What’s in a name? If you’re a modern mind a name is everything. A name is an explanation and an accusation. You can use it to attack and defend and to distract and pacify. Names are crutches for mental cripples. They’re rascal scooters for the intellectually inert.
When we lose touch with reality, we cling to language. We correct our feeble vision with verbal lenses. We have no eyes, ears or fingertips, no brain and no heart. We’re all tongue, flapping senselessly in the void.
We want to reduce our arguments to definitions and labels. We try to combat the chaos of a media sodden world by speaking our way to clarity and order. Thought and language are intertwined, but thought needs time to breathe and find itself before dressing up in words.
Take this atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/calling-the-trump-era-by-its-name/552251/
What is the point of this piece? I’m not being rhetorical, I’m earnestly baffled. James Fallows has been writing for the Atlantic since the 70’s and this is the best he can do.
This article has no core. Fallows tacks together a few tepid, rehearsed insights, a list of names and a flaccid conclusion on a plywood bulletin board. It’s an ungainly shuffle ending with an anti-climactic dribble. The opening paragraphs are characteristic of contemporary pseudo-thoughtful liberal writing, with Fallows pretending to be startled by his own thoughts. He treats a mundane idea that people have already discussed to the point of puking as if it were a buried gem he’s just delicately uncovered.
Trump cares more about personalities than ideas. He focuses on individuals, he holds grudges and has obvious preferences for certain people depending on how they treat him. Trump doesn’t rhapsodize about the American system, instead he praises its people. This is no more than a summary of established knowledge but it’s as close to original insight as Fallows will come.
“Donald Trump’s first official State of the Union address—which seems as if it happened back in the 19th century, but in reality is five days in the past—highlighted something that was implicit in his campaign and increasingly significant through his time in office: Trump virtually never praises or speaks about, and gives no evidence of respecting or even comprehending, the strengths of the United States as a system, or as an idea.”
What in the hell does he mean with that 19th century comment? Is this geriatric muddler talking about the pace of time? Is he saying that time moves so quickly now that a five day old event feels as if it were hundreds of years in the past? Or is he making the stale, petulant point that Trump represents the return of outdated attitudes?
The former of those possibilities has philosophical depth and the latter is a superficial slur. My hunch is that Fallows isn’t meditating on the nature of time in the era of 24 hour news cycles but is rather clumsily rehashing liberal invective. This man was a former presidential speechwriter. He has decades of experience as a professional writer and has a team of professional editors and proofreaders around him. He wrote that paragraph, read it back to himself, had his editors read it and they all thought it was acceptable.
The Atlantic is satisfied with feeding chum to its gluttonous anti-Trump audience. Meanwhile, I sleep in my coat and shoes in an unheated home and practice my craft until I can’t see straight. If writing like Fallows makes you a respectable writer, then I don’t want to be respectable. I’d rather cook hot dogs over a trash fire in a back ally than join the bobbleheads at the Atlantic.
Trump is appealing because he’s not a politician. Americans want a fighter; they’re suspicious of condescending academics, gutless desk jockeys, arrogant managers and soulless bureaucrats. Every politician and every corporate shill extols the glory of the American system while hoodwinking and fleecing its people. The professional political class and intellectuals love their ideas and systems and they despise the people who fail to live up to them.
The history of the 20th century is the story of mass executions of people who wouldn’t follow the scripts of intellectuals and dictators. What makes Trump so refreshing is that he’s comfortable with himself and human nature. He’s not trying to force people into an unnatural order or impose alien, destabilizing values on society. He pitched his presidency as a return to what people see as normal, not as an attempt at building a new man with a radically different set of sensibilities. Obama promised changed because he loathed America as it had been. He only loved its possibility. Trump loves America in its reality.
Fallows meanders around tired observations on well-trodden ground for nine paragraphs before bumping into the ramshackle center of his article. He knows what’s going on with Trump, but he wonders what we should we call it. Naming the Trump phenomenon is the engine of his senseless puttering. Why is it important to give the Trump era a name? He doesn’t say, he doesn’t know but he has a deadline and his readers are clamoring for authorized insults.
He then repeats four trite ideas culled from books and articles he assumes his readers already know. Fallows isn’t advancing anyone’s understanding, he’s reaffirming prejudice. He thinks we could call the Trump era the Trumpocracy, the dying of democracy, tribalism or fascism. The list of names is an index of liberal projection. What they see in Trump is a mirror into the soul of liberal institutionalized decadence and corruption.
In their reflections they see nepotism, the hardened arteries of power and the protection of their criminal friends and ideological allies from justice. They see illicit financial dealings, foreign sponsors and donors giving huge sums of money to ostensibly charitable foundations in exchange for political influence, cover ups, denials in the upper reaches of the government and the hijacking of institutions to attack political opponents. When they speak in reverent tones of Democracy, they mean the will of cosmopolitan elites and their foreign minions, unelected officials and unaccountable agencies. Liberals wail about the end of their precious democracy as if it were healthy until Trump infected it.
The party of nuance and sophistication blinds itself to the historical currents that fed into the present and prepared the way for Trump to lead a populist revolt against entrenched managerial termites hollowing out the American political establishment and civil society. They downplay the problems of the past and exaggerate the crises of the present. As they tell it, except for a few scattered racists and bigots, everything was fine until Trump came along and plunged a formerly vibrant country into impenetrable darkness.
The hysterical liberal resistance ignores longer term social and environmental trends that have concentrated power in the executive and judicial branch, undermined the initiatives and interests of voters, disrupted the system of checks and balances, withered public trust in institutions and fractured communities across America. Their compulsion of attacking Trump with whatever weapons they can find has led them to insincerely draw on traditions and sentiments they would otherwise mock and scorn.
Progressives have rediscovered decorum and the grave warnings of Benjamin Franklin, but they won’t admit that Trump hasn’t created civilizational emergencies out of nothing. Rather he has inherited a disfigured, decaying political and social order that bears almost no resemblance to America at its founding.
What do democratic ideals, the founding fathers and quaint republics have to do with corporate consolidation and international banking influence in the government, invasive, illegal surveillance practices, militarized police, bureaucratic bloat, free trade deals, automation, the decline of unions, media treachery, subversive immigration policies, demographic upheaval and population churn, interminable wars, imperialism and interventionism? Are we voting on these things? Do we get to choose representatives who aren’t globalist gimps? Trump didn’t invent these forces. He has to compromise, cooperate and choose his battles just as any president would in the same historical circumstance.
When enough people finally shook off a media induced stupor and voted for a man who championed their values and hopes, the crass, craven managerialists hissed about the end of democracy. This is how technocrats and anti-democratic elites defend themselves whenever a country challenges their autocratic rule. In their depraved arrogance, they assumed that what they wanted was equivalent to what was best for society as a whole.
Liberals accuse Trump of tribalism as they brazenly bank on replacing an organic electorate with an unassimilable mass of foreign voters. The democratic party leaders maintain a tense peace among their alien and mutually distrustful muds and freak show constituents by inflaming anti-white rage and convincing a mutant minority that the majority is sick and hateful. They encourage the animosity and egotism of infantile ethnic chauvinism and then shriek and scowl when Trump addresses Americans as Americans, as members of a great nation with common interests and not as embittered victims of a racial caste system or eternally guilty oppressors who must renounce their advantages.
Thanks to elite engineered immigration policies, academic mind rot, technological change, cultural devastation and Hollywood programmed degeneracy, America has been cracking up for decades. We were already balkanized long before Trump ran for president, but liberals foolishly think it’s still politically expedient to call Trump a tribalist to deflect attention from their own role in dissolving social stability and tattering national unity.
And then there’s the classic move of smearing everyone to your right as a fascist. It’s predictable, contrived, lazy and unhelpful. Progressives portray themselves as creative, original and mature thinkers but in practice they act like demon haunted superstitious rubes and inconsolably frightened children. They can’t sleep at night because the ghosts of dead European political movements are stalking their every move. They cram novel conditions into old patterns and pride themselves on their analytical brilliance. Is Trump a total departure from political mores and civilized standards or is he a retread figure of fascism? They can’t decide if we’ve seen this before or if it’s the emergence of a new terror.
The Trump presidency is both a break from the past as well as a continuation of previous administrations. Obama was criticized for many of the same flaws as Trump, only at a much lower decibel level and frequency. Not that long ago, underneath the din of mainstream media adulation, it was said of Obama that he had tyrannical impulses, abused his power with executive orders, appointed partisan judges, was vain, shallow, inexperienced, a wall street puppet, a divisive race baiter and that he directed government agencies to harass his enemies and warred with elements of the press that didn’t pay him constant tribute.
Fallows offers anemic justification for this preoccupation with calling things by their rightful names. Once again, he doesn’t offer his own thoughts but rather makes reference to the knuckle dragging meditations of Ta Nehisi Coates. The public’s foremost mouth breathing comic book reading intellectual blames all black hardship on the omnipresent force of white supremacy. He won’t say “America’s racial problems” because that phrase suggests black responsibility and the competing interests of other ethnic groups and that would conjure far too complicated a picture for Coates’ primitive brain to comprehend. Coates and Fallows believe they’re cutting to the heart of the matter with their bold bumper sticker labelling, but they’re rather stymying discussion and clouding analysis with self satisfied, circular declarations and provocations.
If you don’t like the harsh truth of terms like white supremacy and fascism, Fallows and Coates figure, then you haven’t accepted reality. There you have it. These unflinching thinkers are only forcing you to examine unpleasant realities, on their terms of course.
Fallows ends his sagging article on an especially limp note by concluded that whatever you want to call this Trumpian disease, we need to treat it. If we’re going to think seriously about names, I’m wondering what we should call Fallow’s efforts. Liberal posturing? Rearguard mystification? Journalistic sleepwalking? Whatever we want to call, we know it’s insipid.