Why are we blaming postmodernism for Trump?

Eight months into 2017, the most famous postmodernist in America is no longer Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, or Charlie Kaufman, but Donald Trump. Chalk this superlative up to the “Against Postmodernism” think-piece machine, a decades-old genre supercharged by Trump’s improbable ascendency. Its moves are familiar. We find, in each essay, postmodernism resurrected, blamed for the pitfalls of contemporary politics or culture, and, finally, exorcised. Refer, for example, to Jeet Heer, who in the New Republic claims that Trump’s political emergence was only possible in a postmodern culture that privileges watching, staring, and shallow meanings. To Casey Williams in The New York Times and Salon’s   Conor Lynch, it was postmodern philosophy that put the “alternative” in “alternative facts.” And for David Ernst in The Federalist (for God’s sake), Trumpism represents a clever appropriation of the postmodern anti-hero, a character who knows the relativity of truth, the subjectivity of morals, and the power of narratives. If postmodernism had an avatar, it would be the zombie — more Shaun of the Dead than Dawn, though: a creature whose only purpose is to be beaten haphazardly back to the grave.

In the broader, post-election discourse, left-wing criticism has been doing its damndest to pinpoint the intellectual history of the alt-right. The most impressive of these projects are the most precise: in the Times, an investigation into the influence of Julius Evola — one of the few Nazi-affiliated philosophers not named Heidegger or Schmitt — on Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon; in The New Yorker, a triangulation of the political science department at Claremont McKenna College, the Heritage Foundation, and an anonymous online journal; in The Atlantic, an introduction to the ubiquity of conspiracy theories in American politics. But when it comes to Trump, a man who flaunts his aversion to books, there is no such thing as intellectual influence. And so,…

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