Weekend Reflection: Despicable Me

My writing used to be featured regularly at American Thinker, where I built a substantial readership and gained some name recognition as one of a handful of writers whose work appeared often among the day’s top articles, was frequently linked at other major websites, garnered interview requests, and received on-air citations from national radio hosts. I was proud of my association with American Thinker in those days, as well as with some very good writers whose work regularly appeared next to my own, along with many serious and thoughtful people who flattered me with their readership and encouraging comments.

Then Trump happened. Since about the final month of the 2016 Republican primaries, when certain internal decisions were made by most of the major conservative website publishers, regarding their financial futures and their relationship with the GOP establishment, the regular top-featured authors at American Thinker have been idiots writing for morons.

I state the fact so bluntly not to be rude or provocative, but simply because pussy-footing around this fact would make me look (and feel) like a mealy-mouthed coward, which I do not think I am, or at least do not wish to be. So I have to call a spade a spade: American Thinker now highlights, by conscious editorial choice, political commentary written by and for semi-literate dimwits who have sold their souls to a personality cult in exchange for the small man’s substitute for accomplishment, namely “a sense of belonging.”

As evidence of the change, I can do no better, and will waste my time doing no more, than note one Brian C. Joondeph, whose prominence at the new, Trump-ophantic AT is symbolic of everything that the Trump era has wrought, or rather exposed and aggravated, within what used to be called “the grassroots conservative movement.”

Though I rarely see his work — in fact, I only visit AT about once a month these days, mostly to remind myself of why I left — his particularly paltry pen was pointed out to me some time ago by another AT writer from the good old days, so I tend to notice his name. This past week, Joondeph, whose specialty is apparently saying exactly what American Thinker’s current readers like to hear — Trump is God, all who oppose him are Satan — posted yet another piece on one of AT’s consistent click-baiting concepts: spewing bile at so-called NeverTrumpers.

Typical of the kind of cowardice and straw-manning that passes for courage and logic among cultists, Joondeph begins and ends where all such screeds against the NeverTrumpers begin and end, namely with convenient falsehoods about who the NeverTrumpers are, and what they represent.

From the beginning of the article:

They are smug in the certainty and righteousness of opposing President Donald Trump and his agenda. They happily point it out every chance they get, whether on a CNN panel or on Twitter, as they look down their proud beaks on those who support Trump.

From the middle:

You know the names – Bill Kristol, Max Boot, George Will, Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin, and Peggy Noonan to name a few.

And from the end:

Their only home is on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post or CNN panel discussions. The glory of it, all for their vanity.

The aim, you see, is to reduce “Republican” opposition to Trump to a few famous syndicated columnists and television personalities, for this frees the screed-writer’s mind to spew absolutely any hateful idiocy that comes whistling through his sleepy hollows without appearing to be overtly insulting thousands of intelligent, honorable people vastly more serious and principled than he will ever be. After all, what grassroots conservative hasn’t had his fill of Will, Kristol, and the like? So let’s pretend they are the NeverTrump movement, awkward realities be damned.

Having carefully protected his backside by deceptively limiting the target group (anti-Trump conservatives) to its least representative members, Joondeph may now come out all smug and ferocious with nonsense such as this:

[T]he vainglorious NeverTrumpers have thrown their “principles” to the wind, crossing enemy lines to join the left in opposing the last and only hope of keeping conservative ideas alive, ideas that NeverTrumpers once solidly stood behind. Who has really “gone off the moral rails”? Trump or phony NeverTrump Republicans?

They are beyond despicable. They are throwing the game because they aren’t on the starting team, preferring to let the other team win to protect their bruised egos. Now they are in a political wasteland. Trump Republicans want nothing to do with them. Neither do the far-left Democrats.

Let me begin by pointing out the obvious yet again. “NeverTrump,” insofar as the name means anything at all anymore, is not a label restricted to a few well-known pundits, but rather represents, I would suppose, at least tens of thousands of people, most of them private citizens with no public platform at all. The very serious concerns about Trump’s likely effects on the conservative movement, and American political discourse in general, are their concerns, not primarily those of the famous and wealthy establishment insiders who simply pine for their old status quo. And those serious concerns remain as valid today as they were in the spring of 2016, or perhaps more so, since the worst fears have largely been realized, as Joondeph demonstrates by condemning NeverTrumpers — that is, conservatives who disapprove of the GOP establishment’s decision to make a vulgar, unprincipled sociopath with lifelong ties to the Washington progressive establishment its figurehead — as “beyond despicable.”

You might object that Joondeph is only speaking of the six or seven famous anti-Trump commentators, rather than the larger group of Trump critics. No, he manifestly is not, and does not deserve to be let off so easily in his disingenuous game. He is speaking of everyone who opposes Trump from a non-progressive position, and assigning them a place in hell for not following Trump to the ends of the Earth, but he uses Will, Kristol, et al as rhetorical stand-ins for the broader opposition to Trump, as the cult-pandering writers tend to do, because he, like his hero, is only comfortable talking tough when he feels secure in facing no real opposition, or when he feels hidden behind the safe numbers of his tribe. That is, he needs to reduce the real size and significance of the opposition in order to feel brave. (It is noteworthy that like any gang of schoolyard bullies, these cultists increase their level of brazen mercilessness toward their victims in inverse proportion to the perceived size and strength of the victim group — exactly the opposite of what a man would do.)

Let me put this as straightforwardly as possible. Joondeph’s position, clearly consistent with and representative of the editorial position at American Thinker itself since late 2016, is that all conservative or constitutionalist critics of Trump, in Washington or in your living room, are “beyond despicable,” which means worthy of the utmost hatred and disdain. This is the dark side of cult idolatry: the seething hatred for non-believers, oozing forth all over American Thinker (and the rest of the “alternative” media) on a daily basis.

And this hatred is understandable from the point of view of the cultist. For a cultist is essentially an immature and dependent person, an adult in name only, seeking shelter from life’s never-ending storm of personal responsibility and tests of individual will within the warm and protective embrace of the tribal “Us.” To protect one’s ego from the shame of such an abjectly submissive posture, however, one has to persuade oneself that one’s tribe is not merely the best practical alliance under the circumstances, but rather the unassailable Truth, and hence that one’s unblinking devotion to the leader and self-immersion in his crowd of chanting yahoos is the only reasonable position.

Hence, Trump cannot, in the cultist’s mind, merely be one of a number of possible options. He must be “the last and only hope of keeping conservative ideas alive.” He cannot simply be the current Republican president. He must be “the only one in the Republican Party pushing back against America’s slide into the abyss of socialism or worse.” (My god, Trump and Trump alone stands between America and the unspeakable nightmare of or worse”!) He must be the only Republican who could have beaten Hillary Clinton, the only man who can make America great again, the only choice for anyone who wishes to be thought “conservative” or Republican. You are either with us or you are against us; and if you are against us, you are “beyond despicable.”

There was a time, not so very long ago, when Thomas Lifson, the editor-in-chief at American Thinker, would have told an aspiring writer spewing such nonsense to take his rant elsewhere, as it did not fit the tone of a website called “American Thinker,” operated by a “recovering academic” from Columbia and Harvard. These days, sadly, that is the tone of AT’s lead articles on a regular basis.

It is most revealing that the summary and intended “kill shot” of Joondeph’s attack on NeverTrumpers is this: “Now they are in a political wasteland. Trump Republicans want nothing to do with them. Neither do the far-left Democrats.”

Eric Hoffer notes that “You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.” To a weak and dependent mind, there is no fate more terrifying than not fitting in, i.e., being excluded from the collective. Therefore, Joondeph assigns this fate to NeverTrumpers, as though standing alone on principle regardless of the cost to one’s reputation and pragmatic advantage were a reprehensible thing to do. It seems so, of course, to a person who finds his own life’s meaning only in belonging.

And that is where Joondeph, the rest of American Thinker’s new crop of writers and readers, and all Trump cultists, public and private, have got their enemies, the NeverTrumpers, all wrong. They assume it must be sad and lonely out there alone, because it would be so for them. But for an adult, being out there alone, i.e., standing on principle against the ever-changing winds of popular sentiment, is liberating.

Perhaps I, though not an American and therefore not technically qualifying as a “NeverTrumper,” can shed some light on this liberating experience, though I know no Trump cultist will understand my words.

In one of the most poignant affirmations of intellectual integrity that has ever been recorded, Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, introduces his criticism of the teachings of Plato’s Academy thus: “We must love our friends, but we must love truth more.” Neither truer nor more painful words were ever written.

That, in fact, is the quotation with which I introduced my first article about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, published at American Thinker in January 2016, when the editors still encouraged differing opinions, i.e., before the cult swarmed in and made life impossible for any independent publisher who dared to give a hearing to an alternative view. That first article, incidentally, along with a few subsequent ones on the same topic, received a huge number of readers’ comments by AT standards, well into quadruple digits — at least seventy-five percent of them expressing pure vitriol of the sort that was rarely tolerated at AT prior to 2016, but that now gets featured article treatment there on a regular basis, thanks to Joondeph and dozens of other true believers who invaded the front page after the more intelligent and honorable writers among us were forced by AT’s new “editorial position” (abject terror and/or financial opportunism) to reduce or cease our contributions. (A few writers also sold out to the cult in order to remain relevant and popular, much like Mark Levin and other radio hosts.)

When I began to observe the editors closing ranks in defense of Trump and his “fans” (as Joondeph awkwardly but accurately defines them in his article), and increasingly rejecting, or demanding deletions from, articles (by anyone) critical of Trump’s rise and the establishment’s cynicism in anointing him, I realized that my happy years of association with American Thinker were drawing to an end. It was not merely that I would no longer be able to write about electoral politics there, but rather that I could see they were committed to cultivating a new readership, quite different from the old. Suddenly, I was having articles rejected for being “too long” or “too intellectual” — neither of which was an objection that I ever heard from AT prior to the Trump era, as many of my most popular articles had been among the longest and most philosophically challenging — confirming my judgment that the new readership was not going to be anything like my readership, and hence that my kind of writing would no longer be well-received there, regardless of topic. In addition, there were certain topics about which I might have liked to write, but not for that audience. I think of matters related to race, for example, where it was no longer possible to speak in that forum without drawing the flies of anti-black bigotry, anti-Semitism, or in general “white nationalism.” (Yes, that was and is a real presence just beneath the surface of the Trump cult, which is why Trump has always tiptoed carefully around such issues publicly, so as not to alienate a small but repulsively vigorous portion of his base.)

And so, as is my wont, I took this disappointing turn of events as an opportunity to forge a different and ultimately more fulfilling path. No longer feeling comfortable at AT, and facing in the starkest terms the shortcomings of writing on someone else’s forum, I moved ahead with building my own website, a project on which I had been dragging my feet for some time. I rediscovered the pure intellectual pleasure of writing for myself, rather than with a “readership” on my shoulder. And I rededicated myself to my teaching (i.e., to my students), which had suffered at times from divided attention. In short, I returned to my natural habitat — the natural habitat of all genuine loners, the thinkers and seekers — Limbo. (Hence the name of this website.)

Gone were the years of ten thousand readers in a day; but now my much smaller band of readers would be people more likely to take my kind of thinking seriously, rather than half-digesting my ideas with breakfast, and ignoring the “hard parts.”

Gone were the national radio invitations and those e-mails from overseas informing me that Mark Levin had linked my latest article, or that Glenn Beck was reading me on air; but gone also were all those artificial concerns with pleasing the crowd, always a compromising consideration from the point of view of seeking the truth.

Gone was the need to fit my thought to someone else’s template in any way; from now on, I would say exactly what I wanted to say, and everything I wanted to say, without restrictions.

Gone were all the strange and interesting opportunities, introductions, and offers that come along for someone writing serious articles for a prominent forum; but gone also were all the concerns with other people’s expectations, and the thought-skewing vested interests such concerns inevitably foster, however innocently. (“Why is my article only fifth today?” “Oh, three hundred comments! They liked this one.”)

Suddenly I was, as it were, a pure thinker again, reflecting and writing entirely as I wished, about my preferred topics, without an iota of tribal judgment or approval to cater to (an easy pit to fall into, at least subliminally and unconsciously), and without becoming mired in either the temporal trap of “topicality” or the bright lights of popularity, both anathema to philosophical inquiry, which must always be guided by the desire for wisdom, and illuminated exclusively by the far-off glimmer of eternity.

I was never very susceptible to the soul-selling impulses that seem to guide so many who have their heads turned by a little public attention; I have a wife who would have stifled any such heady self-forgetfulness in a hurry, a few wise friends whose conversation always keeps my thinking honest, and students who need and deserve more from me than could ever be satisfied by self-important glibness or a few pithy bon mots

Through the exigencies of the Trump era, I was prompted, albeit a little gruffly, to shed a skin that had outlived its usefulness, thus freeing me to become a better version of myself. From being a relatively popular writer by alternative media standards, I became more fully what I naturally am anyway, that thing Brian C. Joondeph and his ilk fear most, namely an outcast from all tribalism of the moment, a member of no “team” (another word Joondeph actually uses without realizing what that says about him) — an individual standing apart and alone on his reason and his principles. In other words, a happy man.

Readers and friends occasionally ask me why I insist on speaking so disrespectfully of the Trump cultists. I don’t. I am not even trying to sound glib or nasty. Though this may be hard for some readers to believe, in fact I bear no resentment, let alone envy, toward the Trumpsters and their chosen cheerleaders who displaced me and other good writers on the conservative websites. I was one of those “NeverTrumpers” who warned of the destructive effect Trump would have on the conservative movement, namely to turn it into a ravaging mess of anger and spiteful factionalism. That I have been proved right, however, has in no way embittered me. On the contrary, as noted above, I feel liberated by this experience. Brian C. Joondeph and his ringmasters at American Thinker are welcome to continue amusing themselves with spitting at the happy few who have refused to succumb to the moral pressure or career opportunism presented by this era of American mob rule (aka “populism,” aka cultish demagoguery). Though I certainly benefitted from what I learned and accomplished through my relationship with the “conservative media,” I know beyond a shadow of doubt that the sense of spiritual freedom I enjoy today is a privilege I will never wish to relinquish, let alone trade for a tribal feather.

As for the harsh words I sometimes (okay, often) use in describing the Trump cult, I simply have to avail myself of the English vocabulary handed down to me for accurately describing people who have distinguished themselves through their words and actions as morons, sell-outs, vulgarians, and turds. So I call them morons, sell-outs, vulgarians, and turds. If they weren’t those things, I would happily use nicer descriptive words.

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