Andrew Sullivan soiled himself awhile ago writing a dread harbinger of journalistic things to come in the form of a gargantuan article for New York Magazine. Not that it was a mediocre performance. Rhetorically, it was stellar. The political blogging icon lashed into Trump not merely with truly unparalleled venom — no small target when every Trump assault piece strives for 11 out of 10 on that score — but from a transcendent historical perspective that seemed at times near-Spenglerian. American democracy, Constitutional forms, Enlightenment values, progressive hopes — all were doomed, doomed. The entire Western project, European civilization, History itself was collapsing into ever grosser and cruder fascism each vertiginous time Trump opened his pursed orange mouth. Athens after Pericles, the Rome of the Caesars, the barbarous Dark Ages, were evoked and dismissed as beneath comparison to the looming shambling Godzilla that was The Donald. Democracy was choking on its very Enlightenment entrails. The election of the New York State realtor and reality TV star would bring a darkness upon mankind that centuries, nay, millennia, would not eradicate.
It was not that Trump had not gotten bashed before. After all, press detestation follows Trump as the hart panteth after the water brook. Sullivan’s article, however, was one of the first outbreaks of what we have now come to know as Trump Derangement Syndrome(TM). It wasn’t simply that Sullivan disliked Trump, or thought you should vote for Clinton instead; it was the flat-out description of the rise of The Donald as “an extinction-level event…” If Trump won, it wouldn’t be a mere four years in the outhouse for the Dems. No, all life on the planet would come to an end! (Add several more exclamation marks to get the full flavor.)
One fails to understand the contemporary media-academic complex if one misses this apocalyptic tinge coloring nearly all Trump commentary nowadays coming the left. Its root assumptions are simple. Nothing Trump says or does, nothing he has ever said or ever done, nothing he will or can ever say or do, is right, reasonable, sane, or good. Everything about him is pure evil in every possible way. Every policy he proposes is belched up from Hell itself, vicious and doomed, and if it appears to be working, it’s an optical illusion and you should check your privilege for white supremacy, honky. Apocalyptic extinction-level-event collapse is right around the corner, for Trump simply cannot do, say, think or be right in any way whatsoever. His motivations are as vile as his IQ, and even his sentience (though not his literal insanity) is debatable: he is a metaphysical precipitate of pure malevolence besides which Lucifer, Auschwitz, The Black Plague, and the heat death of the universe pale into insignificance.
Sullivan, it must be said, has never quite equalled that earlier tirade. And if the piece were entirely sincere, one imagines Sullivan would have wresting gibbering to the nearest asylum to await Death’s quick and bony finger to alight on Western Civ. Sadly not: apparently the staff hustle him out every now and again to lament this Trump initiative or that, or to wail generally about the existential anguish or life in the Trumpenreich.
Yet his latest outing, a piece in New York Magazine about the firing of James Comey, is of unexpected interest. Unsurprisingly, It opens with several paragraphs of the usual litany of insult and innuendo, openings predictable as though dictated by algorithm by now. One citation suffices:
“There are appointments — or a stunning lack of them across the executive branch — that reflect amateurishness and incompetence outside the norm.”
If Trump picks ’em, it shows amateurishness and incompetence outside the norm; if Trump doesn’t pick ’em, it shows amateurishness and incompetence outside the norm. Which substandard appointments specifically? Who cares? We don’t need no stinkin’ specifics. Why bother keeping to journalistic standards or even standards of common civility when discussing Trump, “this malign buffoon,” as the well-mannered Mr. Sullivan refers to our Head of State?
There is a really interesting passage after the initial tirade, though. Confesses Sullivan:
Comey may have made mistakes; he may have had a Messiah complex; he may go down in history as a self-righteous prick who interfered in an election. But he is obviously and transparently independent — the key criterion for any FBI director. He has angered both Democrats and Republicans over the years — and this very ability to stand up to the Bush administration and the Clinton campaign at critical moments made him someone you could count on to get to the bottom of the Russia affair.
Let’s review that, eh, gang?
- Comey made mistakes
- Comey had a Messiah complex
- Comey is a self-righteous prick
- Comey angered both Democrats and Republicans
- Comey — unlike the Russians, of whom there is still zero evidence related to election-rigging, otherwise there would be no need for further investigation — interfered in a national election.
So should he remain FBI Director? Even if he doesn’t do his job competently (“mistakes”), is potentially crazy (“Messiah complex”), and has committed an election-rigging crime that Hillary thought worthy of addressing to Russia a “military response”?
Even though, astoundingly, Sullivan goes on to add, ”I’m a skeptic about whether there’s anything there on the Russia stuff that directly implicates Trump in criminal dealings,” Sullivan say yes.
Well, if Sullivan not only thinks Trump is innocent but is ballsy enough to say so in print, why does he want bumbling Messianic prick Comey to stay Director?
”Comey was my reassurance that someone would have the tools to get to the bottom of it, whatever it was. Now, if I am not to be stupefyingly naive, I have to assume the president is guilty of something and is busy rigging the system to stymie any attempt to bring potential traitors to justice.”
So let’s see. Comey is a trifle cracked and makes mistakes, including mistakes on the scale of throwing the election to Trump, thus triggering an extinction-level event for Western Man (or Western Cis-Protozoa or whatever). But for reasons unspecified (obviously not touching on competence or mental or moral capacity) Sullivan thinks Comey and only Comey can get to “the bottom of it,” though Sullivan doesn’t know what “it” is; and (since he doesn’t think Trump was involved with the Russians) presumably doesn’t think “it” is anything at all. But only Comey can reveal the truth that there is nothing at all, for Sullivan has “to assume the President is guilty of something…” Therefore Comey is the one to bring the “potential traitors” Trump is hiding “to justice.”
Senseless? Yes. But only if you fail to see that to such people Trump is simply guilty of anything and everything, all the time, every time. The key line above is Sullivan’s “I have to assume the president is guilty of something… ” What about the presumption of innocence, Andy? And isn’t it simply more reasonable to assume that a President is removing someone who “makes mistakes” because he doesn’t want someone who “makes mistakes” to mis-serve the public? Irrelevant. Find the traitors! Then hang the bastard who covered all that nothing up.
One of the interesting things this election has taught me is the gap between language and competence. The vastly erudite, linguistically suave Establishment press has inundated and continued to inundate the President with really well-written, creative, even soaring prose that at times (rare times) exhibits a surface persuasiveness that is fascinating to watch — a cornucopia of misstatements, misdirection, skewed syllogisms, argumenti at hominem, ad infinitum. By contrast, Trump can’t say “Dick and Jane ran up the hill” without goofing up. And yet he’s swooped circles around them, reaching the White House and furthering his agenda even as their sputtering becomes a public issue and historic subject in its own right. There’s a weird — dialectical! — harmony: on the one side, sensible content delivered in insensate and insensitive prose, and on the other, senseless vituperation expressed in vivid vital sentences. Neither seem capable of connecting language to substance.
I should say in passing that I find Comey an interesting, complex, ambiguous figure and shall miss him. I look forward to his memoirs, though I am surprised only that Trump didn’t dump him on day one. He wasn’t — how can I put it? — predictable, and no one likes working with a ticking bomb.
As a news story, though, the Comey apocalypse is just part of the same old pattern: Trump says or does x, however legal or trivial, the liberal press (which is to say all mainstream media) shrieks for days that it’s the end of the world and run endless articles arraigning Trump for every evil known to man and call passionately for his impeachment, and then — nothing happens. Because, in the real world, nothing much has happened. The FBI Director during a Democratic administration leaves after a new Republican administration settles in. This is news? Not really. It only becomes attention-grabbing headlines once the authors add the Secret Sauce of Trumpian Gotterdammerung.
The problem is, such headlines only grab the attention of liberals, because only liberals read the liberal press anymore. The olden days, when you’d get the wide-ranging even-handed analyses of a Mencken, a Murrow, a Galbraith are long gone. It’s just “Destroy Trump” 24/7 over and over now. No wonder Republicans and most Independents aren’t listening. How often can you read the same thing, after all? It’s not journalism any more, really; more like acrid stretches of Philip Glass, or an interminable religious chant.
I wonder if it’s a result of the media technology as such? Courtesy of cyberspace, news has devolved into parallel informational universes, and never the twain of CNN and Infowars seem to meet. Between Netflix and the net, who connects with the real world anymore? Based on his spectacularly successful track record in business, it seems likely that the President does, at least way more than his detractors. Too bad he can’t give us a compelling report.