To Sink Trump Is to Sink Ordinary Americans
The left is determined to sink the Trump presidency.
But something even more important than the Trump presidency is at stake. The ultimate target is not Trump, but human liberty. Donald Trump is a great man, but far greater are the millions of Americans whose dream of liberty he represents. Obviously, the left hates Trump with a vengeance, but what they despise even more is the average American with his dream of freedom and opportunity.
From the left's perspective, the Trump presidency is illegitimate not because it lacked a plurality of votes or because of the supposed Russian connection. It is illegitimate because it gives voice to those who do not deserve representation. Hillary Clinton let it slip when she mocked the "basket of deplorables," those whom she accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Having at first insisted that "half" of Trump voters fall into these categories, she then retreated from that figure: it was somewhat less than half who are deplorable.
Rarely has a presidential candidate been so candid and so obtuse at the same time, for "deplorable" is exactly what the left thinks of average Americans. And for that reason, Trump's presidency cannot be allowed to succeed, even if sinking Trump means sinking the country. The left is willing to savage our economy, trash health care, weaken our national defense, and lose the fight against terrorism just to see that the deplorables are kept in their place. That is the central motive of the anti-Trump forces.
That sort of disdain for the heartland has a long history stretching back to John Quincy Adams, with his determination not to see Jackson achieve the presidency. After the Era of Jackson and the Civil War that followed, it continued with the political dominance of the Northeast, the victory of McKinley over William Jennings Bryan, Wilson's expansion of government powers during WWI (including the Sedition Act of 1918), FDR's reversal of Coolidge's small-government policies, Johnson's disastrous anti-poverty programs, and Obama's governance by executive order in defiance of the people's elected representatives. Ordinary Americans have always had to struggle against the ambitions of a political elite that assumes it has the right to govern in their place.
It goes without saying that the ideology of the left has always been anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic. The terror tactics of radical student groups in the 1960s revealed a disdain for democracy, as has the barrage of environmental lawsuits aimed at blocking legal property development. And the more recent rulings of rogue judges obstructing Trump's immigration orders.
Nor does the left believe in open debate within a pluralistic society. Conservative speakers are blocked from appearing on college campuses. Conservative opinion is hardly represented in the mainstream liberal media. When Democrats controlled the Senate, Republicans were blocked from presenting amendments. Even now, Senate Democrats have allowed confirmation of only two of President Trump's nominees to the federal courts.
As many writers, including Jonah Goldberg, have documented, the American left today has much in common with radical regimes of the past. In his superb book The Dragons of Expectation (New York 2005), Robert Conquest noted the continuity between these violent regimes and the left today: "if no longer driven by theory [that is, hardcore Marxism], the instinctive urge to impose values or opinions remains. And the urge toward using the state for those purposes is still common in the West" (77).
It is important to understand the true source of the left's disdain. It has nothing to do with policy or the good of the country. It is, in effect, closely aligned with the psychology of racism – the need of defensive groups to transfer their uncertainties to an object of scorn. In his chapter on "Judgement and Condemnation" in Crowds and Power (New York, 1961), Elias Canetti begins his analysis with "the pleasure of pronouncing an unfavorable verdict." This "cruel pleasure ... consists in relegating something to an inferior group" and then pronouncing judgment (296). Underlying the hostile rhetoric is always "the urge to push it to its conclusion, to the active and bloody hostility of two packs" (297), a process that ultimately entails the pronouncement of a "death sentence," whether actual or metaphorical (relegating one's opponents to the inhuman "basket of deplorables" or finding other ways of denying them speech and volition).
This is a dangerous state of affairs. The left's brazenness is something new, and something that holds the potential for great danger. As a Fox News commentary pointed out at the time of Hillary's deplorables remark, "anything [traditional Americans] say 'no' to is to be labeled racist, sexist, misogynist, xenophobic and nativist." This is just another way of saying that from the left's point of view, ordinary Americans should have no say, and no political or cultural existence.
In order to remain a cohesive movement, leftism, which has no positive agenda, must continue to ramp up hatred of its opponents. It has come to resemble a "pack" motivated by instincts of power rather than a source of civil debate. What if the left's current posture of intolerance is only the beginning? What follows once you have labeled your opponents "deplorable"?
What follows is the urge to crush them, a primitive impulse that Canetti discussed at length in a remarkable section of Crowds and Power entitled "Seizing and Incorporation." Speaking of the instinct to crush one's opponents, Canetti notes that "it is contempt which urges [an attacker] on to crush [his prey]. ... You mean nothing to me[.] ... You mean nothing to anyone. You can be destroyed with impunity with anyone noticing" (205). That, in essence, is what we are facing.
And that is why the hostility toward Trump will never lessen. Assuming that Trump is re-elected in 2020, we are in for eight years of rhetorical warfare. The left's contempt for ordinary Americans is now the basis of its own political survival. We're going to see more "deplorables" speeches, only this time more extreme. (Within hours of Anthony Scaramucci's appointment as White House communications director, Mother Jones headlined that he "may have a Russia problem of his own." More to come, I'm sure.)
The left continues trying to sink Trump with Russia and other pretexts. Why not say what you mean? "WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH." Anything to keep the proles in their place.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).