Let them eat croissants

Posted on 16 Sep 2016 at 9:20am

haberman-hardyI am in Paris this week on vacation.  My partner, Patrick, and I are having a great time doing the tourist thing. And mandatory with that experience is visiting the Palace of Versailles.

How could a gay man miss that?

We arrived in Versailles after a short train ride, and walked to the gates of the chateau. It is overwhelmingly large, and is being meticulously restored by the French government.

The abundance of gold leaf and white stone is almost blinding, and as we trod the cobblestone path to the entrance, it was hard not to stop occasionally and just marvel at the structure.

Once inside, as we toured the many chambers and antechambers, the opulence came non-stop: gold and crystal everywhere, and masterful decorative detail in every nook and cranny.

Part of me was delighting in the artistry of it all and another part of me was feeling a bit queasy — because this over-the-top display of wealth is exactly the kind of garish ostentation displayed by Candidate Trump. Just look at that interview on 60 Minutes, where he sat in a Louis XVI chair in his tacky, over-decorated apartment and you begin to see the similarities.

By the time we had strolled the vast gardens — several square miles of private woods and manicured topiary — I began to understand the French Revolution more fully. The division between the “haves” and the “have nots” was stunning — almost as stunning as today.

We live in a country where the top 20 percent of our nation owns 85 percent of the wealth. Then beyond that, there is a stratospheric jump to the top 1 percent who own more than 40 percent of the wealth.
Compare that to the economy of France prior to the Revolution, when the top 1 percent of landowners held 10 percent of the land, with the next 2 percent owning 20 percent of the land.

By those standards, they were amateurs compared to the Titans of the American rich.

That leads me to that queasy feeling.

If memory serves, the French aristocracy got into a bit of a tangle and lost their heads — literally.  I have to wonder, if they had a propaganda machine as powerful as Fox News, would that have still happened? Or would they instead have been stars of reality TV programs, like Keeping Up With Marie Antoinette or The Vassal.

So even amid the amazing splendor of Versailles, I managed to fall into the trap of thinking about politics!

I guess that should be no surprise for me. What is surprising is how effortlessly one can make comparisons between France before the Revolution and the current economic imbalance in our country, and how easy it is to imagine someone like Trump frittering away the treasury to create magnificent palaces and gardens for his own amusement.

I can easily imagine Trump becoming an imperial president who lives like Louis XVI and pulls the rest of us along for the ride into chaos.

Yes, the French Revolution could happen again, but this time it will be broadcast on the Internet, and spun by Fox News.

There will most likely not be a guillotine, but heads will roll in a metaphoric sense and it will not be a good time for anyone.

Dire predictions? Perhaps.

But if all we remember about Versailles is its splendor and not its excess, we might just find ourselves re-enacting Les Miserables, only without the stunning music.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.    

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2016.    

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