Gary Cooper played the egocentric architect Howard Roark in the movie version of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Is Trump trying to play him in real life?
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
In journalist Kirsten Powers’s rambling and affectionate account of an interview with Donald Trump, this surprising nugget stands out:
Trump described himself as an Ayn Rand fan. He said of her novel The Fountainhead, “It relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s idealistic protagonist who designs skyscrapers and rages against the establishment.
For those who did not undergo the common American adolescent rite of passage of a brief infatuation with Rand, The Fountainhead was her first highly successful novel, soon made into a Hollywood film featuring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. It is nowadays probably less well known than her later didactic masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, a massive hymn to the virtue of selfishness and laissez-faire capitalism that is frequently touted as the inspiration for libertarian-ish pols, famously including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
But while the hero of Atlas Shrugged is the mysterious John Galt, who gradually draws all of the major creative spirits out of a dysfunctional socialist society in a demonstration of “the mind on strike,” The Fountainhead’s Roark is a self-involved architectural genius who dynamites a public housing project he designed because its builders did not follow his blueprint. His passionate contempt for the human herd of lesser beings reflected Rand’s own early Nietzschean influences, before the full flowering of her systematic philosophy of Objectivism, which was laid out in numbing detail in Atlas Shrugged.
It’s fitting and a bit chilling that Trump sees himself in Roark. And given the mogul’s somewhat-questionable attitude toward women, it should be mentioned that Roark is among the 20th century’s best-known fictional rapists.
Rand and her acolytes devoted many thousands of words to denying that the “rape scene” in The Fountainhead — where Roark broke into heroine Dominique Francon’s sleeping chambers and had what sure appeared to be violently coercive sex — was actually rape. But even if you buy into Rand’s borderline-S&M view of sexual love as involving an idealized dance of equals submitting (the woman, of course) to and executing (the man, of course) dominance, Roark is a questionable role model for a 21st-century man, and particularly one aspiring to the presidency.
But it seems Trump just can’t help identifying himself with Roark as a larger-than-life figure who should not have to live by the herd’s standards, per another snippet of Powers’s interview:
When I pointed out that The Fountainhead is in a way about the tyranny of groupthink, Trump sat up and said, “That’s what is happening here.” He then recounted a call he received from a liberal journalist: “How does it feel to have done what you have done?” I said what have I done. He said nobody ever in the history of this country has done what you have done. And I said, well, if I lose, then no big deal. And he said no, no, if you lose, it doesn’t matter because this will be talked about forever.