Commentary Magazine

The National Elite Nervous Breakdown

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

It cannot go on like this. It’s been five days since the inaugural and the adrenalized, hypercaffeinated, speed-freak affect of the entire chattering class is beginning to seem like we’re living through Bob Woodward’s classic depiction in his book Wired of John Belushi’s final overcharged sleepless days before dying from a cocaine speedball overdose in 1981.

If every word out of Donald Trump’s mouth is greeted with shrieks of horror and rage and anger and despair and hysteria by his opponents, they are going to find it impossible to serve as any kind of effective opposition to him. If media spends their hours celebrating each other for the most creative or the most direct way in which to call Trump a liar, they are going to take their (our) taste for self-referential solipsism to a new level at which their capacity to communicate with their own readers and viewers will be fatally compromised. And just at the moment when they could find new audiences and new credibility in serving as an authoritative source of information in a sea of White House spin and outright disinformation.

This is where the follow-through on Saturday’s “women’s marches” will tell the tale. It would be a terrible mistake for conservatives, Republicans, and Trump supporters to pooh-pooh this mass event, which happened simultaneously in several cities and towns, with a gross turnout dwarfing any mass protest in American history. Dismissing three million people taking to the streets nationwide would be an act of willful blindness, and ascribing the march’s success to Soros money would be foolish.

Similarly, it would be wrong to assume those crowds even heard a single word of Madonna’s curses or cared one whit about the fight between the “check your privilege” activists and the offended/cowed Brooklynite feminists over whose march it was. It was no one’s march. It was everyone’s march. And it worked, I believe, for one reason: It had a simple message. That message: We don’t like Trump and his behavior toward women.

This is where one possible analogy to the Tea Party protests of 2009 and 2010 might hold. The Tea Party was about Obama’s rapid expansion of the size of the federal government and the fear of a growing Leviathan. That simple fear proved the perfect accelerant for various actions that led to the anti-Obama wave election of 2010. The existence of a grass roots movement encouraged serious candidates to take up the task of running for Congress in what had seemed a bad period for Republicans—the movement provided money, volunteers, and a core enthusiasm for the task. If Democrats can use the Women’s as a comparable accelerant to recruit candidates, particularly for the House, who have real connections to the Republican districts in which they are running and can frame their bids as a means of stopping Trump from working his will with an all-Republican Congress, they might really have something here.

This requires seriousness of purpose, calm, and focus. The current nervous breakdown is the worst possible atmosphere in which to make that happen. As for Republicans, they, too, need to keep their powder dry. If they find it alluring to defend Trump when he says or does the indefensible, they will lose their authority when they need to defend him on what matters most.

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