Perhaps you have noticed, as I have, the advance made upon Charles Krauthammer’s brilliant coinage of the last decade, “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” by its latter-day equivalent, Trump Derangement Syndrome. It is that the illness now seems to afflict almost as many Republicans as it does Democrats. Just look at the most recent column by Bret Stephens, formerly of The Wall Street Journal but now with the more ideologically congenial New York Times, which pours contempt on Paul Ryan and other Republicans who have collaborated (I use the word advisedly—perhaps “colluded” would be better) with the President of their own party. He sees them, quite literally, as Quislings:
Among Republicans, Ohio’s John Kasich, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain have sought in different ways to offer [an alternative to Trump], without immediate success but with integrity, honor and a sense of the long view. In a party of Pétains they are the conservative de Gaulles [of the GOP].
Let’s just ignore the implicit comparison of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler and focus instead on the apparent equivalence being drawn here between loyalty to party and betrayal of one’s country.
Where does such an extraordinary idea come from if not from a mind driven to the brink of madness by hatred of the President? And how is it possible that someone as intelligent as Bret Stephens cannot see the absurdity in announcing, in the same column, as an affirmation of his own freedom from party prejudice, his adherence to a new, international party of, er, “nonpartisans” called the Renew Democracy Initiative and comprising such multinational luminaries Garry Kasparov, Anne Applebaum, and Mario Vargas Llosa? It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what a political party is, let alone what one is for.
Of course in this he is far from being alone, and we might want to cast about for some reason—besides, I mean, Trump Derangement Syndrome—for such a widespread state of ignorance. One answer may be found in a recent book which I can’t recommend highly enough titled The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of our Partisan Era by Sam Rosenfeld, from the University of Chicago Press. It’s a bit heavy going for non-political scientists but well repays in historical understanding what it costs in effort. In it you will learn in exhaustive—and exhausting—detail how the American party system evolved, or revolved, into its present ideologically-based and passionately partisan form out of the non-ideological parties of the 1950s.
But Mr. Rosenfeld doesn’t quite bring his fascinating story up to date with the latest developments, in which we see party government itself excoriated and threatened by allegedly nonpartisan zealots like Mr. Stephens—for not being ideological enough. His New York Times colleague Ross Douthat provided another example the next day in a column titled “Paul Ryan, Party Man,” which fairly drips with contempt, if not necessarily for Paul Ryan himself then for party men merely as such. Can he, too, have forgotten, or never known, that since George Washington’s day, America has always been governed by party men?
Although Sam Rosenfeld’s book sees a rough equality between the two parties as to which, in the 1960s and 1970s, was the more keen to purge itself of the ideologically impure, I think he would have to agree that it is the Democrats who have led the way to this brave new world of nonpartisan parties by becoming the party of virtue signaling—a course in which the media appear to be having some success in shaming Republicans like Messrs. Kasich, Sasse, Flake, and McCain into following them. Indeed, I would argue that even the Great Satan himself, Donald Trump, has heard the siren song of the virtue signalers.
For what else can we conclude when he has agreed with whatever underlings, more media sensitive than he, advised him to lob a few cruise missiles into Syria to no other purpose than to show the world (and the media) how much better we were, or he was, than that monster Assad? Not that he got any credit for that from Bret Stephens who, in another piece on Tuesday told Gail Collins that:
The strike really was classic Trump: A show of force mainly for the sake of show, without any strategy behind it. Iran has entrenched itself in Syria alongside Russia, while Israel is quietly preparing for war on its northern front. The administration looks likely to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal next month, but little thought seems to have been given to what comes after. In all, just another reminder that the Trump disaster is global.
It is perhaps needless to add that Mr. Stephens had no “strategy” of his own to suggest as an alternative. Virtue signalers don’t need any other strategy. As the headline to a London Sunday Telegraph piece by Boris Johnson, another conservative virtue signaler and the British foreign secretary, put it: “Airstrikes may not end the sick barbarism in Syria. But they show we stand up for principle and civilised values.” And, after all, the dead and their murderers in Syria areall about us, aren’t they?