Postmodernism didn’t cause Trump. It explains him.

We get the term “postmodern,” at least in its current, philosophical sense, from the title of Jean-François Lyotard’s 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.” It described the state of our era by building out Lyotard’s observations that society was becoming a “consumer society,” a “media society” and a “postindustrial society,” as postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson points out in his foreword to Lyotard’s book. Lyotard saw these large-scale shifts as game-changers for art, science and the broader question of how we know what we know. This was a diagnosis, not a political outcome that he and other postmodernist theorists agitated to bring about.

.. Jacques Derrida’s concept of “deconstruction” sought to understand language as a system capable of constantly hiding and deferring meaning, rather than a simple conduit for conveying it.
Another thinker, Jean Baudrillard, developed the concept of the “simulacrum,” a copy without an original, that leads to the “hyperreal,” a collection of signs or images purporting to represent something that actually exists (such as photos of wartime combat) but ultimately portraying a wild distortion not drawn from reality.
.. By the 1980s, conservative scholars like Allan Bloom — author of the influential “The Closing of the American Mind” — challenged postmodern theorists, not necessarily for their diagnosis of the postmodern condition but for accepting that condition as inevitable.
.. Unlike so many of today’s critics, Bloom understood that postmodernism didn’t emerge simply from the pet theories of wayward English professors. Instead, he saw it as a cultural moment brought on by forces greater than the university.
.. Bloom was particularly worried about students — as reflections of society at large — pursuing commercial interests above truth or wisdom. Describing what he saw as the insidious influence of pop music, Bloom lamented “parents’ loss of control over their children’s moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it.” He called the rock music industry “perfect capitalism, supplying to demand and helping create it,” with “all the moral dignity of drug trafficking.”
.. Kimball called “Tenured Radicals,” in his 1990 polemic against the academic left. At the heart of this accusation is the tendency to treat postmodernism as a form of left-wing politics — with its own set of tenets — rather than as a broader cultural moment that left-wing academics diagnosed.
.. it treats Lyotard and his fellows as proponents of a world where objective truth loses all value, rather than analysts who wanted to explain why this had already happened.
.. If you’re going to claim that Trumpism and alt-right relativism are consequences of the academic left’s supposition about what was happening, you must demonstrate a causal link. But commentators looking to trace these roots play so fast and loose with causality that they could easily be called postmodernist themselves.
.. It is certainly correct that today’s populist right employs relativistic arguments: For example, “identity politics” is bad when embraced by people of color, but “identitarianism” — white-nationalist identity politics — is good and necessary for white “survival.” But simply because this happens after postmodernism doesn’t mean it happens because of postmodernism
.. figures such as “intelligent design” theorist Phillip Johnson and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich cite the influence of postmodernist theory on their projects. Yet, as McIntyre acknowledges — and documents extensively in his book — right-wing think tanks and corporate-backed fronts — like tobacco industry “research” — had already established an “alternative facts” program for the right, long before creative misinformation entrepreneurs came around.
.. because reading postmodern theory is so notoriously difficult — partly because of how philosophical jargon gets translated, and partly because so much of the writing is abstruse and occasionally unclarifiable — an undergraduate (as in Cernovich’s case) or a layperson will almost inevitably come away with misreadings.
.. Hannah Arendt’s 1951 “The Origins of Totalitarianism”: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction . . . and the distinction between true and false . . . no longer exist.” 
.. “The deliberate falsehood and the outright lie used as legitimate means to achieve political ends,” writes Arendt in her 1971 essay “Lying in Politics ,” “have been with us since the beginning of recorded history.”
.. Fredric Jameson’s reflections on conspiracy theory (“the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age”) aren’t what’s convincing people to believe that climate change is a hoax or that the Democratic Party has been running a pedophilia ring out of a Washington pizza parlor.

.. Likewise, the claim that the Trump-Russia investigation is — as Trump said on national television — a “made-up story,” an “excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election,” is not a postmodernist critique of the evidence the Mueller investigation has gathered. So it’s a massive category error to call Trump’s post-truth politics “postmodernist.” It’s just the say-anything chicanery of the old-fashioned sales pitch.

.. it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes.
Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.

The Voters Propelling Trump’s Populist Movement

They failed to consider how grotesque Clinton herself appeared to these same Republican women. The authors quote pollster Wes Anderson to establish a point that sums up these voters and their decision process: “These women may not have decided to vote for Trump until late in the race, but most had decided much earlier that they were definitely not voting for Clinton.” For many, Clinton’s stances on issues like abortion and gun rights ruled her out from the beginning. Many others were repelled by her inauthenticity and dishonesty.

It is difficult to describe Trump as a workingman, but he sounds like a workingman.

.. The man had inherited millions and was worth billions, but somehow he sounded like he understood the plight of people whose pleas were not heard in Chappaqua. Meanwhile, the Democrats increasingly became associated with the non-working class, identifying more with the lifelong welfare recipient than with the worker whose taxes pay for that government program.

.. “I used to think that the Republican party stood for country-club folks in nice suburban homes who talked about bottom lines and stock prices. Not anymore; they are for the blue-collar worker, they are for me, and the irony is not lost on me.”

.. “Big banks, big media, big corporations, I want nothing to do with them,” one man said. Another linked the what Justice Louis Brandeis called the “curse of bigness” to a culture of dependency: “We are Americans, that means something, that means figuring it out without the government giving us free stuff, without the big banks and big companies making us need them so much, and not feeling as though we are entitled to something once we get it.”

.. The confusing part for those who do not buy it is that it makes Trump the representative of the little guy. That is harder to swallow than William Jennings Bryan’s leadership of the 1890s populists. It clearly wrong-footed the Clinton camp, as evidenced by the supreme effort taken to remind the voters just how often Trump had shortchanged, bamboozled, and defrauded various little guys in his long business career.

.. With Clinton as the obvious representative of the Left’s establishment, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and the rest as representatives of the Right’s establishment, and Trump as the eager antagonist of both, the answer was clear to many forgotten men and women: This guy, whatever his past, is in my corner.

Bill Clinton’s Collusion Theory

A New York Times writer describes Bubba’s suspicions about Trump—and her employer.

“After the election, Bill would spread a more absurd Times conspiracy: The publisher had struck a deal with Trump that we’d destroy Hillary on her emails to help him get elected, if he kept driving traffic and boosting the company’s stock price.”

From early on, the Clinton camp saw Trump as an enemy to encourage, Chozick writes. During the campaign, as had been previously reported, there was an effort to elevate Trump into a so-called Pied Piper in order to tie him to the mainstream of the Republican Party.

“An agenda for an upcoming campaign meeting sent by [Campaign Manager] Robby Mook’s office asked, ‘How do we maximize Trump?’” Chozick writes, describing a time when the GOP primary was still crowded.

Even as Trump surged in the polls, the Clinton camp still saw him as a danger to stronger candidates rather than such a candidate in his own right, Chozick reports, so that in August 2015, “when the main GOP debate came on, everyone pushed their pizza crust aside and stared transfixed at the TV set… [Campaign Manager] Robby [Mook] salivated when the debate came back on and Trump started to speak. ‘Shhhhh,’ Robby said, practically pressing his nose up to the TV. ‘I’ve gahtz to get me some Trump.’”

.. In August of that year, the Washington Post reported:

Former president Bill Clinton had a private telephone conversation in late spring with Donald Trump at the same time that the billionaire investor and reality-television star was nearing a decision to run for the White House, according to associates of both men.

Four Trump allies and one Clinton associate familiar with the exchange said that Clinton encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party and offered his own views of the political landscape.

Clinton’s personal office in New York confirmed that the call occurred in late May, but an aide to Clinton said the 2016 race was never specifically discussed and that it was only a casual chat.

 

.. “Of all the Brooklyn aides, Jen Palmieri had the most pleasant bedside manner,” Chozick writes. “That made her the designated deliverer of bad news to Hillary. But not this time. She told Robby there was no way she was going to tell Hillary she couldn’t win. That’s when Robby, drained and deflated, watching the results with his team in a room down the hall from Hillary’s suite, labored into the hallway of the Peninsula to break the news. Hillary didn’t seem all that surprised. ‘I knew it. I knew this would happen to me….’ Hillary said, now within a couple of inches of his face. ‘They were never going to let me be president.’”

 

..Right before the election, the share of people who viewed Hillary Clinton unfavorably was 10 points larger than those with a favorable view of her, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll — a bigger gap than any other recent losing presidential candidate. Our latest poll is a reminder of just how unusual a figure Mrs. Clinton is in terms of her unpopularity.

Historical WSJ/NBC polling shows that recent losing presidential candidates — Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore — experienced post-election declines in positive sentiment. But Mrs. Clinton’s dropoff is a bit steeper–her positive rating is at a new low of 27%, compared with 52% who have a negative opinion. That spread of 25 percentage points is greater than President Trump’s, who is under water by 18 points.

It is a truly remarkable result given the volume of media vitriol directed at Mr. Trump. Also, a President is bound to collect some enemies given the necessity of making difficult and often unpopular decisions. Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, has the freedom to choose the topic, timing and manner of her communications. She recently chose an upscale overseas venue to express another bitter condemnation of American voters who live in economically-depressed areas.

Why do bad things always happen to her?

Donald Trump’s Real Porn-Star Problem

Remember the Clinton scandals. They provoked no decisive legal thunderbolt but a series of agonizing, consequential defeats.

It’s happening again.

.. If you want to talk about foreign influence on elections, the funneling of Chinese money into the 1996 Clinton presidential campaign is still stunning, even these many years later.

.. If the Clinton wing of the Democratic party is honest with itself, it has to understand the price it paid for its corruption. In 2000, the Democrats lost a presidential election they should have won. After all, in a previous time of peace and prosperity, the Republicans got three terms, even when the vice president wasn’t half the political talent that Ronald Reagan was. In 2000, America was on an economic roll, there was an actual budget surplus, and the threat of jihad was barely on the national radar screen. Yet Gore felt as if he had to distance himself from Clinton. He had to distance himself from the drama.

.. she lost a general-election campaign to the most disliked politician in the history of favorability ratings of presidential candidates.

.. While it may well be the case (though I’m skeptical) that some sort of climactic scandal will topple Trump, I think it’s far more likely that he’ll live the way he’s always lived — the way the Clintons always lived — doing what he wants, when he wants, as a phalanx of lawyers clean up his mess and a squadron of associates and allies take the fall.