Journal Entry #16

NORFOLK, Conn., January 9—A new year, a new time—though I won’t say “a new era.” This incessant insistence among the liberals that “this isn’t normal”—meaning all that proceeds from Donald Trump’s victory last November 8th—is sheer nonsense. What does one mean by “normal”? It’s a fraught word to deploy in discourses of all kinds—not least this one.

In this case it is a way of saying the arrogant expectations of the educated, globalized, sleepwalking people who have taken over the Democratic Party from those it was formed to represent—their assumption that they had decisively won the day have been overturned. This is “not normal.” I refer to what I call in the columns the Williams–Sonoma set, and the implications of their assertions as to “normality” are immense. In my view, tens of millions of voters, those who put Trump in the White House, are declared abnormal and ought to take offense, but that is but the beginning.

No, I did not consult a psychiatrist or otherwise break my routine after Trump’s astonishing success. I don’t care for the man or what he stands for in all sorts of respects, but I say this with reservations. Most evidently, there is his neo-détente position on Russia: I consider this an absolutely vital distinction between Trump and the odious Clintonians. More broadly, I go back to a Salon column I wrote as the political campaigns got rolling, in which I listed those questions I took to be the ones that ought to be on people’s minds and so might determine what they do at the polls. Among these, I suggested the urgency of breaking the lock our ever-more-sequestered political elites have on power in Washington. Look upon the election result through this frame, and there’s no need of unscheduled appointments with psychotherapists. The need it to think thrugh what has occurred and then determine one’s next steps.

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TO THE ABOVE END, I’ve shifted gears in my study here in snowy, alpine Norfolk. I had been working on a new book tentatively titled After Exceptionalism, and I greatly look forward to getting it done. The topic, proposed by a former editor and still a good friend, the novelist Peter Dimock, is very worthy. But the Trump phenom crept up on me and became, soon enough, a preoccupation. There are some very deep meanings here. Some buried aspects of the American experiment came suddenly to the surface. I do not mean Trump and what he stands for: I mean the liberals’ reaction to Trump. There is a great deal to surmise in their quite disgraceful behavior.

This piece is titled “On the Pleasure of Hating Donald Trump.” It’s an allusion to Hazlitt’s 1826 essay of the same name—without, of course, the reference to Trump. To an extent I’m trying to do the same thing Hazlitt did in “On the Pleasure of Hating,” with a vast universe of history not at his disposal and with reference to particular events. De Tocqueville’s warning about “soft despotism” figures in the theme. So does Bourdieu on taste as a device deployed to draw distinctions and Freud on small differences. I ought not say more for fear of talking myself out of writing it. At the moment it’s an essay but, so far as I can make out now, may tumble into a brief book.

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THOSE ROUND-ROBIN REVIEWS of the year gone by that people send out are often tedious and self-indulgent, so I’ve taken against them and won’t write anything of the sort here. I’ll not just one event, and it’s less about me than the work. In September I moved my column from Salon to The Nation. Without in the least slighting the former, where the column appeared weekly for three and some years, it would be hard to say how delighted I am with this shift. As noted at the time, my first piece appeared in The Nation in 1976—a not especially well-done report on developments at the U.N. concerning South-West Africa’s struggle to become Namibia.

Salon projected the column very far and wide, judging by the postmarks, so to speak, on my mail. My editors gave me a place and the space to develop a new way at the genre—something beyond the column as a passionate, 750-word restatement of the perfectly accepted orthodoxy. But the medium being part of the message, The Nation’s a better environment for what has evolved from these experiments, on balance. I said all this, and better, in my final Salon column and some introductory remarks The Nation’s editors coaxed out of me for the publicity sheets as I joined them. So I’ll leave it there.

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IN THE WAY OF RESOLUTIONS, and a very minor matter of immediate relevance, we have begun a update of this web site and will try to keep it more current than we have managed to date. The “Appearances” section is notably in need of attention, as a lot of the radio and television work done over the years amounts to a usefully succinct summations of the thinking in the columns. To the extent it adds to the conversation, I will write in this Journal more frequently.

Bonne année, et en y avant.

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