I am not sure which one of J.K. Rowling’s handlers told her it was a good look for her to become a 24/7 anti-Trump Jumbotron, but nevertheless there she is. Her Twitter feed has become a cascading avalanche of negative sentiment about the president of the United States.
This is grating. It’s not Trump doesn’t deserve criticism, for surely he does, but it is needling to have one’s president criticized by a foreigner whose government condemns innocent baby boys to death-by-bureaucracy. For all its notable flaws, the United States does not, as a matter of public policy, do that.
Yet ultimately Rowling is not really the problem but a symptom of the problem: she is a perfect emblem for the spiraling, crazy hysteria that has overtaken liberalism in the Age of Trump.
The Special-Needs Snub That Wasn’t
Case in point: last week Rowling took to Twitter to inform her 11.4 million followers that President Trump had cruelly snubbed a wheelchair-bound boy’s offer of a handshake at a recent White House function. Suggesting that Trump was “frightened he might catch [the disabled boy’s] condition,” Rowling wrote: “How stunning, and how horrible, that Trump cannot bring himself to shake the hand of a small boy who only wanted to touch the President.”
Rowling’s initial tweet that kicked off the thread received (at the time of this writing) a mind-boggling 75,000 retweets. The entire thread racked up around 107,000 retweets. There was, however, just one small problem with Rowling’s claim that Trump “[could not] bring himself” to shake the disabled boy’s hand: it was grossly incorrect and utterly divorced from reality.
Yes, a video clip accurately shows that Trump passed over the boy’s outstretched hand while shaking the hands of other attendees at the event. But another video clip taken just a short while beforehand shows Trump engaging with the young man for a rather long moment, squatting down to his level, apparently shaking his hand, and—from the looks of it—enjoying a friendly exchange. Indeed, before he spoke to anyone else at the event, Trump zeroed in on the disabled boy and evidently spoke to him at some length.
No matter: cue the hysteria, the frantic retweets, the loud moral grandstanding, the constant cacophony of histrionic outrage, the imperviousness to facts. The proper context of Trump’s exchange with the little boy was widely reported, and many of Rowling’s followers pointed this out to her. It apparently made no difference.
This is liberalism in the Trump Era. And it is getting worse.
Not Helping People Into Police Cars Isn’t Death Camps
Yet another case in point, also from last week: a rolling wave of anger swept across the Internet when Trump allegedly encouraged law enforcement officers to engage in “police brutality.” Luminaries like Peter Daou and Ryan J. Reilly echoed this accusation; New York Times editor Jessica Lustig did as well; Keith Olbermann, meanwhile, did them one better and claimed that Trump would eventually impose “mass detention camps” on the country, as Democrat Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II.
Sounds like Trump really stepped in it this time. Well, what did he actually say?
[W]hen you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?
From this, Olbermann—a grown man who is looked upon by at least some people as a reliable source of political wisdom—concluded that we are headed for “mass detention camps”!
It is not clear how we are supposed to respond to this type of political delirium. Was Trump’s jocular suggestion good advice? No, it wasn’t. Police should always be careful when handling and transporting suspected criminals, for the safety of both the suspects and the police. Was it in line with what we know of Trump’s behavior? Of course. He is brash, crude, darkly funny at times but largely unable to control his own thought-to-mouth process. Should he have said this? No, he shouldn’t have.
But “police brutality”? “Detention camps”? Is this really the kind of political discourse to which we’ve been reduced—a shrieking mania that cannot engage with the president except in the most unhinged and antirational fashion?
Maybe so, at least for the foreseeable future. And this is not just a political problem. Liberals are increasingly allowing their Trump hatred to spill over into their personal lives. A recent Pew Research poll, for instance, found that “almost half of liberal Democrats — 47 percent — say that if a friend supported Trump, it would actually put a strain on their friendship. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters more broadly, the number is 35 percent.”
It does not bode well for our civic fabric when a large segment of the body politic is growing less capable of processing its political gripes in a healthy manner. A political faction that endlessly repeats falsehoods and histrionic hyperboles with no regard for the facts, while growing more intolerant of anyone who thinks differently, is not a good sign for what’s to come.
To be fair, we have seen this kind of nasty and hateful divorced-from-reality campaign a number of times in American history. Indeed, just a few years ago we witnessed it in the form of the “Birther” campaign, which falsely and maliciously claimed that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States.
To his everlasting discredit, one of the biggest proponents of birtherism was Donald Trump. In that, both he and his increasingly unbalanced critics have some striking similarities in how they interact with reality. But I imagine that “We’re no worse than Donald Trump!” isn’t exactly the rallying cry they’re going for.