In 2015, Andrew Sullivan announced that he was retiring from blogging. Well, that lasted two years. He’s started a new column at New York Magazine that he describes like this:
I guess I should start by saying this is not a blog. Nor is it what one might call a column. It’s an experiment of sorts to see if there’s something in between those two. Most Fridays, from now on, I’ll be writing in this space about, among other things, the end of Western civilization, the collapse of the republic, and, yes, my beagles.
And, mirabile dictu, he’s one of those conservatives who simply can’t stomach our new administration. His latest column, “The madness of King Donald,” is about exactly that: Trump’s lies, and what the press should do about them. What they’re doing—at least the reporters I admire—is what Sullivan says they should do: don’t let “alternative truths” pass unquestioned:
What are we supposed to do with this? How are we to respond to a president who in the same week declared that the “murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 45 to 47 years,” when, of course, despite some recent, troubling spikes in cities, it’s nationally near a low not seen since the late 1960s, and half what it was in 1980. What are we supposed to do when a president says that two people were shot dead in Chicago during President Obama’s farewell address — when this is directly contradicted by the Chicago police? None of this, moreover, is ever corrected. No error is ever admitted. Any lie is usually doubled down by another lie — along with an ad hominem attack.
Here is what we are supposed to do: rebut every single lie. Insist moreover that each lie is retracted — and journalists in press conferences should back up their colleagues with repeated follow-ups if Spicer tries to duck the plain truth. Do not allow them to move on to another question. Interviews with the president himself should not leave a lie alone; the interviewer should press and press and press until the lie is conceded. The press must not be afraid of even calling the president a liar to his face if he persists. This requires no particular courage. I think, in contrast, of those dissidents whose critical insistence on simple truth in plain language kept reality alive in the Kafkaesque world of totalitarianism. As the Polish dissident Adam Michnik once said: “In the life of every honorable man comes a difficult moment … when the simple statement that this is black and that is white requires paying a high price.” The price Michnik paid was years in prison. American journalists cannot risk a little access or a nasty tweet for the same essential civic duty?
He then does what few journalists will do, but what all of us are thinking: questioning Trump’s sanity:
Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.
I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.
There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.
I’ve had some beefs with Sullivan, mainly because of his religiosity, and at one point we had an acrimonious exchange about whether Genesis was meant to be taken literally (he said it was palpably metaphorical, I simply quoted the Church Fathers who did take it literally). But I nearly always respected Sullivan because the guy was thoughtful, even when I thought he was wrong. But his Achilles heel was always his faith: his decision to remain Catholic despite being gay, and, indeed, his belief in a God for which there was no evidence at all.
And, sadly, since Sullivan is a believer, he breaks up his newest blog/ column with some delusion on his own part, lauding Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Silence,” which I’ve now seen. It’s about God’s absence in helping the tortured Christians in 17th-century Japan, and an affirmation of faith in God when there’s no God to be seen. It’s not a bad movie except for its unbroken paean to delusion. The bad part is when Sullivan sees God as trumping Trump:
There are moments — surpassingly rare but often indelible — when you do hear the voice of God and see the face of Jesus. You never forget them — and I count those few moments in my life when I have heard the voice and seen the face as mere intimations of what is to come. But the rest is indeed silence. And the conscience is something that cannot sometimes hear itself. I’ve rarely seen the depth of this truth more beautifully unpacked. Which is why, perhaps, the movie has had such a tiny audience so far. Those without faith have no patience for a long meditation on it; those with faith in our time are filled too often with a passionate certainty to appreciate it. And this movie’s mysterious imagery can confound anyone. But its very complexity and subtlety gave me hope in this vulgar, extremist time. We cannot avoid this surreality all around us. But it may be possible occasionally to transcend it.
To me, “passionate certainty” means “delusion”—just the flaw Sullivan imputes to The Donald. Well, Mr. Sullivan, I’m just as disturbed as you by the state of our country, and by who’s running it. But unlike you, I find no hope in Jesus. If we’re to solve this problem, we have to do it ourselves.