Donald Trump: the president of expressive individualism

In a 2011 article in First Things, the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart pondered why so many literary depictions of the devil present him as attractive, witty, stylish and debonair. If there is a devil, Hart ventured, he is a thug and a bore, “probably a monomaniac who talks about nothing but his personal grievances and aims, and in the bluntest, most unrefined language imaginable—the sort of person you try your best to get away from at a party.”

Hart recalled a legal case from 1993 in which a poor, elderly New Jersey woman, Vera Coking, fought to keep her home while a ruthless developer used all his power to have the land seized by eminent domain so he could buy it at a discount and turn it into a limousine parking lot for one of his Atlantic City casinos. Hart then offered the following verdict on that developer and on the nature of the diabolical: “Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.”

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Three important thinkers of the past 40 years—Alisdair MacIntyre, Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor—provide key terms for understanding how we have arrived at this historical moment.

Six years later, First Things—which proclaims itself to be “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life”—was publishing articles of a very different kind about the meaning of Donald Trump and Trumpism. In an essay published in July 2017, the magazine’s editor, R. R. Reno, praised the new president (whose candidacy he had endorsed in 2016 as “the most likely to restore the promise of America,” to end “crony capitalism” and to “promote an honest and just government”) for having “discerned the true meaning of our historical moment.” Liberal commentators were alarmed by a speech Trump had just given to the Polish people in Warsaw. They heard echoes of the blood-and-soil rhetoric of Hitler and National Socialism. Reno, too, was “struck by Trump’s emphasis on ‘will,’ and especially by the way in which he spoke of the Polish nation as consecrated by ‘the blood of patriots.’”

But far from harboring any moral or political qualms about Trump’s language, Reno compared him with Pericles. He admired Trump’s use of “the classic rhetoric of resolve, determination, will, blood, and sacrifice” to counter the true threat of our age—not the danger of resurgent authoritarianism around the globe but what Reno called “velvet nihilism.” He defined this peril as “a disposition of cultural and moral disarmament that cannot rouse itself to affirm or defend much of anything.” According to Reno, postwar fears of fascism and the slogan “Never Again!” have led to “disenchantment,” “irony,” “moral relativism and radical secularism.” But for Reno, it is time to move on. “We do not need to be chastened by Auschwitz,” he remarkably concluded. What we need in “our circumstances” are “consolidating motifs, to rally people to causes that are worthy of their loyalty, even to the point of self-sacrifice.”

Whatever else Trump represents, he has never stood for loyalty, for self-sacrifice or for traditional or conservative values.

Whatever else Trump represents, he has never stood for loyalty (except the unquestioning loyalty of others to himself), for self-sacrifice or for traditional or conservative values in the face of the moral relativism of Hollywood and coastal elites. Embraced by nearly half of voting Americans—including a majority of non-Hispanic Catholics and an overwhelming majority of evangelical Protestants—for his alleged prowess as a businessman and for the “authenticity” of his vitriol against the political establishment, the only “motifs” that Trump has “consolidated” are precisely those of the nihilism that conservative intellectuals have long made it their vocation to decry. Three important thinkers of the past 40 years—Alisdair MacIntyre, Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor—provide key terms for understanding how we have arrived at this historical moment. Their ideas will be familiar to many readers, yet they are worth revisiting as we now witness the putative defenders of reason, virtue and the wisdom of the ages offering equivocating if not always effusive support for our nihilist in chief, the president of expressive individualism.

American Individualism and the Loss of Virtue

In his seminal study of moral philosophy in 1981, After Virtue, MacIntyre offered an unsettling tale. “Imagine,” he wrote, “that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe.” For some reason the masses turn against scientific knowledge and go on a rampage, burning scientific textbooks, smashing research laboratories, lynching physicists and abolishing all science courses from the universities. Generations later, people realize that the anti-science purge was a terrible mistake. A few enlightened individuals attempt to undo the damage. Not raised in a scientific culture, however, all they know of the scientific method and scientific theories is what they have gleaned from mysterious bits and pieces of the past—disconnected fragments of learning that do not add up to any unified project or integrated worldview (a single page from an article here, portions of the periodic table there, etc.). They might imagine that by faithfully preserving and committing to memory this potpourri of artifacts they are engaging in “science.” Yet true scientific knowledge does not advance, and their veneration of what they believe to be science more closely resembles a kind of superstition or religious faith.

MacIntyre then offered a “disquieting suggestion” about our current reality:

The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described.… We possess indeed simulacra of morality.… But we have very largely, if not entirely, lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality. But how could this be so?... The catastrophe will have to have been of such a kind that it was not and has not been—except perhaps by a very few—recognized as a catastrophe.

Insofar as secular liberal societies do subscribe to any overarching moral theory, according to MacIntyre, it is the theory of emotivism—namely, the view that there are no objective moral standards and that statements of moral principle are really just masks for personal preferences. These notions have penetrated far deeper into our culture, MacIntyre suggested, than we might realize or care to admit. “The reduction of morality to personal preference continually recurs in the writings of those who do not think of themselves as emotivists.”

The idioms of management and therapy, MacIntyre contends, have thoroughly penetrated and colonized a host of other spheres, including education, politics and religion.

He identifies two modern types who in their professional roles are incapable of engaging in serious moral debate and yet have come to influence our moral thinking powerfully: the manager and the therapist. Both in their own way obliterate questions of moral ends, transforming all problems into matters purely of technique to be evaluated in terms of quantifiably measurable outcomes (greater profits in the case of the manager, reported feelings of mental well-being in the case of the therapist). The idioms of management and therapy, MacIntyre contends, have thoroughly penetrated and colonized a host of other spheres, including education, politics and religion. In the emotivist frame, objective truth is no longer held up as a paramount value. Indeed, the idea that individuals ought to be held accountable to universal standards of truth—whether empirical or normative—is explicitly rejected. Bottom lines and psychological harmony—the truth that is true only if it serves my interests, or if it feels true to me—trump all.

Where MacIntyre used the term emotivism to name our moral predicament, in their classic 1985 study of American society, Habits of the Heart, the sociologist Robert Bellah and his co-writers identified two powerful strands of American thought that in some ways correspond with the managerial and therapeutic types: utilitarian individualism and expressive individualism. The archetypal utilitarian individualist in American history, they suggested, is Benjamin Franklin, who made a lifelong project of personal self-improvement according to economic standards of industry and thrift. Franklin’s Autobiography was a kind of secular Pilgrim’s Progress that self-consciously set out to transform classic Christian virtues along more pragmatic lines. Utilitarian individualism sees people as self-made and self-maximizing creatures, motivated primarily by appetites and entering into rational social contracts not out of any noble concern for the common good but rather to advance their own interests, security and profits.

While our political and economic life is dominated by the assumptions and vocabulary of utilitarian individualism, however, American culture is arguably even more strongly influenced by the second form of individualism, which arose in opposition to the drive toward ever greater efficiency and control. “Expressive individualism holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized.” The archetypal expressive individualist, according to Bellah, is Walt Whitman, whose most famous work, Leaves of Grass, begins with the words, “I celebrate myself.” For Whitman, in contrast to Franklin, the goal of life is not to maximize efficiency for the sake of material acquisition but rather to luxuriate in sensual and intellectual experiences, to take pleasure in one’s bodily life and sexuality and to express oneself freely, without any concern for social conventions.

American-style individualism, Bellah argued, is at its root religious, flowing out of the idea of freedom of conscience first championed by radical Protestant sects like the Quakers. 

More than a decade after Habits of the Heart was published, Bellah traced the origins of both utilitarian and expressive individualism to still deeper wellsprings in American history than either Franklin or Whitman, sources he confessed he had earlier failed to appreciate fully. American-style individualism, he argued in a plenary address to a meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Francisco, is at its root religious, flowing out of the idea of freedom of conscience first championed by radical Protestant sects like the Quakers and the Baptists. Secular liberalism thus lives on borrowed moral capital. “[T]he key move was to extend the sacredness of conscience from religious belief to any seriously held conviction whatever.” Bellah wryly continued, “[H]ere, in the city of San Francisco, where you can probably do almost anything within reason and still not raise an eyebrow, it is all ultimately thanks to the Baptists.”

But Bellah detected a fatal contradiction in the culture of expressive individualism: with ever greater affirmation of the sacredness of the individual, “our capacity to imagine a social fabric that would hold individuals together is vanishing.” In the final analysis, he wrote, “Roger Williams was a moral genius but he was a sociological catastrophe. After he founded the First Baptist church he left it for a smaller and purer one. That, too, he found inadequate, so he founded a church that consisted only of himself, his wife and one other person. One wonders how he stood even those two.”

Yet the most powerful dissolvent of the social fabric was not the drive toward religious purity and freedom of conscience (leading to the perennial splintering of Protestant denominations). It was the capitalist drive toward an economic individualism that “knows nothing of the sacredness of the individual” and whose “only standard is money.” Bellah was not optimistic about America’s long-term prospects: “[T]he poignant reality is that, without a minimal degree of solidarity, the project of ever greater recognition of individual dignity will collapse in on itself. Under the ideological facade of individual freedom, the reality will be, is already becoming, a society in which wealth, ever more concentrated in a small minority, is the only access to real freedom.”

The Rise of the Culture of Authenticity

In his 2007 magnum opus, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor similarly linked expressive individualism with consumerism and with the subordination of values to the demands of the market. There are traces of these developments as far back as 18th-century Romanticism, but Taylor sees a fundamental shift after World War II from a mere emphasis on subjectivity to a full-blown consumerist culture of authenticity.

Since the 1940s, the United States has undergone a period of unprecedented affluence and the widespread diffusion of what were formerly thought of as luxury goods, from washing machines to packaged family holidays. Corporations have honed techniques of mass marketing to convince people that they need to purchase a constant stream of novel things in order to express their individuality. The “pursuit of happiness” in American society—and globally insofar as the world has embraced American values—thus today largely means the pursuit of ever more “stuff.” According to Taylor, the convergence of consumerism and expressive individualism fosters an ethic of “soft relativism.” “Expressions like ‘do your own thing’ become current; a beer commercial of the early 70s enjoined us to ‘be yourselves in the world of today.’ A simplified expressivism infiltrates everywhere. Therapies multiply which promise to help you find yourself, realize yourself, release your true self, and so on.”

Under soft relativism, traditional understandings of marriage and sexual ethics undergo a corresponding radical revaluation. Practices that were formerly stigmatized taboos become the staples of light entertainment. No good of the community, no natural law, no biological inheritance and certainly no appeal to sacred writ can be allowed to interfere with the one sacred truth of the culture of authenticity: Individuals must be free to define themselves and their own goods however they desire, provided only that all involved are consenting adults in the “free market.”

The highest and perhaps only real ethic of our secular age is the “harm principle” first enunciated by John Stuart Mill—namely, the idea that no one should interfere in any aspect of anyone else’s life except to prevent a person from doing harm to someone else. “Doing harm” is itself now seen, though, precisely in terms of interference. To impede—or even to call into question—someone else’s self-expression, whatever that expression might be, is to commit a kind of violence against their personhood. The pursuit of virtue is thus replaced by the quest for self-actualization. In Taylor’s words, “One shouldn’t criticize the others’ values, because they have a right to live their own life as you do. The sin which is not tolerated is intolerance.” Or, in the words of the Rev. Franklin Graham, whether or not the president of the United States had an affair with a porn star and silenced her with hush money on the eve of an election “is nobody’s business.”

Advertising and social media exploit our fears of isolation, binding us ever closer to one another, not in authentic community but in liturgies of consumption.

The irony of “authenticity” in the consumerist societies of late capitalism is that personal expression takes the form of brand loyalty. “Individuality” is expressed as group conformity—and, in the political realm, a sheer tribalism divorced from any sense of ideological consistency or firm moral commitment. Corporate marketing on the one hand isolates individuals in their acquisitiveness, fostering indifference to “losers” in the global economy. At the same time, advertising and social media exploit our fears of isolation, binding us ever closer to one another, not in authentic community but in liturgies of consumption that revolve around insecure imitation games (or what the social theorist René Girard called “mimetic rivalries”). “The present youth culture is defined both by the way advertising is pitched at it and, to a great degree autonomously, as expressivist,” notes Taylor. But the “styles of dress adopted, the kinds of music listened to, give expression to the personality, to the affinities of the chooser, within a wide space of fashion in which one’s choice could align one with thousands, even millions of others.”

The new emphasis on private space has freed us from older relationships of mutual support, neighborliness and shared responsibility. But this expanded freedom to assert our personal “identities” comes at steep social and spiritual costs. The culture of authenticity is marked by growing distrust of social and political institutions because of their failure to fulfill their promises and satisfy our deepest human longings. Yet we are complicit in the breakdown of these institutions through our refusal to place others ahead of ourselves or to limit our “right” to consume and to emote, whenever and however we please.

The Decadence of Trumpism

And so at last we return to the president of expressive individualism, who exemplifies, in the crudest forms imaginable, both the utilitarian and emotivist frames that have animated the American experiment from its founding and who perfectly embodies the essential relativism, individualism and narcissism of our consumerist “culture of authenticity.” Strip away Benjamin Franklin’s literary genius and still quasi-Christian concern for the relationship between pragmatic utility and the development of good character and we are left with The Art of the Deal. Remove Walt Whitman’s poetic elegance, generosity of spirit and love for the commoner, and it is no great leap to the boasts of the modern libertine who has devoted his entire life to celebrating himself and who has only contempt for the constraints of conventional morality: “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Strip away Benjamin Franklin’s literary genius and still quasi-Christian concern for the relationship between pragmatic utility and the development of good character and we are left with The Art of the Deal.

Politicians regularly proclaim as an article of faith their abiding trust in the “wisdom of the American people,” in our collective common sense that in the end must always somehow see us through. But in our morally and spiritually exhausted “Weimar America,” in conservative commentator Rod Dreher’s phrase (that echoes prescient earlier comparisons, made from the left by Noam Chomsky and Richard Rorty, between Weimar Germany and conditions in the United States), there is no more reason for faith in the collective wisdom and virtue of the demos than there is for faith in the wisdom and virtue of the leader whom the demos has already chosen—the hotelier from Manhattan with his golden palaces; his smash-mouth politics; his serial adulteries; his manifest lying about matters great and small; his lack of all impulse control; his disdain for tradition, rules and norms; his fulsome praise of thugs and dictators; his casual cruelty toward those he deems weak; and his crudely transactional morality.

Conservatives have long decried the relaxing of sexual ethics and the loss of codes of etiquette as markers of liberalism’s moral impoverishment and as political perils to Western civilization. Yet with the rise of Trumpism, they are themselves now deeply and irreversibly implicated in the expressivist turn. All of the old pieties, it turns out, are completely fungible for most conservatives as well. Basic principles of rationality, truth-telling, civility, decency and restraint have been laid waste by the reality television star’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and ascent to the White House on a tsunami of emotive tweets and hyperbolic promises of “better deals.” Yet an astonishing number of Americans, abandoning their own earlier proclamations of the necessity of virtuous character for wise and just political leadership, now cheer the unraveling—and the cruelty.

According to Taylor, there is a troubling amnesia among many liberal champions of the ethics of authenticity, a forgetfulness of the violence that can be unleashed on the world when large numbers of people embrace political ideologies that are emotivist and expressivist at their cores. For many young people, it is “as though the morality of mutual respect were embedded in the ideal of authentic self-fulfillment itself”; they are “oblivious of how the terrible twentieth-century aberrations of Fascism and extreme nationalism have also drunk at the expressivist source.” But if liberal cheerleaders for authenticity are oblivious, as Taylor says, to the ways in which liberalism and extreme nationalism have drunk from the same expressivist wells, the converse is also true. Many self-described conservatives are willfully oblivious to the ways in which their newfound “populist nationalism” partakes of the spirit of the age, the ethos of “me first” bleeding into the nativism of “America First.”

 

Today’s “conservatives”—who embraced Trump as their champion from out of a field of 17 Republican alternatives—are the heirs not of Edmund Burke so much as of Robespierre and the Jacobins, eager to smash the highest achievements of their forebears in the name of an inchoate appeal to something “greater.” This is not the “velvet nihilism” that Rusty Reno fears but rather nihilism of a far more uninhibited, coarse and quintessentially American kind. To comprehend the wellsprings of this new radicalism from the right and its appeal across large swathes of the electorate, we must come to terms not only with the realities of stagnating wages, growing inequality, economic despair and fears of racial and cultural supplanting in the heartland, but also with the moral and spiritual significance of a sordid spectacle that in retrospect appears as a dark portent of our times: more than 80,000 frenzied fans cheering Trump on as he body-slammed, beat and shaved the head of a writhing, sobbing Vince McMahon, and then rained money from the sky (most of it fake, some of it real) during the 2007 “Battle of the Billionaires” storyline on WrestleMania XXIII. This is what the apotheosis of utilitarian and expressive individualism in the American experiment can, at least potentially, look like: an unvarnished appeal to fantasies of power and revenge; the rich growing richer through the cynical orchestration of pseudo-events that play on mob appetites, insecurities and hatreds; the catharsis of collective scapegoating climaxing in ritualistic violence.

In the final analysis, Trump’s revolt against the liberal order ironically manifests and exacerbates all the internal contradictions eating at the heart of the culture of authenticity. What his ruinous triumph has revealed in stark relief is how few authentic conservatives are left in our expressivist land. As the atmosphere of chaos, mendacity and venality surrounding the White House deepens day by day, Trump’s ceaselessly tolerant and indulgent supporters and apologists—whose silences often speak louder than their words—can no longer plausibly claim to be the guardians of virtue. They must now be counted among the greatest moral decadents of our secular age.

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J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

I do not recognize Trump by the title chosen for this article nor by what is written about him. Trump can be an incredible boor who seems to lack self control a lot. He has not been the most moral person in the world. But the irony is that most of the criticism this author directs toward Trump, is more descriptive of those who support the Democratic Party.

This is mainly an incoherent harangue. While the author does not like Trump, he certainly does not understand him or what brought him to power.

Stanley Kopacz
1 month 1 week ago

Try reading the article again. The author's critique extends to both houses, asserting that there are problems deeper than political division. It is your own version of political correctness that makes you hypersensitive to any criticism of the Swine President and your favorite of the two corrupt parties. My favorite part of the article is when the author challenges the self-congratulatory myth of the inherent goodness of the American people. The doctrine of Original Sin opposes this. The inherent goodness myth is the distorted mirror that makes our distorted selves look normal when we look into it, covering our faults, robbing us of our ability to repent.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

hypersensitive to any criticism of the Swine President

You judge without reason and create what is not there. I am very critical of Trump on lots of things. My comment lists several of a personal nature. However, individualism is not a valid criticism.

I did not list any policy issues since this was not brought up. That you do not like Trump is obvious from your comments. It makes anything you say about him irrelevant but it is always interesting to read the new adjectives and nouns you apply.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

asserting that there are problems deeper than political division

There is very little in this OP that is insightful or relevant. He misses completely the basic problem of the United States today. Maybe it people like the author who are part of the problem.

Bev Ceccanti
4 weeks ago

amen

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Try reading the article again

I read it twice. It was even more painful the second time. It is basically a screed and incoherent. The second time I made notes and the word "crock" was used a lot.

Stanley Kopacz
1 month 1 week ago

I think you just don't like what he says. He is quite coherent in describing the American Zeitgeist and how the Trump phenomenon fits in. Perhaps what you don't like is someone saying, not only does the emperor have no clothes, but the subjects are running around in their birthday suits as well.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

No it is incoherent. Maybe you are confusing consistency with coherency. I understand why you like it. It is really anti-Trump but that does not make it coherent. Even the title is a meaningless criticism. Expressive individualism can be applied to just about any politician or successful person. Maybe the author is jealous.

Rachel Roberson
1 month 1 week ago

Valuable info. Lucky me I found your website by accident. I bookmarked it. This article is genuinely good and I have learned a lot of things from it concerning blogging.
Thanks!
happy wheels

Rose Marie Doyle
1 month 1 week ago

We need our moral compass - the Word of God - to get back on track in this country. Prior to Trump's stepping up to the plate, the ancient and reliable moral teachings of the Bible were suffocating, about to expire.
Donald Trump defends freedom of religion, preborn life, and natural marriage. His policies are providing jobs and a livelihood for many who had been locked into the welfare system.
Donald Trump is a rock enduring a deluge of criticism from the mainstream media, but following through with what he believes, which happens to correspond to the teachings of Sacred Scripture.
Jesus says, "Whoever is not against us is for us." He also says that if we come to him we are a new creation. Spurred by love of family, love of country, and the weight of his awesome responsibility as POTUS, a new man is leading us.
Even though he is at the crude beginning of this walk, we should not define him by his past that has been washed away.

Douglas Fang
1 month 1 week ago

Amazing – I never saw such a sarcastic description of POTUS Trump-like this comment! He’s the most amoral POTUS in the history of America. He never cares about any cause – all he has been doing is about himself, to make him looks good. He fails miserably to a majority of Americans. "You cannot fool everyone all the time"

Michael Barberi
1 month 1 week ago

"...there is no more reason for faith in the collective wisdom and virtue of the demos than there is for faith in the wisdom and virtue of the leader whom the demos has already chosen—the hotelier from Manhattan with his golden palaces; his smash-mouth politics; his serial adulteries; his manifest lying about matters great and small; his lack of all impulse control; his disdain for tradition, rules and norms; his fulsome praise of thugs and dictators; his casual cruelty toward those he deems weak; and his crudely transactional morality."

I started with quoting something the author said above because I found that this description can be applied to many people, in particular many leaders in the Democratic party, such as Bill and Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as many far-left democrats and their supporters including the destroy-Trump media.

While I found this article interesting, it was full of assertion after assertion about how Trump is the personification of evil while quoting, almost incoherently, some authors most of whom the average person never heard of. Most importantly, there was nothing new here that most people who follow society and religion already know. In other words, our society has been losing its religious beliefs, norms and moral virtues because of consumerism, individualism, relativism and liberalism, The question the author did not address was "What is the solution and what are we going to do about changing things for the better?" From the author's point of view, the problem seems to be manifest in all things Trump.

Note that I do agree that our religious beliefs, norms and virtues are being lost to the ills of our secular society. However, let's get real here. Part of the blame also rests with the Christian, Catholic and Jewish religious organizations, and not merely with secular society and the people who are its leaders. We see a breakdown in moral norms and virtues across institutions, both secular and religious. In the sexual abuse scandal, we see such a breakdown in the behavior of Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes. The largest segment or cohort of the Catholic Church are those that call themselves spiritual but not religious.

Getting back to this article. The etiology of this problem is not Trumpism. If the author was honest and responsible, he should have written a more balanced article because the leaders of the democratic party are no better examples of encouraging and practicing moral norms and virtues than Trump. We all agree that our politics have been over-run by hate and vitriolic remarks, misleading half-truths, lies and deception. Nevertheless, if you read this article, you are lead to believe that Trump has exacerbated the problem and not anyone else, full stop. The truth is that both parties and many of their leaders are to blame including many in the media.

Make no mistake about what I am saying. I don't like Trump's rhetoric and condemn many of his ill-conceived and irresponsible remarks. However, his policies have done more for our country compared to Obama or what Hilary would have done. I agree that Trump is not the ideal President and I wish he would tone down his rhetoric. I also agree that his remarks fuel the negativity and over-the-top remarks from many of his critics. However, Trump had the courage to put a stop to countries like Iran and Syria who are the largest sponsors of terrorism in the world and are pure evil. He is standing up to China and stopping them and other countries from stealing our intellectual property, and renegotiating one-sided trade deals.

When we negatively exaggerate the description of Trump as evil or use words such as swine in articles and comments then the ones who are persuaded are "not" his supports or even most of the few that are considered moderate and centrist. While the author did not explicitly say this, it is as though Trump is so evil and the perfect example of individualism et al, that we would be have been better off if Hilary would have won the election. In other words, under Hilary we would not be witnessing the demise of our norms, beliefs and virtues. Under Hilary we would have a better America, a booming economy and a fairer and kinder nation because college would be free, Government paid healthcare would become a reality for everyone, our borders would be open, the rich would pay more in taxes, the middle class and poor would get a deeper tax cut and perhaps a minimum guaranteed income, and businesses taxes would not be cut but remain the highest in the industrialize world. Forget about how we would pay for all of this, or if we would be better off as a nation, in particularly the poor and middle class.

Does anyone really believe that if Trump was not President, but Hillary Clinton, that this would have been the answer, or even a partial answer, to the loss of our religious beliefs, moral norms and virtues? I think not.

F C
1 month 1 week ago

Michael Barberi
You make some interesting points but appear to have missed the main thrust of the article which refers to the irony whereby 'expressive individualism', so much a characteristic of liberal life, politics and culture, has, most noticeably under Trump, become a considerable force among conservatives. The article implies that conservatism is the ultimate victim of Trumpism: having weakened conservatism, Trump's true beneficiaries may well end up being the progressive liberal left.

Michael Barberi
1 month 1 week ago

FC - Thanks for your comments. I did not miss the irony. Let's face it, Trump is not the main stream establishment Republican. Trump is changing WDC and the Republican party and that is why he was elected. Some of what he had done is a good thing, and some things are not. However, if Trump's true beneficiaries end up being the progressive liberal left, this may not be a bad idea. By this I mean, that I support some Democratic ideas and some Republican ideas. I am an Independent. Secure borders, a strong military, pro-life, and fair trade deals are conservative republican values. However, tax cuts and immigration reform, and infrastructure spending are liberal democratic values. Trump wants all of these, but as we know a compromise on all of these issues is what we want as a country. We don't want the polarized political agenda, full stop.

Trump's means to these ends can be questioned, but his goals are not evil. What can be questioned is whether there is another way to achieve his objectives. I believe there are, but unfortunately I am not Trump and this does not mean he is some kind of lunatic individualist.

As far as our individualistic culture is concerned, it infects all of us, namely conservatives, moderates and liberals, in various degrees. We are all the victims of consumerism, individualism, relativism and liberalism. Our faith demands we recognize how our culture influences our moral choices in life, and make adjustments by choosing the good and tempering our culturally driven materialistic inclinations. For example, do we really want or need the newest iPhone for $1,000 when our current one does most of what we need. Can we use this $1,000 savings by staying with our current iPhone this year and donate $500 or more to a charity by curtaining our base-desires for more and more stuff?

In different ways and in different forms individualism and relativism infects the Catholic Church as well. Bishops justified the cover up of sexual abusive priests and moved them around to sexually abuse again and again. All of this was relativized because it was better, in their view, to protect the Church from scandal than to protect the child victims of clergy sexual abuse. Popes have closed the door to debate or a rethinking of many sexual ethical teachings, such as contraception, full stop (e.g., JP II) and no one would dare to challenge him. He was a very individualistic authoritarian leader and It was his way or the highway. If any priest would whisper that a certain teaching should be the subject of a rethinking, that priest would never become a bishop. We can argue whether the culture of the Church may be different from societal culture, but we can't deny that both cultures are imperfect resulting in less than ideal outcomes. Far from it.

Some of the positive things Trump has done has been good for America, and some of his means and rhetoric has been less than ideal. However, make no mistake about what I am saying. Depending on the Democratic candidate for President in 2020, I may, once again, not vote for Trump. We should all pray for him and our country.

F C
1 month 1 week ago

Michael Barberi
Thanks again for your comments. Very thought provoking. On the basis of the last IPCC report dealing decisively with climate change is surely the preeminent issue of our age, if not any age. Politics and economy need to be worked out from there. For this we need more not less multilateralism, more not less community, and more not less imagination. And these needs are more urgent now than ever in recorded history. The voices of irrationality are loud and many find them persuasive: against the best scientific evidence they tell us climate change has nothing to do with carbon; against everything the world has learned about economics in 200 years, they tell us "trade wars" are easy to win and that we are better of trying to keep what we've got rather than grow the pie. Against all modern history they fraudulently tell us that the interests of the top 1% ultimately coincide with the interests of the majority.

Before I label myself liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat or this or that, I value an honest attitude and a straightforward dealing with reasoned evidence. Are those the values of Donald Trump? What does reasoned evidence say?

Michael Barberi
1 month 1 week ago

F C,
Whether the issue is climate change, immigration or trade deals, the question is not "what does reasoned evidence say?" It is about the arguments made by those opposed to it and those that support it. The use of statistics and evidence can be misleading because they are only a partial view of the truth. This is true in politics, science and religion. I don't agree with the rhetoric of the main street media and the democrats that demonize every word Trump says including his character and values. I find most of the criticism extreme, partisan and uncivil. In many cases, the rhetoric opposing Trump is both hateful and vitriolic.

I did not vote for Trump and I wish he would do thing differently. However, I am not going to chastise his values or character and agree that he is the personification of Satan as many of his critics do. The argument for and against Trump is far too polarized to discern the truth for most people, regardless if we are talking about fixing our immigration system responsibly without resorting to open borders or the reasons for negotiating fairer and reciprocal trade deals. Sorry FC, we will have to leave these complicated discussions here for now and agree to disagree on the finer points.

F C
1 month 1 week ago

Michael
I agree with much of what you write, though as I'm sure you will acknowledge, that the "use of statistics and evidence can be misleading" is not to say falsehoods cannot be detected. With regards climate change, trade-wars etc, however, serve as examples - the brute fact being that Donald Trump deals in fiction while purporting to respect facts.

You might be right when you say arguments are "too polarized to discern the truth for most people". IMHO this should make us work harder to make the issues clearer, not be content with less.

James Bond
1 month 1 week ago

The USPS is an abbreviation for the United States Postal Services which is a vast group of members contributing towards the development of the nation.

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Bev Ceccanti
1 month 1 week ago

The author is as irrational and inconsistent with his accusations against Trump as the left media is with me, the Trump voter, who is more concerned about the murder of millions of vulnerable children in the womb than a crass word or comment. This deliberate misunderstanding also does not take into account I was once a democrat and championed President and Hillary Clinton, national health care etc. It seems that side is also blind to the fact I am absolutely against the death penalty and have stood for the constitutional rights of homosexuals to have state sanctioned marriage (not Church sanctioned). The left continues to slander me alongside Trump. Bad words do not equal disregard for human life. I've been a woman in the work world for at least a couple of generations and I guess I've earned my stripes to speak (since trauma is apparently the union ticket for the melodramatic left). Spoiled suburban women can whine all they want but I am absolutely shocked at what they did to Kavanaugh. They and those who support them have no credibility with me. Trump does not represent everything on my wish list but I see an honest, courageous man with a big heart, in stark relief against the pharisees of the left. I wish he was Catholic.

F C
1 month 1 week ago

Bev Ceccanti
I respect your achievements but feel very sad that you don't see through Trump's gambit and that he is telling you lies about all the big ticket items that will determine your welfare and that of those to come. I'm thinking of issues such as climate change, tariff policy, tax cuts, and the like - these turning on objective, though unpalatable, facts not partisan opinions.

F C
1 month ago

Trump's FIRST act after the elections is to sack the Attorney General. What is this 'expressive individualist' hiding?

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