I went on one of my drunken rants about David Brooks at a party the other day, and one of my Trump-curious friends seemed to take offense. The conversation went something like this:
Me: …The Times isn’t even a liberal newspaper. I mean, just look at their (past and present) stable of opinion writers – David Brooks, Bill Kristol, William Safire, Ross Douthat. How can you argue that the Times is unfriendly to conservatives?
Him: Did any of those people vote for Trump?
Me [thinks for a bit]: No, I guess not. Would you be happier if the Times gave a slot to a Trump voter?
Him: Yeah. If one person starts talking this way, maybe it’s safe to dismiss them as a kook. But if millions and millions of people agree, then you have to start taking them seriously.
Me: Maybe they can hire someone away from Breitbart or Der Sturmer.
Ok, that last bit of repartee never happened. (I definitely have a bad case of l’esprit de l’escalier.)
But the conversation got me thinking. Not about the absurd notion that if millions of people believe in something, the “newspaper of record” should provide a platform for it – I don’t think anti-vaxxers or young earth creationists or 9/11 truthers or incorrigible racists or any other taxon of deplorable deserves to take home a handsome salary from the Grey Lady. (That’s Simon and Schuster’s job, right?) Instead, I got to thinking about what a NYT op-ed columnist who supports Trump would be like.
It’s a bit of a puzzle. NYT op-ed writers must always aspire to intellectualism, even if they fail miserably. David Brooks enjoys quoting Michel de Montaigne and Edmund Burke; he admires “deep” people like “Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Day, Pope Francis, [and] Mother Teresa” (that latter quote is from an Atlantic article called, “David Brooks’s 5-Step Guide to Being Deep”. Please don’t read it.) And, similarly, Ross Douthat prides himself on his ideological heterodoxy, which apparently means writing books about how to remake the Republican Party and having those recommendations promptly ignored.
So I think that such a person couldn’t be a standard party flack like Kellyanne Conway or Reince Priebus. And, he/she (ok, let’s be serious, he) would have to be a true believer, not someone like Jason Chaffetz who decided to support Trump when it became politically convenient, or someone like Jonah Goldberg who decided to abandon NeverTrumpism after he won the general election (“Never Trump is over. Never Trump was about the GOP primary and the general election, not the presidency. The Left wants to claim it must be a permanent movement, denying the legitimacy of Trump’s election forever, or we were never serious. Well, that’s not what we — or at least I — signed up for.” I think Jonah’s grasp of the meaning of “never” is about as good as his grasp of the meaning of “fascism”.)
What makes the task almost impossible is that Trumpism defines itself in opposition to elitism and intellectualism. I like listening (in small doses) to ordinary people who embody Trumpism, and here’s one representative example, a guy named Dave (with the Twitter handle “DeplorableDave”) who appears in a Youtube video called “My Twitter War with Never Trump Loser Jonah Goldberg”. In it, Dave assaults Jonah Goldberg for being a “piece of scum” and “a piece of maniacal crap” (hear, hear). He also attacks him for being “Mr. Ph.D.” (not true), as well as a “twit”, “an elitist snob”, a “pseudo-intellectual” and “smug and smart” (all definitely true, except for the “smart” part). He portrays himself as “one of the great unwashed” (a phrase he attributes to Rush Limbaugh), and mentions that while Goldberg might win a Twitter war against him, it doesn’t really matter because, speaking “theoretically”, he would punch Jonah in the face if they ever met, and real fights matter much more than fake internet fights. (God bless armchair masculinity.)
(As a brief digression, the saddest part of this video is that this guy, Dave, complains that the Republican Party has done nothing for people like him for 30 years, that his wife “works her ass off” yet is still “underpaid and underappreciated”, and that he has “quite a few” “outstanding debts” that he believes he’ll never pay off. He also has a 2-year old with epilepsy. (That’s a pre-existing condition, FYI.) However, his number one reason for supporting Trump, and believing that he is a conservative, haters like Jonah Goldberg notwithstanding, is his immigration policy. In other words, he’ll be able to repay his loans and corporate America will start appreciating his wife’s hard work more after we deport the brown people. I guess this is what Marxists mean when they refer to the “false consciousness” of the working class.)
What are the odds that someone like Dave would want to be the lone Trump supporter on the Times’ editorial page? Zero, right? Most Trumpists welcome the hatred of the Times. To join it would be to miss the point.
No, we must instead venture into the outer reaches of the marketplace of ideas to find a prospective Trumpist editorial writer. This person must be smart enough to read a “deep” thinker like Michel de Montaigne, but also clueless enough to fail to realize that Trumpists are either apathetic or actively hostile to that sort of activity.
Fortunately, the New Yorker has done most of the hard work for me. (I was worried that I’d have to commit an actual act of journalism in order to write this blog entry.) In his article, Kelefa Sanneh discusses the exact same dilemma (“The Washington Post recently reported that newspaper editorial pages are scrambling to find pro-Trump columnists; no doubt both demand and supply will increase in the next few years.”)
He focuses on one specific pro-Trump intellectual, a Manhattan-based finance bro who writes under the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul known for sacrificing himself in battle.” Decius, as he’s called for short, believed that the 2016 election was an almost apocalyptic moment for America. He published an article prior to the election entitled “The Flight 93 Election.” It “likened the country to a hijacked airplane, and argued that voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit: the consequences were possibly dire, but the consequences of inaction were surely so.”
One gets the impression from Sanneh’s article that even the intellectuals who support Trump don’t actually like him. (Sanneh quotes Mark Bauerlein, a Trump-supporting professor at Emory, who says “you have to suck it up” to support Trump despite his deficiencies.) These people are wedded not to Trump, but instead to a set of xenophobic and (white) nationalist ideas that focus euphemistically on “citizenship”. (“To Decius and his comrades, the language of citizenship is central to Trumpism, which encourages Americans to think of themselves as members of a wonderful club, besieged by gate-crashers.”)
So in the end I’m a bit befuddled. The salt of the earth racists don’t want to write for a New York newspaper. The orthodox conservatives might, but they are also apostates in the church of Trump. And the contingent of intellectuals who are true Trump believers is so tiny and irrelevant that they publish under ridiculous Roman pseudonyms and probably don’t even truly like the guy.
Maybe the problem is the Times’s “high” standards in the first place. Perhaps the Times doesn’t need someone who bloviates about Edmund Burke or some French dude you’ve never heard of; maybe it instead needs a real American. The public editor, Liz Spayd, explained after the election that the Times’s political coverage is woefully out of touch. So I’m looking forward to the conversation between the hiring manager at the Times and DeplorableDave, in which he laughs uproariously at the thought, and subsequently hangs up.
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