I lose (and I’m fine with that)
I, Daren Jonescu, hereby concede defeat in the Trump Wars. I sincerely believe that not one human being who was ever inclined to support Trump has had his head turned, or his rational faculty activated in the least, by anything I have ever written about Trump, or by all that I have written on the subject taken collectively. And none ever will. Tribalism wins. Independent thought loses.
And it is not only those long inclined to join the cult who have me beat, but also those recently anointed members — though these late initiates invariably deny that that is what they are; they lie to themselves. Even some readers here in Limbo, who once seemed to be, and I believe were, more or less aligned with me in rejecting the fraud that is the Trump presidency, have since drifted into the comforting, alluring embrace of the mindless tribe of hypocritical “winning.” I admit defeat here too, and to those readers I say sweet dreams, even while your slumbers are enabling a nightmare from which modern democracy will not recover. (Please do not pitch me the usual all-American baloney about how “America is not a democracy, it’s a republic.” No it is not, and you of all people are no longer entitled to that proud defense of everything that you yourselves have willingly corrupted in order to fit in and feel that sense of political belonging that was so much more important to you than the premises and demands of self-governance and republican limits on power. America was a republic. It is now in the lamest death throes of pure majority rule, without principle or permanence in any of its institutions or choices. Trump himself is the purest imaginable embodiment of absolute rule by popular vote, and thus the clearest demonstration by negation of what America no longer is.)
And contrary to those who believe I am an angry soul, or a hateful one — which is what the cultists knee-jerkingly say of anyone who in any way disapproves of their god — I am in truth quite sanguine about my defeat. Life is not about success and failure, winning and losing. That is the pragmatic tribal cultists’ mode of thought, not mine.
In the end, the purpose of thought, or rather its highest purpose, is to understand. This includes understanding that which cannot be controlled or changed; understanding trajectories that operate on their own vectors, impervious to any intervention from Reason and her claims, however legitimate; understanding what is happening, and what it means, even when nothing but understanding itself is to be gained from this awareness.
No, that last premise is not quite true. For in all cases, understanding for its own sake, for those capable of pursuing and valuing it, is spiritual freedom. Freedom, a self-owned soul, is no mean byproduct.
America, and with her the entire remains of modern civilization, may be in its final descent. I believe it is. And Donald Trump may be the Spindle of Necessity’s most mockingly ironic death knell for a civilization that gave mankind Shakespeare and Locke, Mozart and the Declaration of Independence, Newton and Nietzsche. Spiteful gods, it seems, taking out their indignation on the self-condemned by slowly deafening them to the last pleading whispers of eternity and common sense.
In simplest practical terms, the depths of my defeat — whether it is actually mine or that of those who have closed their minds to their better angels remains to be seen — are indicated in this sad truth, which I both warned of and predicted in 2016: The Trump cult, and especially its recent initiate faction, is comprised mostly of people who for years gnashed their teeth at the Republican Party’s bait-and-switch primary system, and most of all the party establishment’s inevitable election day smirk of smugness, “If you don’t want the Democrats in power, then you have no choice but to vote for our unprincipled hand-picked puppet.”
This, to state the obvious (to those who still think), is exactly the obnoxious hint of self-awareness that forces the cultists to cling so desperately and repetitively to their favorite abstraction about Trump, namely that he is an “outsider” who is “taking on the establishment.” Nothing is more self-evidently false. And no falsehood is more revealing of the weakness of the cult’s position. They need to believe this absurdity about their idol, because their last crumbs of pride are invested in the fantasy that the amoral moron to whom they are clinging as their daddy has at least this one unequivocal badge of honor in his favor: He is fighting against the establishment — “draining the swamp,” as they used to say, before the sheer soggy passage of time put the lie to that slogan.
Point out a hundred times how Trump is and was the establishment’s choice; how he was exactly the diverting mirage they needed to “crush” (Mitch McConnell’s vow) the Tea Party; how he was a Hillary major donor and endorser until he was a McConnell major donor and endorser; how he made McConnell’s wife and RNC chairman Reince Priebus two of his initial cabinet appointments — the latter in an obvious “quid pro quo” for Priebus having rigged the GOP nominating convention to fence out anti-Trump forces; how the entire Republican old guard, the embodiment of the establishment, charged out in support of Trump on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Point it all out, and so much more, so many times and in so many ways. Not one word will make a dent. All of it will be denied and rejected as “fake news” or displaced with the necessary “alternative facts.”
And then, as I warned would happen, the cult members revert, to a man (or woman), to the standard mantra that almost defines Trump support among those still circumspect enough to avoid talking the 98-dimensional chess nonsense too often in mixed company: “But Hillary.” (Now, looking to 2020, they sometimes substitute “But the Democrats,” “But the socialists,” or what have you.) In other words, they spout the same prayer response that the establishment has trained them to spout for decades: “If you don’t want the Democrats in power, then you have no choice but to vote for Trump” — but now they tell themselves this deference to the establishment’s wishes is some kind of anti-establishment rebellion, exactly as the establishment has hypnotized them to do.
“But Hillary.” This simple two-word mantra contains within its four syllables the entire crock of tribal nonsense that is the special pleading hypocrisy and self-delusion of the Trump cult. (Do I overuse the word “cult”? No. I underuse it.)
Let me answer the “But Hillary” ruse head-on, with specific reference to one of the most egregious indignities of the Trump presidency, his endless and consistent sycophancy and deference to tyranny in general, and to certain influential totalitarians of the moment in particular. Would Hillary have been a better — less cowardly and more principled — commander-in-chief, or taken a stronger position against tyrants? I don’t know, and it’s unlikely. But America’s political situation, as a whole, would have been infinitely better either way, because Hillary would have faced a Republican Party still playing its nominal role of national conscience and practical check against the progressive impulse to completely sell the US and her allies to the whims of despotic bloodlust from every region of the world. Instead, the GOP is now the party of Trump, smeared with his excrement for a generation or more to come, and spending most of its time defending him against legitimate criticisms that they themselves would have been making against a President Hillary Clinton, if she had attempted half as many sell-outs to communists and oligarchs as Trump has done, and continues to do, throughout his first term.
If she had vehemently defended Vladimir Putin’s position at multiple global economic summits, strongly dismissed the EU’s case against the Russian occupation of Crimea, summarily abandoned the U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria to genocidal assault from Turkey, in direct deference to the overtly militaristic wishes of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, systematically legitimized and empowered Kim Jong-Un while simultaneously pulling out of long-term defense commitments in South Korea, and played moral equivalency games in open support of the Chinese Communist Party’s attempt to quell pro-democracy resistance in Hong Kong — if, I ask, Hillary Clinton had attempted to pursue any of these positions, let alone all of them, is there a single Trump supporter today, even one solitary member of the cult, who would not have been calling for her treasonous head, thereby forcing the milquetoast Republican Party to present some measure of resistance to such unprincipled, anti-liberty corruption from the White House?
Why are today’s “R” voters so incapable of seeing any of this, i.e., of recognizing their own complete hypocrisy and reversal of position? Their party was corrupt beyond repair prior to Trump’s ascent, but its leaders still rhetorically played their public role of defender of freedom and the individual, because they had to do so to appease the so-called “grassroots voters.” That’s all over now, thanks to the ingenious GOP propaganda campaign that is Trump’s presidency. And this means there is no longer any major political voice in Washington consistently standing for liberty and against tyranny as a matter of principle. Think about that.
I see all this, more clearly all the time. I know that nothing I say can change one Trump supporter’s mind. If anything, my criticism will only harden them in their resistance to rational argument and self-examination. They will not listen. Period.
But does that make my effort, and all my writing on this subject, a waste of time and energy on my part? More to the point, does this defeat of my words spell a defeat of me?
Just this morning, during a class discussion, I asked a student, chosen at random, whether she was content with her life right now. She said no, and when I asked why not, she, a junior, explained, quite sincerely and with obvious consternation, that she was dying to graduate and get on with her life, and particularly to start earning a living and building her practical future.
I replied to her anxiety and discomfort this way: So you want a university degree, but you cannot graduate for another year, right? Then you have two choices. Either you fight against the inescapable reality of your situation — another year of study — and feel miserable and frustrated every day about something as inevitable and outside of your control as the seasons or the weather; or you take a deep breath, face up to the unavoidable reality that you will not graduate for another year, and deal with the tasks in front of you right now rather than fighting against Necessity as though you had any choice in the matter.
I know my own mind on the current state of the political universe. And, equally importantly, I have preserved my own mind in an age full of clever devices for subtly undermining independence. In this, perhaps ultimately small, context at least, I can claim some measure of self-knowledge, as well as the peace that comes of knowing that I have not succumbed to one of the most potent agents of dehumanization of our era, namely the siren song of “belonging,” the comforting, protective call of the tribe. I will wander in the hills and wend my way through the woods as a lone mind in search of others like myself, which is to say others eager to live on the edges, and above the limited perspectives of “the fray.” Those I find out here today, along with all those who reside here in memory or in books, will form a truer and more fully human community; the community of those for whom understanding is worth more than belonging, and truth more precious than winning.