At some point liberals are going to have to decide how they wish to approach the presidency of Donald J. Trump: do they want to deal with the foibles of this administration like irrational little children, or mature grown-ups? Now, we all surely remember the presidency of George W. Bush—eight years of faux-patriotic histrionics and around two or three billion accusations of Nazism—and so we might be tempted to assume that progressives are just going to do that again. Maybe it’s the only way the American liberal order knows how to respond to adversity anymore, I don’t know. But they must understand that, if they elect for the kindergarten route, it’s probably not going to end well for them.
Maybe they’ve already made their decision. On Wednesday, President-elect Trump held a press conference, his first since the election, in order to clear the air regarding some ethical conflicts involving his family and his business, as well as the reportedly looming Russian kompromat scandal. You can judge for yourself, but I can save you a click and say that the presser wasn’t all that exciting or alarming: there remain some genuine concerns regarding Trump’s business holdings, but overall the whole thing was rather unremarkable, and there were even some refreshing moments, such as when Trump (correctly) accused the dime-store news website Buzzfeed of being a “failing pile of garbage.”
What was the liberal response to this event? Patton Oswalt sums it up best:
Do tell. To be fair, of course, Oswalt is presumably not being literal when he tells us to “hoard food.” But he’s using hyperbole to make a very literal point, which is that, in his own words, “we’re fucked.”
But why are we “fucked?” It is not at all clear—not from Oswalt, to be sure, but more importantly not from the press conference that caused Oswalt to apparently pee his pants. It is hard to adequately quantify the magnitude of the overreaction on display here: the mind struggles to approach it in a dignified manner. One imagines that Patton Oswalt felt very excited to write that tweet; you can picture him, giddy with the self-righteous indignation that is endemic to American liberalism, delighted to raise an alarum about the perilous state of the American experiment: “We’re fucked.” But Oswalt knows we’re not fucked—he knows that, though Trump will probably not be a good president and will possibly be a very bad one, this country will almost certainly be okay; he probably also knows that Trump didn’t say or do anything at the press conference to warrant such a reaction. So why did he write what he did?
The answer is to be found in the perpetual childishness of progressivism, which generally cannot interact with the world at a political or cultural level without resorting to this puerile kind of hysterics. For most liberals, every conservative policy has to be a world-ender; every Republican politician has to be Hitler; every conservative cultural impulse has to be an evil throwback to the Formica tyranny of Mayfield and the Strange Fruit racial mentality of 1920s Alabama. Wherever it starts, modern American progressivism invariably ends at one of these termini.
These convictions rot the analytical brain, eventually making real rational discourse almost impossible: hence why a slightly bombastic Republican president-elect can hold a presser and cause Patton Oswalt to lose his mind. And this isn’t just a one-off. In 2004, Oswalt claimed that “If Bush wins, then we all surf a turd, Slim Pickens-style, into the maelstrom of history’s dustbin. Blue and red. And purple, whatever the fuck that was. Right on top of Ancient Rome, Prussia, Spain and Great Britain in the 1880’s.” Well over a decade later, he has not learned; intellectually he has not grown a single day. For liberals, any practical manifestation of conservatism—or even the bloviating of a faux-conservative Republican—is always, forever, unavoidably, the end of the world. The paradigm of progressive thought simply does not allow for any other exegesis.
But wait: it gets worse. Because Trump refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta and eventually declared that the network was “fake news,” Vox correspondent Elizabeth Plank decided to take a string from Patton Oswalt’s bow and go absolutely nuts:
This is almost a parody of liberal histrionics, like a bad Mad Magazine piece featuring satire so close to the target that it’s really not even funny. Consider, just for a moment, the fact that the entire Democratic establishment has been arguing for years that the government should be able to ban books, something that—you’d think—would have caused Elizabeth Plank to have gotten upset sometime between 2008 and 2016. Consider also, the astonishing interpretation she has drawn from Trump’s presser: the president-elect’s brash back-and-forth with a single media outlet is “the beginning of the end of freedom of press.” Does this make any sense to you? Of course not: it makes no sense to anyone, not even to Elizabeth Plank; surely she is aware that she appears to be quite insane. The only way to understand such a wildly illiterate claim is to place it in its proper context and interpret it by its intended effect: Plank does not want to raise any concerns about “freedom of press” so much as she wants to, you know, freak out about Trump.
That’s the whole end-game, the entire purpose of such a profoundly incorrect and juvenile interpretation of events: not a constructive or helpful criticism of Donald Trump’s policy, but rather a shrieking condemnation of a Republican qua Republican. When a Democrat did literally exactly the same thing barely three months ago, nobody could be bothered to care; the anguished wails over “freedom of press” were conspicuously absent. It makes you wonder if liberals are sincere in their political beliefs, or if it is all just a matter of, I don’t know, opportunism and hair-pulling theatrics.
A healthy society would have more contempt for such nonsense; if our politics were ordered properly, we would be piling contempt on top of contempt for the likes of partisans like Patton Oswalt and Elizabeth Plank and the countless others who act like them. This childish and terminally oblivious behavior would be regarded as kind of a political novelty rather than a viable political philosophy. But here we are nonetheless. And the challenge of the next four years is going to be this: do we laugh at this pathetic state of affairs, or cry? Maybe both?