[Author’s note: this is obviously not a contribution to “Materialism” which will continue early next week. What it is, is a lengthy comment written for the American Philosophical Association’s APA Blog. While it is always annoying that one of my comments is given a de facto rejection by virtue of its simply never appearing, this ceased to be unexpected long ago. Posting anything on someone else’s or some organization’s blog is a crapshoot, obviously. Fortunately I always have this site to fall back on. Here is the comment, essentially as it was submitted — I have deleted a few words that are unnecessary in here, and added a few lines where explanation of what I was responding to seemed called for.]
This article might serve as a reminder why many non-academics (especially if they are Republicans) do not trust the judgment of academics, seeing their views as steeped more in arrogance and a sense of their own superiority to the common rabble instead of being based on facts or logic. The arrogance and superiority here is reflected in the assumption that anyone who voted for, and still supports, Donald Trump, is by definition irrational, and when trying to change their minds, as if that was a mission for academics, their emotions should be appealed to. That appears to be the basic thrust of the article.
Few sensible person hold that facts don’t matter. But there is plenty of room for disagreement over what the facts are and who has them, especially if possession of the facts is systematically confused with authoritative pronouncement (and sufficient resources to disseminate one’s pronouncements). This surely includes appearances on the APA Blog, which is hardly an open forum. It particularly applies to the election of an outsider such as Trump, which has the U.S. as divided as I have ever seen it.
First, if I wanted to sustain an argument that Trump is a liar, I think I’d rely on a source other than The Washington Post whose bias is palpable. I don’t think you had to be a Trump supporter to notice that the WP collectively hated Trump’s guts from the get-go, or suspected that their writers’ (and billionaire owner’s) deep and abiding hatred for the man and whatever it was they believed he stood for might have colored their judgment somewhat. Has anyone actually compiled a separate list, for evaluation purposes, of at least some the supposed 7,645 lies Trump has told, or are we supposed to believe a number like that because WP “fact checkers” said it?
Now has Trump always told the truth? Probably not. Did Obama always tell the truth? (Remember, “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor”?) Did George W. Bush? (weapons of mass destruction in Iraq)? Did Bill Clinton? (“I did not have sex with that woman….”) The point being, if we live in a post-truth world, the nation’s political class did much to make it that way. Trump would be an amazing exception if he always told the truth.
Even granting that, the WP is hardly free of its own brand of dishonesty. If you need an example, the obvious one is the story that basically started both the (still unproven) allegation that the Trump campaign colluded directly with Russians working under Putin and the “fake news” meme that has been with us ever since. This story appeared under the title “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” November 24, 2016. This, arguably, was where “Russia-gate” began.
The “experts” mentioned in the title turned out to be an anonymous group called PropOrNot, relying on unsourced “information” about 200 or so alternative news and commentary sites on the Web many of which had supported Trump. This article left me with three realizations: (1) The WP would publish anything anti-Trump, even allegations backed up with no evidence whatever (a few Russian trolls on Facebook do not count as evidence of Russian collusion, sorry); (2) we are supposed to believe that what the WP publishes is factual simply because they said it, i.e., they implicitly appeal to their own authority; and (3) such articles, via their strong emotional appeal to Democrats who doubtless felt blindsided by the Trump upset, absolved them of the need to hold their Party (especially the DNC) responsible for the fact — for fact it is — that they blew it! The 2016 election was theirs to lose, after all!
People who earn their paychecks teaching logic ought to be interested in this kind of perspective … even if they’ve awakened to the fact that the human masses are moved more by emotion than logic (Hume was right, after all).
Trump is a symptom, not the problem as most Trump haters seem to assume. He’ll be gone in a few years, whatever happens. Were he removed from office tomorrow, the things that got him elected would still be there.
What “things” are we talking about, that others aren’t?
(1) Trump rose to the top of the heap amidst a 17-candidate pile-up as an outsider because the mainstream Republican narrative had collapsed. I don’t think any of the corporate-sponsored insiders even knew what it was anymore. If the neoconservative narrative was about something other than war, money, and Israel, it was well-hidden. The billionaire class initially wanted Jeb Bush. Voters did not. So for the first time in our lifetimes, a non-politician who had never held elected office before got into the White House!
This has not changed.
(2) Trump knew how to use both traditional media and Internet-based social media to his maximum advantage. He understood instinctively how today’s masses worship celebrities, and played the part. He understood that, yes, they respond to emotion … but so do left-liberals, so Trump supporters are hardly unique in that regard. More than any of that, though, he knew how to turn the slings and arrows of those who hated his guts against them. He understood that the louder and nastier their insults, the greater his support from his “base” out in “flyover country” which, similarly, was sick and tired of being insulted when not simply dismissed out of hand by wealthy, arrogant, big-city media elites who want to tell everybody how to behave and who they should associate with (see (4)).
All of this should have been clear even before the debates with Hillary Clinton. I do not believe major media were even trying to hide their pro-Clinton bias. But no matter what they did, Trump came out on top. His supporters loved it! His haters were already getting violent, physically assaulting supporters outside Trump rallies, blocking traffic on freeways and at major intersections, and then dishonestly trying to blame Trump or his supporters for the violence they started!
(3) Speaking of Hillary, the Democrats misplayed their hand from the get-go. Are there really any grounds for doubt that Clinton had the DNC in her pocket; that she’d cheated (with “superdelegates,”) to nudge Bernie Sanders aside when he, not she, had the support of the Party’s progressive base; and that she had the full backing of powerful banks such as Goldman Sachs and others of the globalist Wall Street cartel? The Democratic Party mainstream has also collapsed, after all. If Democrats’ narrative is about anything except war, money, and identity politics, they keep it well hidden. Hillary Clinton was their anointed insider candidate, who came across as a cold, calculating technocrat who believed herself entitled to be the First Woman President. So great was her arrogance that she’d simply stopped campaigning in states filled with “baskets of deplorables” (her infamous phrase) even though some of those states had gone to Obama just four years before! In other words, her campaign was — may I steal a line from Trump? — a “complete and total disaster.” Did it ever dawn on her — or on whoever wrote her speeches — that if you insult people on national television, they’re just apt to pull the lever in the voting booth for the other candidate whether they like him personally or not?
None of this has changed. If anything, media elites still go out of their way in efforts to destroy the lives of those they consider “the deplorables.” We saw this just this past week, with the latest high-tech lynching of the Catholic school boys wearing MAGA hats. They had attended the pro-life rally and were simply awaiting a bus to take them home when they were verbally assaulted first by a group of blacks and then by a Native American activist who lied about his status as a Vietnam veteran, among other lies he told. Their thought crime wasn’t even that. It was simply to stand their ground, and then refuse to apologize (as they had nothing to apologize for).
(4) Trigger warning: extreme political incorrectness in this paragraph. Trump appealed not just to working men and women whose jobs have been outsourced to third world countries for cheap labor, but to middle class white men who, to put it bluntly, are sick of identity politics. Most of us, like it or not, are sick and tired of being demonized as history’s villains just because no major organizations, universities or corporations, have been able to fill their quotas of blacks and women. Point of logic: the concept of under-representation depends on an unstated concept of correct representation (or perhaps ideal representation). This latter is why it is actually accurate, if not politically correct, to use a word like quotas. We are sick and tired of being called “racists” or, these days, “white supremacists,” for pointing all this out. Fortunately I do not work for a university that can terminate my employment for noting this particular logical-linguistic relationship. Triggered minorities cannot threaten me or disrupt my classes because I no longer teach any classes. So I can speak here for the many, many people, not all of them straight white “cis” males by any means, who wonder if identity politics will destroy higher education before it runs its course. Trump represents opposition to identity politics that has no other voice, simply because people do not want to see their lives upended and their careers in ruins, so they censor themselves. “Diversity is our strength” is arguably academia’s religion, adhered to with a fervor (and a will to punish dissidents) no less extreme than that of any religious fundamentalist. It is another belief without a scrap of evidence to back it up.
(5) Finally, as a member of the billionaire class himself (although hardly one of its insiders), Trump was self-funding his own campaign, in its early stages, anyway. It is a shame that one has to be a billionaire to pull off that kind of stunt, but that’s a different comment. The fact that Trump was not on the take from the usual cadre of corporate insiders impressed a lot of working people who then went out and voted. Trump was, and is, an outsider. He came in lacking knowledge of how Washington works (or sometimes doesn’t work). One wishes he was more focused, that he would read more and tweet less, that he could articulate a few guiding principles (but he’s surely no worse at this than anyone else in Washington) … but guess what, boys and girls, we didn’t get to choose! There was a profound uneasiness for what the U.S. was becoming, not just under Establishment Democrats (the Clintons, Obama) but Establishment Republicans as well (the Bushes, McCain, Romney, that whole ilk). Trump became the lightning-rod expression of this unease, whether about the open borders policies of his predecessors, the outsourcing of jobs to cheap labor countries, or the growing identity-politics based attacks on straight white Christian males.
This is not about “left” versus “right” even though it is usually portrayed as such. Everyone with a functioning brain is aware of worsening inequality, the disappearance of decent-paying jobs, and the rise, almost like a counterpoint, of theatrical agendas being forced down everyone’s throats (think about stupid stuff like “transgenderism” and bathrooms). Behind the theater: wealth and power is being consolidated into the hands of a tiny, cosmopolitan, global elite with no loyalties to anything except wealth and power — the culmination, as I will argue in that series, of materialism as a worldview.
This power elite is centered in central banks and the leviathan corporations that have grown up around them, with national governmental Establishments bought and paid for. This is not the “one percent” but a point-zero-zero-zero one percent. What we are seeing is hardly limited to the U.S. Rejection of EU elites and their open borders agenda was reflected in Brexit, and has since exploded worldwide into increased rejection of elitism and its collective vision of wealth-über-alles, mass importation of unassimilable Muslim immigrants, and increased “global governance” to manage it all. Witness the yellow vest movement occurring in France right now. Major media, who answer to those in power, would like to portray national uprisings as resurgences of “fascism.” They are not. They are visceral demands, more felt than articulated, by many, many peoples who wish to be left the hell alone, to not have to have their lives upended by policies they never signed off on (such as those of pro-EU globalist Macron) that are leaving their communities and cultures in ruins.
So what contributions do professional philosophers have to make to what may become the major conversation of the 2020s: nationalism versus globalism. So far as I can tell, few professional philosophers are even at the table. Alas, they’re not even in the room! This doesn’t stop them from hating Trump, issuing superficial denouncements of him at every turn, verbally attacking those who voted for him or who visibly support him, all the while pushing agendas that haven’t worked, and believing narratives that have not a scrap of evidence behind them while accusing Trump of lying.