There’s a dark irony to the somewhat swirling media response to Trump’s victory. For months now, observers have been telling us that Trump’s army is motored more by feeling than reason. Trumpism is a movement based on ‘untrammelled emotion’ over ‘reason [and] empiricism’, said Andrew Sullivan. Trump makes ‘sly appeals to… human irrationality’, said Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. Like all of history’s demagogues, Trump conjures ‘vivid images and intense emotions’, said a writer for the Conversation. Especially in relation to security: apparently he plays on people’s feelings of ‘uncertainty or instability’.
Yet now, as Trump’s victory shocks the world, or at least that portion of it that lives in its own echo chamber, who is it that’s exhibiting ‘untrammelled emotion’? Who’s conjuring up ‘vivid images’ and ‘intense emotions’, particularly with regard to security? It isn’t Trump’s supporters, most of whom went from the ballot box back to their everyday lives. It’s the anti-Trump set. It’s those who spent months claiming Trump supporters lack the mental and moral equipment necessary for ‘reasoned deliberation’. Many of these rather elitist politicos and observers are behaving in a way that makes even the most hot-headed Trump cheerer look perfectly rational in comparison.
The emotionalism of their response has been intense. ‘“I feel hated”, I tell my husband, sobbing in front of the TV in my yoga pants and Hillary sweatshirt’, said an American columnist in the Guardian. Former UK foreign secretary Margaret Beckett says Trump’s victory feels like ‘the end of the world’ (bit rich coming from a woman who voted for the Iraq War in 2003). Emotion over reason is widespread: the Washington Post reports that ‘mobs of tearful students’ are protesting against Trump’s win; some American universities are providing counselling for those ‘traumatised’ by Trump; celebs including Miley Cyrus and Perez Hilton have issued videos of themselves weeping over Trump’s victory, which have been shared hundreds of thousands of times by similarly frazzled Hillary backers.
Even worse than the emotionalism is the apocalypticism. Trump conjures up ‘vivid images’ to exploit people’s feelings of ‘uncertainty’? Yes, he does, but not as intensively as anti-Trump observers have been doing. British historian Simon Schama said Trump’s victory will ‘hearten fascists all over the world’ and is reminiscent of Hitler’s rise. Trump’s victory is the ‘greatest calamity to befall the West since World War II’, says Guardian columnist Owen Jones, clearly having never experienced the deprivations of 1970s recession or 1980s class conflict. Cheap, history-exploiting Hitler comparisons are rife: protesters hold up pictures of Trump with a Hitler moustache while celebs cry over America becoming like ‘Germany in the 1930s’.
The deployment of emotion over reason, the eschewing of empiricism in favour of ‘vivid images’ designed to scare people, is coming primarily from the chattering class, not the ‘Trump mob’. The marshalling of Hitler and the Holocaust to denounce Trump is especially low. Lacking a coherent outlook or even language through which to understand the Trump phenomenon, far less cogently critique it, anti-Trump observers rummage through history in search of moral authority, seeking to mobilise the great crimes of the past as stand-ins for their own ill-formed feelings, a cover for the disorientation they feel as they look around the 21st-century West.