The Cultural Civil War and Trump Derangement Syndrome
And what happens when politics becomes culture.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The Black Death originated in Chinese rats, Ebola in monkeys in the Congo, and Trump Derangement Syndrome in furious liberal suburbanites who swarmed D.C. wearing pink hats and screaming at the sky.
To understand the virology of Trump Derangement Syndrome, it’s important to distinguish between ideological and cultural lefties. Contrary to expectations, TDS is found less among ideological lefties who actually know their politics than among cultural lefties who don’t even think in political terms.
Contrast Bernie Sanders, a professional socialist politician, with Debra Messing, Ashley Judd, or any of the other Hollywood #resistance celebs with a poor understanding of politics, but an unhinged conviction that Trump’s very existence is an unbearable insult to the cultural fabric of their existence.
Ideological lefties know their Marx, Alinsky, and their Crenshaw. Their hostility to Trump is relentless, but it’s the cold, political enmity of a faction that sees him as a dangerous threat to their agenda, but also as an opportunity to rapidly radicalize the Democrats to embrace previously unthinkable options.
And the cultural lefties are the ones they’re radicalizing.
Cultural lefties don’t think in political terms. They don’t understand issues and policies. They just absorb what the right views are from their surroundings. Ideological lefties can struggle with contradictions. Cultural lefties are just as clueless about contradictions as deer are about cars. They don’t ponder why they once opposed gay marriage, but now support it. That’s just what the herd they’re part of did.
Politics is a process. Its product is a value system. That value system has taken the place that morality occupied among their traditionally religious ancestors, those Northeastern Protestants and German Jewish immigrants who built what they are wrecking. They may occasionally go to church or synagogue, but those brief visitations only reinforce their moral convictions about global warming, abortion, transgender bathrooms, immigration, gun control and the rest of the creed of the Church of the Left.
These agendas are not their political opinions, they are their mores, their worldviews, and their religion, to the extent they have one. Like any tribesman in the Sahara who mutilates his daughters or devout cult member who knows that the comet is coming, they cannot conceive of another way to think.
What ideological lefties see as a political threat; cultural lefties view as an assault on their mores.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is a tribal response, not a political one. It’s triggered not by political agendas, but by cultural fiction. Before Trump Derangement Syndrome, there was Bush Derangement Syndrome. George W. Bush, like Trump, spoke the wrong way. He wasn’t one of our kind. Unlike his father. Reagan’s cowboy hat, Nixon’s poor fashion sense, Goldwater’s voice, and Eisenhower’s disdain for ‘eggheads’ had triggered similar frenzies of cultural derangement by the right sorts of people.
These frenzies have grown sharper as the culture has been reshaped, eliminating the middlebrow, indoctrinating contempt for traditional American ways of living, and holding up fringe lefties as cultural role models from pop culture to politics, and from the news media to academia. Generations of Americans, especially those in urban areas, cursed with higher degrees, and detached from religion and extended families, have grown up as members of a culture that is fundamentally at odds with America.
That is why we have both a political civil war, one being waged with subversion, impeachment, arrests, and investigations, whose goal is pure power, and a cultural civil war whose agenda is imposing a moral conformity with the mores, customs, and creed of bicoastal elites, and urban and suburban centers.
One is a power struggle. The other is a moral crusade.
Trump Derangement Syndrome with its frenzied marches, its primal screams, its ban campaigns, its ritual demonstrations of contempt, its inchoate horror and hatred, is very much a moral crusade. The folks behind the scenes may be the same, but, aside from the same paid activists, the culture war draws on a different set of foot soldiers, the suburban lefty housewives whose hostility is conservative.
Or, if you prefer, reactionary.
Trump upsets them because he upends their status quo. He insults their totems, mocks their gods, and trifles with the sacred beliefs they imbibed from their semesters at Sarah Lawrence, their seasons of Netflix, and everyone else living in the literal and figurative cul-de-sac of their suburban neighborhood: its impossible property taxes adjusted to keep unwelcome minorities from nearby cities to a minimum.
MAGA hats, deliberately loud and unfashionable, infuriate them as the banner of an enemy tribe.
Trump Derangement Syndrome isn’t just about hating Trump. It’s a visceral disgust with the sorts of people they imagine would vote for him. And a horror at the idea of sharing a state or country with them. Ideological leftism may occasionally punch up, but cultural leftism always punches down.
It’s class warfare in a pure, unfiltered form, practiced by people wearing ironic and unironic Che t-shirts.
The Trump era has gifted us an infinity of media lectures on the “threat to democracy”. And the conclusion is always that democracy poses a threat to democracy. All this deep thinking, its assorted conspiracy theories about lurking Russian bots on Facebook, is a convoluted way of getting at the idea that the real problem with our political system is that people outside the lefty cultural bubble can vote.
You know, people who actually believe in G-d, who own guns, and like their independence. Americans.
Our political system is built to be shared with people we disagree with. As ugly as things get, the system is designed to bear the load. It’s why we have checks and balances, the electoral college, filibusters, and a complicated system of electing people who are different and will be sure to disagree with each other.
You know, diversity.
The Founding Fathers made sure we had real diversity in our government long before that became a buzzword for leftist conformists whose idea of diversity is three races, a hundred ethnicities, forty religions, sixty genders, and one political opinion.
We aren’t facing a civil war because of the strain on our political system, but on the tribes of our culture.
Free nations where people elect their leaders don’t fall apart because of political differences, unless they reflect deeper cultural divisions. That’s why the Left made winning the culture war its priority.
The Founders didn’t create a system for coping with cultural differences. We had one or we didn’t. While the Left claims to war on intolerance, no political system can do that. Only a moral system can. Our values can bring us together or tear us apart. They can convince us to fight for each other or kill each other. They can remind us of what we have in common or make us deadly enemies.
These days, it’s mostly the latter.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is an expression of a cultural civil war whose roots are deeper than the antics of the last few years. It is the friction of a country fracturing into warring alien tribes. We no longer agree on the essential premises of our Union, what makes one an American, on the essential premises of morality, what is human life, what is murder, and on what our future should look like.
We no longer members of the same tribe, the same system or the same nation.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is how cultural lefties react to the revelation that the other tribe, with its accents, its clothes, its horrible beliefs, is temporarily in charge of the country. It’s no different than the Hutus and the Tutsis. It is an unthinking xenophobia in reaction to the otherness of the outsider.
It isn’t political. It’s the outcome of politics becoming culture, religion and tribal identity. It’s a politics that goes deeper than issues or arguments, CNN or MSNBC, but defines how we live and who we are.
Trump Derangement Syndrome isn’t just a reaction to President Trump. It’s a reaction to America.