David Ernst recently argued that “Donald Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself,” which makes one point commonly understood by political thinkers and another that isn’t really discussed. That’s unfortunate, as the second point is at least as important as the first.
Ernst’s first point is that Pres. Trump is a political postmodern antihero in the mold of Tony Soprano or Frank Underwood: he is seemingly distasteful, but people root for him when he exposes the hypocrisies of his enemies.
Ernst’s related, more salient point is that political postmodernism isn’t really nihilistic. Rather, it hypocritically pretends that truth and morality are relative, while seeking to impose a particular set of values by increasingly fanatical methods.
While Ernst calls Trump a “right-wing postmodern antihero,” the “right-wing” part is debatable. And if Trump is fighting postmodernism with postmodernism, perhaps he and his supporters are just as hypocritical as any left-wing activist.
Obviously, hypocrisy is common in partisan politics. But as Ernst suggests, the objective of political hypocrisy usually matters.
You can see the tension in Warden’s much-circulated AOSHQ piece, “How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom.” Warden responds to criticisms of Trump in part as a consequentialist: “Yes, he’s basically a mirror version of Obama. Except now, he’ll be working for what I want. The end justifies the means. You taught me that.” (Emphasis in original.)
Losing your political values sounds nihilist; Trump “working for what you want” does not. Thus, it’s more useful to ask, “Which political values are hypocritically masked by Trump’s postmodernism?”
For example, Warden suggests one of his values is religious liberty, citing the mob shutdown of Memories Pizza as his final straw. Do cases like that matter to Trump?
On one hand, Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court vacancy could be a big victory for religious liberty. Yet the nomination of someone like Gorsuch was more the product of pressure from conservative activists and institutions than Trump’s values.
Trump even framed the nomination in consequentialist terms, as the fulfillment of a campaign promise.
OTOH, Trump decided against issuing an executive order to overturn Pres. Obama’s protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors and strengthen legal exemptions for companies based on religious beliefs. Disappointed social conservatives seem to be relying on VP Mike Pence regarding religious liberty, but Pence was hardly a stalwart on the issue as Governor of Indiana (the home of Memories Pizza).
Of course, that’s just one (important) issue, and the ultimate balance Trump will strike is unknown. I suspect Trump’s heterodoxy will keep the disparate factions of his coalition guessing on many issues.
If the values Trump ultimately defends overlap enough with those of these various factions, he’ll maintain an effective coalition. If he does not, the postmodern tactics, the Alinskyite rule-following and the Breitbartian #WARmongering may begin to look purely reactionary to voting blocs the GOP will need in 2018 and 2020.
PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar. And following WHRPT on Twitter. Thanks!