Having worked for some time now in the foreign policy world that revolves around Washington DC, I can assure you that whatever your feelings about that tentacled city squatting itself on America’s mid-Atlantic coast, it’s probably worse than you think. I don’t care whether you are on the Right or the Left. The limitless narcissism and navel gazing, the gaslighting and dissimulation, the illiteracy and greed of the place is surpassed perhaps only by the weight of its decadent banality – by the same painfully shallow ideas (and people) circulating ceaselessly through an incestuous and wholly unaccountable apparatus insistent on regurgitating them over and over again in entitled cries for more money and power and attention.
Robert Wright dubs this The Blob.
What I have long noticed about DC is its similarity with LA. Consider the status games that people play. One of the most popular games is name-dropping. When Barack Obama was President, anyone who had a personal encounter with him was certain to let you know about it. Other high-powered names to drop included Janet Yellen (more when she was Fed chair then than as Treasury Secretary now) and Eric Holder. Because President Biden does not have the sort of Olympian status that President Obama enjoyed in DC, his cabinet officials have a somewhat lower name-drop value.
The morale of people working in agencies is highest when the head of the agency is highly respected. Fed staffers were somewhat demoralized during the year that G. William Miller was Chairman.
The next Chairman, Paul Volcker, treated the staff with disdain. Economists would diligently prepare briefings for which he showed very evident boredom. When another Fed Governor would ask a question during a briefing, Volcker would sometimes shoot the Governor a look as if to say “Why are you prolonging my agony?”
The staff loved him. Volcker was such a central figure in Washington that the staff felt that they could bask in his reflected glory. They could drop his name to great effect, never mentioning that he could not care less about their names or what they did.
In Los Angeles, the thing to do is drop the names of the stars and other Hollywood big shots with whom you have done business. Since I do not follow any TV shows and only rarely see movies, when I visit LA much of the name-dropping passes right over me. People have to say, “You’ve never heard of ____?!!” They then have to explain why this is a major name to drop, which spoils the fun. My guess is that something similar happens when someone from LA hears someone from DC try to impress by retailing a story about a Cabinet official.
In both cities, successful people live like aristocrats. They are surrounded by starstruck flatterers. They never have to cook their own meals, drive their own cars, or make their own travel arrangements. The beliefs that they articulate can be shallow and insincere.
Here are Jackie and I prior to a wedding at the Beverly Hills Hotel (the one with the famous red carpet). I was under-dressed. The invitation called for tuxedos.
About an hour after we took this picture came the wedding ceremony. The officiating rabbi took the occasion to mention that one of the most important problems of our time is inequality. In LA and DC, one of the privileges of wealth is being able to make such comments without any sense of irony or self-awareness.
The venue itself was the only celebrity at the wedding. Our hosts were not plugged into the Hollywood scene.
Glamor and movies have always companions. The Kennedy Presidency brought glamor to politics. Under President Obama, the glamor factor was amped up to absurd levels. One thing I’ll say for President Trump is that, notwithstanding his wealth and media background, his Administration did not come as bathed in glamor.