The Trump Era Held Up A Mirror To Our Shattering Culture
The Trump Era Held Up A Mirror To Our Shattering Culture By Emily Jashinsky for The Federalist
Where the anxieties of the working class and Baby Boomers were channeled into Trump, the anxieties of the left were channeled into a furious, culture-wide censorship campaign.
“The madness of Trump, as bad as it was, it really needed to happen. We really needed a reflection of our world’s greatest problem, which is not climate change, but sociopathy and narcissism. Especially in America. It’s going to kill the world. It’s not capitalism, it’s narcissism.” So said songstress Lana Del Rey, reflecting on the Trump administration this week.
She’s right to dig deeper than climate change and capitalism, but wrong to finger an incurable element of the human condition for America’s ills. The broader point, however, is important. Del Rey is arguing that Trump’s political ascent exposed or, perhaps, accelerated a cultural clash. She seems to be convinced this exposition will ultimately be constructive.
I’m not so sure. The problem is not that we’re all as narcissistic as Trump. The problem is that we’re all as anxious. Characterizing Trump as anxious may seem odd—and I’m certainly not invoking the psychological concept—but his central promise to “Make America Great Again” was predicated on a reasonable anxiety that the version of America he knew and loved was slipping away. That resonated immensely, and for some eminently fair reasons.
Where the anxieties of the working class and Baby Boomers were channeled into Trump, the anxieties of the left were channeled into a furious, culture-wide censorship campaign. Each vessel has profound issues made worse by their inevitable confrontation, which accelerated this painful culture clash in which we’re now engulfed. So why are we anxious?
While they’re a small fraction of the population, let’s begin by zooming in on the young men who populate the ranks of Antifa and even far-right groups like the Proud Boys. It seems in many ways that we’re harvesting the bitter fruit of a campaign Christina Hoff Sommers identified two decades ago in “The War Against Boys,” coping with a generation of alienated men now aging into their thirties and forties.
Much of what Sommers reported can ultimately be traced back to a thesis Mary Eberstadt persuasively advanced in “Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.” That thesis is also in harmony with Tim Carney’s central argument in “Alienated America,” that “the death of the American Dream is a social phenomenon, not an economic one,” and that the decline of churches and other civic institutions has left a lot of Americans behind, desperate for authentic champions.