Modern-day leftism, which is the bohemian spirit of 1968 codified and institutionalised, dominates almost every aspect of Western societies, not least the United States. Donald Trump has become the fulcrum of a revolutionary conservative movement intent on vanquishing the PC ideology that dominates the mainstream media, Hollywood, academia, immigration, foreign relations, trade, inner-city policing, counter-terrorism, judicial activism and Obama holdouts in the ‘Deep State’. A showdown looms.
Ultimately what differentiates Bush Derangement Syndrome from Trumpophobia is the populist-nationalist creed that informs the 45th president. George W. Bush, back in 1999, summarised his ‘compassionate conservatism’ in these words: ‘I’m running because my party must match a conservative mind with a compassionate heart’. The political philosophy underpinning the Trump administration is not so much conservatism with a compassionate heart as conservatism with a revolutionary one.
The most recent edition of Time magazine, now in permanent campaign mode against Trump, was not entirely off the mark with David Von Drehle’s story on White House chief strategist Steven Bannon: ‘A party guest recalled meeting him as a private citizen telling him that he was like Lenin, eager to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s Establishment.’” Von Drehle is right to charge Steven Bannon – and we could add a number of other Trump senor advisors including Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka, author of Defeating Jihad (2016) – with being a revolutionary. To be fair, though, the dictatorship of the proletariat might not be on the program. Economic nationalism, enlightened patriotism and traditional Judeo-Christian principles are more in accord with Bannon’s tastes than nationalising the means of production.
The editors at Time overstated the case with their ‘The Great Manipulator’ headline for Von Drehle’s piece. Steven Bannon will doubtless help advance the president’s agenda – repealing and replacing Obamacare, securing the border, restricting immigration, banning the Muslim Brotherhood, reconfiguring multilateral trade arrangements, reducing taxes, revitalising manufacturing, resuscitating inner-city education, activating America’s can-do spirit and so on ad infinitum – and yet the road map existed before he joined the team. It’s all there in Donald J. Trump’s (admittedly slender) political tome, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.
What Bannon provides is a conceptual framework for understanding both Trump’s policies and, just as importantly, the hostility towards them from so many quarters, the mainstream media included. Trump’s condemnation of media critics, as exemplified by his February 16 press conference, has been called everything from brilliantly humorous to an attack on the First Amendment and free speech. What few would deny is that the interchange with Jim Acosta and the disparagement of CNN’s ‘very fake news’ was personal: ‘But the tone, Jim, if you look – the hatred…’ Trump, the seasoned salesman, invariably returns to the personal. On the campaign trail he repeatedly denounced hostile journalists as ‘the most dishonest human beings on earth’.
Steven Bannon also characterises anti-Trump fervour in personal terms. He argued the mainstream media ought to be ‘embarrassed and humiliated’ for failing to foresee Trump’s populist-fuelled victory and should ‘keep its mouth shut’ for a while. But Bannon’s critique goes further than that. In a recent interview with the New York Times, for instance, he categorised mainstream media as being on the other side of the barricades: ‘You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.’ Their enmity, in other words, runs deeper than mere petulance. It is ideological and will never reconcile with America First nationalism.
The hostility of what Trumps terms ‘the dishonest media’ begins with a belief that Brownshirts are occupying the White House. Nobody expressed the horror of this better than CNN’s Rachel Maddow, telling her viewers on election night: ‘You’re not having a terrible, terrible dream. Also, you’re not dead, and you haven’t gone to hell. This is your life now…’
Trumpophobia means always assuming the worst. On Inauguration Day, for example, Time’s Zeke Miller inaccurately reported that that the famous bust of Martin Luther King Jnr had been removed from the Oval Office. Miller later claimed his was an honest mistake, that ‘an agent and a door’ obscured his view. Maybe so. More problematic was Time’s readiness to attribute anti-African-American bigotry to President Trump with no thought – or, more worryingly, plenty of thought – given to the incendiary nature of the charge. Time, like so much of the mainstream media, believes it’s at war with the Racist-in-Chief.
Celebrities, from Meryl Streep to J.K. Rowling, are also agitated and agitating. George Clooney’s denunciation of Trump, back in March 2016, as a ‘xenophobic fascist’ was an early insurgent voice. Madonna, at the post-Inauguration Day women’s march, talked of ‘blowing up the White House’. Bruce Springsteen, on tour with the E Street Band, spoke in similarly apocalyptic terms: ‘We are the new resistance!’ The quality of their dissent might not rise above agitprop yet the message resonates because, for some people, it is not a matter of ‘In God We Trust’ but ‘In Celebs We Trust’.
President Trump enjoys zero legitimacy amongst his powerful and vocal enemies who speak the language of civil war. Compromise is not an option when you see everything in Hitlerian terms. A similar narrative might have arisen if a different Republican had won the White House, but the current incumbent is qualitatively different because his administration really might pose an existentialist threat to the PC worldview.
America has long divided along ideological lines, with the spirit of 1968 mostly outmanoeuvring the spirit of 1776.
After eight years of Obama, however, ordinary Americans wanted change. A populist movement was evident throughout Trump’s 2015-16 campaign and still palpable at his weekend rally in Florida. As the Trump enthusiast invited on stage proudly proclaimed: ‘We the people, our movement, is the reason why our President of the United States is standing in front of us today.’ Only the continuation of that kind of open and effusive support will save the Trump presidency from its formidable foes.