There’s probably no popular commentator alive who has more contempt for us and for human sapience than Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who offers a chain of reasons why reflexively emotional Americans will elect Donald Trump, in a landslide. Adams calls all of us deeply irrational and natural prey for a master emotion-manipulator, who shrugs off “facts” as irrelevant.
Now don’t get me wrong.
Adams is a keen observer. He shines incisive light on Trump’s skillful methods for shifting the dialogue and topic wherever he chooses. Outrageous, illogical and easily disproved pronouncements have not harmed him but only enhanced his narratives… so far. Adams is probably on target in appraising the irrationality of Trump supporters… so far.
But let’s be clear, this illustrates yet again how our divisions are not left-vs-right in any classical meaning of that silly, lobotomizing “axis.” Culture (and now civil), war in the U.S. is more about personality than anything else.
Consider the selection pool on which Adams bases his appraisals of American voter stupidity. Donald Trump has now won roughly 11 million votes across the 43 states that have voted. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney won 60.9 million votes. Barack Obama won almost 66 million. Sure Trump will get more, maybe much more. But those 11 million may also reflect a concentration of crazy and irrational. In other words, Trump has been successful exactly as Adams describes… on republicans. Fortunately, that won’t be enough.
Take this interesting riff on how Donald Trump represents many of the compulsively self-indulgent traits of the Baby Boomer generation… and I might add that our generational talent – self-righteous sanctimony – crosses all boundaries of class, race or political conviction. But again, I deem the macro effect to be more concentrated.
Adams calls all of us deeply irrational and natural prey for an expert savanarola.
But that assumes the Blue side of this 200 year civil war is just as emotionally-erratic, romantic, reflexive and easily fooled as confederates have always been. That reflexive romanticism was similarly diagnosed – two centuries ago – by Mark Twain, who blamed the illogic of his fellow southerners and their penchant for loving aristocracy on the knightly-themed novels of Sir Walter Scott. Sam Houston agreed. On begging Texas not to secede, Houston warned that “our northern brethren are cooler in temperament, but ponderously unstoppable in will, if roused.”
This difference in character is reinforced every June, when red America loses a fraction of every graduating high school class — those who race to Blue cities and universities as fast as they can. Is Scott Adams truly unaware that scientists – and every single other knowledge caste in America – have dropped the GOP like a live grenade?
This phenomenon was forecast in the late 1970s by Dr. Alvin Gouldner, who argued that a “new class” was forming. Steeped in expert knowledge, it embraced a “culture of critical discourse.” Evidence and logic are valued; appeals to traditional sources of authority were not.Oh, always, always imperfectly! And even scientists have their delusions, their reflexes.
Still, as Neil Gross recently put it:
“Members of the new class raised their children in such a culture. And it was these children, allergic to authoritarian values, who as young adults were at the center of the student revolts, finding common ground with disaffected “humanistic” intellectuals bent on changing the world.”
Mr. Gross advises: “The Democrats may find they need to give up a little of their wonkiness if they want resounding victories. It’s not in their long-term interest to be too much what Pat Buchanan once referred to as “the party of the Ph.D.s.”
On the other hand, this new attitude is not just held by scientists and their kids. It has, in fact, long been an element in what might be called “blue-thinking,” going back long before the 1860s phase of our endless-ongoing civil war. And if this is true, then the Rasputin methods of Donald Trump will meet a wall as fiercely determined and unbreakable as the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg.
Dilbert’s cynical diagnosis may be solid in the short term, as was the bravely irrational Confederacy, at first. We’ll see though, when the Union stands up, this fall.
Feature image by Jose Sanchez/AP