Understanding the Nihilist in the White House

Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan is an example of a type of person with a good mind who has huge pockets of -- I’m not sure exactly what to call it. Naivete? Trust? Idealism? Lack of comprehension? Almost willful blindness? She often gets to a certain point in understanding someone or something and then stops, refusing to open the door of the room she stands before, afraid to look inside. Or she opens it a crack, takes a tiny peek, and then slams it shut.

It is not just Noonan who does this sort of thing, either. If it were, it would hardly matter at all, even though she’s an influential columnist. This is the mindset of a great many people. It almost seems as though there are three kinds of humans in the world, and all of them are useful to Obama: those who are naive about human nature, those who are so cynical they equally condemn all politicians as equally bad/corrupt/selfish, and those who justify anything a public figure does if it furthers their own goals.

There’s a fourth: those who see more clearly that that. But of course, some of those who think they see clearly fall into one of the above categories.

Now for Noonan, who has written a column titled, “The Nihilist in the White House.” You know who it’s about:

The president’s executive action on immigration is an act of willful nihilism that he himself had argued against in the past. It is a sharp stick in the eye of the new congressional majority. It is at odds with—it defies—the meaning and message of the last election, and therefore is destructive to the reputation of democracy itself. It is huge in its impact but has only a sole cause, the president’s lone will. It damages the standing of our tottery political institutions rather than strengthening them, which is what they desperately need, and sets a template for future executive abuse. It will surely encourage increased illegal immigration and thus further erode the position of the American working class.

The term nihilism has quite a few definitions. One of them refers to a Russian revolutionary movement that advocated violent overthrow of the government during the 1860s-1880s. Obama is indeed a leftist, but that doesn’t seem to be his style (at the moment, he is the government), although it’s not difficult to believe that he would justify and order violence if he needed it and felt he could get away with it.

Nihilism also involves one or all of the following beliefs/attitudes: that life has no intrinsic meaning, that morality does not inherently exist, and/or that reality itself does not exist (“an extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence”). I don’t read Obama’s mind (or Noonan’s), but I think we probably can safely eliminate that last one from what Noonan might be talking about. Perhaps we can eliminate the first one; perhaps not. That leaves us with the middle definition, that morality does not inherently exist, and I think that is part of what Noonan might be getting at.