Obama’s supporters also play-act in their own hamlets. To walk the streets of downtown Palo Alto and Menlo Park in Silicon Valley is to bump into billionaire thirty-somethings dressed in torn jeans, T-shirts, and flip-flops—our the modern version of the bonnets and homespun costumes of Marie Antoinette’s Hameau.
Multimillionaire rappers also feel yearnings to reconnect with the hood to cultivate their grassroots fides. The cover of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” displays the corpse of a dead white judge on the White House lawn—with crude crosses scrawled over his eyes—surrounded by young African Americans who are shown displaying wads of cash and toasting his honor’s demise.
President Obama cited Lamar Kendrick, whom he invited to the White House, as his favorite rapper of 2016. By such praise, Obama can channel his street cred and find inner resonance with a romanticized life quite different from his own at the White House. At the same time, he, like Marie Antoinette, does not have to go so far as to visit the inner-city landscapes which inspire such trendy artwork and cheap anti-police lyrics (such as Kendrick’s childish “And we hate po-po.”)
There’s a key difference between today’s elites and those of the Ancien Régime—and it has nothing to do with money or privilege. Instead, Marie Antoinette’s bunch knew that their periodic stints as peasants were farcical, and, as a result, they did not take themselves too seriously. In contrast, our grim visitors to the American Hameau are a far angrier lot. They are convinced that a few cheap slurs or fuming public gestures will, for a moment or two, make them one with the people—unaware that they are as ridiculous as the French royals, but with far less Gallic style and panache.