Ride or die.
Support The Bulwark.
  Join Now
Charlie Sykes
The Bulwark Presents
Morning Shots with Charlie Sykes

The Unbearable Lightness of Peggy Noonan

She thinks Never Trumpers are “bloody-minded” and nihilistic for wanting to see Trump’s enablers voted out.
August 3, 2020
Featured Image
(Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages)

Happy Monday. It occurs to me that perhaps we should start the week with some thoughts about nihilism.

Over the weekend, Peggy Noonan wafted into the fray about whether or not we should hold Republican elected officials accountable for their collaboration with Trumpism. In the shorthand of our political discourse this has become known as “Burn It All Down,” which was actually the title of something I wrote here just a week ago.

But the arsonist imagery has gotten strained. So, by all means call the Metaphor Police on me.

The argument here is that the dysfunction of the GOP runs much deeper than just Trump himself; and that it is necessary to hold enablers accountable at the ballot box. But critics have seized on the “burning” analogy to suggest that this is not simply a prudent act of political hygiene but rather an expression of blind, and even nihilistic rage. David French has suggested that it smacks of “vengeance.”

Noonan also thinks it is tacky. She concedes that Trump himself is awful, but more in Noonanesque sorrow than anger she counsels, well, doing pretty much nothing about the GOP elected officials who have collaborated with him.

She writes:

Now various of his foes, in or formerly of his party, want to burn the whole thing down—level the party, salt the earth where it stood, remove Republican senators, replace them with Democrats.

This strikes me as another form of nihilism. It’s bloody-minded and not fully responsible. . .

So there we have “nihilism” again, the dark impulse that brought us Trumpism in the first place. But as our colleague Mona Charen noted last week, it’s an exceedingly strange take.

Voting against a candidate or even a whole party is not nihilism. It’s not “burning it all down.” It’s the legal, constitutional way to express approval or disapproval. The current Republican party has itself chosen to become the arsonist party. It has decided to go along with undermining faith in institutions, shredding norms, elevating conspiracy theories, disregarding laws, and tossing aside truth whenever the leader dictates.

Noonan could perhaps have addressed that point, but as you may have noticed, she rarely if ever actually addresses any points at all. That is not her thing. So we get a column that (1) does not mention or link to any argument she wishes to challenge, (2) does not name a single Never Trumper who is engaging in the bad behavior she denounces, and (3) does not actually name a single GOP official whom she wishes to defend.

This last point strikes me as somewhat revealing. She writes that Never Trumpers are “aiming at Trump supporters in Congress. Some of those lawmakers have abandoned long-held principles to show obeisance to the president and his supporters. Some, as you know if you watched the supposed grilling of tech titans this week, are just idiots.”

But she argues that opposing these “idiots” (her word) for re-election is nihilism.

This is an easier argument to make without naming names. Think about it: Imagine being Peggy Noonan and having to write, “it is nihilistic and bloody-minded to suggest that anyone vote against Lindsey Graham.” Likewise, it would be difficult for even a Manhattan concern troll to suggest that voting against Joni Ernst or Martha McSally would usher in chaos, or that only nihilism would inspire a vote against Thom Tillis or Mitch McConnell.