Walter Kirin, in Harper’s (of all places), describes discovering that today, all the cool people, the rebels and outsiders, are the Trump supporters, while the sanctimonious, preachy types, the annoying conformist scolds are the liberals!
Puritanism, Mencken said, is â€œthe haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.â€ But liberal puritanism is slightly different. It fears that the wrong sort of people might be happy, or that their happiness might be of the wrong kind. Iâ€™d seen examples of it on Twitter, in snarling remarks about Trumpâ€™s porn-star mistress, his age difference with his wife, his multiple marriages, his rumored romps with Russian prostitutes. The ostensible charge was Trumpâ€™s hypocrisy and that of his evangelical supporters for pardoning such lewdness in their leader, but sometimes I sensed disgust in the attacks not only with Trump, but also with sex, in all its messiness. When Jimmy Kimmel recently referred to Trump as Pumpkin ÂMcPornHumper, the hint of sniffy distaste was unmistakable.
If Trumpâ€™s presidency is a national emergency and opposing it the equivalent of warâ€”though I prefer sticking with the political processâ€”then there isnâ€™t much room for liberals to be liberal in the ways I found so attractive as a boy. Indeed, I see evidence that certain liberal principles, the ones that impressed me in the Seventies, have eroded. Back then, for example, the CIA was understood to be a nest of liars and psychopaths who toppled democratically chosen leaders, lied to the public to start wars, and ran sick experiments on innocents using drugs and mind-control techniques. In Three Days of the Condor, a thriller from the period, Robert Redford plays a lowly CIA officer who discovers that the agency is nothing more than a crime ring. These days, however, with Trump playing the heavy, the CIA is revered by many liberals as a bulwark of integrity, its missions sacred, its conclusions unimpeachable, and its former director, John Brennan, worthy of a high-profile cable news job. The FBI draws similar adulation, never mind its history of spying on the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Lennon, and Martin Luther King Jr.
This great liberal switch from skepticism to sanctimony about the most powerful arms of the Establishment is matched by a viral fear of Russia that reminds me of the John Birch Society pamphlets Iâ€™d come across now and then when I was young. Somehow, instinct told me then that they were crazy, exaggerating the cunning of the enemy, the depravity of the collaborators, and the vulnerability of America. The liberal comedians who lampooned such claims on shows such as Laugh-In were my idols. They dared to speak the most radical truth of all in a time of panic and paranoia: the sneakiest adversary is the mind. The Cold War was real, of course, and deadly serious, as are the tensions with Putinâ€™s Russia, but my liberal heroes of the Seventies discerned other dangers that were closer to home. Rigidity. Stridency. Shrillness. Self-righteousness. One way they answered the periodâ€™s harsh conservatism was to hang loose, not get uptight. Love, not war. Remember?