Bret Easton Ellis Rebukes the Progressive Elites

“If you feel you’re experiencing 'micro-aggressions' when someone asks where you are from or 'Can you help me with my math?' or offers a 'God bless you' after you sneeze, or... someone merely insulted you, or the candidate you voted for wasn't elected, or someone correctly identifies you by your gender, and you consider this a massive societal dis, and its triggering you and you need a safe space, then you need to seek professional help.”

This quote, which sounds like it was taken from a Tucker Carlson monologue on a particularly grouchy day, is actually an excerpt from White, the first nonfiction book from the famed novelist Bret Easton Ellis. The book, which has topped the Amazon bestseller list, is something of a rambling mess, in part a memoir of his life growing up in the pre-social media days of the 1970s, and in part of a critique of film, music, and culture.

It is worth a look, however, if only to appreciate Ellis’ evisceration of progressive groupthink, particularly his description of the hysterical reaction to Trump's election. The book is calculated to be particularly irksome to the woke Left, since Ellis is not a “deplorable” who can easily be dismissed, but rather, a celebrated writer who travels in their own social milieu.

In some ways, Ellis is a 21st-century version of the master social satirist Tom Wolfe. Both novelists used a journalistic eye to chronicle the cultural zeitgeist. And both have covered some of the same terrain: Wall Street in 1980s (Ellis' American Psycho (1991) has drawn comparisons to Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)) and the drug- and sex-infused climate at American colleges (compare Ellis’ Less Than Zero (1985) and The Rules of Attraction (1987) with Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004)).

To be sure, there are significant differences between the two writers: Wolfe was a Southerner, straight, and a conservative; Ellis is from Southern California, gay, and a liberal, though in the old-fashioned meaning of the term. (“Liberalism,” he writes, “used to concern itself with freedoms I'd aligned myself with, but during the 2016 campaigns, it finally hardened into a warped authoritarian moral superiority movement that I didn't want to have anything to do with.”)

In White, Ellis disparages the easily triggered millennial generation as “Generation Wuss.” They are anxious and needy, marinate in social media and, above all, he maintains, strive to be liked. “Safe spaces” at the university, Ellis perceptively notes, serve to infantilize students. This desire for perpetual childhood, he writes, “strikes me as the defining aspect of American life right now.”

When Ellis describes encounters with his wealthy friends during and after Trump's election, it reminds one of “Radical Chic,” Wolfe's brilliant essay in 1970, in which he described a party given by composer Leonard Bernstein to raise money for the Black Panthers. Wolfe’s essay so perfectly captured the affectation of radical leftism by the fashionable elite that the phrase “radical chic” permanently entered the lexicon. In White, Ellis deftly exposes 21st century version of radical chic: the rich and entitled progressives who are hysterical about Trump.

Ellis relates a dinner with a man in his sixties, “privy to a vast fortune,” who informed that Ellis that the Electoral College is “bullshit” and that Los Angeles and New York should determine who the president is. “I don’t want any goddamn know-nothing rural hicks deciding who the president should be. I am a proud liberal coastal elite and I think we should pick the president because we know better.”

At another dinner, Ellis tells how his mild criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement (on aesthetic, rather than substantive grounds) caused a female dinner companion to suddenly explode into a spastic rage and begin sputtering about “white patriarchy” and how Trump hadn’t really won the election. This woman, Ellis notes, “lived in a penthouse with stunning views of Central Park and probably had a net worth of more than ten million dollars, so I kept wondering why her vast misery was all Trump’s fault.”

Ellis is no conservative or Republican, he's mostly apolitical. Nor is he a fan of Donald Trump, whom he used as the personification of yuppie avarice in American Psycho. But Ellis can recognize mass hysteria when he sees it.

Ellis’ friends describe the hangovers, “literal and metaphysical” on the morning after the election. His millennial boyfriend is reduced to a physical and emotional wreck.

“This wasn’t the usual disappointment about election results,” writes Ellis, “this was fear and horror and outrage that it seemed would never subside and not just for members of Generation Wuss, like my partner, but also for real grownups, in their forties and fifties and sixties, so unhinged that their team hadn’t won that they began using terms like ‘apocalypse’ and ‘Hitlerian’.”

At one point during the campaign, Ellis offhandedly tweeted that he had just come home from a dinner in West Hollywood where he'd been shocked to discover that the entire table was voting for Trump. The tweet became international news overnight, with many on the left refusing to believe that anyone in that part of LA would vote for Trump (so airtight was their bubble). Later one of the participants at that dinner asked that Ellis not ever mention who was present for fear of being “outed” as a Trump supporter in Hollywood. Ellis can only comment, “What an awful way to live.”

Reflecting back on another era, Ellis wonders how Frank Sinatra might have fared in today’s self-censorious age. If he sang “The Lady is a Tramp,” would be accused of misogyny? White male patriarchy? Toxic masculinity? Would his records be boycotted? “Sinatra would have been disgusted by the Orwellian tenor of our current moment, but I can’t imagine he would have ever bowed to it,” Ellis concludes.

Ellis admits to losing a few friends over his refusal to indulge their paranoia about Trump. This book isn't likely to win them back.

“If you feel you’re experiencing 'micro-aggressions' when someone asks where you are from or 'Can you help me with my math?' or offers a 'God bless you' after you sneeze, or... someone merely insulted you, or the candidate you voted for wasn't elected, or someone correctly identifies you by your gender, and you consider this a massive societal dis, and its triggering you and you need a safe space, then you need to seek professional help.”

This quote, which sounds like it was taken from a Tucker Carlson monologue on a particularly grouchy day, is actually an excerpt from White, the first nonfiction book from the famed novelist Bret Easton Ellis. The book, which has topped the Amazon bestseller list, is something of a rambling mess, in part a memoir of his life growing up in the pre-social media days of the 1970s, and in part of a critique of film, music, and culture.

It is worth a look, however, if only to appreciate Ellis’ evisceration of progressive groupthink, particularly his description of the hysterical reaction to Trump's election. The book is calculated to be particularly irksome to the woke Left, since Ellis is not a “deplorable” who can easily be dismissed, but rather, a celebrated writer who travels in their own social milieu.

In some ways, Ellis is a 21st-century version of the master social satirist Tom Wolfe. Both novelists used a journalistic eye to chronicle the cultural zeitgeist. And both have covered some of the same terrain: Wall Street in 1980s (Ellis' American Psycho (1991) has drawn comparisons to Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (1987)) and the drug- and sex-infused climate at American colleges (compare Ellis’ Less Than Zero (1985) and The Rules of Attraction (1987) with Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004)).

To be sure, there are significant differences between the two writers: Wolfe was a Southerner, straight, and a conservative; Ellis is from Southern California, gay, and a liberal, though in the old-fashioned meaning of the term. (“Liberalism,” he writes, “used to concern itself with freedoms I'd aligned myself with, but during the 2016 campaigns, it finally hardened into a warped authoritarian moral superiority movement that I didn't want to have anything to do with.”)

In White, Ellis disparages the easily triggered millennial generation as “Generation Wuss.” They are anxious and needy, marinate in social media and, above all, he maintains, strive to be liked. “Safe spaces” at the university, Ellis perceptively notes, serve to infantilize students. This desire for perpetual childhood, he writes, “strikes me as the defining aspect of American life right now.”

When Ellis describes encounters with his wealthy friends during and after Trump's election, it reminds one of “Radical Chic,” Wolfe's brilliant essay in 1970, in which he described a party given by composer Leonard Bernstein to raise money for the Black Panthers. Wolfe’s essay so perfectly captured the affectation of radical leftism by the fashionable elite that the phrase “radical chic” permanently entered the lexicon. In White, Ellis deftly exposes 21st century version of radical chic: the rich and entitled progressives who are hysterical about Trump.

Ellis relates a dinner with a man in his sixties, “privy to a vast fortune,” who informed that Ellis that the Electoral College is “bullshit” and that Los Angeles and New York should determine who the president is. “I don’t want any goddamn know-nothing rural hicks deciding who the president should be. I am a proud liberal coastal elite and I think we should pick the president because we know better.”

At another dinner, Ellis tells how his mild criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement (on aesthetic, rather than substantive grounds) caused a female dinner companion to suddenly explode into a spastic rage and begin sputtering about “white patriarchy” and how Trump hadn’t really won the election. This woman, Ellis notes, “lived in a penthouse with stunning views of Central Park and probably had a net worth of more than ten million dollars, so I kept wondering why her vast misery was all Trump’s fault.”

Ellis is no conservative or Republican, he's mostly apolitical. Nor is he a fan of Donald Trump, whom he used as the personification of yuppie avarice in American Psycho. But Ellis can recognize mass hysteria when he sees it.

Ellis’ friends describe the hangovers, “literal and metaphysical” on the morning after the election. His millennial boyfriend is reduced to a physical and emotional wreck.

“This wasn’t the usual disappointment about election results,” writes Ellis, “this was fear and horror and outrage that it seemed would never subside and not just for members of Generation Wuss, like my partner, but also for real grownups, in their forties and fifties and sixties, so unhinged that their team hadn’t won that they began using terms like ‘apocalypse’ and ‘Hitlerian’.”

At one point during the campaign, Ellis offhandedly tweeted that he had just come home from a dinner in West Hollywood where he'd been shocked to discover that the entire table was voting for Trump. The tweet became international news overnight, with many on the left refusing to believe that anyone in that part of LA would vote for Trump (so airtight was their bubble). Later one of the participants at that dinner asked that Ellis not ever mention who was present for fear of being “outed” as a Trump supporter in Hollywood. Ellis can only comment, “What an awful way to live.”

Reflecting back on another era, Ellis wonders how Frank Sinatra might have fared in today’s self-censorious age. If he sang “The Lady is a Tramp,” would be accused of misogyny? White male patriarchy? Toxic masculinity? Would his records be boycotted? “Sinatra would have been disgusted by the Orwellian tenor of our current moment, but I can’t imagine he would have ever bowed to it,” Ellis concludes.

Ellis admits to losing a few friends over his refusal to indulge their paranoia about Trump. This book isn't likely to win them back.