One of the many hashtags that erupted in the wake of Donald Trump’s election is #notmypresident.
The same slogan was used by opponents of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush but never with such ferocity.
The irony of the expression seems obvious.
In our democratic republic, we may cast our ballots for someone else or no one at all, but ultimately the president is our leader, and no amount of sign-carrying or hashtagging will change that.
But in the era of Trump, there is a greater depth of irony in such refusal to claim ownership over the president.
Indeed, there has never been a president who embodies modern American culture quite like Trump.
A thrice-married, foul-mouthed, anti-intellectual bully who delights in mocking his opposition, shutting down his critics and showing a penchant for gross exaggeration and locker-room talk.
Sound familiar? I’m not speaking merely about Trump.
Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative, explains it thusly: “Trump is America 2017. He did not come from nowhere.”
Dreher cites a video by a young man who innocently asks, “You didn’t vote for Trump, or did you?”
The video continues, “… morals suddenly matter again … because let me guess: we should hold the president to a higher standard than we hold ourselves and our beloved pop culture idols and fetishes. But the thing is, presidential candidates come from the same vulgar, sexist, violent, sex-obsessed locker-room society that we’ve curated, so why would it be so shocking when the cream of this crop rises to the top, and is so corrupt?”
His thesis may be the most perceptive explanation to the question that is still confounding political analysts: How did Trump happen?
Social media seems to be today’s preferred medium of self-expression, so I’ll use it to further illustrate the premise.
A random scan of my Facebook page this week revealed the following:
A furious post from a high school acquaintance who wrote “(expletive) The New York Times” for publishing an opinion piece by a person he feels does not deserve a public forum for his thoughts.
Another expletive-laced post from a “friend” demanded anyone who supported Betsy DeVos’ nomination should “unfriend” her immediately.
A former colleague, who adds often profane commentary to her daily news posts, mocked the president and his supporters and lamented that his election means the end of the free world.
Then there is the deluge of people posting “news” from websites that boast the veracity of Trump’s own Twitter account.
Many of these sources would fit neatly into the category of “fake news” (or at least “highly dubious news”) but they are shared as factual because the conclusions fit the posters’ own political preferences.
Again, sound familiar?
In a single day of social-media observance I find multiple occasions of vulgarity, disdain for free speech, alienation of friends, refusals to hear an opinion contrary to one’s own and the perpetuation of anti-intellectualism.
(If you consider the number of selfies and other self-indulgent posts, you might add narcissism to this list of vices.)
For those who believe social media is not an accurate portrayal of society writ large, there is plenty of evidence of our cultural decline.
Just last week, UC Berkeley, the cradle of free speech, canceled the appearance of a controversial speaker after protestors caused $100,000 worth of damage to the school.
In September, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only a quarter of Americans can name all three branches of government; nearly a third cannot name one.
Dreher’s unnamed video star mentions a study that found teens and young adults consider not recycling more immoral than watching pornography.
Dreher summarizes: “Trump is the logical result of a culture coarsened by a lot of the same people who are now outraged that a barbarian like him is in the White House.”
Trump may not be the president many Americans want, but he is exactly the president we all deserve.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at [email protected].