Part 5—The need for liberal leadership: Have you watched yesterday's press event? If not, have you seen it described?
We'll go ahead and quote David Brooks. This is what David Brooks saw:
"I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued."
Trump is moving past unhinged and unglued! That's what David Brooks saw!
In our view, Brooks falls short of a straightforward statement. He still doesn't say, in a straightforward way, that we need to discuss the possibility that President Trump is unfit for office, or handicapped in his performance, by issues involving his mental health.
That said, Brooks describes a dangerous situation—the same dangerous situation Paul Krugman describes in his own new column. Concerning that, we'll only say this:
We think Brooks understands the situation better than Krugman does. That may seem like a shocking statement, but it returns us to the topic of this week's reports.
According to Brooks, the person who gave yesterday's presser seems unhinged, unmoored, unglued, or perhaps something worse than that. We liberals thrill to such declarations, without considering this corollary:
We liberals just managed to lose an election to this unhinged man!
Granted, Trump lost the popular vote—though it should be said that he won the overall popular vote in the 49 states which aren't California. Our question, which our team will tend to skip past:
What does this say about us? What does it say about us that we managed to lose an election to an unhinged, unglued, unmoored man?
Does it say anything about Us? Or was November's election result just a reflection on Them?
We all know the standard reply which will emerge from our liberal tents. Unfortunately, that standard reply is in error.
Alas! The fact that we lost to a person like Trump stands as a massive indictment of us. In the main, it stands as an indictment of 25 years of self-dealing and lethargy on the part of our liberal leaders and the mainstream press.
That said, it also speaks to the shortcomings of our liberal rank and file, which is frequently quite self-impressed. We love to note the dumbness of Them. As tribal groups have always done, we blow past the dumbness of Us.
Next week, we'll look at some of the leadership groups who have so massively failed us. We'll look at the nation's professors, and at the emerging, younger group of black assistant professors.
We'll look at the lefty cohort, which can be too cool for school. We'll look at the Hollywood types, who seem to be happy only when costing Democrats votes. (Last week, were you able to spot the way Meryl Streep did it again?)
We'll look at our corporate cable stars, including our corporate liberal stars, some of whom sat out the last election, some of whom, in earlier corporate lives, created the stupid and noxious themes which sent Clinton down to defeat.
We'll look at the liberal voices within the mainstream press—the Riches, the Drums, the Chaits, the Dionnes, the Robinsons, Kristofs and even the (MVP) Krugmans.
We'll look at the mainstream press corps itself—at the jihads it invented in the 1990s. We'll look at the 20-somethings who now swarm all over that mainstream press, helping keep labor costs down while trailing their youthful cluelessness behind them.
(Where on earth did Slate ever go to find its newest, most fatuous star? What does it say about Us that there must be a cohort which wants this?)
As we roll our eyes at The Others, we tend to look past the conduct of our own leadership groups. We do so because we liberals are dumb, like all tribal groups before us.
How dumb can we the liberals get? Last November, we were shocked when Donald J. Trump drew an inside straight and won.
We were shocked because our professors and pundits told us it couldn't possibly happen—and because, left on our own, we were dumb enough to believe them. In last Sunday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank described the "collective trauma" we now experience, in which "millions of people feel powerless and out of control, which leads to anxiety, anger and despair."
Depending on how you want to score it, Milbank is one of the liberal voices within the upper-end mainstream press. How should we now respond to Trump?
Boldly, Milbank laid out of his ideas. Here's the way he began:
MILBANK (2/12/17): Until now, the response to Trump has been ad hoc: demonstrations arranged on social media or flooding the Capitol switchboard. That does some good, and the rallies are a balm for people feeling isolated. But the activities are wasted if those involved don’t join a larger movement.Has the man with the nuclear codes moved past unhinged and unglued? Friend, Dana Milbank knows what to do:
“We need to shift from a reactive to a strategic response,” [Marshall] Ganz says. His solution: Join something. “To the extent it brings you into a relationship with others, it’s worth doing. Unless it has that further dividend, it gets old.”
So what to join? My friend Eric Liu, author of the forthcoming book “You’re More Powerful Than You Think,” says even a book club will do. That’s true, in the long run: The idea is to rebuild structures of civil society, the breakdown of which allowed the demagogic Trump to take root.
You should join a book club!
In fairness, Milbank moved on from there. He went on to offer suggestions which are slightly less unglued—though as he ended, he also suggested that you might consider the Elks Club.
To the extent that he makes any good suggestions, Milbank's ideas have arrived just in time to be completely too late. At his worst, his suggestions make him seem about as moored, hinged and glued as Trump currently is.
Join a book club! Milbank's suggestion appeared in an especially comical Sunday edition of the Washington Post.
Possibly for the first time, the Outlook section offered an informative "Five Myths" feature in which none of the myths the authors "corrected" could sensibly be described as myths. Meanwhile, Outlook's featured front-page report appeared beneath this eye-catching hard-copy headline:
"Why do we still let 12-year-olds get married?"
It was an eye-catching headline. Unfortunately, the example with which the report began involved someone who got married at age 16—in 1986! In the course of the lengthy report's 1900 words, we were never told how many 12-year-olds have been married in recent decades.
The topic may well be very important. The journalism was bad.
Bad journalism has been par for the course in the decades of cultural / intellectual slide which led to the triumph of Trump. The strangest piece in the Outlook section concerned the liberalish world's heroic reaction to his shocking triumph.
Two nights before, a multimillionaire cable star who mugged and clowned through the last election praised us proles for the brilliant way, "all of a sudden," we are "now" learning to fight. As she did, she stuffed another bag of corporate money into her big corporate pants.
Two days later, the Washington Post went the star somewhat better. They published this ludicrous Outlook piece by a woman in Richmond, Virginia—a previously non-political woman who has now learned to fight.
We're going to call her "Name Withheld;" her piece was just that awful. It isn't her fault that the Washington Post chose to publish her ludicrous piece, in the Outlook section no less. But the utter foolishness of the piece shows us how bad the marriage can be when the rank-and-file, lacking competent leadership, interacts with the strange cluelessness of the upper-end mainstream press.
How old is Name Withheld? We have no idea. In its identity line, the Post only tells us this:
"[Name Withheld] currently resides in Richmond, Va., and works in the insurance field."
We'll assume that Name Withheld is a good, decent person. In our experience, most people are.
We'll assume she does good work in the insurance field. That said, as she starts, she identifies herself as the modern liberal nightmare, especially in a purple state like Virginia:
NAME WITHHELD (2/12/17): Like a lot of Americans, I’ve never been particularly political. I’ve never voted in a midterm election. I’ve never voted in a local race, never voted for mayor. I don’t recall voting ever, except in presidential elections. I’d read political articles and keep up with the news, but I didn’t do much research before heading to the polls every four years. My Facebook feed was mostly cat photos.There's nothing "wrong" with posting cat photos on Facebook. There's nothing "wrong" with discussing this or that at happy hour with friends.
But then President Trump was elected, and he nominated Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education.
Before DeVos, I hadn’t followed a single Cabinet nomination, which is probably true of most people. (Surveys regularly show that we aren’t particularly informed about our government.) At happy hour with my five girlfriends, we probably could have named two members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, and the secretary of education was not one of them. I feel bad saying it, but it’s the truth: I simply didn’t think I needed to know. Why? Because I always had a sense that things would be okay, regardless of who was in charge; if Mitt Romney had won instead of Obama, things would have been fine.
This was the first time I felt like things could not be okay. And I have found a political voice I didn’t know that I had—or that I even wanted to have.
There was something wrong—something badly wrong—with the Washington Post's decision to publish this ridiculous piece.
According to this lengthy piece, Name Withheld had always been apolitical. But then, along came DeVos!
More broadly, along came Trump! As a result, Name Withheld "has found a political voice I didn’t know that I had."
Name Withheld is telling a story from a dime novel, a story of personal triumph. "All of a sudden," Name Withheld is woke! For some reason, the Washington Post decided to publish this mess.
Why do we call this piece a mess? Because even in the case of DeVos, Name Withheld still seems utterly clueless. She seems to know virtually nothing about DeVos, but the Washington Post is helping Name Withheld, and us, think she's heroically woke.
Name Withheld is still uninformed. She knows that DeVos went to private schools, seems to know nothing else.
Franklin Roosevelt attended only private schools; so did John F. Kennedy. As far as we know, the same is true of Barack Obama, during the years in which he lived in the United States.
The fact that DeVos went to private schools just isn't hugely important. But it seems to be all that Name Withheld knows. This has led her to think that she's now politically active in a way that's likely to help.
Name Withheld, a good decent person, is in need of political and intellectual leadership—as are we all, of course. Will such leadership come from within our own liberal tribe?
As you ponder that question, consider this next ridiculous piece. For unknown reasons, it turned up in The Atlantic, three days ago.
The piece was written by Elizabeth Limbach, "editor in chief of the bimonthly surf lifestyle magazine Santa Cruz Waves." In her own ridiculous piece, Limbach catches the most recent wave of push-back against Tyrant Trump:
All of a sudden, liberals and progressives are agreeing that we shouldn't say his name! And no, we really aren't kidding about that. Limbach has even consulted an ethical theorist and assistant professor of philosophy concerning this emerging act of resistance:
LIMBACH (2/14/17): Like the Obamas, many of Trump’s critics have become rather skilled at speaking about him without ever saying his name. In his January State of the State address, California Governor Jerry Brown didn’t utter “Trump” once, even though the politician had been vocal and explicit about his opposition in the past. Nor was the name said by Representative John Lewis when the civil-rights leader responded to attacks Trump lobbed at him via Twitter. Meryl Streep’s viral Golden Globes speech took aim at the new president while never acknowledging him by name, and “a coarse blowhard who has boasted about assaulting women” was the closest the humorist Calvin Trillin came to naming the man in a recent piece in The New Yorker. Last week, Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King shared a widely circulated list to her Facebook page offering tips for resisting Trump. The top suggestion: “Use his name sparingly so as not to detract from the issues.”It's sad that such nonsense exists. It should be astounding that The Atlantic would decide to publish such crap.
In all of these instances, it’s what’s missing that is loudest. “Absences can be significant,” James Sias, an ethical theorist and assistant professor of philosophy at Dickinson College, told me. “What stood out to most people about Michelle Obama’s speech is what she didn’t say.”
For some, the refusal to name Trump amounts to denial or dissociation. But for many of the tactic’s adoptees, it’s a signal of resistance...
"Join a book club," Milbank says. Don't say his name," adds Limbach. Name Withheld has learned one fact.
Let's set aside the peculiar fact that the Post and The Atlantic have chosen to publish such manifest crap. Will we liberals ever be willing to see what this pitiful state of affairs says about self-impressed Us?
Next week: Our own unfaithful servants