If one were to judge American politics solely by the contents of my inbox, one would have no choice but to conclude that free thought is a fiction. As I have learned over these past six months, to criticize Donald Trump online is to be treated not to calm rebuttal and tailored explanation, but to an unyielding stream of melodramatic accusation, none of which has much to do with whatever point was originally being advanced.
Since he declared his candidacy, I have proposed variously that Trump is an opportunistic charlatan playing cynically upon legitimate fears, that he has no moral or political compass, that his support for border reform is paper thin, that he is a loud and proud know-nothing, and that, ultimately, he is as thin-skinned and narcissistic as those whom he likes to accuse of having given in to “political correctness.” In almost every case, my interlocutors’ response has been simple: “You are an elite and a snob — an out-of-touch, upper-middle–class egghead who hates and scorns real Americans and is interested only in his own political advancement,” they say. “If you genuinely cared about ‘we the people,’ you’d get aboard the Trump bandwagon and stop degrading the base.”
This, I need not observe, is a lazy and manipulative way of advancing one’s interests, akin in intellectual dishonesty to the manner in which progressives attack dissenting minorities. Because he disagrees politically with the majority of Hispanic voters, Ted Cruz is held by the Left to have “abandoned” his “Latino roots”; because she skews right on most economic matters, Mia Love is deemed to be no better than a “House Negro”; because she is pro-life, Carly Fiorina must “hate women.” In all of these cases, the presumption is clear: Namely, that if a particular group tends to favor a particular policy or politician, one “insults” that group when one refuses to fall in line.
Thus do many progressives interpret conservative opposition to immigration reform as hatred toward Hispanics. Thus do many progressives regard conservative opposition to affirmative action as “racism.” Thus do many progressives explain that, by lambasting President Obama — who remains popular among black voters — conservatives are disparaging not just the president himself, but those who like him. And thus, apparently, do many Republican primary voters take harsh criticism of Donald Trump personally.
EDITORIAL: Against Trump
This is no accident. For years now, figures such as Sarah Palin have attempted to equate selective disagreement with broad-based superciliousness — and on the questionable grounds that one cannot possibly believe a person has become a mess without indicting all of his friends. Last year, when I proposed that Palin had become a sad parody of herself, my submission was met not with considered argument or systematic rebuttal but with outrage, anger, and palpable hurt. “Why,” I was asked, “did you just attack me? Why, you effete foreigner, do you hate the American people? Why are you looking down your nose at the working class?” A similar set of inquiries has accompanied my many criticisms of Trump.
Naturally, the answers to these questions are, in order: “I didn’t,” “I don’t,” and “I am not.” Rather, I was criticizing someone whom I believe to be an embarrassment and a charlatan. If I wished to attack a whole group of people, I could easily do so. But I don’t wish to do so, and to presume otherwise is to pick up the mantle of left-wing groupthink and run with it until exhaustion sets in. Just as my political dislike of President Obama does not reflect animus toward African-Americans in general, so my distaste for the traveling circus act that Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are staging has no meaningful bearing on my feelings toward their supporters. I do not dislike Chuck Schumer because he has an unusually large Jewish constituency; I dislike him because I believe him to be a dishonest man whose policy prescriptions are wrong for America. Likewise, I do not dislike Nancy Pelosi because she is elected by the people of California; I dislike her because she is highly destructive to the causes in which I believe. Ideas, not opprobrium, are the animating variable here, and to suggest that they are not is absurd and self-indulgent.
#share#When drawing this distinction it is customary for the aggrieved to argue that, at one level at least, it is impossible to call a man a “charlatan” without implying that those who support him have been duped. This, of course, is true. But again, that has no inevitable group or class implications, nor does it suggest any form of “hatred” or “condescension” toward the misled. My doctor is a staunch supporter of Barack Obama, and believes that he has been a “great” president. When, occasionally, we talk politics, he defends Obama passionately, and explains that he would vote him in for a third term if he could. Naturally, I disagree. Over the past four years I have contended that Obama is a feckless, arrogant, cult-inspiring authoritarian who has damaged the country’s crucial constitutional structure, and, in the name of transient victories, has willfully driven Americans apart. What, I wonder, should my doctor think of my words? Should he conclude that I “hate” him, and believe he is a stupid man? Should he conclude that I am opposed to all doctors? Should he conclude that I “look down” on Hispanics, on single women, on blacks, and on the young because they have supported the president in overwhelming numbers? I should certainly hope not. I’d like him to conclude that I think support for Obama is wrongheaded, and that, at worst, I believe he and like-minded individuals have been taken for a ride — which, it should be said, is exactly what they believe about me.
#related#And so they should, for the alternative is too ugly to contemplate. If we cannot criticize those whom we believe to be politically undesirable without being accused of impeaching whole swathes of the voting public, we will quickly descend into precisely the sort of destructive, faction-based politics that are such an odious product of the hard Left. If this column — and others like it — come to inspire no more refined response than, “well you would say that because you belong to your group,” then reasoned argument will be buried, never to be heard from again. And, if we permit ambitious politicians to convince us that their interests and ours are utterly inextricable, we will sacrifice our individuality upon the altar of the mob. I don’t like Donald Trump: I think he’s a dangerous, boorish, calculating conman. You, on the other hand, I’ll take case by case.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.