Our New Secessionists

By | 2018-02-14T08:31:21+00:00 February 13th, 2018|
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Item 1: “People now marvel how it came to pass that he should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His . . . efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world.”

Item 2: “A tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

Item 3: “He is evidently a person of very inferior cast of character, wholly unequal to the crisis.”

Item 4: “Heartfelt keening of shame and revulsion was heard throughout the land.”

These nuggets refer, of course, to the president. But which president? Items 1 and 2 refer to . . . whom? If you said “Donald Trump,” you are only half right. Item 2 does refer to President Trump. It is from David Remnick’s hysterical threnody in The New Yorker, published in the early hours of November 9, 2016. But Item 1 refers not to Trump but to Abraham Lincoln. And it comes not from some rabid secessionist but from the Salem Advocate, a newspaper published in Lincoln’s home state of central Illinois.

Items 3 and 4 are easy. Any woke member of The Resistance will guess that the “inferior character” must be Donald Trump. But it isn’t. The great orator Edward Everett was also referring to Lincoln. Item 4 comes to us from “Annals of Resistance,” a series of skirling anti-Trump dispatches in the Huffington Post.

It is not news that Lincoln, who won the election of 1860 with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote, was deeply unpopular. His popularity was in freefall until September 3, 1864, when General Sherman telegrammed the news “Atlanta is ours and fairly won.” Military triumph earned Lincoln a narrow victory over George McClellan in the 1864 election. He remained deeply unpopular, however, until John Wilkes Booth inaugurated the process of his beatification in April 1865. [Update: a reader questions my description of the 1864 election as a “narrow” victory for Lincoln. It wasn’t narrow in terms of the electoral college, but it was in terms of the popular vote. His percentage of the vote in Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Vermont went down and he lost “in all the big cities, including a trouncing of 78,746 to 36,673 in New York. In the key states of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, with their 80 electoral votes, only one half a percentage point separated Lincoln and McClellan. A shift of 38,111 votes in a few selected states, less than 1 percent of the popular vote, would have elected McClellan.”]

I think of Lincoln and his contemporary unpopularity because of the secessionist mood that is still, in some fetid redoubts, rippling through the country. Most colleges and universities are gigantic petri dishes for the production of this toxin, as are many elite organs of opinion. The New York Review of Books, for example, warned that with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, “We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half.” Which is to say, since the Civil War.

Conservative commentators like James Piereson have been warning for some years about the “shattered consensus” threatening America’s political institutions. But members of “The Resistance”™ against Donald Trump embrace as a vocation the process of disintegration that Piereson anatomizes. In effect, they have declared war not just on President Trump, but on a united America.

The Civil War began not because of slavery, but because of Lincoln’s election. It was that event that precipitated the secession of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, followed shortly thereafter by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Today, the secessionist mood is defined not so much by geography—though there is always California to consider—but by a species of identity politics. If you went to Yale or Harvard, Swarthmore or Williams, if you work at CNN or the Washington Post, if you are a career civil servant, member of the entertainment industry, or part of the deep-state nomenklatura, it is overwhelmingly likely that you are deeply anti-Trump.

Someday, the sudden efflorescence of incontinent animus against Donald Trump will occupy an interesting section in the annals of psychopathology, furnishing, perhaps, a new chapter for Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But for the moment, the political ergot is too freshly distributed into the metabolism of “elite” opinion to be described calmly. We can only stand by and watch, like an anthropologist at some savage ritual, while the natives rage.

As the months pass, however, and Trump’s achievements pile up the disjunction between the reality of his administration and the hysteria of his opponents becomes ever more glaring.

We long ago passed through the stage where the antics of “The Resistance”™ seemed merely comic to the stage where they are merely pathetic. What, after all are they resisting? The results of a free, open, democratic election in which their candidate lost. On the one hand, we have Trump’s judicial appointments, his attack on prosperity-sucking regulation, his emancipation of America’s energy industry, his enforcement of America’s immigration laws, his tax cuts, his strengthening of America’s military, not to mention his success in bringing unemployment down and economic growth and consumer confidence up. On the other hand, we have the repeated warnings not to “normalize” a supposedly “dictatorial,” xenophobic, racist reality-TV star.

The irony is, despite his sometimes provocative tweets and off-the-cuff remarks, Donald Trump is governing more “normally” than any president since Ronald Reagan. As his Chief of Staff John Kelly noted last fall, Trump’s agenda is to do “what’s good for America.”

In other words, he has no agenda, if by “agenda” you mean an unacknowledged script of ulterior motives.

Still, this is a dangerously unsettled moment. “The Resistance”™ may be ridiculous, but that does not make it any less malevolent or destructive. They and the permanent bureaucracy they support have essentially declared war on Trump. The astonishing and still expanding scandal that is FISA-gate was intended to consume first candidate Trump and then, when that failed, to hobble or destroy President Trump. Thanks to a dedicated band of commentators—including contributors to American Greatness—that protracted act of political sabotage seems to be unraveling before our eyes. It is difficult, still, to take its measure, but from this vantage, it appears to be shaping up as the biggest political scandal in America’s history.

To date, Donald Trump’s actions have been as patient and methodical as his rhetoric has been taunting and dismissive. He may rail against “fake news,” much to the irritation of its purveyors, but he systematically pares back regulation and, just last week, announced the biggest change to the civil service in decades, promising to “hire the best and fire the worst.” The swamp that Trump promised to drain is deep, malodorous, and self-regenerating. His new civil service initiative promises to plunge a gigantic catheter into the spongy center of the swamp in order to sluice away some of the accumulated detritus that has gathered there in fetid profusion.

The deep state has declared war on Donald Trump and a united America. Those of us hoping to make America great again should repay the favor and help the president wage war against the enemies of our excellence.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact [email protected].

About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.