My friend Peter Boghossian (a philosophy professor at Portland State) called my attention to a piece that he and James Lindsay (a mathematician and author) have published at Quillette: “The article about Trump nobody will publish.” (Quillette appears to be replacing Slate as the go-to place for secular and atheist writing.)
Their piece begins with this intriguing note from the editor:
Who wouldn’t want to read a piece that starts that way? It could mean one of two things: either the piece is abysmal, or it’s controversial. (As I recall, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith was rejected by about a dozen publishers.) Well, it’s clearly controversial, but many of the commenters seem to think it’s abysmal, including at least one writer I respect. I don’t know what to think, as the authors’ main thesis—that Trump’s success is largely due to pushback against the Regressive Left—is emotionally appealing to me, but also lacking much evidence. And that’s a bad combination.
At any rate, their thesis is still worth pondering. They begin with the usual liberal tirade against Trump, calling him a monstrous, juvenile, and dangerous self-promoter—a cancer on the body politic. Well, who can take issue with that? What many commenters took issue with was that Boghossian and Lindsay identify another cancer, one that is supposed to explain a lot of Trump’s popularity:
Trump’s rise isn’t just explained by the failure of the GOP to get its house in order, conduct responsible politics, or find a single qualified candidate to run for the office. Trump’s rise follows directly from backlash to two words: political correctness. These two words are two of Trump’s favorites, and not arbitrarily. It is almost impossible to find a Trump supporter who doesn’t back him explicitly because of his unflinching, dismissive, even hostile stance against political correctness. “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Vote Trump!” could be a campaign bumper sticker. Should that not be convincing enough, cinching the case was the recent race-to-the-bottom sparring match between Trump and former GOP hopeful Ted Cruz, over which of them is to be deplored for being “more PC” than the other.
The Politically Correct Left is a cancer, too. It diagnoses societal symptoms far too simplistically and, largely just by calling them bigots, smears anyone who questions their moral pronouncements. Their assessment possesses no more nuance than accusing those on the Right of holding policy positions because they’re bigots: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and anything else -phobic or -ist that their imaginations allow. This impolitic attitude and the concomitant name-calling prevent honest discourse about pressing issues, such as immigration policy, health care, and the global concerns orbiting around Islamist terrorism. The Politically Correct Left cannot even hear the need for such conversations, though, over the sound of its bellowing accusations of bigotry. Trump bulldozes their objections and couldn’t care less. Certainly, his policy proposals on these issues are both practically and morally repellent, but democracy demands the national-level conversation he’s forcing.
It must be noted that on almost no topic is the love of Trump’s anti-PC stand more obvious than that of radical Islam’s role in current global affairs. It doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest how clumsily he handles the topic. His supporters still lap it up. Why? The fact that our current political elites—be it for good reasons or bad—are obviously not speaking honestly about the connections between Islam and Islamism is a highly malignant lobe of the PC cancer. Trump’s recommended medicine seems hardly more sophisticated than taking a relatively dull hatchet to the afflicted, but at least he’s calling for an operation.
Much of that is true; what I question is how much it’s contributed to The Rise of Trumpism. And though the authors are clear that they despise Trump, and won’t vote for him, they suggest that his election might have one good effect, serving in the long run as “chemo” to cure both the rightward-lurching Republican party and the toxic Regressive Left:
These problems truly are cancers to our democracy, and a President Trump might be potent, if rough, medicine. There’s little question that his incompetence, inexperience, impetuousness, and incivility would cripple both the effectiveness and reputation of American politics for as long as he held office; and the embarrassment to the American citizens, if it were to elect him, would be almost unbearable. Our relationships with many, if not most, other countries would deteriorate, our economy would struggle (if it didn’t crash outright), and many of our problems would either multiply or fester. Such pains, though, may be the metaphorical equivalent of what chemotherapy does to its unfortunate patients. The question to our minds, then, isn’t whether a Trump presidency would be bad for America—it unquestionably would—but whether America might survive the medicine and come out better for the noxious treatment.
. . .Are we going to vote for Trump? No. No one should. What we’ve written constitutes the only reasonable case for supporting Trump, and it’s weak. That there’s even such an argument to be made, though, tells us a great deal about what’s going wrong in our society.
But I don’t even think there’s an argument to be made. The authors simply fail to adduce even a slightly convincing argument that America would “come out better” after Trump has served. Republicans are already repudiating him right and left, realizing what a Frankenstein their efforts have produced. The next Republican candidate, in four years’ time, won’t be anything like Trump.
And if the authors think Trump’s wrecking the country will make a Democratic President more likely in the future, that remains to be seen. I, for one, don’t want four or eight years of a demagogue to get there. As for Trump wrecking the Regressive Left because they contributed to his election, I can’t see that at all. What will wreck that segment of the Left is its own excesses, not Trump’s success (which apparently will cause Leftists to rethink their behavior.) As I’ve said before, most Republican voters don’t even know about the Regressive Left, a phenomenon largely confined to the Internet and arguments among intellectuals. But I do accept that the failure of the Democratic party to push back against the Regressive Left has given some fodder to Trump’s supporters.
At least one commenter, whom many of us will recognize, had an even stronger aversion to the piece. Here are his two comments, and let it be noted that Orac (author of the website Respectful Insolence) is a cancer surgeon, and so may have reacted more violently than most to the invocation of cancer and “chemo”:
Weigh in below, and I’ll call the comments to the authors’ attention.