The professional Trump haters
How many vicious, clever, angry, sputtering take-downs of Donald Trump is enough?
If the president actually does something significant — as opposed to merely tweeting or saying something obnoxious or offensive — then pundits should certainly feel free to write about and denounce it. (I certainly do.) But the relentless, obsessive-compulsive focus on every Trumpian action and utterance by the likes of Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Michael Gerson, Bill Kristol, Peter Wehner, and a handful of other commentators is something else entirely. The Trump preoccupation says far more about the critics than the criticized.
Yes, presidents are important. And yes, Trump is appalling — ignorant, bigoted, corrupt, malicious, inept. But from the moment he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, he's proven himself to be brilliant at one thing above all, and that is "triggering the libs." And not just the libs. To judge by the political analysts most likely to devote multiple column inches a week to ejaculating outrage in his direction, Trump is also remarkably adept at triggering the neocons. Which, come to think of it, may indicate that at least some of them have always been more lib than con.
With every column dedicated to verifying the awfulness of Donald Trump, these pundits confess to his pathological hold over their psyches. They also inadvertently demonstrate that their judgment has been distorted by their boundless loathing of the man who inhabits the White House. They fail to recognize that their Trump hatred ends up elevating him into a seemingly all-powerful force in American (and world) politics when he is in fact an incredibly weak president who can't even get his own staff to follow through on direct orders. This has been vividly clear since the very beginning of his presidency and has recently been confirmed more powerfully than ever by the Mueller report, with its intricate narrative of institutionalized defiance and insubordination by underlings.
Describing the Trump haters as primarily triggered libs is to some extent unfair to liberals. It's true that nearly every progressive pundit and activist despises Trump, and many of them respond right on cue to every tweeted provocation. Yet liberal opinion journalists tend not to be quite as Trump obsessed as those who write from the center-right. The left's exposés of the president's atrocious words and deeds tend to be interspersed with broader attacks on the institutional Republican Party and its voters and intellectual infrastructure, as well as examinations of progressive policy priorities and candidates for president.
But not the true Trump haters. Every fourth or fifth column might venture into another topic (though there is still usually a Trump angle buried in there somewhere). Yet in the vast majority of cases, Trump is the sole focus, with the main angle boiling down to: "You thought Trump was bad? Just wait till you consider this latest and further evidence of his hideousness."
If it's boring for readers — which it definitely is — how can it not be boring for the authors? Why the Trump fixation? What makes enumerating the president's flaws so endlessly fascinating and fulfilling for this specific group of pundits?
I suspect it boils down to a combination of ideology and power.
More fully than any other faction in the American commentariat, neocon pundits believe axiomatically in the goodness of America — in the nobility of our national aims, and in the capacity of that nobility to sanctify the means we use to achieve them. They believe that all good things go together under the benign rule of the global Pax Americana. What's good for the United States is automatically good for all people of good will everywhere, who with our help get to enjoy ever-greater freedom, democracy, and prosperity. This is the neocons' faith. They believe it as fervently as any adherent of any religion.
But of course not everyone in American politics takes this view, and so there is partisanship, with the neocons working to uphold this pristine, highly idealized, and empirically unfalsifiable vision of the U.S. against various heretics and apostates from the faith. Until the rise of Trump, most of these heretics and apostates were found on the left, with a few (like Pat Buchanan) popping up from time to time on the paleocon right. From their home in the Republican Party, the neocons sometimes won these battles and sometimes lost. But the cause was righteous, so every defeat was admirable in its way and merely temporary — a prelude to the next victory.
Those who described Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 primaries as a hostile takeover of the Republican Party were correct — at least from the standpoint of the party's Washington establishment, which very much included the neocons. But unlike the establishment's other factions — wealthy donors and business interests out for another tax cut; lobbyists hoping to advance the interests of an industry or group of citizens — the neocons couldn't just play along with the changing of the guard. They were much too high-minded to accept the debasement of the presidency and the party. There was thus no place for them in the new order.
The neocons not only lost a policy battle. They also lost their perch, their perks, and their power in the party. That made, and still makes, Trump's victory intensely personal.
When the Trump haters set out to write their umpteenth denunciation of the president, calling him bad for the country, bad for the GOP, and bad for the world, they undoubtedly mean it. But they also have other motives. The rise of Donald Trump has above all been exceedingly bad for them. They're still angry about it, and they're still out for revenge, every single time they sit down to write.