When Trump Does Something Outrageous, the Left’s Response is Incomparably Worse
Perhaps we can't follow the Marquess of Queensbury when the Left's playing "Rollerball."
Every week, it seems, I feel tempted to write off Donald Trump. But then his enemy’s reactions pull me back from the brink. He acts again and again in ways that would put off any traditional conservative. That seem at first like the actions of an ignorant Philistine or peevish narcissist. However, the left’s response is every time so incomparably worse, so horribly disproportionate, that we rally to Trump again. We wonder to ourselves: Are things really that far gone? If so, are Trump’s stunts exactly the kind of tactics which we need? Would (say) a President Jeb Bush just serve as the Left’s hapless piñata?
Trump trashes, flouts, or brutally mocks things which we would ordinarily value. Following our instincts and traditions, we wish to protect, as precious props to stability and peace:
- Institutions, like the press, the Senate with its traditions, and political party structures.
- Customs, like seeking bipartisan support for legislation.
- Conventions, such as personal respect for one’s political opponents.
- Offices, such as the president’s, which call for dignity, gravitas, and a certain stoic detachment.
All the Decent Drapery of Life
Those are examples of what the greatest conservative thinker, Edmund Burke, defended. He called them
the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society. …
He warned against the programs of the radicals of the French Enlightenment who led that nation’s catastrophic Revolution. At their hands:
All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
To translate that from baroque 18th century language into plain modern English: Burke thought that good manners, old customs, and polite hypocrisy keep the peace. They act as buffers between our passions and the world of other people. This slows us down, gives us time for second thoughts. Think of the referee in a boxing ring — who keeps the fighter’s aggression within safe parameters. Makes sure that we fight fair, and not to the death.
The George H.W. Bush Bodyslam GIF
Technology has helped to strip away some of our buffers.
Would a President Jeb Bush just serve as the Left’s hapless piñata?
In the past, when you wanted to send an angry letter to the newspaper, you first had to type it. If you had typos, you needed to type it again. Then you had to address the envelope, find a stamp, walk to the mail box and send it. Then you had to check the paper every day to see if the editor had run it. He would have scanned it for libel, profanity, and obvious errors of fact. He only published those which didn’t. Today, any one of us can write the whole world on social media falsely accusing our enemies of being child molesters — in the time it took you to read this sentence.
Isn’t it true that the Left feels completely unbound by conventions, rules, or even elementary decency? Given that fact, by sticking to the rules, aren’t we promising to lose? That was most clear on the Senate judiciary filibuster.
Just think how long it would have taken, say, President George H.W. Bush to make a film in which he bodyslammed and shaved the head of a CNN surrogate. (Really, sit back and try to visualize that film. Makes you smile, doesn’t it?) But with modern technology and President Trump, all he needed to do was wait for someone to make a GIF. It helped that there was already video of Trump actually bodyslamming someone, from his old TV wrestling days. That’s always handy.
The Buffers Are Gone
The conventions that Burke valued and Trump flouts enforced a kind of discipline. They kept us from tearing our country apart. And sometimes in the American past, they did break down. Specifically, on the brink of the Civil War, when a Southern member of Congress felt insulted by a Northern colleague’s anti-slavery speeches. So he beat him nearly to death with a walking stick. Northerners were outraged. Southerners flooded their countryman’s office with brand new walking sticks. Once that happened, you knew that war was on the way.
Trump trashes such institutions. On that we agree. But isn’t it true that the Left feels completely unbound by conventions, rules, or even elementary decency? Given that fact, by sticking to the rules, aren’t we promising to lose? That was most clear on the Senate judiciary filibuster, which was only ever used to block pro-life judges from the U.S. Supreme Court. So the GOP was absolutely right to nuke it. To do any less would have amounted to a betrayal. Is the same thing true of Trump and his bare-knuckles fights with major media? Is he a boxer who walked into the ring and saw that the referee was biased? That his opponent had brought brass knuckles? And then, he picked up a chair to even the odds?
We’re Way Past “Normal”
Roger Kimball thinks so. He is no rowdy populist. In fact, he’s an erudite art critic. He runs a magazine that publishes articles with titles like “Matisse and Montclair in Boston” (from the current issue). He wears a bowtie. But Kimball thinks that Trump is responding proportionately and effectively, given that the culture is completely out of control. As Kimball writes:
The Left has been on a campaign to ruin normality since the 1960s. Their dearest wish was to destroy and hollow out and ridicule the bourgeois virtues of good manners and decorum—even to utter those words sounds odd, so successful has their battle against the language of traditional manners and morals been. As David Marcus notes in a percipient essay at The Federalist, progressives long ago declared war on the normal. And now they are upset because someone they dislike has appeared wielding real power in ways they find abnormal?
“These are the same people,” Marcus notes, “who over the past few years have insisted that five-year-old boys becoming five-year-old girls is normal. They tell us that a guaranteed basic income and running for president as a Socialist is normal. Forcing Catholic hospitals to offer birth control, undocumented immigrants voting in our elections, and abolishing the police: normal, normal, and normal.”
As Kimball and Marcus note, the stakes are much higher than they were in say, 1960. Back then Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon could have a civil debate. Neither candidate’s supporters, in case of losing, would have claimed that the winner was a tyrant. They wouldn’t have started a “resistance” movement. Nor fantasized in public about assassinating him. Neither candidate threatened the basic religious liberties of millions of Americans. Nor planned to flood the country with unassimilable foreigners, just to import more voters for his party.
The issues we face now are life and death. The Left isn’t playing hardball. It’s playing Rollerball.
Just the very latest stunt: CNN seems to have blackmailed some private citizen who created the GIF that Trump used. They ferreted out his identity, found some offensive stuff that he posted — then swore him to permanent silence, on pain of public exposure. If that is how major news organizations operate, they deserve Trump’s contempt. And if things have really come to that pass, we really must add: God help us.