White House

Liberalism created Donald Trump

Mark Bauerlein

Eight months have passed since the election, but on the Left the shock has not abated.  For them, each new week brings fresh revelations why Donald Trump shouldn't be president.

I've stopped trying to convince them that Trump isn't the monster they think he is.  Instead, though I disagree, I go along with all their judgments and add, "But it's your liberalism that put him there."  Huh?

The conversation continues.

Liberalism has fallen into a position in which it can make few moral arguments against the other side. That’s the real frustration liberals have with President Trump.

"Yes," I say, "you call him vulgar and crass, but you’ve praised vulgar and crass characters from George Carlin to Madonna nonstop.  You celebrate them as groundbreakers and boundary-pushers.  Well, now you’ve got someone taking it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

“The guy is sullying the dignity of the office,” they charge.

“But you love edgy counter-cultural gestures, the CEO who shows up to meetings in a t-shirt, the lefty rock star who shouts at the Golden Globes ‘This is f------ brilliant.’  Remember how you labeled Tipper Gore an uptight Puritan after she led the charge against indecent rock lyrics?  Well, now you’ve got a president who is no Puritan."

"Yeah, he's nothing but a reality TV star," they grumble.  "He's a braggart and a bully."

"Wait a minute," I reply. "You ate up the braggadocio of Muhammad Ali.  And just listen to the liberal ESPN and note how often it showcases trash-talkers and the 'swagger.'  I’ll take Joe Frazier any day, but you put the strong, silent type away long ago with your Sixties anti-hero."

"Look at how he talked about women on that bus!" they charge.

"C'mon," I remind them, "President Obama told Rolling Stone that he was hip to the rappers Nas ("see that p----y, they hand it to me") and Lil' Wayne ("I love a cute ho").  And don’t forget Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column ‘Dirty Words from Pretty Mouths’ (Feb 28, 2015), which praised female writers and actresses for their own version of male raunchiness.  That’s the feminism that said women can be just as sexually aggressive as men.”

The Left has forgotten the link between political and cultural liberalism.  Political liberalism, broadly speaking, seeks state solutions to private problems.  Cultural liberalism operates on one principle: Do your own thing.  The error is to believe that the two can remain separate.  Liberals thought that they could create a culture of individual freedom, but keep politics on the straight and true line of progressive change.  But rampant individualism was bound to erode public manners and mores; we see the moral anarchy of our world every time we turn on the TV.  It was inevitable that the deterioration would filter into American politics, too.

Why, then, should people who voted for Donald Trump pay any attention to liberal criticisms of his lifestyle and language, his divorces and reality-TV celebrity?  Everything liberal opponents attack him for on cultural grounds could be turned right around on themselves.  When Robert De Niro told Brown University graduates that in four years the United States has gone from “an inspiring uplifting drama” to “a tragic dumbass comedy,” Trump supporters remembered that Black Lives Matter, Jon Stewart, The View, and a hundred other left-wing voices have never treated America as uplifting and inspiring. 

Liberalism has fallen into a position in which it can make few moral arguments against the other side.  That’s the real frustration liberals have with President Trump.  He is the ultimate realization of liberal culture—and yet he still (rightly) believes in God and country.

Mark Bauerlein is Professor of English at Emory University and Senior Editor at First Things magazine.