,” flag-draped coffins, loss of free association, neighborhoods extirpated by diversity, knock-out games, violent crime, apology groveling, affirmative action, HUD incursions, exploding government debt, money printing, judicial penumbras, social withdrawal, third-world cities, white as a pejorative, university Bolsheviks, flea market communities, insourcing, outsourcing, TPP, gay “marriage,” political purges, speech firings, funding alien fecundity, mosques blossoming like taco stands, cosmic racial hypocrisy, servility to AIPAC, the white privilege of being last priority, and always–always–the worst enemies to the right…all of this overseen with smiles ranging from wan to radiant. It is the superficial beauty of conservatism without conservatives. People with values replaced by values without people.
While their portrait was growing ever more loathsome, DG conservatives were still looking quite dashing if they do say so. Towing the Overton line meticulously, uttering repetitious inanities on Fox News, and never allowing more than an inch of space between themselves and liberalism’s shadow. There could be no life more exquisite.
That is until a pompous blond billionaire simply sat Dorian’s portrait on the public square and started campaigning beside it. To people who do not commute in Lear jets, the comparison was astonishing. By offering to actually conserve some of what conservatives cherish, and giving them succor from conservatism’s predatory donor class, Trump has revealed the portrait’s odious positions merely by contrasting them with his own.
As customary, the Dorian Gray conservatives can only discern appearances, and thus leap at Trump and his supporters, hoping his political demise will erase all evidence of their decadence and duplicity.
Slash, lunge, stab.
They are certain they despise Trump on his own merits, though the most candid rancor comes from what he reveals about them. That is what they most want destroyed, in the minds of voters if nothing else. So the attacks commence. I do think they may prove fatal, though, as in Wilde’s tale, not to the intended party. And when corrupt conservatism’s cadaver is one day found for the history books, it will be very amusing indeed if the coroner looks up to find a certain portrait of perfect health looming over it.