The election of Donald Trump has thrown the American Left into a state that might be described as maniacal or infantile or very likely both. Although I speak as an amateur in matters strictly psychological, it is fair to say that a symptom of mild insanity is the patient’s belief in the unbelievable, often with absolutely unshakeable conviction.
Take Marlow’s description in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) of the man who knew there was life on Mars: “I knew once a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter something about ‘walking on all-fours.’ If you as much as smiled, he would — though a man of sixty—offer to fight you.”
That’s conviction, but it’s also mild insanity. It’s amusing in Conrad only because the Scotsman amounts to no more than a passing reference, however memorable. But if you were in a room filled with such Scotsmen, worried that your views might prove tinder for the fiery ire of the true believers to the point of, as the Brits used to say, fisticuffs, you’d want to be somewhere else.
Personally, I don’t want to be somewhere else, but the United States is getting more and more like that room. The Scotsmen in this instance are directed, I feel certain, by some very cunning folks, people who are very good at, to pick a label, community organizing—only they don’t have much to do with any traditional sense of community. “Act Up” and, a new one to me although the title is rather telling, “Organizing For America” are groups that “organize” chaos for political ends. And, indeed, their disruptions have begun on the grand scale at town hall meetings, Berkeley, and any number of venues.
Which gets me to the twin phenomena of Newspeak and Groupthink. Amid the shouting about Trump’s various botched executive orders, as well has his successes, are predictable references to George Orwell and Aldous Huxley: it can happen here! (Only that phrase belonged to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel.) What can happen? I’ll get to that shortly.
Common to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, Newspeak is an official vocabulary of euphemisms that serve to conceal the true nature of the things described in happy talk (as euphemisms do), to inspire to action or inaction groups (as in Groupthink) largely ignorant of the meanings of the words used, and finally to short-circuit criticism.
The young are the soft targets for this policy. Like the test-tube babies mass-fertilized in Huxley’s hatcheries, they are conditioned in the universities, the Social Predestination Rooms of our brave new world, to spout off mindlessly about economics, politics, and religion as if they were so many Aquinases. With them are aging former youths, equally conditioned a generation ago to believe things that are, in many instances, demonstrably false.
Consider just three words: Fascist, Nazi, and Racist—and if you say there are more, vocabularies usually consisting of more than three items, I won’t disagree as long as you add the proviso “in civil political discourse.” One may think of many ways to describe the actions of the Left over the last few weeks, but civil isn’t one of them. All one has to do is mention Trump’s proposed vetting of aliens from seven Muslim countries, and the “youths” will automatically cry, “Racist!” It’s as simple as ringing a bell for Pavlov’s dog, and, as long as it ends any discussion, as effective.
Racism, Nazism, and Fascism—hardly new words—may be defined succinctly or at length as suits the occasion. Fascist is commonly attached to the nefarious deeds of Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, prime minister and dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1945, and head of the National Fascist Party (PNF). A socialist as a young man, Mussolini modified his politics from a system of government ownership of the means of production to one of government direction of the economy via the managerial state. In addition, as was typical of Fascism in its various European forms, he donned a uniform (he had fought in World War I) and militarized his goon squads, ostensibly to give modern statism the luster of ancient Roman glory.
To Leftists across the land, whining about everything the Trump administration does, a Fascist is no more than a politician doing things Leftists don’t like. Hang the fact that, minus the uniforms, Progressives were advocating the managerial state in the screeds by Richard Ely, Herbert Croly, and Woodrow Wilson before Mussolini was born. Who were the twentieth-century fathers of the imperial, economy-directing presidency? Not Calvin Coolidge. Barack Obama periodically constructed straw-man arguments about conservatives’ wanting to destroy the central government, and his “pen and phone” were always in the service of bureaucratic overreach.
But no one at Berkeley was ever known to utter so much as a peep in protest at the national government’s accumulating unlimited power because the usual suspects engaged in the project were of the Left. If Trump proves economically a statist manager, they ought to applaud him. But don’t hold your breath; he’s got “Republican” by his name.
Nazism, according to Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn, an Austrian Catholic nobleman and socio-political theorist, had a somewhat different history from Fascism, but the ultimate political philosophy was much the same: a total state that managed the economy, with a strong injection of militarism, first, to inspire, and second, to conquer. Hitler and his National Socialist Workers Party, to whom so many infantile Leftists wish to associate Trump, admired Otto von Bismarck’s social state that sowed the seeds of national health insurance, national workers’ comp, and social security. He had little respect for private property or the rule of law, and, like Mussolini, his appeals to industrial capitalists were made in terms of cherry picking those he favored for the expansion of power—something industrial capitalists too often applaud.
As with Mussolini’s Fascism, there’s not much here in economic policy that would disturb a Progressive—or perhaps Trump, the friend of Carrier. But don’t tell that to a Leftist. Trump is a Nazi, Mr. Iron Heel. Ah, but what about those uniforms? They must be in production as we speak. All I can say is Trump’s statement about being the most “militaristic” guy around was idiotic (he meant he was for strong defense), and generally he appears inexpert in such matters. Besides, did anyone watch him reviewing the marching troops at the inauguration? Never has a man looked more anxious for a quick trip to a local bar for a couple of beers.
Racism we can deal with quickly: Trump is not a racist. But since the label is the ultimate Leftist smear, it works wonders even when used promiscuously as the Left is wont to do concerning, say, immigration, especially when it’s illegal.
A poll three or four years ago found that conservatives knew far more about what liberals believed than liberals knew about conservatives. No matter. As long as the three-word dictionary of politics is the Left’s manual of choice, clear and precise thinking will be passé, civility will remain an unknown public virtue, and discussion won’t get past Newspeak, empty words that won’t permit rebuttal.