The Age of Disgust

The most novel explanation for the apparent popularity of Donald Trump that we’ve come across thus far is posted over at The New Republic, where they think it has something to do with “disgust sensitivity.”
Drawing on a 2012 study by a group of European and American academics, the author claims that people who are more disgusted by things ranging from drinking from the same cup as someone else to maggots, vomit, and dirty toilets to corpses, blood, and “anything that evokes our animal nature” are more likely to have anti-immigrant attitudes and “tolerate income inequality, view homosexuality negatively, and place more belief in authoritarian leaders and systems.” Trump wrote in his book “Art of the Deal” that he is a compulsive hand-washer, told a “Dateline” interviewer in 1999 that he considers hand-shaking a “barbaric” ritual, he reportedly won’t push elevator buttons, and the article has a long list of things that Trump has said he was disgusted about, including Hillary Clinton’s bathroom breaks and Marco Rubio’s sweat and anybody’s breast milk pump, so the author concludes that Trump’s supporters are simply similarly squeamish types.
We freely admit that we don’t have a better explanation for the apparent popularity of Trump, but The New Republic’s conjecture strikes us as far-fetched. That 2012 study, titled “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting,” is just another one of those occasional attempts by academic liberals to diagnose conservatism as a mental disease rather than go through the more difficult task of rebutting its arguments and evidence. The bias is obvious from the academics’ claim that “liberals tend to heavily skew their moral matrix towards protecting people from harm and promoting fairness,” even if their policies do more harm than good to people and involve a self-aggrandizing notion of what’s fair, as well as their notion that conservatives “construct (their moral matrix) from a five pillar approach that includes authority, in-group loyalty, and purity — in other words, ideas of what is and is not disgusting,” even if modern conservatism is committed to limited government and personal liberty, insists on individualism and rejects the identity politics of the left, and has notions of what is and is not disgusting that were largely unchallenged anywhere in the world until recently.
Nor does one need to be easily revulsed by life’s less pleasant sights and odors to have qualms about the unprecedented levels of legal and illegal immigration that the country has accepted over the past decades. We’ve shared whisky with grizzled truckers on hitchhiking expeditions with just a sleeve wipe of the bottle, in our college days we were once gallant enough to hold a young lady’s hair back while she vomited, we’ve never once complained about the men’s room at Kirby’s Beer Store, we observe the “Seinfeld” show’s five-second rule regarding dropped food, and we’ve even sat through most of a John Waters film festival, yet we can still see a reason why countries enforce their borders. One can even make a case that with immigrants coming at a faster rate than jobs are being created there is a liberal argument to be made about protecting people from harm and promoting fairness, and we note that Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is making that argument, but so far The New Republic has left us wondering how many of his supporters are reluctant to use a public toilet.
Many of Trump’s followers are clearly yearning for authoritarian leadership, they do include some people who evince a certain in-group loyalty, his blunt expressions of disgust seem to be playing very well, and we suppose that at least some of his fans share his hypersensitivity to germs, but we think there’s more to it than that. The public’s anxiety about unfettered immigration from the most trouble parts of the world is not irrational, and is by no means a uniquely American phenomenon, and the effort by indifferent elites to impose their self-interested views on the hoi polloi is disgusting. That so many people are willing to trade one authoritarian leader for another, and are more committed to that certain in-group loyalty than to the principles of liberty and individualism, and express their understandable disgust in the most disgusting ways, is merely unsettling.

— Bud Norman

A Chilling Effect

Please be forgiving if our ordinarily precise prose dissolves into a stream of consciousness, but a severe case of cabin fever is making us delirious. Brutally cold air and an amount of snow sufficient to shut down the city have kept us almost entirely homebound for the past week, and even for such avid indoorsmen as ourselves it’s becoming quite tedious.
We briefly ventured out into the elements once, heading a few blocks to the home of a friendly neighbor with cable television to watch the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team grind out a hard-fought win over a feisty Indiana State University Sycamores squad and improve its season record to a perfect 24 and 0, but nothing else has come up to justify such Jack Londonesque derring-do. We have otherwise been left alone with our thoughts, which is a chilling prospect in any weather, and forced to make do with whatever entertainments are at hand.
With great foresight we had stockpiled an extensive supply of old books and 33 rpm recordings of ancient American music in case of such an emergency, so at least we have not been relegated to contemporary pop culture. The internet machine informs us that Jay Leno broadcast his last Tonight Show, for instance, but Willie Nelson was singing “Hello, Walls” on the stereo so we didn’t bother to tune in. Leno always seemed an affable sort of fellow, far more so than his time-slot rival, but the talk shows have lost their luster along with the rest of show biz since the days when Frank and Dean would schmooze and smoke and make risqué with Johnny. Toward the end of his run Leno endeared himself to conservatives by cracking the occasional joke about President Barack Obama, which somehow made the white-haired comic the most daringly transgressive artist in mass media, but for the most part he hewed to the Hollywood line. Over the course of a long career Leno let loose with some good jokes, but it’s hard to do so consistently within the Hollywood line.
Two other comedy-related stories we’ve come across the past week make the same point. One was an interview with Lorne Michaels, who has produced the Saturday Night Live since it premiered on the old Dumont Network back in the silent television days, and his admission that the show has tended to ridicule conservatives more often than liberals because conservatives are willing to laugh at themselves and liberals respond angrily. This same cowardly approach to comedy explains why show biz prefers to ridicule turn-the-other-cheek Christians rather than slay-the-blasphemer Muslims, and why Saturday Night Live and other contemporary comedies are so rarely funny. The other story was an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, who rightly took umbrage at questions about the lack of racial diversity of the casts in his programs. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in,” Seinfeld said to CBS This Morning, “You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” We suspect that Seinfeld was so obviously offended because he holds political views that are generally in line with his show biz peers, but his admirable willingness to set them aside during working hours is one reason that his work is so often funny.
The rest of the news seems to be about the Winter Olympics, and it has less to do with sports than matters of geo-politics and security concerns and homosexual rights and poor hotel accommodations. All of these seem to have culminated in poor attendance, although the television ratings might benefit from all the viewers homebound by a lack of global warming across the northern hemisphere. Olympic sports no longer have the old Cold War drama, and winter sports are far too cold for our tastes, but we might tune in if the ‘Shockers aren’t playing and we’ve run out of rockabilly.
We’re hoping that the city will get enough salt from nearby Hutchinson to make the streets drivable, and that tomorrow’s temperature to will climb high enough above zero to allow for the few blocks of walking to the Wichita Art Museum for the opening of an exhibit of some fine old George Catlin paintings of buffalo, but it seems frighteningly possible that we’ll be stuck here for as long as the pizza rolls and chicken nuggets hold out. Our friendly neighbor calls it Dr. Zhivago weather, and the political climate is starting to seem the same, but we need to get out of the house.

— Bud Norman