No Guilt This Time

I have given up on discussing the ascendance of Donald Trump with anyone who didn’t vote for him. They are too hard in their denunciation. A mild suggestion that the Democratic Party went so far into identity politics that it pushed people toward a leader outspokenly tired of political correctness leads at most to a pause in the rancor.

“Yes,” they might agree, before returning to the point: “But Trump? You can’t be serious!”

You don’t get a debate, just another accusation. And pledges, too, as in Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ “We’ve got to stop his ass!

It is clear by now that reactions such as these to Donald Trump’s presidency run deeper than political differences. When you see your liberal friends and colleagues unable to contain their scorn, you know that the offense isn’t about education policy and tax rates. Something fundamentally human is in play.

In the last 50 years of culture wars in America, there has been no stronger weapon than guilt. It is the Left’s great hammer of progress. It figured powerfully in the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, women’s liberation, and same-sex marriage. Guilt runs through the teaching of U.S. history from 5th grade through college. It colors controversies over affirmative action, transgender bathrooms, and the glass ceiling. The entire careers of Leftist commentators from the self-righteous Bill Moyers to the self-regarding Ta-Nehisi Coates rest upon it. If we add up the successes guilt has brought to progressive causes and identity politics, we realize just how important guilt is to the Left agenda. Without it, in fact, the Left fails.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump. Why do people hate him so?

Because he won’t accept this appointed condition. He has no white guilt. He doesn’t feel any male guilt, either, or American guilt or Christian guilt. He talks about the United States with uncritical approval—“America First”—and that’s a thought crime in the eyes of liberals. It ignores slavery, Jim Crow, the Indian wars, Manzanar . . . Donald Trump would never refer to America as beset by the original sin of racism, as Barack Obama did frequently, and that makes him worse than a conservative. President Trump is a bigot.

He enjoys the company of attractive women and makes no apologies for it. A man of proper male guilt would have bowed out after the bus tapes were released during the campaign, but there he was in the second presidential debate talking about jail time for Hillary.

And he wouldn’t say, “Black Lives Matter,” either, a slogan that implies whites don’t care about black lives, but insisted, “All lives matter.

Finally, while Christians, especially Catholics and Evangelicals , are supposed to feel guilty for their doctrine on gender roles and abortion, President Trump quickly dropped gender identity from Title IX and nominated a religious conservative to the Supreme Court.

That’s what happens when a political leader doesn’t share the guilt, and progressives know it. For decades they have pushed a campaign of guilt in classrooms, museums, movies, books, and newsrooms precisely to forestall those moves. If you can persuade an opponent that he’s wrong about a political issue, you can win the day’s debate. But if you can make him feel guilty about his opinion, you’ve got him on the defensive forever.

Guilt isn’t political, it’s psychological. When you can make someone feel guilty, it’s a powerful temptation, especially among those who already suffer feelings of resentment. When during the course of the campaign Mr. Trump refused to accept any guilt, the frustration and disbelief among the Democrats and the media were obvious. When he spoke of “Mexican rapists,” the outrage was voluminous, but he wouldn’t apologize. When the former-president of Mexico sputtered an obscenity about the wall, Trump replied, “The wall just got ten feet taller.” A guilty man wouldn’t be so unabashed.

align=”right” Guilt isn’t political, it’s psychological. When you can make someone feel guilty, it’s a powerful temptation, especially among those who already suffer feelings of resentment.

When David Duke came out in favor of Trump, the media pounced, insisting that surely this time Trump would acknowledge shameful elements in his candidacy. But when asked, Trump looked more puzzled than ashamed. It was as if he didn’t understand why David Duke was even an issue, but that only compounded his vice, for Duke is significant precisely because he embodies American guilt. That Trump minimized the whole thing only showed his absence of shame.

Donald Trump’s success, then, amounts to a calamitous disarmament of the Left. Not his occupation of the White House, but his termination of the game of guilt—for now, at least. Since the election, progressives have only amplified the charges. More and more, the protests look less like political speech and more like tantrums. Yes, but what else could they do? As Freud once said, “hardly anything is harder for a man than to give up a pleasure which he has once experienced.” Until the Left lets go of guilt and begins formulating a political outlook, not a psycho-political one, its steady descent into adolescence will continue.

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80 responses to “No Guilt This Time”

  1. Very good post. I wonder if guilt explains some of the anti-Trumpness of establishment Republicans. They’ve labored in the vineyard, internalized the guilt, and now feel scandalized by the relative shamelessness of the President. They’ve become eunuchs without needing to do so.

    • Most excellent point, if I may say so with due humility.

      The GOP timeservers must feel as cowards do when confronted by the behavior of a brave man: a huge inward cringe of self-discomfort.

      It certainly explains the conduct of the NeverTrumpers in the Conservatism Inc. commentariat.

      • I wonder if it has more to do with the spoils they were awarded for toeing the uni party line. These people have lived far, far above their means, amazing dinner parties, flown all over the country and/or the world. They have been given large budgets to participate in activities they would never have been part of otherwise. No, these people know that President Trump expects them to actually sing for their supper. He grew up understanding that people are happier when they are masters of their own ship rather than bowing and scrapping.

      • I was thinking the same as you were about how the Republicans (who haven’t been behaving as Republicans but as politicians who are thinking only in terms of saving their lucrative political careers other than their constituents who they are supposed to serve.) The people didn’t vote for Donald Trump just because he was thinking of the unforgotten young working class males. It was mainly because the people were sick of the whole establishment. They didn’t like the direction our country was headed. The politicians whom were either trying to change our country (Democrats, Liberals, Communists, Socialists, and the likes) or the ones in the establishment who weren’t going to do anything to stop the ones who are trying to do so. (The Republicans who are only concerned about not shaking the boat because they are trying to save their careers.)

    • Eunuchs serving the Ottoman Caliph not only had their genitals mutilated, they were also rendered deaf and dumb to assure that they kept the secrets of the harem.

    • I’m sure there also is some shame and outrage among Establishment Republicans as their past cowardice becomes more obvious with each passing day.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. Also, I found this to be one of the most enlightening articles as far as explaining why Liberals have worked themselves into this unprecedented paroxysm over Trump. He is the exorcist that chases out the demon of guilt from White, Christian, straight America–the anti-magician who has put an end to that most execrable of spells. To paraphrase Coy LaHood in Pale Rider, “When Obama was in power, Traditional America’s spirit was nearly broken. But Trump: he could give them faith in their nation and culture. Sh!t! One ounce of faith and they’ll be dug in in their cultural self-confidence deeper than ticks on a hound.”

  2. They can descend farther? How much longer – as in how much more power must they gain – before we recognize them as domestic enemies of the Constitution and take appropriate action?

  3. In his book Suicide of the West James Burham dedicates a whole chapter to liberal guilt. He writes that the guilt comes from liberals asking themselves the question “why do we have so much when others dont?” Because of this guilt liberals are “morally disarmed” by those they consider “less well off”. He writes that the guilt is insatiable and can progress into a generalized hatred for ones own country and the wider civilization of which it is a part.

  4. I’ve been saying it for years. About the worst thing you can do to a leftist is not accept the level of guilt they set for you. (Not for themselves…for YOU.)

    What is ironic is how often their “guilt” is suddenly nowhere in sight when the subject is treatment of Republicans. (Of course, it might be equally ironic that they hate Trump so much because he is not a Republican. He is simply a guy that ran, and won, on the Republican ticket.)

  5. Interesting take. I was thinking the liberal progressives were succumbing to mass hysteria, the like of which I’ve only read about in books, but Prof Bauerlein’s analysis provides a reason for the hysteria. Being on the academic forefront, and in touch with the “leaders of tomorrow”, he probably has valuable insight to the leftist mindset. As for the reaction of the Republican establishment, may I mention that Judge Napolitano has a chilling essay posted on BillO’ entitled “What If We Don’t Really Govern Ourselves?” That goes far to explain the establishment’s point of view.

  6. It’s quite possible the Democrats started out using faux guilt as a tool to influence voter behavior but over time actually came to believe their own con. That would explain all the craziness.

    • The Democrats are not ground zero. They’ve been gradually co-opted to the Cause just like many other institutions.

  7. The Left is a psycho-political movement. Feelings trump facts and reason. Always has been that way, probably always will be.

    Guilt enables PC to rule over us. PC is the enemy within.

    If Trump can break us out of this PC prison, then it will all have been worthwhile.

    • The left is fueled by and consumed by emotion. Logic, facts and all other reality are irrelevant.
      They have morphed from “I think therefor I am” to “I believe therefor it is true”

      • “The left is fueled by and consumed by emotion.”
        I agree, the passions that drive the left is self-righteousness and hate.

  8. The title inspired me to update the litany from which James Baldwin titled one of his books: “No more water; the guilt next time.”

  9. “Until the Left lets go of guilt and begins formulating a political outlook, not a psycho-political one, its steady descent into adolescence will continue.”

    They cannot formulate a political outlook without abandoning everything that they hold dear. The democrats talk about ‘message’ and rehashing of their national socialist ideology. They never talk about anything new. They oppose growth, they are mired in junk science (and have been ever since eugenics) and they seek a new victim class from a dwindling pool of potential victimizations.

    In the 2nd decade of the 21st century the democrats are still waving the banners of 1930’s national socialist ‘ideas’.
    Now isn’t that conservative?

  10. Delightful as it is accurate, article. Our politics today is a great show, directed by a true, unabashed leader. The liberals will lead us right to Venezuela unless we are rescued. Trump is my hope….and to fire them up a bit…my great white hope :)

  11. Spot on, Mr Bauerlein. And, BTW, though I doubt you read comments, it’s nice to see you outside the pages of First Things. I think I saw a piece in NRO by you recently too.

    Anyway, what you say is true, but, as a Christian, there’s one aspect that bothers me. I didn’t vote for Trump because he is a Christian. One of the reason I did vote for him, however, is I believe he would help create a better environment for Christianity to thrive. I wasn’t as bothered by his 10 year old Access Hollywood comment as the one he made during the campaign about having nothing to confess or say sorry for, however he phrased it.

    I believe Trump is a Christian, so as my brother, it worries me for him (not as a President, but as a brother) that it sounds like he never has a sense of guilt, ever, about anything. I realize, and agree, he shouldn’t feel guilty about being male, or white, or Christian, etc….the things you mention, but, if as his comment suggested, he not only never feels false guilt but real guilt either…well, that’s gonna someday be a very big problem.

  12. Psychologically, we humans all suffer from Oedipal guilt. Narcissists defend against it with self grandiosity. Virtually ALL of our politicians (and public figures) manifest this tendency in spades.

    • You’ve read too much Freud and taken it far, far too seriously.

      Sometimes a narcissist is just a narcissist; sometimes Mom is just Mom.

  13. Trump soils the presidency by enriching himself with the trappings of the office. If Hillary did this you would be screaming impeachment, with trump you cheer. Trump soils the presidency with his childish, infantile name calling.If anyone else did this you would say the same. Trump soils the office by appointing family and incompetents to positions in the West Wing. If Hillary appointed Chelsea and her husband to West Wing positions you would be apoplectic. Flynn will be indicted and convicted after a fair trial but what will you say when Trump pardons him? I could go on and on, about how he favors dictators where he has investments, how the Chinese are actively funneling money to the trump family and on and on, but, yeah, you are right, its the anti trumpers who are the problem. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

    • And you know all this information, how? Do you have first-hand knowledge, or are you getting your “facts” about Trump from, say, DailyKos, Mother Jones, or some other progressive cesspool? You are so wonderful, and insightful, and can predict the future, at least according to your prediction about Flynn. Well guess what, junior, there is no “there” there, so give it up.

    • Bill Clinton assigned Hillary the task of overhauling the entire healthcare system when he was President at the time. Hillary hadn’t been elected to anything at the time, she was merely Bill’s wife.

      • Her incompetence back then cost the dems the House, a chamber dems had controlled since 1955.

    • You need to go back. (On your meds.) Paranoid delusions are a bad look on you.

  14. This article helps me to understand why on social media, if you endorse a policy, you immediately get the personal remarks, of you are: white, elitist, non-compassionate, racist, cruel, stupid – pick one or two of the above. They can’t deal with the issue, they have to assign the guilt to dismiss your argument. Also they always try to ask a question like: What would you do if your daughter worked for Trump? Like that really advances their argument about Obamacare. It’s all about assuming the guilt and they go banana/nuts when you won’t.

    • or, ‘you agree with me that………”

      It’s always the same crap from leftists.

    • Solution: stay off social media. Facebook is, in my view, the single worst development of all time in terms of human communications and relations.

      • Social media is for women to share their opinions and validate their emotions–and for men that enjoy sort of experience. I find it to be a huge time-waster. Discussing politics/policy? Root canal is more rewarding. Besides, Facebook monetizes your presence for their benefit–the SJW agenda. Why support a business that actively opposes–that is part of the “resistance”?

      • You got that right. But there are other social media out there that are just as bad. And they prey on a lot of peoples naivety. There are a lot of people out who are naive and I blame our educational institutions, history books, and the like.

  15. It’s guilt, no question, but more than that — it’s identity suicide.

    If we define ourselves by and through the amount of ‘victimization’ we have suffered (are we Female, are we Black, are we Gay, are we Trans, are we Poor, are we Intersectional!?)… If we exist solely as The Perpetually Oppressed… then our ability to see ourselves, to place ourselves within the larger socio-political-cultural context which is modern America is absolutely dependent upon the degree to which we can equally identify a Victimizer.

    Obviously we cannot be Oppressed if there is no Oppressor. We cannot have been cheated if there is no Cheater. We cannot be saved if there is nothing and no one to save us from (save, perhaps, ourselves)

    So if the Villain we have identified and emphasized & satirized & scorned (the Successful, White, HeteroSexual, All-American Male (the hero of all those old Hollywood movies) refuses to even acknowledge, let alone accept his role as evil, always-guilty Snidely Whiplash… if our frothing outrage is greeted with laughter…. if our self-righteous fury is met with a pat on the shoulder and a kindly, “there, there”… if our so-called ‘facts’ are debunked, if we’re granted only the same rights & privileges as everyone else (no, you don’t deserve an extra helping!) — why then we become nothing. The sound of one hand clapping. A teacup full of sound & fury signifying…not much of anything.

    What is left to do but tantrum?

    • Well done! it points out the elephant/tantrum/psychosis in the room piece by piece.

  16. I agree entirely that one of the great benefits of this election has been the purging of unjustified guilt. Yet there is an essential difference between rejecting unjustified guilt and shamelessness.

    Trump’s excesses have been eminently useful toward the one thing; let us see to it they do not carry us to the other.

  17. It’s why the left despises most Southern people and their monuments to Confederate leaders. Instead of groveling in shame and guilt, we celebrate them with pride. This drives leftists up the wall. No guilt for us about our heritage. It’s fun to watch them scream and spin in circles.

  18. Great article! This explains why I have received so much pushback and so many accusations of being a Fascist Racist Nazi simply because I said “I don’t feel any particular sense of ‘White Pride.’ Whiteness is an accident of birth, whereas raising a child or writing books are accomplishments. But neither do I feel particularly ashamed of being White.” Then I went on to point out that the Western Civilization which gave us the Middle Passage and the horrors of slavery also gave us the Sistine Chapel, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. And the frothing at the mouth commenced…

    • The Middle East and Africa gave us the horrors of slavery. White people just made it more efficient/profitable.

      Then they ended it basically everywhere but Africa and the Middle East.

    • “Remember what the fellow said. In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

  19. I’m always amazed that people who are alive today can feel guilty about things that happened more than 100 years ago To me, the statue of limitations on whatever was done then should be long passed. What’s crazy is that I don’t even think the supposed beneficiaries are better off thanks to it. Blacks may have affirmative action, but the subtext is that they are inferior because they need it. In the real world, that is a particularly nasty way to keep whites ahead.

    I am white, but I feel no guilt. Maybe that’s why I like Trump.

  20. Both Leftists and Jihadis operate a debilitating shame-culture. This explains their otherwise unexpected affinity

  21. Excellent analysis. The Left maintained a stranglehold on electoral politics to popular culture with guilt. If people cannot be shamed into silence and obedience, the Left loses. It has no moral authority, no rational plan for governance, no ideas fresher than Marx. Trump took their best and only weapon and ridiculed it into obsolescence.

  22. “Altruism cannot permit a recognition of virtue; it cannot permit self-esteem or moral innocence. Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade, and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation. If the giver is not kept under a torrent of degrading, demeaning accusations, he might take a look around and put an end to the self-sacrificing. Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer—not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive.”

    -Ayn Rand, 1964

  23. Two points:

    1. If morality means anything at all, Trump should feel very guilty.
    2. Not hard to explain why we hate him: He’s a malevolent, lying jackass who colluded with a foreign power to undermine America.

    • Tell me if morality means anything at all: What is the proper code of morality, and how do you know? Even more fundamentally, what IS morality and why do we need it in the first place?

      Your professors’ answers to every question above was completely, totally wrong.

    • You prove the point of the article. Congratulations. You’re playing yourself. Thank you for the 1000 political seats democrats lost to republicans over the last 8 years, including both chambers of congress and the WH.

  24. An excellent diagnosis. Now, how do we isolate the active factor and create an anti-guilt vaccine for the general population?

  25. Guilt as a weapon of power was once the weapon of the Catholic Church. Then, the weapon became secularized in the hands of the cultural Marxist Left. The “Morality of Altruism”, as Ayn Rand called it, is the raw material that the weapon is forged from. James Taranto called it “pathological altruism”.

    This article by Richard Fernandez illustrates how this guilt weapon didn’t work on Trump, though it doesn’t go as deep into the matter of guilt as Ayn Rand did. The utter failure of this guilt manipulation to work on Trump explains the existential hatred and fear that the political Left feels toward him, and toward his voters and supporters. It’s not about tax policy, Obamacare, or Immigration. Not really.

    Fundamental Guilt is the Left’s only real weapon, not reason or humanity. Their baseless and reflexive accusations of racism, sexism, or xenophobia, etc towards anyone who doesn’t submit to them are a cover for a profound hatred of successful human life.

    Trump threatens to disarm the Left on an existential and psychological level, by apparently NOT being affected by their guilt weapon. This goes much deeper than politics.

    Richard Fernandez nails this last point in direct and pithy fashion. For anyone who is “right of center”, this is acutely important to understand. What is this guilt, really? The Left actually wants you to feel guilty for wanting to live, and for wanting to live the independent and productive life that free human beings require.

    • Well, basically, they don’t want us TO live. But if we’re going to, then they want us to live exactly how they think we should.

  26. Mr Mark Bauerlein:
    Great article.
    And that got me thinking (another sign of a great article).

    Yes, President Trump is a threat to the Democrat Party and their capricious and malevolent scale of white-male-guilt.
    He is also a threat to the Republican Party establishment and their ongoing and seemingly never ending policy of quisling preemptive political surrender.

    All of this indicates to me that – in Washington – there is only one political party: The Government Party.
    Where the grass is always green… and President Trump has just arrived with a new lawn mower.

    That is all.

  27. There are lots and lots of liberals with serious daddy issues and Trump pushes that button. There is a radio host here in Austin that months ago threw his dead father under the racist bus. Needless to say he is a foaming at the mouth Trump hater.

  28. In a way, I love it. A writer for First Things showing he’s tired of guilt, tired of morality. Slavery, so what! Grab ’em by the pussy—no guilt about that! I couldn’t ask for better evidence that Robert George, Father Neuhaus, and the other movers of FT and their claim to “religiously informed public philosophy” worship mostly Mammon and Priapus.

  29. Easily the most insightful article I’ve read in years. As a White Male, I embody most of what the Left hates (the one exception, I grew up poor). But I’ve never internalized any guilt because I never participated in the supposed wrongs the Left associates with my group. I served successfully in the most integrated institution in America (the US Army), I never denigrated women, Blacks, gays, the poor or any other self-designated victim group. I love Trump’s unabashed efforts to praise America, and I laugh at the Left’s descent into infantile temper-tantrums.
    Thank you, Mark Bauerlein.

  30. A person who does not feel guilt is a person without a conscience.

  31. White people should feel guilty, it is the only path to equality in this racist country.

  32. Great article….spot on ! The democrats replace their lack of religion with
    politics… its like telling a baptist that Jesus never existed. They have
    no interest in persuasive pitches and don’t care if they get exposed for flat
    out lies or hypocracy…..they want to hold a knife to your throat and force
    you to convert. Period. That’s why Trump should never give in one inch….he
    will never get goodwill or cooperation for it.

  33. The absence of guilt doesn’t come from greatness it comes from a misplaced sense of entitlement conferred on a narcissistic trust fund baby. trump is a clown, a grifter, a stooge and a criminal bent on self enrichment. When he walks away like Nixon did what will you say then?

    This article and these comments are proof that aMErica FIRST conservatives are evil.

    • So long as the Republicans control the Legislative Branch Trump will not be impeached. Keep on trying to guilt-trip his supporters into changing their ways and you’re likely to see him walking away in 2024 after turning the Oval Office keys over to another Republican. But that doesn’t matter to you, does it? All that concerns you is feeling warm and fuzzy and superior to all those poor unenlightened folks who refuse to get with your program.

    • Interesting how many predictors of the future emerge from the woodwork like paulrandall and his exceptional powers. Why isn’t he rich from the stock market ? ? ? Pathetic . . .

  34. Nice work.

    Libtards are guilty because they are so lazy.

  35. brilliantly simple analysis – I think you nailed it

  36. The big advantage that the Democrats (leftists) have always had is that they are utterly shameless. They never feel guilty about anything. Trump has stolen this weapon and is now using it to destroy them while they go completely out of their minds trying to take him down. Ahab and the White Whale come to mind. It’s a pleasure to watch.

  37. I came to this article late, but it is spot-on! Very insightful.

  38. It’s really intimidating to those who feel guilt to deal with a person who is confident and expresses no guilt.

  39. Thank you for the article.

    “Guilt isn’t political, it’s psychological.”

    True but I would say that at its base, guilt comes
    from a clash between one’s thoughts and actions
    and one’s accepted, and probably unquestioned,
    moral and political premises.

    So guilt is psychological but that is the result of one’s
    accepted philosophic premises, particularly one’s
    moral and political premises. Bad psychological
    results stem from the acceptance of bad premises.

    “Until the Left lets go of guilt and begins formulating
    a political outlook, not a psycho-political one, its
    steady descent into adolescence will continue.”

    I disagree. The Left already has a political outlook
    which is malevolent and authoritarian. Witness the
    steady stream of edicts, commandments, and outright
    threats from the Left, which, if not obeyed, lead to violence.

    The Left’s embrace of guilt is based on its unquestioning
    acceptance of the basic premises of subjectivism
    (‘There are no values. Everything is matter of opinion
    or outright whim.’), multiculturalism (‘Western culture
    with its traditions of freedom and individual rights is
    not vastly morally superior to primitive, savage,
    enslaving third world cultures.’) and political
    correctness (‘Because ins peaking one’s mind,
    one may hurt someone else’s feelings, the government
    must strictly regulate, or outright abolish freedom
    of speech.’)

    Left wingers will never give up on their chosen weapon,
    guilt. To do so would be to admit that their fundamental
    premises are wrong.

  40. Any Rand called it The Sanction of the Victim. Everyone should consider reading Atlas Shrugged about now.

  41. The intuition of the article runs along a similar line of a blog post I wrote a couple of months ago. In it I argue that the overblown reaction to Trump’s election springs from the backfiring of an act of political scapegoating that backfired when, contrary to the planned defeat of all-that-is-bad condensed in the figure of Trump, he won the presidency. For those interested:

  42. Dear Mr. Baurlein,
    How is it that you have managed to graduate from a UCLA English Phd program, teach English at Emory University and act as a director at the National Endowment for the Arts while remaining a conservative? That’s an amazing accomplishment. You’re 100% right about the guilt as weapon. My oldest brother has worked as a Communist community organizer for years (he’s a California State College system professor too!) and it seems to me that his entire schtick is all about guilt. Guilty for what? I see it as pure projection. Leftists have horrible fantasies of what they would like to do to others and they project it onto the rest of us. It’s their own guilt that they wish to assausage. I’ve done nothing to hurt anyone and never would. I feel no guilt.