I have never seen America so angry — and I’ve been around for a while.
I remember well 1968 when the Chicago Seven (I knew several of them) led the protests at the Chicago convention. The whole world was watching. And the following year came the Days of Rage in the same city, when dozens of people were injured and 280 members of the Weather Underground were arrested. The year after that (1970) some of those same Weather people accidentally detonated a bomb in a Greenwich Village townhouse, resulting in the deaths of two of the bomb makers and causing disruption in the life of Dustin Hoffman and his wife who happened to live next door.
Violent times indeed. Of course something was going on that stimulated those events — the Vietnam War, for which roughly 650,000 young Americans were drafted of whom nearly 18,000 died. Adding in the volunteers, the number of our fatalities rose to 58,220.
I opposed the war then. I’m not so sure now, looking at how things have evolved, including in Korea. Call me ambivalent.
Nevertheless, these days no one’s being drafted. The number of American servicemen deaths, regrettable as they always are, has been reduced to a relative handful. Nothing even remotely similar is happening…
Oh, yes, Donald Trump got elected — seemingly a calamity equal to, if not greater than, the Vietnam War.
Since his inauguration, and to a great extent before, the whole country has gone more or less berserk. Just the other night, comedian Stephen Colbert, in what I presume we were supposed to take as an edgy witticism, accused our president of fellating Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Although I recall many bad things being said about LBJ back in the day (Barbara Garson wrote a play comparing him to Macbeth, and who can forget “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”), nothing approached Colbert’s angry joke in terms of pure unmitigated hostile vulgarity, not on late-night TV anyway.
But his was just the culmination (for now) of a modern Days of Rage which has metastasized into Months of Rage with no end in sight.
We all know the endless litany of events, from pussy hat parades to smashed windows and fires at our most famous public university to people marching through the streets of Philadelphia calling for the death of the president and his vice president, so I’m not going to bore you with them all. I am only going to ask the simple question: Why Trump?
If you were a visitor from a distant solar system come to our nation or even a time traveler from our own nineteenth century, I submit you would be perplexed. This Trump person (being?) doesn’t seem to be all that different from many leaders who have come before him. I mean, what has he done exactly? Enforced some immigration laws that were enacted by the Congress over several administrations? Tried to fix a mediocre healthcare plan with another plan that may or may not be as mediocre? Called for a tax reduction similar to those enacted by previous Republican and Democratic administrations? Cut back on some regulations that became overly burdensome? Called for a temporary halt to immigration from a half-dozen countries his predecessor had already cited as dangerous hotbeds of terrorism? Shot off a few dozen cruise missiles at the airfield of a dictator who was gassing his own people, but didn’t harm a single person in the process?
I could go on, but you get the point. Compared to the grand panoply of political theory and governmental actions in world history this is pretty puny stuff. In fact, it’s even less than that. It’s a piffle. And almost all of this, if it had been called for by his opponent, would have been perfectly acceptable anyway.
And yet the rage is, if anything, greater and more consistent than it was during Vietnam. How do we explain that?
I don’t think we have a choice but to say the explanation is in the realm of human neurosis, not politics. And make that pretty severe neurosis, almost psychosis. Something about Trump’s character and appearance — what he says and does or, more accurately, what they think he says and does, because they are completely incapable of seeing it with any clarity — has set off multiple trip levers in the minds of a huge percentage of Americans, including the media, Hollywood, the academy, etc. This, however, says vastly more about them than it does about Trump.
One way to look at it is that the left, or what we call the left (liberal and progressives of various stripes), are actually by far the most conservative or rigid people in our culture in terms of personality. The slightest alteration in policy or change in the zeitgeist threatens them all out of proportion to reality and they act out, like these self-described anarchists (assuming they have even heard of Bakunin or Kropotkin) just did the other day in Portland, naming themselves, as did the increasingly pathetic and desperate Hillary Clinton herself just did today, “The Resistance.” In what sane universe does calling yourself “The Resistance” to Donald Trump make sense when the original “Résistance” was to counter Hitler and the Nazis taking over France, and prevent them from sending people to concentration camps and doing away with the underground in firing squads? Is that what Trump is doing?
To put it bluntly — that’s just crazy. And not crazy like a fox. Crazy like bat-you-know-what crazy. And yet it is all around us. It’s as if someone should put Prozac in the water.
But coming back to what causes that trip lever — it may come down to what Marxists call “false consciousness,” though in this case it’s the reverse of what Marx intended. These people are using the pretense of socialism to cover up their love of the most rapacious capitalism. They hate Trump because he exposes them. His unabashed and unashamed capitalism and obvious riches are what they seek, but don’t want to admit to themselves or others. Otherwise they would have to face what they are and stop pretending to “goodness.” It’s about the virtue signaling or what I have elsewhere called moral narcissism (really the psychological motivation for virtue signaling). But it has become considerably more extreme since I wrote the book and has reached the level of pathology. It’s also extraordinarily infantile. If Marx has been upended, so has Arthur C. Clarke. No more Childhood’s End. In 2017 America, it’s Adulthood’s End.
Don’t believe me? Here’s just one name as an example — Madonna (not the original one, the one that “thinks about” burning down the White House).
After Monday night we can add another: Stephen Colbert.
Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and co-founder of PJ Media. His latest book is I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already. Like so many other people he wastes time on Twitter @rogerlsimon.