For years, conservative pro-Trumpers and anti-anti-Trumpers have tried to pin a nasty label on Trump critics, claiming they’ve been besotted by Trump Derangement Syndrome. They contend that an irrational hatred of the former failed casino owner has warped the Trump decriers’ ability to assess the man and that they have descended into a delusion-driven oppositionism. Of course, this is a convenient rhetorical device for Trump backers and anti-liberals who want to deflect the assaults on Trump and who can’t bear acknowledging the left is right in its harsh judgment of this con man. Sure, he’s not your average politician and you can criticize him for some excesses and eccentricities, but he’s not a hate-fueling, racist, misogynistic demagogue; you’re just being hysterical. Accusing the left of unjustified and obsessive anti-Trumpism plays to a dominant assumption in the political-media culture that there are two sides in the national discourse, each reasonable and worthy of respect, and that strident assessments—he’s a threat to the nation!—tend to be hyperbolic and, thus, dismissible.
Trump has certainly stress-tested this perspective. And with his recent moves—refusing to return stolen government documents, promoting QAnon, posting an antisemitic message, vowing to pardon January 6 rioters if he returns to the White House—Trump keeps on proving that his critics cannot overstate his perfidy. In fact, we are now seeing what I would call advanced cases of Trump Derangement Syndrome among his champions on the right. These Trumpers have become afflicted with a denialism akin to a psychological ailment. I’ve notice two pronounced examples in recent days.
The first was evinced by Kellyanne Conway, the once-upon-a-time adviser to moderate Republicans who became a top Trump toady who justified his lies by claiming the existence of “alternative facts.” Readers of the New York Times this past Sunday were presented with a column from her headlined “The Case for (and Against) Donald Trump in 2024.” Despite the headline writer’s attempt to strike that much yearned-for balance, the article is mostly a rah-rah piece that echoes Trump’s phony tale that he oversaw a glorious presidency with nothing but one historic accomplishment after another.
Conway starts her fantastical article with a shot at Trump’s detractors:
Some people have never gotten over [Trump’s 2016 win]. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. There is no vaccine and no booster for it. Cosseted in their social media bubbles and comforted within self-selected communities suffering from sameness, the afflicted disguise their hatred for Mr. Trump as a righteous call for justice or a solemn love of democracy and country. So desperate is the incessant cry to “get Trump!” that millions of otherwise pleasant and productive citizens have become naggingly less so. They ignore the shortcomings, failings and unpopularity of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and abide the casual misstatements of an administration that says the “border is secure,” inflation is “transitory,” “sanctions are intended to deter” Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and they will “shut down the virus.” They’ve also done precious little to learn and understand what drives the 74 million fellow Americans who were Trump-Pence voters in 2020 and not in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
That last line is Conway’s only reference to the January 6 riot that Trump incited by brazenly lying about the 2020 election to retain power and subvert the constitutional order of the United States. She says nothing about his deliberate inaction that day, as he took no steps for hours to control his brownshirts and neglected his oath to protect the United States. Not surprisingly, she did not spill a drop of ink on Trump’s various plots to overturn the election: muscling state elections, leaning on Justice Department officials to falsely declare the election was fraudulent; setting up fake electors; pressing the vice president to assume what would amount to dictatorial power.
So who’s deranged? Who’s out of touch with reality? Conway brays about supposed Trump achievements: trade deals (which were not successful), efforts to revive manufacturing (which were not successful), his border policy (which was not successful), and other illusory accomplishments. She hails his push to develop Covid vaccines, but neglects to mention his failed overall response to the pandemic that led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Yet it’s Conway’s purposeful blindness to Trump’s assault on American democracy that stands out in this pretend-analysis. Devoting 1700-plus words to Trump’s presidency and ignoring January 6 and his Big Lie is like discussing O.J. Simpson’s legacy and only talking football. Americans died due to Trump’s falsehoods that rose from his egotism, narcissism, and autocratic desires. He encouraged an angry mob that called for the murder of his vice president. He schemed to deny millions of Americans their vote and to pervert the Justice Department and other agencies of government.
Conway refuses to recognize any of this and acts as if we’re in normal times and Trump deserves another shot at the White House, as she evaluates the political horserace. This delusion can only thrive in a world of obliviousness or “alternative facts.” She is either back to her old gaslighting ways, or, if she believes this bunk, high on her own supply. Her piece is clinical evidence that the Trumpers cannot come to terms with reality—and are eager to infect others with their psychosis.
Before moving on to the next case, let’s not let the New York Times off the hook. The greatest newspaper in the land provided a platform to Conway for her drivel and normalized her. As a Trump defender, Conway is a threat to democracy. I realize that sounds tough. But given Trump’s concerted attempts to thwart an American election and illegitimately hang on to the White House, what else do you call a person who does P.R. work for him, enables him, and who contends he deserves a return trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? By treating Conway as a respectable pundit who warrants valuable space in its “Sunday Opinion” section, the Times signals that Conway is okay and her views warrant serious consideration. This legitimization is dangerous.
The second case of TDS on the right involves Victor Davis Hanson. Not as well-known as Conway, Hanson is a right-wing military historian with a sinecure at the Hoover Institution. His last book was The Case for Trump, which he published in 2019. Michael Isikoff and I referenced Hanson in our book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, noting that in the stretch before the Bush-Cheney administration’s disastrous invasion of Iraq, he provided counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and encouraged him not to be concerned about being branded a warmonger.
Writing in the Daily Caller last week, Hanson declared,
The Left has gone mad over former President Donald J. Trump – past, present, and future. The current Democratic Party and NeverTrump “conservatives” assumed that Trump was and remains so obviously toxic that they do not have to define exactly what his evil entails.
This opening is a clear sign that what follows will be unhinged, for I—and you, dear reader—can attest to the fact that there have been gazillions of words written in books, blogs, tweets, columns, and articles detailing the wide range of Trump’s “evil.” (See the 845-page final report of the House January 6 committee.) Hanson next goes on to lambaste Trump foes as unprincipled: “Accordingly, they believe that any means necessary are justified to stop him.”
His examples of unfair Trump attacks: the investigation of Trump stealing classified US documents; Nancy Pelosi ripping up Trump’s speech following a State of the Union address; blocking House Republicans who participated in Trump’s plots to overturn the election from sitting on the House January 6 committee; Trump’s first impeachment. (“Does a phone call now an impeachment make, on the grounds that Trump mixed domestic politics with foreign policy?”)
Hanson’s piece is confusing. He claims the anti-Trumpers cannot cite examples of Trump’s wrongdoing. Then he goes on to diminish numerous accusations leveled against Trump. He’s truly not very good at this:
Was it a good idea for the Democratic House to release Trump’s tax returns? If the Republican House were to do the same with the Biden consortium’s tax records, would the result be far more incriminating?
On this point, like most, Hanson ignores the basic, non-alternative facts. Trump refused to release his returns after promising to do so—and lied that he couldn’t because he was being audited. (That was not true for the returns he filed in his first years as president.) President Joe Biden has abided by the long, post-Nixon tradition and made public his returns. Consequently, there is no need for House Republicans to force the disclosure of his tax returns. And, it turns out, there was much suspicious information in Trump’s tax returns suggesting possible wrongdoing (hardly surprising, given that his business was recently found guilty of tax fraud) and we learned that the IRS under Trump broke with established policy and did not examine his returns. (Undoubtedly, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the GOP House caucus will mount an investigation of this IRS negligence.)
Here’s Hanson’s big finish:
When a defeated first-term president leaves office and vows to return in four years, is it wise to impeach and try him as a private citizen?
… Do the endless Democratic efforts to go after Trump, a possible Biden opponent in 2024, constitute far more than a Trump single phone call to the president of Ukraine?
Somehow supposedly worldly and sophisticated partisans in their self-righteousness ignored ancient laws of what goes around comes around, of Karma, of Nemesis, of payback’s a b*tch, and all that stuff.
Hanson poses as an intellectual, but his powers of analysis are stunted. He essentially lands on a rather immature conclusion: Dems went after Trump, so Republicans should stick it to them. How principled. Moreover, he truly doesn’t understand the first Trump impeachment. As for the second, as does Conway, he completely ignores Trump’s attempt to blow up an American election and Trump’s promotion of conspiracy theories and phony allegations that led to a violent raid on the US Capitol. Like a child who places his or her hands on his ears and shouts, “I can’t hear you,” Hanson cannot accept the reality and depth of Trump’s misdeeds. He acts as if the second impeachment was nothing more than an unncessary expression of pique on the part of Trump’s political opponents. It was retribution for Trump’s war on the Constitution and his dereliction of duty.
Hanson and Conway each demonstrate that the truest—and most virulent—form of Trump Derangement Syndrome is the inability to recognize what Trump has done and what his actions mean for the United States. Ambition, ideology, guilt—I don’t know what leads to this political disease. But I do know that these people need help and that it is not healthy for the body politic to allow them to revel in—and spread—their delusions.
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