On pageantry & apocalypse

I notice from photographs (it is unnecessary to read media texts) that Melania Trump, who declined the headscarf in Arabia, was wearing a fulsome mantilla in the Vatican. A nice Catholic girl from Slovenia (married only once, if irregularly) she knew what she was about. The pope might want to discuss her husband’s diet, but Melania was there to have her Rosary blessed. Ivanka, too, was all in black, and veiled: a student of protocol. These ladies are restoring some small degree of order in the West.

Alas, the men aren’t helping. The Donald failed to button his jacket for the papal audience, as Italian journalists were quick to observe. And while Trump arrived in a suitably august motorcade, Pope Francis greeted it in a Ford Escort. (Okay, I read some of the captions.)

Everyone loves a parade, and the place of pageantry in public life ought to be secure. But that is not to reckon, today, with the Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, as my late hero Nirad Chaudhuri called them. In a book he wrote to celebrate his own centenary (1997), he identified Individualism, Nationalism, and Democracy as these Horsemen. He said they were the root cause of our post-modern decadence, which differs from the decadence of the past in having these ideological drivers.

Let me add a line of argument he did not pursue. It is because of this that our contemporary decadence is so boring. All three of these Horsemen are tedious. Each is arbitrary and abstract. The Individualist denies his own past; the Nationalist his country’s; the Democrat the peculiarities of the actual people he claims to represent. All are thus opposed to Tradition, which acknowledges real things, and builds creatively upon them.

It will be seen from this list that Trump cannot be my ideal politician; moreover, that from this vantage, he shares an outlook with our current pope. They might quibble, privately or publicly, over the party line they ought to be advancing, but are agreed that something ought to be advanced, that breaks with all the “errors of the past.”

Now the Church herself, and the ladies who accompany these great men, have somehow retained the instinctive understanding that dresses properly for the occasion, and arrives in the appropriate vehicle — not to make a “personal statement,” but to avoid doing so. A man is not what he does, but what he is. This includes a woman.

Pageantry is something “normal,” in the old sense opposed to “common.” It is an “is.” True, it “evolves” over time, along with all of our mannerisms, but for any given time one can know the ropes. Tradition is art, not some crazy science. It is an expression of human and social dignity; it requires beauty in disciplined display. The clothes worn by high statesmen, as the clothes worn by priests, bespeak an office or station. They are not meant for expressions of personal style. They belong to the pageant — which formerly descended to the uniforms of everyday life.

One may move in grand palaces as Saint Thomas More, decked in the trappings of Court and Ecclesia, yet wear a hairshirt underneath. One may live in fine simplicity therein.

Sir Elton John, in a characteristically vulgar, ignorant, and gratuitous attack on the Pope Emeritus, said he wouldn’t dress like that in Las Vegas. In his vanity, he perfectly expresses the degenerate, post-modern mind, in which everything is taken as a fashion statement, and becomes by that measure monotonously showy, ugly, and cheap.