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The Existential Roots of Trump Derangement Syndrome

Just before the French election I installed the Le Monde app on my phone. French news doesn't interest me except as it impacts financial markets or (rarely) geopolitics. That was a mistake; the lead story in France's top national daily yesterday at 7:00 a.m. EST involved a "tutu protest" against the allegedly homophobic Wyoming senator Mike Enzi, in which men and women donned frilly ballet skirts for a gay rights demonstration.

President-elect Emmanuel Macron is scrambling to field candidates for the National Assembly elections and proclaiming a grand reorganization of the European Union -- but Le Monde reminds us what the French are really about. Trust them to point up the things we most dislike about ourselves.

Pace James Carville, we need a sign that reminds us: "It's the culture, stupid." One big idea unifies all of Nietzsche's offspring -- the Marxists, the Freudians, the French Existentialists, the critical theorists, the Deconstructionists, the queer theorists -- and that is the right to self-invention. That is the cruelest hoax ever perpetrated on human beings, for we are not clever or strong enough to reinvent ourselves. To the extent we succeed, we become monsters.

In the Judeo-Christian past, human beings had a destiny, men to earn bread by the sweat of their brow and women to bear children in pain. People knew that their impulses must be subordinated to the requirements of God and nature. Since the French Revolution, progressives have sought to overthrow the regime of obligation in favor of the right to self-definition. Before the 2016 presidential election, they thought they had succeeded. Justice Anthony Kennedy enshrined it in common law, in the Obergefell gay-marriage decision: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”

If you choose your identity at whim, your life has no meaning. That is true in the most parsimonious sense of the word: if you can arbitrarily decide to be a gender-fluid bestialist as well as a F to M to F trans-entity, then your life can "mean" any number of different things, all of them equally arbitrary. The term "meaning" implies a unique meaning, which in turn implies a meaning that has grounds for being there ("unique" doesn't imply that you have only one chance to choose your gender self-designation from among the fifty provided by Facebook, after which you are stuck with it forever).

The progressives made their stand on transgender issues because it appears to be the triumph of self-invention over nature and tradition. That is a cruel joke on the tiny number of individuals who feel compelled to live their lives in the gender opposite to that of their birth. They have no choice in the matter, and live difficult lives.