Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Nearly a year-and-a-half into Donald Trump’s presidency, Trump Derangement Syndrome continues to rage. No number of successes––from tax reform and low unemployment rates not seen since 2000, to bringing North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to the bargaining table––can lower the fever of the anti-Trump disease. Even those few who are willing to give grudging recognition to Trump’s achievements feel compelled to add snarky asides about his person and style in order to assert their anti-Trump bona fides.
How can we explain this bizarre obsession with image and style in the teeth of successful substance?
I’m not talking so much about the progressive Dems. Like the scorpion in the fable, poisonous slander is in their nature. Their slogan has always been “by any means necessary,” a dogma at home in the breviary of every looney cult. So too is their aggressive belief in their own self-righteousness and entitlement to rule, which the election of Trump has challenged. This certainty of their own purity allows them to excuse any number of inconsistencies and double standards. That’s why they will complain hysterically about Trump’s past sexual peccadillos, while shrugging off Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults and sordid adventures on the Lolita Express; or they will hyperventilate at Trump’s vulgar tweets while enjoying Michelle Wolfe’s mean-girl insults and pornographic “humor” at the media’s nerd prom, aka White House Correspondents Dinner.
More interesting is the continuing resentment and anti-Trump animus on the part of self-proclaimed Republicans and conservatives. Even when acknowledging Trump’s successes, they too can’t resist some attack on Trump that signals their lofty virtue. They still reflexively insist that “principle” and “values” lie behind their disdain, that Trump has violated the “norms and traditions,” as serial liar and Democrat toady James Comey put it, that previous presidents have honored. Trump’s lack of decorum and his braggadocio, we continually hear, is “not who we are.”
Well, as Tonto says to the Lone Ranger in the old joke, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
The fact is, “we the people” of the United States from the beginning have been made up of a voluminous diversity of religious beliefs, economic interests, geography, folkways, mores, traditions, accents, rhetorical styles, and standards of decorum and taste. This often contentious and conflicting variety explains why the Founders created a government comprising sovereign states, along with the divided and balanced federal government. Our system of government respects and preserves from tyranny that diversity, that multiplicity of ways of being American, from the Congregationalist Boston Brahmin, to the evangelical frontier Scotch-Irish. The greatness of American literature, from Henry James to Mark Twain to Walt Whitman, derives from the homage paid to the “multitudes,” as Whitman put it, that America contains.
In the last century, however, several developments began to elevate one of those ways of defining “who we are” into the default identity for all Americans. One key to this change was television, especially news shows. Until cable news, talk radio, social media, and the internet restored a diversity of viewpoints, just three national networks reduced American identity to that of the anchors, writers, and producers of news. Now the politics, cultural tastes, manners, pastimes, educational credentials, standards of decorum and civility, even the zip codes and accents of the mostly coastal elites began to crowd out the other ways of being American. They alone now comprised the “traditions and norms” of Americans, especially national politicians, perhaps best symbolized by their red ties and darks suits, the uniform of the male political elite.
Then came the sixties, which further marginalized those Americans who didn’t fit the new elite paradigm of “who we are.” The once stuffy and formal ruling class, many of whom had already drifted from old-school liberalism into leftism, embraced the transformation of taste and norms inspired by the Cultural Marxists. Traditional religion became a tool of oppression, and popular culture became more sexually explicit and vulgar, a transformation rationalized as political “liberation.” American national diversity was now reduced to two manifestations: the educated, enlightened, now hedonistic elite, and the unsophisticated rubes and hicks, “clinging to their guns and religion,” as Obama said. They became the racist, sexist, homophobic shock troops of retrograde fascism yearning to “turn back the clock” on all the wonderful progress the elites were bestowing on what the old Puritans called the “preterit,” those not chosen by God to be one of the “elect” whose salvation was certain.
So now we get the hypocrisy of modern leftists and progressives, their moral superiority and certainty of their entitlement to rule, at the same time they have created a degraded culture of debased hedonism and sordid materialism. It explains the arrogance and hauteur of the progressive politicians who want to limit if not eliminate individual autonomy, religious beliefs, child-rearing practices, traditions of marriage and sex identity, attitudes toward gun ownership, and affection for the nation and the patriotic displays of that love. Attacks on Hillary’s “deplorables” are righteous, and no matter how vulgar and sordid and extreme, they are not only acceptable, but mandatory––as the few Democrats feebly protesting these crude antics are discovering as they are burned at the virtual stake of twitter, the internet, and Facebook.
The two terms of Barack Obama fooled the “elect” into thinking that demography ensured they would continue to rule and complete the “fundamental transformation” of America promised by their messiah. Then came the unthinkable catastrophe: one of the “preterit” galvanized that other America, won the nomination against a Republican field half of whom talked and acted like Democrats, and then he even more astonishingly won the presidency. That other America many considered a mere remnant soon to be swept away by history rose up and announced that, like Network’s Howard Beale, they are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. The world of the “elect” had been turned upside down.
The elect responded by creating a “resistance,” a concerted effort to undo the once silenced people’s legal choice and restore order to the world “by any means necessary.” While the media and popular culture swarm the president with their flying monkeys, the deep-state clerks in the DOJ, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s posse, and federal appeals court judges labor to undermine Trump’s administration and along the way the Constitution.
Sad to say, the NeverTrump useful idiots have been abetting this slow-motion coup, just as they worked during the election to defeat Trump. And as part of the “elect,” they have predicated their labors on the affronts to style and decorum as defined by one slice of American demographic diversity. They have chosen to stand on “principle” like Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai, whose principled “honor” justifies building a bridge to help the brutal Japanese keep on killing. But Guinness’ Colonel Nicholson, who dies as the bridge is being blown up, at least in the end realizes the wages of his moral narcissism. Our Republican collaborators with a few exceptions remain mired in theirs.
But we are in a political war with a ruthless, amoral opponent. The past year has seen foreign policy and domestic progress that has begun to undo Obama’s “transformation” of our country, and we cannot risk backsliding into the bad habits of “principled” decorum that always empowers the Democrats, who never reciprocate such restraint. The stakes are too high for anti-Trump conservatives to nurse their resentment and preen morally, invoking as justification just one of the many American “norms and traditions.”
There have also been other norms and traditions in America from the start–– the frontiersman, the fur-trapper, the sodbuster, the cowboy, the steel-worker, the logger, the coal-miner, the long-haul trucker, the mechanic, the plumber––all those who tell it like it is and have no patience for the tinhorn and the tenderfoot who prefer flowery words to gritty deeds. Those other Americans are the champions of individual autonomy and self-rule, who talk bluntly and bring a gun to a gunfight. They too have been “who we are” as Americans, and right now we need a lot more of them.