Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Even conservative commentators who are not afflicted with terminal Trump Derangement Syndrome are compelled to drag Trump into their writing and criticize him in order to preempt any suspicion that their comments critical of progressives show support for the hated ex-president.
This verbal preemptive cringe is a way for members of the bipartisan political guild to signal their virtue and assure progressives that they’re not one of those knuckle-dragging “deplorable” Trump supporters. In doing so, they remind Trump voters why they supported him in the first place: He cut through all the class-signaling politesse and specious “norms” the cognitive elite use to advertise their superiority.
A good example can be found in a commentary from Lance Morrow in the Wall Street Journal. Much of the piece is a spot-on dissection of the progressive class-hatred of conservatives in general and Donald Trump’s supporters in particular. His portrait of these plutocrat progressives is worth quoting:
In their voices, you hear a throb of opulent hysteria—an ostentatious despair, the boutique self-pity of the privileged. Hating Mr. Trump and his followers dramatizes one’s own virtue. It makes elites feel good about themselves in the way, classically, that poor whites in the South were able to feel better about their own lot by despising and discriminating against black people. Progressives think that hating not only Mr. Trump but all conservatives settles their debts and cleanses them of sin. It gives them a certain moral luster.
But immediately there follows the preemptive cringe, the reflexive criticism of Trump lest Morrow’s fellow cognitive elites interpret those prior remarks as support for him:
Mr. Trump is to blame for much of this. Character is destiny, and Mr. Trump was quite a character. He gave his enemies the gift of Jan. 6. He played peek-a-boo with forbidden thoughts. He tossed cherry bombs at the Constitution to see if he could give it a scare. Whatever else one may say about Jan. 6, it was one of the stupidest afternoons in American history.
The burden of this charge contains an obvious begged question. By “character” Morrow seemingly assumes that it comprises style, tone, and language, rather than actions that, in the case of Trump, fulfilled campaign promises, and fought back against the decades of Democrat slanders and lies about Republicans and conservatives.
Morrow’s idea of “character,” moreover, reflects the mores of just one of America’s several “peoples,” the cognitive elites who often are more impressed with style and manners and class markers, than they are with meaningful deeds. Nor is it clear what “forbidden thoughts” Morrow’s talking about. Racism? Overturning the election results? These charges are the equivalent of the country-club set’s rule that forbids wearing white after Labor Day.
But there are ways of being American other than the modern equivalent of Boston Brahmins. Those whose ancestors came from the English borderlands with Scotland, or were the Scots who settled the Ulster Plantation in Ireland, have a different sensibility. These are the people who tamed the frontier, and have disproportionately fought and died in America’s wars. They distrust authority, especially that of distant elites. They prefer plain speaking and credit deeds rather than the clever, passive-aggressive, snide rhetoric of college-boys, tinhorns, and tenderfeet. They despise pretense and snobbery, and have a penchant for using physical violence for setting disputes. That’s why they like Trump: He brashly brushes aside the political “norms” that for decades Democrats have violated with rarely a vigorous push-back from the Republican establishment.
A good example out of many is George W. Bush. His two terms were filled with the Democrats’ vicious calumny. Right from the start they charged that he was “selected, not elected” by the Supreme Court after Al Gore challenged the 2000 election outcome, an act which–– along with Hillary’s non-stop whining that Russia and Trump “stole the election” from her––has been swallowed by the memory hole for those, including Republicans, who claim Trump’s similar challenge was an unhinged “conspiracy theory” and a heinous “threat to our democracy.” And who can forget “Bushitler,” the cinematic fantasies of his assassination, the constant sneers at his alleged stupidity and chickenhawk draft-dodging?
Nor were all these violations of political “norms” from the fringe Left. The establishment Dems’ favorite flak in those days was “documentary” film-maker Michael Moore, whose 2004 propaganda film Fahrenheit 9/11 slandered Bush as a warmonger, corporate stooge, and profiteer, willing to send American troops to die in order to control Iraq’s oil, and make money for the Halliburton Corporation and the Saudis. So how did the Democrat leadership respond to this lunatic conspiracy theory? They flocked to the film’s premier and gave Moore a seat of honor at the 2004 convention.
Yet when the vacuous Barack Obama, who as a Senator joined in on the lies and calumny, was president, George W. Bush made few public comments about the most leftwing president this country has ever had, because of some “norm” that ex-presidents remain quiet about their successor––a rule that Barack Obama, by the way, seldom has honored. Yet during Trump’s administration, Bush had no qualms about publicly criticizing a fellow Republican president who, much more than Bush ever did, advanced the conservative agenda and rolled back the progressive transformation of America.
The average American saw this double-standard as evidence that there does indeed exist a bipartisan elite whose rules are made by progressives, which establishment Republicans with few exceptions accept and follow. Just consider how some Republicans abuse question-begging epithets like “racist” or “nativist,” or some Republicans’ support for amnesty for illegal aliens, or Congressman Liz Cheney’s endorsement of the Dems’ specious lie about the January 6 “armed insurrection” that was “incited” by Trump’s speech at the Ellipse.
And this is the irony of Morrow’s paragraph. His eagerness to blame Trump is exactly what Trump’s supporters see as the NeverTrump Republican’s chronic deference to Democrats and acceptance of their lies and fantastical narratives. Ask yourself: when’s the last time you heard Democrats apologize for one of their loony Congressman’s unhinged slanders or blatant anti-Semitism? Or try and name a Supreme Court Justice appointed by the Dems who regularly votes with those appointed by Republicans. The recent string of 9-0 decisions have been narrowly tailored to keep the progressive jurists on board with the Court’s demonstration of non-ideological purity. They’re about forestalling the Dems’ court-packing schemes, not judicial principles.
Morrow’s blaming Trump’s rhetorical aggression also ignores the nasty, vicious rhetoric of Democrats going back to Richard Nixon. He also forgets the equally vicious assaults on Ronald Reagan. And the weaponization of the DOJ and FBI by Obama, which led to a special counsel who spent two years on a “Russian collusion” fantasy. And the two impeachments from the House based on made-up crimes like “collusion.” What sacred “democratic norms” and “bipartisan comity” did those actions honor?
Finally, claims like Trump “gave his enemies the gift of Jan. 6” assumes as fact the Dem media’s lie that Trump “incited” an “armed rebellion” in an attempt to “reverse the outcome” of the election. It legitimizes that preposterous characterization of those five hours of protest in which not a single protestor was found to have weapons, and the only fatality was Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was gunned down by a DC cop whose name has not been released, and who has been exonerated despite the fact that he shot someone who posed no threat to him or his colleagues. And how does keeping trespassers jailed for months and forbidden bail over misdemeanors while Antifa goons are seldom even charged for felonies like arson and assault––how does that brazen inequality before the law uphold our “democracy”?
It wasn’t Trump who gave his enemies the “gift,’ it was the Dems and their media lackeys who spun a brief riot into an “insurrection” even as they continue to ignore months and months of BLM and Antifa urban mayhem that’s cost 30 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage to buildings and businesses from looting and arson.
And the cute statement that Trump “tossed cherry-bombs at the Constitution” endorses another partisan lie: That his actions real or alleged attacked the Constitution and bespoke a “fascist” intent to become an autocrat. To make such a statement when progressives for a century have been shelling the Constitution with high explosives––whereas Trump made 234 originalist appointments to the federal courts, including three Supreme Court Justices–– is yet another mindless rhetorical tic of NeverTrumpers that convinced 75 million Americans to vote for him.
What’s truly telling is that Morrow’s commentary doesn’t need that paragraph to make its central important point. This superfluous aside reveals again the NeverTrump Republican preemptive verbal cringe, the signal to progressives elites that he’s not one of the very “deplorables” his column criticizes the progressives for irrationally despising.
Supposed conservative or moderate pundits need to stop taking their cues from Democrat fellow elites, and stop legitimizing the Dems’ decades-long attempts to dismantle our political freedom and unalienable rights. Stopping those renewed efforts under the new administration is more important than continually brandishing their distaste of Trump so that progressives won’t say means things about them.