In Fall 2017, the president of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth, invited me to speak as part of a “difficult conversations” initiative. Wesleyan is a determinedly left-wing campus, and Roth saw the occasional conservative visitor as good for the intellectual climate. We were eight months into the Trump Administration, and I’d written pieces for Vox, CNN, the New York Times, and other liberal outlets that suggested I might praise President Trump in a way that would rise above naked partisanship.
I decided on a presentation of Donald Trump as a traditional American rogue figure, a model of Emersonian nonconformity, an outlandish character in a lineage of comic renegades. No other individual in my lifetime mobilized the entirety of respectable opinion in America against himself, I would tell them, and that very fact deserved analysis. Everybody in the elite denounced him—a strange uniformity for a social group that professes its admiration for thinking outside the box. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the swamp, the art world, the media, academia . . . they hated him with a passion that revealed more about themselves than it did about the object of their enmity. He had to have something going for him to evoke such a monolithic pageant of slurs.
I laid this out before an audience of 200, and the faculty in the room more or less got the tongue-in-cheek element (though they asked some tough questions about Trump’s sexism).Read More