Trump’s Modi Operandi

I’m not qualified to go into any kind of in-depth analysis about Modi and hindutva, and the attempt to erase islamic culture from Indian history. But…

It’s fun to see Trump, who owned a particularly shitty casino named “The Taj Mahal” in Atlantic City, visiting the real thing. As usual, he’s in questionable taste: he wore brown-face. Melania wore something with flavors of an Indian army uniform. Allegedly, the Indian government put on a big clean-up and whitewash project in the days before, to have the place all sparkly and nice.

The US could have sent someone tackier than the first couple, if they had done an extreme rendition on an Elvis impersonator, but otherwise Trump was apparently the best that central casting could do.

The Taj Mahal is legitimately one of the great works of the world, built at the orders of Shah Jahan, one of the muslim overlords of India in the 16th century. I chose that wording carefully because normal usage is something like “Shah Jahan built the Taj…” when in fact Shah Jahan was an egotist whose profligate display of power and good taste was built with slave labor. Shah Jahan followed the practice of the time, which was to take the lion’s share of all credit, personally. Apparently he was involved in the design but clearly there was a large team of competent and excellent architects and craftsmen involved. [wik]

Two architects are mentioned by name, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and Mir Abd-ul Karim in writings by Lahauri’s son Lutfullah Muhandis

I wonder what they would have thought of this:

When I was an undergrad, some friends and I did a road trip to Ocean City and wound up staying, 8 to a room, at the Trump casino. It was, in the spots where it wasn’t falling apart, a shit-hole. The bathroom fittings were highly polished brass, intended to look like gold. Everywhere was the gleam of brass, trying to look like gold. Unlike most of the casino-goers, I had spent a lot of my childhood crawling around Versailles, so I knew what real gold leaf looked like. And, I suppose, the real tasteless profligacy of power. Hitting on Trump for being tasteless is an unworthy target – it’s too easy, so I’ll stop now.

The hindutva movement apparently tries to downplay any contribution to India that was not from the hindus, thereby erasing the muslim colonists of the Mughal dynasty (which made India Great Again, until the British came along and made India a colony of its own) – it seems to me that the hindutva have their work cut out for them, given that the history of the country amounts to being colonized by someone-or-other for a very long time. My understanding is that the hindutva approach is to point out, smugly, that the Taj Mahal was built by (probably!) hindu slaves and craftspeople. Nationalism and religion sure do distort people’s view of history, don’t they?

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How many of the “wonders of the world” were built with slave labor?

Modi allegedly really likes Trump.

Trump and Modi engaging in the “mutual bald spot sniffing ritual”

I always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal, someday, but as I grew older, I began to re-think these things. Are buildings like Versailles, the White House, and the Taj Mahal great art, or are they just the spoor of tasteless dictators? One other place I have wished to visit is Osaka Castle (“the white heron”) – which, to my modern eyes, looks sublimely tasteful, but I wonder whether that’s really the case. Would a Japanese laborer of the feudal period, who moved the gigantic rocks lining the moat, have seen it as more than vanity? Today, the floors are simple and elegant, but in their heyday they were a statement of power and profligacy.

Shorter Marcus: you can tell Trump is a shithead from the casino he caused to have built.


  1. Dunc says

    Rich people paid for all the art simply because they have all the money. At least some of them had the decency and taste to fund those artists and artisans, rather than sending them out to labour in the fields or conquer new lands to increase their already vast fortunes. Sure, if we lived in some kind of William Morris utopia then maybe the artists and artisans could make a decent living doing arts and crafts for their own satisfaction, but we don’t – so either they work for the people who have all the money and try to produce art along the way, or they dig ditches.

  2. lumipuna says

    And, I suppose, the real tasteless profligacy of power.

    There’s a difference between display of tasteless wealth to impress the less wealthy, vs. cheap, largely symbolic display of tasteless wealth to impress people for whom wealth is merely a fantasy.

  3. bryanfeir says

    Regarding statements of profligacy:
    I remember a comment in one of James Burke’s original Connections episode about a castle (I think in what is now Germany) where large parts of it were lined with imitation marble… because where the castle was located real marble was easy to get and the imitation stuff was more expensive, so he went with that.

  4. billseymour says

    I had a tourist day in Edinburgh late last October, but I wound up spending most of my time in my hotel room. This old back was acting up, the only tourist attractions within a reasonable walking distance were castles and churches, and I have no interest in the lifestyles of rentiers and the infamous.

  5. says

    Modi’s probably trying to lift Trump’s wallet. Too bad for him it’s filled with photocopied IOU notes for whoever Trump is going to not pay next.

  6. says

    Modi must be a bit embarrassed at the riots just as Trump arrives.

    Yeah, that’s seriously nasty civil unrest. Unfortunately, the odds are 10:1 against the poor muslims, who are getting shellacked and the police are staying uninvolved. What a shitshow.

  7. Dunc says

    I had a tourist day in Edinburgh late last October, but I wound up spending most of my time in my hotel room. This old back was acting up, the only tourist attractions within a reasonable walking distance were castles and churches

    There is literally nowhere in Edinburgh where that could be true, unless you were actually staying in the castle, or you have a very limited definition of “tourist attractions”. No matter where you were staying, you’d have to walk past half a dozen tourist attractions to get to the castle. Hell, the entire city centre is a tourist attraction.

  8. billseymour says

    Dunc @8

    I spent the night at the Hilton Edinburgh Carleton near the Waverlery train station. There weren’t places I was interested in within three or four blocks. (And like I said, my back was acting up.)

    But I didn’t mean any insult to Edinburgh. I was responding to the desire that lots of folks have to visit places like the Taj Mahal, about which I could hardly care less.

    BTW, I was touring England, Scotland and Northern Ireland by rail. I had some time to spend in the U.K. on either side of some meetings in Belfast (the non-tourist reason for the trip), and I enjoy riding trains.

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