The moment Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower and announced himself as a Republican candidate for the presidency he was—according to the characterizations of the intelligentsia in the media, higher education, and, of course, Washington—stupid, mentally ill, misogynous, corrupt, indifferent or hostile to science, xenophobic, fascist, and, of course, racist. In fact, he was all of these things by definition. Irrespective of his personal history, his prior friendships with politicians on both sides of the aisle (not to mention contributions to them), or his history of hiring people of every hue and background, the mere fact of his candidacy gave all the characterizations that have been repeated endlessly for four years the status of preexisting conditions.
An observer of some vintage would have known that these reflexively applied characterizations, untethered to any evidence, would have been applied to any Republican nominee, no matter how anodyne or mild the temperament or personality. At the height of the efforts to limit the power of public sector unions in Wisconsin (with predictably salutary effects for school budgets) the monogamous, affable Scott Walker was routinely portrayed on placards with swastikas and a Hitler moustache. And in 2012 the Republican presidential candidate, now temporarily canonized as an authority on Trump, was also the object of reflexive smears that pass for an epistemology among the credentialed classes.
But the material difference between Trump and other candidates is that he won the presidency. His bigger-than-life personality and success in reaching constituencies in flyover country somehow changed the brain chemistry of pundits, professors, and politicians so that their long-standing “auto-impute” disorder (by which any substantive differences are reduced to an ad hominem attack) was given a steroidal turbocharging and any lingering pre-postmodern sense of obligation to truthfulness, moderation, or intellectual integrity was thrown overboard.
And the sniffing disdain for half the country that was so elegantly captured in Candidate Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” characterization was refined into a purer hate. In the same way that Obamacare was “deemed” to have passed both houses of Congress in a feat of Pelosian legerdemain, Trump supporters are deemed to be racists—or xenophobes. The formulation is simple: Trump is a racist (because we say so, no evidence need apply). You support Trump. You’re a racist.
At the highest levels, the smear is cynical. A Chris Wallace or Savannah Guthrie is well staffed and well briefed. They know how many times Trump has disavowed white supremacy (leaving aside the question of why he should have to in the first place). But the cynical smear—slyly accomplished by demanding yet another superfluous disavowal—has a trickle-down effect. Activists, students, professors, former diplomats, and others who don’t practice diversity in news consumption absorb and embrace the toxic narrative and live in a state of near-constant anger—raging at the racist in the White House, fulminating about white supremacists (the handful that are given maximum attention by mainstream media), believing that the roughly half of the voting population that supported Trump is unlettered, irredeemably racist, and lily-white.
A Fake Trump of Leftist Delusions
America’s chattering classes have constructed a fake Trump and a false account of the mental states of his supporters. Postmodern moral relativism and notions of language that divorce words from consistent (and shared) meaning—the Humpty Dumpty School of Language—make up a kind of “get out of jail free” card that relieves the holder of any obligation to be truthful, so, no matter how many times a Donald Trump disavows white supremacy or how consistently he advocates policies that materially improve lives, it’s OK to repeat the smear that he is a racist—since truth is relative or a matter of perception or . . . something.
The beauty of the straw man Trump, to which are attributed grotesque attitudes and dispositions, is that it becomes the justification for a willed state of self-righteous anger that is expressed in profanity-laced tirades from people with multiple degrees after their names, proud announcements about the unfriending of people on Facebook, and sanctimonious bumper stickers. Trump Hate, with its accompanying contempt for whole classes of people, is a perfect safe space. It absolves its practitioners of any obligation to be morally serious, thoughtful and temperate in discourse, or generous of spirit. More tragically for our society, it confers a sense of purpose and righteousness untethered to any serious commitment to address real and enduring issues—or to listen.
Spend any time among intellectuals and you learn that many spin into an agitated state when thinking or talking about the evangelical Christian down the street—or one state removed—who bears them no ill will and whose worst sin is that he might pray for them. They are more worried about the nonexistent xenophobia they impute to either the president himself or his supporters than they are about real terror threats. Spend any time among intellectuals and you will find that they are steadfastly unwilling to undertake the reforms that would significantly improve public schools. Pet “fixes” are always the same: more money, various curricular nostrums, and elimination of any standards or rigorous assessment.
Progressives who idolize Scandinavian countries are consistently and conspicuously uninterested in copying the rigorous foreign language training of those countries (or lowering corporate taxes to Scandinavian levels). Far better to teach something wonderfully amorphous like “cultural competence”—not nearly so much work. Even more satisfying is the white hot raging at the gracious and personally generous Secretary of Education who evokes the same level of bile among the credentialed as does her boss. Better to shake a fist at Betsy DeVos than to do what would really make a difference in the schools of Detroit or Boston or Washington. Individuals with status and power, embedded within establishment organizations, imagine themselves to be speaking truth to power or standing against oppression when they publicly shun a Trump official.
Trump Hate in the many forms it takes is wonderfully satisfying—it feels good—and carries no career risks. Indeed, it’s virtually a condition of entry in some domains.
Love Trumps Hate, But Not the Disconnect
There was a marvelous moment at the Trump rally in Manchester, New Hampshire during the summer of 2019. A group of individuals carrying “Love Trumps Hate” signs (among others) marched past my section of the long line of amiable, multiethnic deplorables waiting and hoping to get into the rally. The protesters wore grim, joyless expressions; there were painfully thin men with gray, pony-tailed hair. A woman near me, on whom the irony of the signage about love (as carried by people with grim visages) wasn’t lost, encouraged all of us in her vicinity to intone a chorus of “we love you!” which was directed jovially and joyfully at the sour-faced protesters.
One can imagine the protesters returning home that night, still fulminating about the awful deplorables they’d “resisted” without the slightest risk to themselves—safe in their space of anger and imagined courage. And so wedded to their narrative that they would have blocked out the evidence that the people and the person they were protesting didn’t fit their preconceptions.
This disconnect, this retreat from readily available information to the safe space of Trump Hate is somehow reassuring to its practitioners. But it is profoundly dangerous to the rest of us.
The impending election is (or should be) a referendum on many things—economic policy, whether or not we want to remain a constitutional republic, whether it is legitimate to control borders, whether the individual with free will is the key unit of society, whether or not we should have choice in health care and whether or not it is even appropriate to maintain police forces with a legitimately conferred authority to use violence in defense of public safety. All these are worthy of serious discussion.
The false god of Trump Hate, erected—with abundant cynicism—by the high priests of our culture, is a splendid diversion, inviting passionate worship, intemperate rhetoric, and a ritualized shutting of the eyes and ears to dissonant messages. The way Candidate Biden continues to announce that President Trump refuses to disavow white supremacy all while not being called on it by major journalistic figures and, especially, debate moderators, is confirmation that Trump Hate serves an agenda of discord. That many among our elites would will this discord for our country is both telling and tragic.