Trump Derangement Syndrome, Schoenfeld Edition
One of the most repellent aspects of the 2016 presidential election has been a phenomenon that has its home in leftwing tactics but that has now emerged on the Right in addition to the Left. More precisely, it has revolved around the adoption by precincts of the #NeverTrump Right of tactics usually associated with the Left. The main feature of that tactic deploys a twofold effort at character assassination. The first step is the transformation of political disagreement into a species of heresy. The second step involves the thundering repudiation of the newly minted heretics, who are to be caricatured or demonized, and reminded that they must seek absolution or forgiveness for their apostasy.
A case in point is the New York Daily News column published two days ago by the erstwhile conservative, now Hillary Clinton supporter and #NeverTrump crusader, Gabriel Schoenfeld. “Expose Trump's enablers,” the headline began, “How many people who should know better are making it easier for him to lie to the American people.”
Exhibit A in that roster of people “who should know better” is your humble correspondent, R. Kimball. In fact, I am the only Exhibit. My heresy is to have decided, rather late in the day, to support Donald Trump for president. Over the last couple of months, Schoenfeld has emitted several needling tweets taking me and others to task for that support. On September 17, for example, he tweeted that I, Victor Davis Hanson, and Charles Kesler were "backing a birther, a bigot, an enemy of the Constitution." On October 1, I received a solo message: "impeccable timing for your endorsement of the lunatic, just as he implodes." Then on October 17 we read that "If @RogerKimball, our Ezra Pound, had been born in Italy in, say, 1885, he would be singing Mussolini's praises." Note how the perceived pulse of the campaign affects Schoenfeld’s invective: when Trump is thought to be clearly losing, ridicule ensues; when Trump is on the upswing, paranoia and derangement follow.
Perhaps this is the place to mention that Schoenfeld and I, as he notes in his Daily News column, are acquaintances. “Encounter Press,” he writes, “published my first book.” Well, that’s nearly right. The publisher he has in mind is called Encounter Books, not Encounter Press. I should perhaps note for the record that I was not involved with Encounter when The Return of Anti-Semitism, the book to which he alludes, was published.
It is the subject of that book (a good book, I should note) that is one focus of Schoenfeld's animus towards Trump and his supporters. Anyone who has followed Schoenfeld's commentary on Trump will have noticed a shift in emphasis in his animadversions. Trump is always and everywhere a "lunatic," a "bigot," an "enemy of the Constitution" who has been "hugely successfully at disseminating lies," etc. But where Schoenfeld initially compassed Trump himself in his charges of anti-Semitism, he has since shifted the focus onto Trump's supporters — that basket of "irredeemable" "deplorables" that Hillary Clinton warned us about — and "enablers" (that would be people like me). This was a canny shift. For accusing Donald Trump of anti-Semitism is patently ridiculous. His son-in-law is Jewish, his beloved daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism, and his grandchildren are Jewish; he is an arch-critic of the Iran deal that threatens the long-term security of Israel.
Perhaps Schoenfeld was dialectically reversing a tactic advocated by Stephen Potter in his book Lifemanship. Potter suggested ambitious aspiring writers "find the quality for which the author was most famous, and then blame him for not having enough of it." Assert, for example, that "the one thing lacking, of course, from D. H. Lawrence's novels, was the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life." Schoenfeld brilliantly reversed this with Trump. There is plenty to criticize about Trump — I made it a sort of hobby to do that for several months — but anti-Semitism (or racism for that matter) is not among those things.
At some point, Schoenfeld took this on board, sort of. Maybe Trump is not himself anti-Semitic or racist (but he is still a "bigot," etc.), nevertheless "by means of winks and nods and dog-whistles, he has courted them."
Is that so? Consider the most recent episode that (speaking of dog whistles) has set Schoenfeld's nostrils aquiver and has him pointing like a Gordon Setter at the moment of flush. A few days ago, someone at a Trump rally was taped shouting what some claim was "Jew-S-A, Jew-S-A." Since we now know (see here, for example, and here) that Team Hillary has fielded operatives to incite violence at Trump's rallies, and even hired activists in duck costumes to appear at Trump events, there was immediate suspicion that this chap, too, was a plant. I suspected that he was, and said so in a tweet.