March 20th, 2017

The book review section: fanning anti-Trump paranoia

Decades ago, the book review section of the NY Times used to be one of my favorite portions of the paper to read of a Sunday, back when I read it in the paper version. Implicit in my mind—without my even thinking about it consciously at the time—was the idea that these reviews were written by people who were not only erudite but even wise, writing their impressions of books that had been written by people who (for the most part) were also not only erudite but even wise.

That hasn’t seemed to be true for a long, long time.

Yesterday I was in New York visiting family, and I picked up the dead tree version of ye olde Times book review section, something I hadn’t done for ages. I saw that a certain obsession/compulsion seems to have crept into the prose of the reviews. Every single one that I read—and I got to around to about fie or six of them before I stopped reading—made some reference, oblique or direct, to these harsh Trumpian times in which we live. This was true whatever the subject matter of the book might have been.

And these weren’t just references to the discord of the American people about the Trump presidency, either. Each reference seemed to come with a set of assumptions that implied agreement among the Times’ readers on the following:

(1) we all detest Trump
(2) Trump is a totalitarian about to take our rights away any moment
(3) these things don’t need much demonstration at this point; they are a given and we all understand what we’re referring to

I’m very familiar with reading authors or periodicals that assume liberal agreement among their readers. But this seemed different: more constant, more gratuitous in terms of having anything to do with the subject matter of the books being reviewed, and more extreme in the nature of the presumably shared and obviously-true assumptions.

I didn’t read every review, of course. But I read enough to safely say that I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it before, even in the Times. The entire thing ended on the last page with these essays debating whether we’ve now been catapulted into a future that has more resemblance to Brave New World or to Nineteen Eighty Four (both essays appear to have first been published in the book review in early February, but were now being repeated).

One of the essays (by Charles McGrath, former editor of the Times book review) contained passages such as this:

Two months ago I would have said that not only is “Brave New World” a livelier, more entertaining book than “1984,” it’s also a more prescient one. … [Huxley’s] novel much more accurately evokes the country we live in now, especially in its depiction of a culture preoccupied with sex and mindless pop entertainment, than does Orwell’s more ominous book, which seems to be imagining someplace like North Korea.

Or it did until Donald Trump was inaugurated. All of a sudden, as many commentators have pointed out, there were almost daily echoes of Orwell in the news, and “1984” began shooting up the Amazon best-seller list. The most obvious connection to Orwell was the new president’s repeated insistence that even his most pointless and transparent lies were in fact true, and then his adviser Kellyanne Conway’s explanation that these statements were not really falsehoods but, rather, “alternative facts.” As any reader of “1984” knows, this is exactly Big Brother’s standard of truth: The facts are whatever the leader says they are.

My, my, my. I suppose those assertions of McGrath sound petty convincing (and scary) to those who never noticed the constant and multiple lies of President Obama, and Obama’s “repeated insistence that even his most transparent lies were in fact true” (I left out “pointless” because I don’t think any of Obama’s lies were pointless at all). And then, of course, McGrath follows it up with an ignorant and/or purposeful mischaracterization of the meaning of Kellyanne Conway’s comment, a mischaracterization that has become a favorite of the left. Conway was trying to say that facts are sometimes reported correctly and sometimes reported inaccurately, and that when facts clash we must read both sets and try to sort out the alternatives if we want to make a decision about which may be true (or closest to the truth). And nowhere was she saying anything remotely like, “The facts are whatever the leader says they are”—much less exactly like that.

McGrath’s essay drips with so much condescension that I almost felt the need to wring it out and dry it off.

The goal of all of this is to deliver the message that the Times and its readers are all in this terrible Trump thing together, and that it’s not only every bit as bad as you might think it is, it’s worse. And that they don’t have to prove it, because anybody who’s anybody (and anybody literate enough to read the NY Times book review section) already knows it.

Let’s get back to one of my favorite passages in the world, from Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (how’s that for being literary?):

Circle dancing is magic. It speaks to us through the millennia from the depths of human memory. Madame Raphael had cut the picture out of the magazine and would stare at it and dream. She too longed to dance in a ring. All her life she had looked for a group of people she could hold hands with and dance with in a ring. First she looked for them in the Methodist Church (her father was a religious fanatic), then in the Communist Party, then among the Trotskyites, then in the anti-abortion movement (A child has a right to life!), then in the pro-abortion movement (A woman has a right to her body!); she looked for them among the Marxists, the psychoanalysts, and the structuralists; she looked for them in Lenin, Zen Buddhism, Mao Tse-tung, yogis, the nouveau roman, Brechtian theater, the theater of panic; and finally she hoped she could at least become one with her students, which meant she always forced them to think and say exactly what she thought and said, and together they formed a single body and a single soul, a single ring and a single dance.

By the way, this is the cover of the paperback version of Kundera’s book that I own:

32 Responses to “The book review section: fanning anti-Trump paranoia”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    The Left is completely unhinged.

  2. Cornhead Says:

    As to “1984,” I consider it the playbook for the Dems.

  3. Ray Says:

    Years ago I read a book on the psychology of political correctness (PC) and the author pointed out that when you become PC you have to deny reality and believe in fantasy. The PC believe they are victims of oppression and persecution. They are big on victimhood. Obama was always playing the victim card. He was never responsible for anything, but always an innocent bystander. This belief is in victimization is commonly called paranoia.

  4. Griffin Says:

    As I’ve said before this is just a part of the politicization of everything. Sports, music, movies everything has to be politicized. More and more I find myself taking mental note of sites and writers that are hysterical and making a concerted effort to avoid them.

  5. DNW Says:

    Ok, I get that there actually are these circle dance yearning types in the world.

    And that they apparently inhabit human-like bodies.

    But what’s the motivation?

    Can some description more informative or revealing than that, say, they are genetically programmed to do it, or say that they psychically scarred in such a way, that they feel compelled?

    Who are these people; and what do they get out of it? What planet are they from, anyway?

  6. DNW Says:

    ” or say, that, they psychically scarred …”

  7. DNW Says:

    Da####n
    LOL

    I give up. Sluggish keyboard. Maybe too many windows open. The gods of the Internet are trying to tell me to take a break …

  8. Margaret Ball Says:

    The obligatory slighting reference to Trump, no matter what the ostensible subject may be, brings to mind contemporary British novels. Since, oh, 1985 or even earlier, I am convinced that not even the coziest of cozy mysteries could get published without a slighting reference to Thatcher or to the “ruinous” effects of her policies.

    They’ve been doing it for thirty years. So don’t expect the Trump-bashing will stop any time soon.

  9. Vanderleun Says:

    I saw the same tendency years ago when I first moved to Seattle. There the local moonbat rag, The Stranger, was deep in Bush Derangement Syndrome. So much so that the reviews of local restuarants frequently had slams against Bush between the appetizer and the dessert courses. A real mental disease.

  10. Vanderleun Says:

    The word to mint here is “TRUMPANOIA.”

  11. Eric J. Says:

    When the internment camps fail to materialize, when the air is still breathable and the water still drinkable, when elections are held and power transferred, it will all be due to their brave, brave resistance.

  12. Bilwick Says:

    ” . . . Trump is a totalitarian about to take our rights away any moment. . . ”

    This from people who’s agenda is State, State and more State.

  13. Ann Says:

    We’ve been there before with the Orwell 1984 connection — during the Reagan years:

    John Rodden, who has written 10 books on Orwell, said this is not the first time sales of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” have surged since it was published. He remembers when sales went up in the early 1980s, which Rodden says was not just about the approach of the year 1984, but also driven by “similar anxieties about a new administration”–when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he “was looked upon by many liberals and radicals as a warmonger.”

    “[Reagan] was even called ‘Big Brother,’ though few remember that,” Rodden said. “And some of those same fears are happening now, even though we don’t have a superpower confrontation.”

    It’s interesting that in Britain anti-Thatcherism has not died out, but here in the U.S. some Democrats, like Obama, have even taken to praising Reagan.

  14. Artfldgr Says:

    Since the last wave of feminism took over and then the other groups, nothing much been the same in terms of lots of things… but they were used and they defend things so that none can say they were used, and now, their power base, and more is starting to collapse as the countries that imported people to make up for the lack of kids are all apart..

    in case you havent noticed, all the female phobias are up front and center as normal and everyone is pseudo paranoid… why? cause women are more fearful and lower risk takers (and often have to be enabled by another to act).

    afraid of masculinity
    afraid of fear
    afraid of words
    afraid of bully
    afraid of being judged

    just expand the list and rate them and you get to figure out that all this is is the prjection of the dominant groups world view… which is racist, phobic, over cautious, likes fads, etc.

    trump is just the latest after twerking…

  15. parker Says:

    When your can do no wrong messiah, the most poised and perfect human-god, is replaced by the brash real estate developer and brand name marketer; it really is unbearable for these fragile beings. Next, I am waiting for Trump to decree Skynet has gone operational.

  16. Gringo Says:

    Eric J.
    When the internment camps fail to materialize, when the air is still breathable and the water still drinkable, when elections are held and power transferred, it will all be due to their brave, brave resistance.

    Wins Comment of the Thread Prize!

  17. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I saw much the same at Gibson’s a month ago.

    http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2017/02/bookstore.html

    I echo Gringo’s praise of Eric J. They SO need to be heroes in their own minds.

  18. Irene Says:

    Ha! If you think the NYT’s book review is something, check out The New Yorker. David Remnick has gone insane.

  19. The Other Gary Says:

    DNW wrote (3:21pm):

    Who are these people [who yearn to join a circle dance]; and what do they get out of it? What planet are they from, anyway?

    They’re from earth and they’re very common. IMHO, what they hope to get from becoming one with a group (ie part of a circle dance) is release from the difficulties and responsibilities of being an adult human:
    1) Freedom from loneliness;
    2) Freedom from having to think for yourself;
    3) Freedom from having to act for yourself;
    4) Freedom from having to take responsibility for your decisions and actions;
    5) Freedom from the responsibility of individual labor: somehow, The Group will provide or at least make work more palatable when performed as a Group, and
    6) Feedom from unfairness and feelings of inferiority — since everyone in The Group is the same and is treated identically.

    The essence of leftism is collectivism, a mass circle dance in which the amazing synergy of government (it is hoped) shall vastly exceed the aggregate contributions of millions of citizens, making everyone happy and fulfilled by providing 1) through 6) above.

    How is this possible, given that government tends to be a stupid, inefficient, blunt instrument? Kundera explains: “Circle dancing is magic.”

  20. F Says:

    Eric has at least half the equation in his observation that the failure of today’s dire predictions will be seen as successful waging of war on the part of the leftists.

    But that does not address the motive for the people who are telling us that the entire country is going to hell in a hand basket because of Trump. I think there are two explanations.

    1. Because a small group of people benefits from the breakdown of civil discourse. I nominate George Soros for one of the ringleaders and financiers of this cabal, but I emphasize that there are probably equivalent effort on both sides, that the true intellectual ringleaders might be very much under the radar, and that Soros is just the easiest evil-doer to single out.

    2. The other reason is less evident unless you belong to several mailing lists and have seen the endless fund raising solicitations rolling in since Trump was inaugurated and the Russian hacking story gained widespread circulation. Ever since that time fundraising has picked up with the most apocalyptic predictions: that Trump was going to put people in prison labor camps, that gays would suffer untold misery, etc., on the one side, and that Trump would be impeached and none of his cabinet would receive Senate consent on the other.

    Perhaps some of the dire predictions are based on reality, but I betray my personal bias by pointing out that the predictions on the left, including from the mad harridans of California, are so over the top that I find it hard to believe anyone would be convinced. Then I see Facebook friends from the left raising concerns that, indeed, Trump will put gays in prison camps and so on. Betsy DeVos was a lightning rod for a while, and now the EPA is the latest.

    If you shake your head in amazement at the gullibility of the left, imagine the horror stories on the right are equally as far-fetched. That is how I comfort myself — by telling myself that gays will not be put in prison camps and Trump will not be impeached, and the fundraising letters just go in the trash.

    I hope I am right on both counts.

  21. Jenk Says:

    That kind of political “boilerplate” is familiar to anyone who read Soviet and East German periodicals in the ’80s. I’m pretty sure a veterinary discourse on dental care for cats had to include some praise for The Party and the brilliant far-seeing mummy at its helm….

  22. DaveindeSwamp Says:

    Jenk,m you are spot on . The same stilted language is seen in all the Left’s pronouncements

  23. n.n Says:

    There has been an unprecedented, acutely phobic response to Trump. This is the first time, in a long time, that the establishment(s) feels threatened by a pro-native, anti-social justice adventurism, pro-science, and anti-monopoly representative of the People and our Posterity. He even threatens to tear down the veil of privacy obscuring the trans-human Choices carried out in the abortion chambers. Positive progress.

  24. Stubbs Says:

    I used to read the Times’ reviews to learn about the world and its history. Then came the novels by women. At least half of each Sunday’s reviews had to be about books by women, most of them novels. I now read the weekend review section of the Wall Street Journal, which is, as I have said before, an education in itself.

  25. Jayne Says:

    When I used to read the NYT book review section, it seemed in love with its own opaque, pretentious, superiority. Now, as Neo-neocon describes it, it sounds all the worse.

    I prefer the Claremont Review of Books.

    There is a huge fallout from breathing (reading everywhere) derogatory commentary in and out continuously, as here with Trump, as is done to Thatcher, etc. This creates a kind of common knowledge, a shared belief that generously spills onto the uninformed. The shared mass hatred is so toxic to our cohesion as a society, a culture doesn’t hold together real well if they despise one another’s beliefs.

    My disrespect for the media lies in its destruction of our shared culture. There will only be tiny, partisan, circle dances, now that the media (may they rot in perdition) has fractured our society’s commonality of striving and purpose. Americans’ pulling loosely together towards prosperity, peace, and letting each other be, has been hammered out of existence, thanks to collective corruption of the people in media.

  26. Sarah Rolph Says:

    I was in the San Francisco Bay Area last month and both of the bookstores I walked into had big displays at the front of the store that were very much like what you describe.

    At Book Passage at the Ferry Building, one of the books on display on the virtue-signaling table was It Can’t Happen Here, and the staff note was “we fear it already has.”

    As if there had been a coup or something.

    A Leftist dream-world coup that didn’t disrupt their businesses and under which there is no penalty for speaking out against the evil totalitarian.

  27. Sarah Rolph Says:

    The Kundera quote reminds me of the movie Citizen Ruth. Very moving, thoughtful movie that takes abortion as its theme and makes some important human points that usually get lost in the shuffle. Laura Dern turns in an astonishingly good performance — her character is largely unsympathetic, which in this unusual script is part of what makes the movie work.

  28. Ray Van Dune Says:

    I admit I enjoy reading the newspaper comics, or at least I used to enjoy most of them. Now that proportion is more like “a few” of them. Nothing is so sad as seeing a cartoonist with a good pen and a knack for light humor and entertainment gradually succumb to the pressure to be edgy and hATE tRUMP. Pretty soon I won’t have to bother opening the so-called “funnies”, since it seems we are losing about one comic every week or so to the idiot side You must think your art is pretty lame if you have to chase an audience by mouthing the same lines as every other hack, and come to think of it, you are probably correct.

  29. JamesG Says:

    The New Yorker manages to be worse than the Times.

    Every issue of the weekly magazine and every daily on-line version is damp, wet with the editor’s (Remnick) incontinent anti-Trump obsession.

    I can understand that some people are obsessed. What I refuse to accept is a person’s deliberate contempt for his responsibility to produce a readable magazine, one that at least tries to maintain a semblance to the standards established over the years.

    Remnick should drop the obsessiveness or quit the job, acquire a robe and a placard and start marching on Broadway’s sidewalk.

    I won’t cancel my subscription but I will not be renewing.

  30. AMartel Says:

    They all keep saying they want diversity – and change – but when these things materialize in reality they’re all frenzied and distraught. Like these are bad things.

  31. AesopFan Says:

    Jayne Says:
    March 21st, 2017 at 8:58 am
    When I used to read the NYT book review section, it seemed in love with its own opaque, pretentious, superiority. Now, as Neo-neocon describes it, it sounds all the worse.

    I prefer the Claremont Review of Books.

    There is a huge fallout from breathing (reading everywhere) derogatory commentary in and out continuously, as here with Trump, as is done to Thatcher, etc. This creates a kind of common knowledge, a shared belief that generously spills onto the uninformed. The shared mass hatred is so toxic to our cohesion as a society, a culture doesn’t hold together real well if they despise one another’s beliefs.

    My disrespect for the media lies in its destruction of our shared culture. There will only be tiny, partisan, circle dances, now that the media (may they rot in perdition) has fractured our society’s commonality of striving and purpose. Americans’ pulling loosely together towards prosperity, peace, and letting each other be, has been hammered out of existence, thanks to collective corruption of the people in media.
    * * *
    emphasis emphatically added

    Claremont’s reviews are fantastic, especially if you don’t really want to take the time to read the whole book (so many books, so little time…).

    I have noticed the same oppressive left-dominant zeitgeist in everything: news reports, books, magazines, concerts, sports — it is very hard to push against the suffocating blanket of Those Who Are Right And Insist That We Agree. That may be one reason conservatives gravitated to Trump (and to Milo Y before he flamed out): you have to yell 10 times as hard as you really want to, when the other side is always dialed up to 11.

  32. The Other Gary Says:

    Jayne wrote:

    This [pervasive disparaging MSM stories about Trump, Thatcher, etc] creates a kind of common knowledge, a shared belief that generously spills onto the uninformed. The shared mass hatred is so toxic to our cohesion as a society, …

    Americans’ pulling loosely together towards prosperity, peace, and letting each other be, has been hammered out of existence, thanks to collective corruption of the people in media.
    ——
    Well said. Despite the polls reporting high levels of distrust of the media, the MSM still retains the power to do what Jayne describes.

    So much of what’s wrong in this country begins with the malevolent influence of the MSM. ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE MSM.
    ——-

    I figured the left would dislike a Trump presidency, but didn’t anticipate this level of all-out psychosis. Reminds me of a 3 year old kid throwing full-body tantrum in a public place: lying on the floor, ear-piercing screams, legs kicking, arms flailing, face contorted, head banging …

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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