Survival in the Trump age

The Baffler
Chris Lehmann

Well, so much for electing the most qualified presidential candidate in history. So much, as well, for the breathless idiot narratives of our mainstream press—from the incredible vanishing email investigation to the various will-o-the-wisp Trump 'pivots' into serious and responsible governing mode.

It might be comforting, I suppose, to write off the dismal, stunning news that our 45th president is a xenophobic shredder of the Constitution, a serial sexual predator, a sociopathic liar, and a demagogic merchant of fear as an enormous, primal spasm of retrograde longing on the part of American voters. Faced with the prospect of a wonkish, accomplished woman in the Oval Office, they lurched violently toward the Bad Old America of white privilege, plutocratic self worship, and (not least by a long shot) assaultive sexual license.

But even though there’s much to support this thesis in the right-wing demonization of all things Hillary (which Baffler contributing editor Susan Faludi catalogues to chilling effect), the elevation of Trump is more than a viral outbreak of unenlightenment in the American electorate. This is also a story of dumbfounding centrist liberal condescension, born of the placid assurance that the difference-trimming forces of Clintonism are simply on the right side of history and that the unswayable logic of demographic diversity will ratify what all good enthusiasts of postideological meritocracy already know: that the nation’s best, brightest, most connected administrators of state power are destined always to carry the day.

That’s why the Sanders uprising was furiously tamped down in the centers of Democratic Party big thinking—and it’s also why any reasonable objection to Hillary Clinton’s many conspicuous weaknesses was smartly dismissed with the plummy stump invocation of all her many excellent qualifications to hold power. Surely all those angry, downwardly mobile, and debt-ridden voters would just review the Democratic hopeful’s many sterling credentials and wave her into the Oval Office, bowing ever so gently. 'She was the Democrat candidate because it was her turn', Baffler co-founder Thomas Frank observes in his morning-after postmortem, 'and because her victory would have moved every Democratic in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted.'

As I prepare to ship off to work in downtown Washington, on a suitably gray and sodden morning, let me second that glum verdict—and offer my first tentative prescription for survival in the Trump age: screw the meritocracy; we need a movement.


Chris Lehmann is editor in chief of The Baffler and the author of the Jaundiced Eyeball column.