The Wages of Trump Derangement Syndrome
Ann Althouse posed a question I have been asking myself frequently since the early hours of November 9: "The experts got blindsided by what happened on Election Day, so why should we care how they try to explain it now?"
Although I am confident that the correct answer to this question is "we shouldn't care how they try to explain it now," the phenomenon Althouse touches upon is multifaceted. One important aspect revolves around the issue of exploded authority and what that has done to the implicit contract between pundit and punter. As Althouse explains: "I mean, I know the political writers need to keep writing. It's their livelihood. But why are we supposed to keep reading? It's been established that you don't know what you're talking about. Your game is a fraud."
Althouse proceeds to describe a smarmy, know-it-all piece in The New Yorker (pardon the pleonasm) by Maria Konnikova called "The Psychological Research that Helps Explain the Election." It's an inadvertently comical effort to rationalize the election of Donald Trump as the result of occult forces: "confirmation bias," "the polarization effect," "cultural cognition" (a new one to me), "authoritarianism" (an old favorite), "evolutionary psychology," etc., etc. Doubtless Ms. Konnikova believes that she is saying something meaningful, but the whole sad performance strikes me as a sort of mummers' play: colorful, eye-catching, but ultimately akin to that pageant Macbeth despaired of: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
The reaction to Donald Trump's victory in the community of snowflakes has been nothing short of surreal. I noted some deliciously fruity specimens in the current issue of The New Criterion in a piece called "Trumped-up, Trickle-down Outrage." By now we have a bulging dossier of absurdity, a folder that would put a frown on the face of any mental-health professional. The incontinent displays of anger, anguish, and apocalyptic melodrama are evidence of a serious derangement. And the fact that the entire performance takes place in an unctuous jelly of narcissistic self-absorption makes one fear for the sanity of a large swathe of the privileged class.
Examples are a dime-a-dozen. But here are a couple of recent ones. Were you thinking of studying art history at Cornell University (home of the "cry-in")? I recommend that you take aboard this statement from the Cornell Department of the History of Art concerning the U.S. presidential election:
We, the Department of the History of Art and Visual Studies, write in response to the recent presidential elections. One of our department's greatest strengths is its coverage of artistic practices from across the globe, with special emphasis on issues of race and ethnicity, cross-cultural exchange, and gender, as well as postcolonial and decolonial approaches to visual culture. The environment of xenophobia, racism and misogyny engendered by the presidential campaign and election threatens the diverse intellectual environment on which this department prides itself. Moreover, it has implications for the collective safety of students, faculty, and staff on this campus. We hereby reaffirm our dedication to the well-being of Cornell's diverse community, and remain vigilant to the needs of those who are the most affected by these recent political developments.
The total cost of attending Cornell this year is $67,613.
It goes without saying that this sort of insanity is not confined to college campuses. It is patent wherever self-infatuated bubble dwellers congregate. Magazines catering to the delicate sex are conspicuous, and conspicuously repellent, repositories of the sickness. Savor this effusion from Elle, "I'm Terrified of Raising a Boy in Trump's America," by a woman who discovered she was pregnant just a couple of weeks before she "walked the two miles to San Francisco's City Hall to vote early for Hillary Clinton" (just want to get that straight right away!).
I'd been sure I'd be raising a small woman during a new age of feminism, one where we didn't even need to call it feminism anymore, one where it was normal for a woman to be the leader of the free world. But that was no longer the case.
Nope. "November 8 happened and everything I thought I knew about how the world worked was turned upside down, chewed up, and vomited back out as an entirely different reality." Oh dear. And that's not the worst of it.
What if we had a boy? Was there a little penis inside me? It was a 50-50 chance. So many of the other things I thought were true had turned out wrong this year. Why should I trust my hunches? The thought of having a boy terrified me, paralyzed me even.
Well, bad luck. It is a boy. What was the poor girl going to do? "Even though the world has shifted, I knew how to raise a girl in this new reality. She'd be born into a country not entirely different from the Reagan era I grew up in. I could manage that."
Stop for a moment and ponder that: she could "manage" bringing up a girl in the Reagan era, i.e., the period in which the United States rebounded from the malaise of the Carter years, saw out the Soviet Union without firing a shot, and ushered in more than a decade of extraordinary economic growth and a confidence in the future not seen until, well, right now, today, when the prospect of President Trump has lifted consumer confidence to a level not seen for 15 years.
But of course, it was not that aspect of things that presented itself to Elle's deliquescent little snowflake. No, what "terrifies" her is "the idea of raising a boy with good values when a man who represents the male stereotypes we've been fighting for generations is in the White House." Here's my favorite part, though:
How can I explain to a little boy that the year he was born, the President of the United States was an admitted sexual predator. . . .
And that would be — who? Not Donald Trump, who is not "an admitted sexual predator."
Aphasia is a terrible thing: the poor dear must have meant Bill Clinton, who is at least "an admitted sexual predator" (always with the proviso, of course, that it all depends on what "the meaning of 'is' is").
Here's an amusing parlor game for those at a loose end on New Year's Eve. What if a Republican had been caught doing what Bill Clinton reluctantly, sort of, admitted he had done with Monica Lewinsky?
It's an old game, I know. But really, this repulsive correspondent for a gutter magazine that does more to "objectify" females than a thousand representatives of the patriarchy they pretend to hate but nevertheless batten on like Remora fish—really, she should have picked Bill Clinton and shelved Donald Trump, who will do a lot to foster the prosperity that will keep her and her readers in the material affluence they crave.
I offer these two cases of Trump Derangement Syndrome not because they are especially flagrant. They aren't. They are utterly typical. And they are tesserae in that larger mosaic that Ann Althouse gestured towards with her questions: "Why should we care how they try to explain it? Why are we supposed to keep reading?"
And here's the really sad thing. Althouse was referring to the plethora of "explanations" for Trump's election. But it turns out that our skepticism cannot be keep within its original semantic bounds. That "it" Althouse adduces is quickly metastasizing. More and more, we doubt not just the explanations and rationalizations and imprecations and animadversions directed at the phenomenon of Donald Trump's election. The scales have fallen from our eyes and we find that we don't care about almost anything they have to say about any subject. That subtle unspoken contract of implicit trust — between news providers and news consumers, between pedagogues and students, between experts and the rest of us — that bond has been broken, that trust shattered.
There will continue to be a lot of flailing, a lot of wailing and abuse. But among the many things that changed during the early hours of November 9 was a cultural dispensation that had been with us since at least the 1960s, the smug, "progressive" (don't call it "liberal") dispensation that had insinuated itself like a toxic fog throughout our cultural institutions — our media, our universities, our think tanks and beyond. So well established was this set of cultural assumptions, cultural presumptions, that it seemed to many like the state of nature: just there as is a mountain or an expanse of ocean. But it turns out it was just a human, all-too-human fabrication whose tawdriness is now as obvious as its fragility.
What we are witnessing is its dissolution. It won't happen all at once and there are bound to be pockets of resistance. But they will become ever more irrelevant even if they become ever shriller and more histrionic. The anti-Trump establishment is correct that what is taking place is a sea change in our country. But they are wrong about its purport. It is rendering them utterly irrelevant even as it is boosting the confidence, strength, and competence of the country as a whole. Glad tidings indeed.