As we count down to the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump on 20 January, it’s important to keep something in focus. That something is the exceptional importance of what Trump’s unorthodox candidacy and persona are freeing America from, with each day that he stands firm against the onslaught mounted against him, and cannot be taken down.
Many Americans who prefer a Republican in the White House, and are glad that Hillary Clinton won’t be taking office, would never have made Trump their top choice. Many of those people are certain Trump is going to disappoint his supporters on various policy issues as time goes by. Many of them are just disgusted by Trump’s comparatively aggressive, confrontational demeanor with his critics – tame, to be sure, by pro wrestling standards, but really out there, as presidential deportment goes.
The folks I’ve just described are typical old-consensus conservatives. And I want them to know: I feel you. I really do: I don’t just understand where you’re coming from; I can inhabit it, with visceral resonance. Trump does a lot of things in a way I wouldn’t do them. And I fully expect Trump to disappoint me on some policy issues – although I also think he will do things I agree with.
But old-consensus conservatives are the people I’m talking to when I make the case below. Trump voters already know that these chains binding the American people have to be broken. And they saw early on that Trump behaves already as if they are broken.
That’s why he has been so successful with so many people over the last year and a half. It’s not because the people prefer to spend their days reading Trump’s combative tweets or focusing on whatever truculent, throw-away thing he last said in the quest to swing harder than his political opponents. It’s because he does swing harder, and he’s still standing. His opponents can’t take him down – and that means that what comes out of Washington might actually change.
Trump’s very unusual presidency shows the prospect of liberating us from the following things, among others.
1. Rule by fake sanctimony. There are few things as easy to fake as sanctimony. A lot of the people can smell it coming from miles away, but there are still plenty of them who buy into it, and try to align themselves with it as a dictator of behavior and outcomes.
For many years, fake sanctimony has taken down conservatives but not liberal progressives – Republicans but not Democrats. The media are very good at fake sanctimony, as good as the entertainment industry and politicians, if not better. Since it’s fake, it doesn’t have to be consistent from one situation to the next. Democrats routinely get away with things that Republicans don’t even have to actually do, to become the targets of fake-sanctimony blitzkriegs. Merely whipping up innuendo about Republicans is good enough to put them in the fake-sanctimony bull’s eye.
But under Obama, fake sanctimony expanded its horizons considerably. Instead of being based on premises everyone generally agrees with – e.g., that politicians caught in money or sex scandals are probably going to suffer irrecoverable embarrassment, and for good reason – fake sanctimony stepped out to give top-cover to extremely dubious propositions. Suddenly, for example, it became vilely unrighteous to hold the commonsensical view that grown men should not be in public restrooms with little girls, full stop.
Twenty years ago, the idea that someone could be sanctimonious about men requiring access to women’s restrooms was correctly seen as deranged. But whatever your fringe cause, you’ve been able to advance it in political America in recent years by coming out preemptively with an onslaught of sanctimony, about the character and intentions of other people.
There is actually nothing useful or good about the guilt-mongering sanctimony dynamic. It’s way past time it was taken down.
But it will never be taken down by people who are still partially impressed with it, and who feel it should be paid some homage, if not the kind it’s been riding free on for decades. It takes a full break with it: a repudiation. That seems scary, to people who see it as part of the glue that holds society together.
Maybe the Trump phenomenon isn’t the way you would have repudiated sanctimony. But I see it working all around us – and it’s a good thing. God is still in control, by definition; but the American people have been mesmerized long enough by this deceptive form of self-righteousness. Merely being sanctimonious about the “right” things is a weak and unstable basis for moral life. The sanctimony itself has got to lose its power. It’s too easy to misapply.
2. Rule by misleading media campaigns. The collectivist left has been winning for a century by defining all our problems in misleading ways. (It starts, in fact, by defining problems where there were none, such as the aforementioned non-problem of age-old custom: men being prohibited from waltzing into women’s restrooms while bearing all the signs of masculinity.)
Activists and the media routinely collude to create divisions that never existed, before an information war was started about them. People who don’t have an unkind bone in their bodies are accused of being “anti-LGBT bigots,” for example, because they sincerely believe religious freedom – indeed, any freedom of conscience – is a right, and one that applies to them as well as to anyone else.
Progressives won’t even entertain the alternative idea that religious freedom is not code for “anti-LGBT bigotry” – because they are invested in insisting that it is. That’s the only wording they will use. And the problem for the American people is that, on issue after issue, losing the war of nomenclature and definitions means losing real rights and freedoms.
It is literally idiotic to claim that people who don’t want their tax dollars or insurance premiums paying for abortifacients and contraceptives are, ipso facto, determined to force women to bear children unwillingly. But because the definitions enforced by the mainstream media and activists are so biased, the very real outcome is that America has made it a legal obligation to pay for other people’s abortifacients and contraceptives – unless you’re a Little Sister of the Poor, and even in that case, the activists are still doggedly hunting you down.
On this larger subject, there are important things that have to be broken beyond the kinetic power of misleading media campaigns. But that power does have to be broken. As with fake sanctimony, it’s too easy to steamroll the people with, as long as we keep sitting still for misleading “information” onslaughts.
Talking back to them hasn’t been working. They simply have to be, metaphorically speaking, blown up.
You aren’t going to miss them. It will just take a little time to realize that you’re in a dwindling minority that is still impressed and daunted by them.
3. Rule by the “critical theory” mindset. One of the worst intellectual endowments in human history is that of the Frankfurt School, which gave the 20th century the ingeniously banal concept of “critical theory.” The premise of critical theory is nothing more than tearing down everything you can lay your hand to. It’s having a critical mindset about everything that people hold dear. Dress it up however you like; that’s still all it is.
Man can’t live that way and remain healthy and productive. Constantly criticizing and trying to deconstruct and undermine everything that’s going on around us is nihilistic and destructive. It has no redeeming value whatsoever.
But almost everything our governments do now is ruled by the critical-theory mindset.
Instead of teaching children to practice goodwill and adopt positive attitudes, we teach them in school to obsessively identify bigotry and hatred and be angry about them. Instead of trying to actually help poor people, we spend our treasure on harassing and demonizing the hardworking middle class and the indispensable entrepreneurial class for not being poor. Instead of simply assisting people with disabilities, a praiseworthy goal, we patrol the planet for signs of “uncaringness” and “intolerance” and “ableism” so that there can be political villains, and an enlargement of the government’s charter to protect “rights.”
All of these material outcomes are the result of prioritizing a purely destructive critical-theory mindset about the underlying issues, over a constructive mindset that would encourage actually helping the people in front of us. Being obsessed with what we think is wrong can feel good – but it doesn’t do good.
It won’t be a pantheon of attractive political gods that demonstrates that to us over the next four years. It’s going to be someone you never thought of, and even now can hardly get over. It’s going to be Donald Trump. By simply bypassing the whole critical-theory dynamic, in which no answer or explanation for doing the wise thing is ever good enough, the Trump administration bids fair to unleash more joyful productivity from the American people than we’ve seen since at least the 1980s, and perhaps longer.
Yes: believe me, if you object that Trump still won’t roll back big government as far as it so badly needs to be rolled back, I agree with you. But that’s not going to happen until Americans emerge from their government-worshiping stupor. The preliminary chains that a Trump administration can break have to be broken first.
4. Rule by fear of criticism. This last one applies across the board, with a foot in all the other ugly constraints on America. I don’t think it requires much explanation or illustration.
It has been obvious for years now that most Republicans, and old-consensus conservatives, fear criticism from their political peers more than they fear anything else. They fear being blamed for things. They fear being misconstrued. They fear what it might make them look like, to take seriously a Cliven Bundy or a Kim Davis – who each, in their homely way, has been more right than the polished pundits about what the emergency is in our administration of law today.
They don’t want to be caught in public flailing with the big, structural conundrums of an uneasily modern people and a complacently post-modern governing class, because no one looks real smart doing that. It may desperately need doing, but whoever goes first is going to be ceaselessly battered by criticism. There also seems to be little percentage in it, since the problems right before us always look as if they have to be solved without questioning our biggest assumptions.
Yet questioning our biggest assumptions is precisely what we need. Where the fear of criticism rules, that will never happen.
What’s the best way to convince people that the nattering nabobs of negativism don’t have the power to take all their targets down?
Still being there no matter how often and how hard they come at you. Somebody’s got to do it, if the occult power of ritual criticism is to be broken. Looks like it’s going to be Donald Trump.