Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Reposted: Ross Douthat's NY Times Op-Ed on Trump As Cultural Nihilist-In-Chief Interspersed With Another Batch of Last Weekend's On-the-Potomac River Pics (2 of 2)

One of the various yachts -- some mega-yacht-like fancy, others, less so -- that dock along the Georgetown Potomac Riverfront at the Washington Harbour complex, Washington, D.C., 3:30 p.m. August 4, 2019.

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This entry contains a reposting of another must-read op-ed column, this one by the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat that appeared a week ago today (Aug 6th), at least in the online version (although sometimes those in the print edition occurs the day before or after). As with the George Will WaPo op-ed I posted in my previous entry, I am not including any inline links embedded in the text of the piece.


To break up the text, I am including a another set of pictures I took while last weekend while taking a Potomac RiverBoat Company water taxi -- this one on Sunday, August 4th, from Washington Harbor in Georgetown to the District Wharf in SW D.C. around East Potomac Park. (The one the day before with Mike G was in the reverse direction.) Included in it are pics I took while walking to Georgetown including at the Watergate.

Except for the lead image, I am not captioning them. The file names contain place and time information.


Anyway, without further ado, here is the piece …

The Nihilist in Chief

How our president and our mass shooters are connected to the same dark psychic forces.

By Ross Douthat
The New York Times
August 6, 2019
Source here.


What links Donald Trump to the men who massacred innocents in El Paso and Dayton this past weekend? Note that I said both men: the one with the white-nationalist manifesto and the one with some kind of atheist-socialist politics; the one whose ranting about a "Hispanic invasion" echoed Trump's own rhetoric and the one who was anti-Trump and also apparently the lead singer in a "pornogrind" band.


Bringing up their differing worldviews can be a way for Trump-supporting or anti-anti-Trump conservatives to diminish or dismiss the president's connection to these shootings. That's not what I'm doing. I think Trump is deeply connected to what happened last weekend, deeply connected to both massacres.


Not because his immigration rhetoric drove the El Paso shooter to mass murder in some direct and simple way; life and radicalism and violence are all more complicated than that. But because Trump participates in the general cultural miasma that generates mass shooters, and having a participant as president makes the problem worse.


The president's bigoted rhetoric is obviously part of this. Marianne Williamson put it best, in the last Democratic debate: There really is a dark psychic force generated by Trump's political approach, which from its birther beginnings has consistently encouraged and fed on a fevered and paranoid form of right-wing politics, and dissolved quarantines around toxic and dehumanizing ideas.


And the possibility that Trump's zest for demonization can feed a demonic element in the wider culture is something the many religious people who voted for the president should be especially willing to consider.

Yeah, good luck with that. The fundies are cult-like brainwashed by their corporate-fascistic leaders in a way that enhances, by design, all the hate, fear, and crazy.


But the connection between the president and the young men with guns extends beyond Trump's race-baiting to encompass a more essential feature of his public self -- which is not the rhetoric or ideology that he deploys, but the obvious moral vacuum, the profound spiritual black hole, that lies beneath his persona and career.


Here I would dissent, mildly, from the desire to tell a mostly ideological story in the aftermath of El Paso, and declare war on "white nationalism" -- a war the left wants because it has decided that all conservatism can be reduced to white supremacy, and the right wants as a way of rebutting and rejecting that reductionism.

I previously posted this image here.

By all means disable 8Chan and give the F.B.I. new marching orders; by all means condemn racism more vigorously than this compromised president can do. But recognize we're dealing with a pattern of mass shootings, encompassing both the weekend’s horrors, where the personal commonalities between the shooters are clearly more important than the political ones.


Which suggests that the white nationalism of internet failsons is like the allegiance to an imaginary caliphate that motivated the terrorists whose depredations helped get Trump elected in the first place. It's often just a carapace, a flag of convenience, a performance for the vast TV-and-online audience that now attends these grisly spectacles, with a malignant narcissism and nihilism underneath.


And this is what really links Trump to all these empty male killers, white nationalists and pornogrind singers alike. Like them he is a creature of our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds. Like them he plainly believes in nothing but his ego, his vanity, his sense of spite and grievance, and the self he sees reflected in the mirror of television, mass media, online.

Because he is rich and famous and powerful, he can get that attention with a tweet about his enemies, and then experience the rush of a cable-news segment about him. He doesn't need to plot some great crime to lead the news; he just has to run for president.


But having him as president -- having him as a political exemplar for his party, and a cultural exemplar of manhood for his supporters and opponents both -- is a constant ratification of the idea that we exist as celebrities or influencers or we don't exist at all, and that our common life is essentially a form of reality television where it doesn't matter if you're the heel or hero so long as you're the star.

To cite the oft-quoted line: In our culture, the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity, which is just another way of saying there is no such thing as bad publicity.


One recurring question taken up in this column is whether something good might come out of the Trump era. I keep returning to this issue because unlike many conservatives who opposed him in 2016, I actually agree with, or am sympathetic toward, versions of ideas that Trump has championed -- the idea of a more populist and worker-friendly conservative economics, the idea of a foreign policy with a more realpolitik and anti-interventionist spirit, the idea that decelerating low-skilled immigration would benefit the common good, the idea that our meritocratic, faux-cosmopolitan elite has badly misgoverned the republic.

Anybody got Fred Hiatt on speed dial??


But to take this view, and to reject the liberal claim that any adaptation to populism only does the devil's work, imposes a special obligation to recognize the profound emptiness at the heart of Trump himself.

It's not as if you could carve away his race-baiting and discover a healthier populism instead, or analyze him the way you might analyze his more complex antecedents, a Richard Nixon or a Ross Perot. To analyze Trump is to discover only bottomless appetite and need, and to carve at him is like carving at an online troll: The only thing to discover is the void.

Very well said.


So in trying to construct a new conservatism on the ideological outline of Trumpism, you have to be aware that you're building around a sinkhole and that your building might fall in.


The same goes for any conservative response to the specific riddle of mass shootings. Cultural conservatives get a lot of grief when they respond to these massacres by citing moral and spiritual issues, rather than leaping straight to gun policy (or in this case, racist ideology).


But to look at the trend in these massacres, the spikes of narcissistic acting-out in a time of generally-declining violence, the shared bravado and nihilism driving shooters of many different ideological persuasions, is to necessarily encounter a moral and spiritual problem, not just a technocratic one.


But the dilemma that conservatives have to confront is that you can chase this cultural problem all the way down to its source in lonely egomania and alienated narcissism, and you'll still find Donald Trump's face staring back to you.

I can only think to quote the famous line from Conrad's Heart of Darkness: "The horror, the horror …"

And on that note, I shall end this entry. My next planned entry will be more of a regular update, although I do want to note this CWG entry on strange meteorological and environmental happenings around the North Pole thanks to our globally heating world.

--Regulus

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