A few years ago, my beloved wife finally persuaded me to accompany her on a trip to Italy. It proved to be so sublime that tears come to my eyes whenever I reminisce about the history, culture, art, scenery, cuisine, wine, and very mood I experienced there. Italy was like a hint of heaven or a pilgrimage to the cradle of our civilization.
Perhaps what amazed me most was how eerily familiar I found one place in particular: the Most Serene Republic of Venice. For in the distant mirror of that medieval commercial republic I discerned unmistakable reflections of the values, institutions, and civil religion of modern Americans. From its founding in the 8th century to its abolition (by wicked Napoleon) a thousand years later, the Venetian Republic was officially Catholic. But its real religion was a prosperity gospel under the patronage of St. Mark, the Winged Lion who blessed the fleets and commerce of the maritime empire and sustained its power and wealth.
The cathedral of San Marco, font of spiritual authority, and the palace of the doge, font of civilian authority, are literally joined at the hip in Venice. The republic was governed by its business elites through an elaborate array of councils, but at the top stood the doge, who was elected for life. He served as high priest of the civil religion and established the template or operational code of Venetian administration, trade, diplomacy, and war.
Did Americans choose a sort of a doge in 2016?
Dwight Eisenhower, the last man to enter the White House without having previously been elected to public office, had a distinct operational code based on the military staff. Might Donald Trump’s modus operandi derive from his lifetime as an entrepreneur? In fact, he has already given us a candid answer which nearly all journalists and pundits have curiously ignored. It can be found in Trump: The Art of the Deal, his 1987 autobiography. Its ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, now regrets his role in massaging the man’s image but does not disavow the book’s contents, which telegraphed 30 years ago Trump’s startling, successful leap into politics.
It begins in disarming fashion by assuring readers, “I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form.” So Trump is an artist!