Tacky: The Strange Excesses and Spoiled Scottishness of Louise Linton
I’d say that Louise Linton is fascinating to us fellow Scots, but the truth is we don’t think of her much at all. The Scottish actress turned wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made a name for herself in the worst ways possible since entering the limelight of the Trump age. Between a fraudulent memoir to social media spats over her favourite brands, the chances are you’ll mostly be familiar with her through the ways she’s embodied the most exhausting and obscene aspects of wealth fetishizing this side of Trump’s gold design scheme. The bit-part actress whose biggest credit is the remake of Cabin Fever seems delightfully at home in her new life as a political wife, glorying in the potential misuse of government airplanes for their personal use and posing with the first print of new dollars bills that bear her husband’s name, as if Annie Leibowitz were taking the shots and this would be seen as anything other than a total parody. Linton’s life is ceaseless vulgar self-promotion for a project that will never materialise; the American equivalent of the Bullingdon Club lighting £50 notes on fire in front of homeless people just because they can. You’d almost forget she’s Scottish, which we’re happy for her to do so.
Linton, born Louise Hay, is a curious breed of Scot that is oft-overlooked when we and the outside world talk of our nation’s citizens. She comes from money, her family owns a castle, and she was educated at Fettes College, one of the most exclusive private schools in the country. It’s easy to overlook just how posh Scotland actually is. The preferred stereotype of cultural Scottishness is of kilted men in castles on the glens but those images tend to be rooted in the historical past, not the contemporary reality. Those castles aren’t just for show in the background of Outlander scenes: Many of them are still inhabited by noble families or just those with the cash to maintain them. Linton’s family own Melville Castle, just outside Edinburgh, which you can hire for your wedding venue, as many of these castles do to keep costs low. When she talks of her own life, as she did in an issue of Scottish Field last year, it’s in terms that mix fairytale with a desperation to seem normal, as if we all have fathers who own castles and we all had the Queen watch us act as children and give us ‘a little encouraging nod’.
Linton’s career was never much to write home about. The acting roles were sparse and unsubstantial, with the attempts at manufacturing buzz fizzled upon arrival. While working in America, Linton went into PR overdrive to get the people of Scotland to care, landing exclusive covers with niche magazines locals only pick up if everything else is unavailable. In fairness to Holyrood PR, they did try their hardest. They got her three covers in less than two months, referring to a cover story in Scottish Woman magazine as ‘another triumph’ that demonstrated her ‘inspirational advice and refreshing attitude to life’. It’s hard to take any advice giver seriously when their dad owns a castle and the peak of their career at the time was appearing in a TV movie about William and Kate.
Her so-called memoir of her gap year in Zambia was so racist and full of lies that the country’s government had to respond to the smear and the book was pulled from publication. That book is something else, with moments like her fear that the savage locals would attack her, the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ as she tried to help the poor Zambians caught up on a conflict that never came anywhere near their country. Shockingly, Zambians weren’t wild about Linton pretending she helped a ‘smiling gap-toothed child with HIV’ or turning herself into the heroine of a nation she painted as a hellscape of rape and murder. The clichés of spoiled Brits painting their gap year trips as white saviour exercises in the savage unknown are nothing new, but Linton’s spectacle was especially galling. For her, it was just another chance to act.
Linton is an accessory to Mnuchin, by his side while he works when she really has no right to be, and trying to use the American Government as a lily pad for her to leap towards greater examples of self-promotion. Remember that infamous Instagram blow-up, where she painted her husband’s exorbitant wealth as a burden because of the ‘sacrifice each year’ they make to the country? In that image of her stepping off a government plane (Mnuchin had to reimburse the government for using it because that’s now how official Treasury trips are supposed to work), she tagged in every brand she was wearing. Look at the Hermes scarf, the Valentino rock stud heels, the Roland Mouret pants, the Tom Ford sunnies! You could practically hear the pleas for those brands to give her free stuff. In response, Valentino and Tom Ford said they were not affiliated with Linton and never compensated or loaned her items for their collections. It’s the fashion world equivalent of ‘You can’t sit with us!’
Like a less aware Ivanka Trump, Linton has no understanding of the optics her situation creates: A woman afforded every privilege from birth who still can’t contemplate the notion that people would consider her wealth anything beyond the results of her own hard work. She wants you to know at every possible moment that she’s richer than you, but don’t ever try to claim those expensive clothes were bought with anything other than her own money. Perhaps that’s what makes that image of her holding up the dollar bills with her husband so ludicrous: The veterinarian-style black leather gloves and the pleased-as-punch expression, eager for you to pay attention to her and not the older, richer man with the nickname ‘Foreclosure King’ who got her into that place.
In my experience, truly posh Scots don’t care to remind you excessively of their upper-class roots or the wealth that accompanies it. My mum grew up next to a literal lord in a castle, and she always told us that the way to spot a proper posh person was by looking for the oldest, most battered Volvo in the car park. If it’s got tartan rugs over the seats that are littered with dog hair, then all the better. They’d never brag to Town and Country about their wedding jewellery. Perhaps that’s what makes Linton’s spectacle so tacky for the few Scots who care to remember her name. Then again, it’s not a show for Scots; it’s for Americans.
The problem with Linton’s act - and make no mistake, as obnoxious and obscene in its decadence as it is, her façade as a humble trophy wife is just that - is that you need an audience to buy into the fantasy. As an actress, you’d think she’d understand that if the audience aren’t happy, the performance doesn’t work. Nobody buys the loved-up wife routine or the unassuming public servant spin or the glamorous Hollywood starlet PR. How do you swallow the cutesy Instagram photos in support of elephant conservation when you’re married into the administration lifting the ban on big-hunting trophy imports? How do you express penitence for Instagram spats over your wealth when you pose with a sheet of dollar bills like it’s your new wallpaper? I’m not sure if America will really embrace poor Louise Linton. Perhaps she’ll come back to Scotland one day. I’d say we don’t want her to return, but the chances are we’d barely notice her if she did.
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