Donald Trump is now at the confluence of two powerful currents – one that epitomizes the joyful vacuity of the age and another, long-anticipated, that embodies the anger of the intellectually dispossessed.
The vacuity comes from the increasing number of voters who do not make their decisions on who will create the most jobs, build the most infrastructure, save the environment, strengthen the economy or even keep citizens most safe. These people don’t care about that. And while they do vote based on what they think is in their own self-interest, their regard is not for what they view as the path most likely to improve society’s lot. It is, curiously, motivated entirely by their sense of what is most socially fashionable – in other words, the fundamental high school desire to be one of the cool kids.
They are very active on social media. They follow the Kardashians on Twitter, cannot tell you who the premier of Ontario is but know everything about Charlie Sheen and Caitlyn Jenner. They are busier tweeting on Trans remembrance day than on Nov. 11 Remembrance Day. Their narcissism is primarily constructed to enhance and elevate their own social status. It is unclear yet what proportion of the voting public they constitute but they are the most quickly growing segment within it, at least according to many of those involved in tracking such behaviours. When asked why they voted for the likes of Vancouver’s Mayor Moonbeam or Calgary’s Mayor Vainglorious or Prime Minister Margaret, they are most likely to answer along the lines of “I dunno. I just think he’s cool” which can be roughly translated into “I think I will be cool if I vote for him.”
The other river that sustains Trump is the one many could see coming. As a close friend – a veritable but highly democratic paleo-con – often said, the current age’s intellectual incontinence is certainly troubling but what we should really be concerned about is the reaction to it that will inevitably come.
And, just as the incoherence arrived quicker than many of us may have thought, so may have the reaction.
The predominant feature of Trump’s popularity is its response to how the somewhat mild political correctness that emerged most visibly in the 1980s became a hammer with which to suppress those of alternate views – many of which were long-held. An analysis of this very illiberal soft totalitarianism is obviously more complex, but for simplicity’s sake, political correctness can no longer be defended as merely an effort to enhance social cohesion with an elevated level of politeness/sensitivity to others. It is now a complete veil on expression – opaque perhaps but insidious.
“Political correctness can no longer be defended as simply an effort to enhance social cohesion with an elevated level of politeness/sensitivity to others
Most of us can remember how it became inappropriate fairly swiftly to tell jokes that started with “so there was a rabbi, a priest and a Ukrainian sitting in a bar . . . “ Fine. But here’s the rub: when was the last time you heard anyone tell a joke at all? So fearful have we become of causing offense that our culture’s long history of joke-telling has all but disappeared. Our ability to enjoy a bit of sport at each other’s expense (so there was an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Frenchman . . . ) or to “take a joke” has been replaced with an earnest neo-Puritanism that prioritizes the facade of individual ego/self-esteem over genuine and honest collective cultural health that allows for real diversity.
“Our new Utopia insists that in order to celebrate the glory of our multiplicity we must all go through life not only unabused but with our thoughts unchallenged and our sensibilities free from assault
Instead, our new Utopia insists that in order to celebrate the glory of our multiplicity we must all go through life not only unabused but with our thoughts unchallenged and our sensibilities free from assault. Should anyone violate these shibboleths or otherwise inflict an indignity upon them, they will at a minimum be pilloried on social media which may further demand they be perp-walked before one of Canada’s many human rights tribunals which are frequently indistinguishable from a Salem courthouse.
“They are told repeatedly and with heightened hyperbole by their leaders that their behaviour is bringing about the end of the world through climate change.
Into this mix is blended America’s perplexity with the abrupt discontinuity of its social fabric. In the course of a generation, America has become a bilingual nation which – at least politically – now demands some facility in Spanish. For the first time in its history, the USA consists of more Catholics than Protestants and both have been jailed for adherence to their faith on certain matters of public policy. It is no longer the world’s leading economic power, having been surpassed a year ago by China. Its citizens, who have always been somewhat fearful of domestic foes/each other, have seen the city that symbolizes their love for liberty sacked. They have seen the apologue of their security – the Pentagon – ablaze. They are told repeatedly and with heightened hyperbole by their leaders that their behaviour is bringing about the end of the world through climate change. And, most of all, they have increasingly seen themselves as a nation that – whether in Somalia or Iraq or Afghanistan – lacks the stomach to conduct war in a fashion that allows for victory and gives their citizens that which they seek the most – a sense of sanctuary within their borders. Some of these changes are more passive and others more active but all are discomforting.
“It does not take much for disquiet to turn to fear. And when people are fearful they become angry
It does not take much for disquiet to turn to fear. And when people are fearful they become angry. Throw into this that when their ability to articulate the very normal human desire for cultural continuity is repressed by the threat of being accused of sexism/racism/homophobia/Islamophobia/denier – all “slurs” wantonly distributed by the neo-puritanical and you might very well mix fertilizer with diesel fuel.
It is not only America where this is happening. While Canada is currently a world of unicorns, rainbows, selfies and hugs, and Time Magazine is honoring Angela Merkel for her liberal generosity, actual Germans seem to not really like the idea that in the course of a year, one million refugees have moved into their country.
In Sweden, as the Irish Times reported reported last year:
“The model shaped the post- war Swedish identity but is in flux for many Swedes with three factors – Sweden’s 1990s financial crisis and its after- shocks, globalisation and economic-lead immigration – transforming a once homogeneous and isolated country beyond recognition.
In France, Marine Le Pen is expected to make further gains in this weekend’s elections.
On it goes. It may be a just blip in our cosmos or perhaps a harbinger of the deluge to come when celebrity fascination converges with the whitewater rampage of promiscuous distemper.
Donald Trump has the celebrity and wealth to enthusiastically articulate anxieties and say out loud what many who have been excluded from the American narrative – no matter how inarticulately – think and feel. In doing so, he is giving us a noteworthy reminder that Isaac Newton’s third law of motion is equally applicable to the history of human thought and the politics it provokes.
It takes, as Sir Winston Churchill said, a good deal of courage to “stand up and speak.” It remains unlikely that the illiberal left and its advocates of thought- and speech-suppression have the wisdom to follow Churchill’s further encouragement: that there are times when fortitude must be also be summoned to “sit down and listen.”