Marcus Borg, the liberal Christian scholar, says that you can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both. He advises adoption of the former approach.
Recently, speaking of Trump, Salena Zito has written in the Atlantic that “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally”—meaning that his supporters have come to believe that he will do great things for them, but understand the hyperbole as hyperbole, and forgive it.
I suppose that may be an accurate statement about the thinking process of many Trump voters, maybe the majority of them. But there is a high risk that, in so thinking, they have made a catastrophic misjudgment.
We will know more as the transition process unfolds. As I write, grossly unqualified people are apparently being considered seriously for high positions in diplomacy and the military. Right now, along with Charles Lane, I am sorry to say that I take Trump’s desire to smash the international order both very literally and very seriously.
This is not a happy conclusion. But progressives gain nothing when they forget that denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming
Whatever Hillary’s defects, Trump’s voters exhibited horrifically bad judgment in viewing him as preferable to her. Paul Waldman admirably catalogues the reasons why, in The Unpersuadables. Having done so, Waldman concludes that “racial, ethnic, and religious hatred was the foundation on which the Trump campaign was built.”
Well, no doubt white identity was one foundation of Trump’s campaign.
The Waldman piece may usefully be contrasted with Pankaj Mishra, writing in the New Yorker on The Anti-Elite, Post-Fact Worlds of Trump and Rousseau, which places great emphasis on economic, class, and educational resentment.
My own hypothesis is that the main immediate cause of the Trump voters’ massive failure of judgment was the loathing toward Hillary that had come to possess them.
Whatever the right answer—or rather, answers—may be, they likely will not be discovered by pundicts articulately contemplating their navels. We need some social science, folks
For some time now, I have found Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York magazine, one of our most insightful pundits. I adhere to that view, though I cannot agree with the thrust of two recent columns: How the Loyal Opposition Will Work in Trump’s America and Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have a Plan to Make President Trump Popular.
The question Chait addresses is whether Democrats ought to involve themselves with, and support, Trump’s plans for massive new spending on infrastructure. (That’s assuming the project as ultimately adopted is appropriate public policy—not fundamentally marred by poorly conceived efforts to involve private capital.)
Chait trenchantly expatiates on the hypocrisy of those who oppose public spend in Democratic administrations only to fall in love with inflationary deficit spending when Republicans take office. He enlarges on how Republican opposition to everything Obama proposed helped to keep their own constituents in poverty, and primed to vote for “change” in 2016. He eloquently argues that allowing a feeling of bipartisanship to grow could tend toward legitimizing that which ought to be illegitimate.
I believe these are all fair arguments, with much to commend them.
But, in the end, aren’t we all better if progressives just do the right thing?
If (and it may be a big if) Trump can live with an infrastructure proposal similar to that offered by Obama—and rejected by McConnell and his cynical posse—wouldn’t a mirror image cynicism on our part simply lead ever wider segments of the public to shout, “A plague on both your houses”?
Wouldn’t mirror image cynicism just reinforce whatever authoritarian tendencies Trump may exhibit?