The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik has all the answers. He might not have the questions, but he does have the answers. If you don’t believe me, just ask him. He pretends, for a paragraph or so, to ask whether Trump Derangement Syndrome is a thing, that is, a clinical condition that mires people so deeply in their own hatred that they are blind to reality. But then he continues to show us what TDS really looks like… when he shows off his own.
Since Gopnik seems to be a master of New Yorker group think—recall that the magazine’s editor David Remnik saw in Barack Obama a long-awaited Messiah—he decides that the only Trump Derangement Syndrome worthy of the name is the one suffered by Trump himself. Since he does not base his opinion on any professional qualification, he entertains us with a rant against Trump, an attack that is short on facts and long on bias. And then he says that Trump is deranged. His superior knowledge of psychology leads him to suggest that if people are deranged about Trump they have good reason to be so: it’s the rational reaction to someone who is deranged.
Somewhere along the line Gopnik forgot about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. For him, it’s: Do unto others as others do unto you. Which is, truth be told, the law of the talion, a primitive system of justice that settles scores by taking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Allow Gopnik to speak for himself:
We’re told by many wise and well-meaning people that it is a huge and even fatal mistake for liberals (and for constitutional conservatives) to respond negatively to every Trump initiative, every Trump policy, and every Trump idea. There are bound to be—in an Administration staffed not by orcs and ogres but for the most part by the usual run of military people and professional politicians—acceptable actions, even admirable initiatives, and we would do ourselves and our country a huge disservice by simply responding to them all with the same reflexive hatred. This may be especially true if that reflexive hatred, however unconsciously, mirrors and mimics the reflexive hatreds of the Trump White House itself. We owe it to our country and to our sanity to go on a case-by-case basis, empirically evaluating each action as it takes place, and refusing to succumb to the urge to turn politics into a series of set responses—exactly the habit, after all, that we so often deplore in Trump and the people around him.
So, Gopnik has created a caricature of Trump-- a New York Democrat turned populist nationalist-- and is using it to rationalize his own inability to think straight, to think rationally, to offer anything cogent about the Trump administration. After all, Trump has shifted positions on various issues— pragmatically-- and has filled his administration with people who are not going to be pushed around. Those who think that Trump is an autocrat will need to explain whether Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster will be Trump’s puppets. If not, they throw out the notion that Trump is ruling like an autocrat. After all, he has not even been able to keep the Republican House caucus together.
If you were expecting Gopnik to be thoughtful and rational and dispassionate you were expecting too much. He thinks that there are two equally plausible sides to the question of Obama’s responsibility for the catastrophe in Syria, but only believes that there is one side to the unmitigated insanity of Trump’s bombing a Syrian air base.
As for Obama in Syria, no less an Obama supporter and a Trump detractor as Roger Cohen of the New York Times grasped the reality far better than Gopnik:
Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency, a debacle of staggering proportions. For more than four years now, the war has festered. A country has been destroyed, four million Syrians are refugees, Islamic State has moved into the vacuum and President Bashar al-Assad still drops barrel bombs whose shrapnel and chlorine rip women and children to shreds.
For a long time, those who fled waited in the neighborhood. They wanted to go home. They filled camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon. When it became clear even to them that “home” no longer existed, nothing could stop them in their desperate flight toward the perceived security of Europe. The refugee crisis is the chronicle of a disaster foretold.
American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it. The pendulum swings endlessly between interventionism and retrenchment because the United States is hard-wired to the notion that it can make the world a better place. Looking inward for long is a non-option for a nation that is also a universal idea. Every major conflict poses the question of how far America should get involved.
You get the point, offered by someone who has the moral sense to place blame where blame is due.
As for Trump’s bombing of Syria, no less than Obama administration stalwart Anne-Marie Slaughter, cheered the Trump action. Gopnik, who thinks he is not deranged, disagrees.
Gopnik explains himself:
It was, as best as anyone can understand, simply a reaction to an image, turned into a self-obsessed lashing out that involved the lives and deaths of many people. It was a detached gesture, unconnected to anything resembling a sequence of other actions, much less an ideology. Nothing followed from it, and no “doctrine” or even a single speech justified it. There is no credible evidence that Trump’s humanity was outraged by the act of poisoning children, only that Trump’s vanity was wounded by the seeming insult to America and, by extension, to him.
One likes the rhetorical flourish— “as best as anyone can understand”—but it is merely a lure to trick the gullible. Gopnik does not understand it because he does not want to understand it. He does not care to understand how political leaders engage in gamesmanship. Vladimir Putin understood perfectly that Trump was signaling that America was back in the game and was going to take charge—a necessary gesture after Russia and its allies did not include the Obama administration in the last round of peace talks. And readers of this blog understand that, given Putin's loss of face, Trump does best now not to rub it in.
For Gopnik what matters is not policy but ideology. He does not care about tactics and strategy, but about ideology. He is seriously torqued that Trump does not seem to have an ideology or even a doctrine. Trump does not seem to have a dogma which one might or might not believe. He does not see the world through the blinders of ideology, as a fiction that an author can rewrite.
Obama’s ideology was weakness and cowardice. But wait, those are not ideological commitments; they are character flaws. When Obama consistently sided with Iran against Israel and against Sunni Arab states, minds who are deranged about Trump had nothing to say. Was Obama manifesting an ideological commitment to the Iranian Revolution? Surely his actions suggested as much. Do we know what the Obama doctrine was, beyond leading from behind? What was the Obama doctrine in Benghazi: ducking under the covers?
We do know that Obama projected weakness around the world for eight years. And we know that no American president is going to make the nation a player on the world stage overnight. One suspects that Gopnik is looking for someone to worship and something to believe in.
Anyway, Gopnik continues to insist that what really matters is ideology:
People who have acts and actions that add up to some coherent plan—or even to an evil scheme—tend to have an ideology. It possesses them, or they are possessed by it. With Trump, it is perfectly clear that he only has a series of episodic wounds and reactions—it’s all fears and fits.
Leaders tend to have plans but not ideologies. They have strategies and tactics, but not ideologies. What was Dwight Eisenhower’s ideology? Presidents who have ideologies, I have long since claimed, tend to have no sense of reality and no real competence. They retreat to the fictional world defined by their ideology because they are lost in the real world. The fact seems to describe Obama well. It does not fit Trump very well.
Gopnik concludes about Trump:
… the one appetite that he does have is for announcing his authority through violence, a thing capable of an unimaginable resonance and devastation.
As opposed, one imagines to the pusillanimous Obama who ducked the fight in Syria, who removed Qaddhafi in Libya and then went home, who pulled out of Iraq because he could not or would not negotiate an agreement to stay and who announced his departure from Afghanistan months in advance… the better to help the Taliban to plan.
Gopnik is terrified of a few Tomahawk missiles sent as a message to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. He has nothing to say—for example—about Trump’s effort to build an alliance with Chinese president Xi Jinping and to deal with the North Korea problem--created by Bill Clinton’s deal with that nation, and left unresolved by both Bush and Obama. But, building an alliance with the President of China would not fit in Gopnik’s slightly hysterical rant about violence and devastation, so he chooses not to mention it.
Normally we expect much better from Adam Gopnik. He should have kept his Trump Derangement Syndrome to himself.