Damon Linker Answers the Liberal Critics of Trump & the New Nationalism

Damon Linker Answers the Liberal Critics of Trump & the New Nationalism September 22, 2016

That’s all fine, Joel — and certainly more civil than most of the Twitter responses this afternoon. But I’d also say it’s obvious. I don’t deny any of it. But I think I’ve written enough slashing attacks on Trump from multiple angles over the past 15 months to be permitted to try and make what is actually a much subtler point in today’s column (which is next of kin to the argument I made, with more detail and intellectual history, in my post-Brexit column).

“Love of one’s own” really does go back to the Greeks, and it’s discussed and accepted as a fact of human social and political life in many political philosophers. It’s treated as something that wise and knowledgeable political thinkers and actors must contend with because it’s part of human nature. It’s given. It isn’t going to be blasted away in torrents of moralistic rhetoric by progressive-minded liberals.

Are some portion of Trump supporters motived by forms of “love of one’s own” that can be accurately described as “racist”? Absolutely. I encounter it plenty of times on Twitter. But is Trump’s entire campaign just a massive KKK rally circa 1904? Emphatically no. And I think liberals are doing no one a favor by hitting that nail on the head so often and so relentlessly, since it allows them (1) to get drunk on their own self-righteousness and (2) to avoid having to confront what isn’t odious in the Trump movement and its kindred anti-EU movement abroad.

More than just about anything I HATE groupthink and moral self-satisfaction, and a bunch of otherwise smart people getting into a crowd online or on late-night TV or at a HRC fundraiser and taking turns congratulating themselves on their moral wonderfulness by way of mocking, insulting, and dismissing millions of other people. That’s what I see liberals doing nearly every day now, and, frankly, it pisses me off and makes me feel like I really do have no ideological or partisan home out there, because as much as I find some of the Trump people vile, and Trump absolutely atrocious as a potential president, I also find the liberal instinct to excommunicate everyone who refuses to bow down before liberal pieties to be profoundly off-putting and (what is worst of all) intellectually poisonous and lazy.

So anyway, again, I concede just about everything you said above about racism, and I agree with it. But that’s another column, and there are plenty of people saying those things over and over and over again at the moment. I don’t want to be just another liberal columnist telling other liberals how dumb and morally reprehensible Trump voters are — and how wonderfully Right In All Things they themselves are. There are plenty of other columnists to do that for them. I’d rather provoke an argument — and thinking (or re-thinking).

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com and a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press. In recent years, he has taught critical writing at Penn and worked as a senior editor at Newsweek/​The Daily Beast. Until December 2014 he was a contributing editor at The New Republic. Linker is the author of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege and The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other leading publications. He has edited First Things magazine, served as a speechwriter for New York’s Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and taught political philosophy at Brigham Young University. Linker studied history, philosophy, and writing at Ithaca College, graduating with a BA in 1991. He went on to earn an MA in history from New York University and a Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University. Born in New York City, Linker currently lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

Don’t miss Just Another Atheist Jewish Catholic: An Interview With Damon Linker.

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