Aaron Hanlon, Postmodernism didn’t cause Trump. It explains him. The Washington Post, 31 August 2018
Postmodern theory may be the most loathed concept ever to have emerged from academia. Developed within literature and philosophy departments in the 1970s, it supposedly told us that facts were debatable, that individual perspectives mattered most, that shared meaning was an illusion and that universal truth was a myth.
The right quickly identified these notions as a danger to the very foundations of society and spent decades flogging the university lefties who promoted them. In “Tenured Radicals,” Roger Kimball accused academic theorists of trying to redefine the traditional humanities as “a species of political grievance-mongering” for which virtue equals “whatever sexual, feminist, Marxist, racial, or ethnic agenda to which the particular critic has declared his allegiance.” Norman Podhoretz believed that postmodernism was an attack on moral order. More recently, Victor Davis Hanson faulted postmodernism for President Barack Obama’s handling of health care legislation, writing, “In the gospel of postmodern relativism, what did it matter if the president of the United States promised that Obamacare would not alter existing health-care plans when it was clear that it would?”
Later, centrists and liberals searching for a culprit behind the ascent of Donald Trump and the war on fact that surrounds him joined the conservative crusade. Michiko Kakutani, the cultural critic and author of “The Death of Truth,” blames the relativism that facilitated Trump’s rise on “academics promoting the gospel of postmodernism.”
Kakutani’s suggestion that we can trace the roots of Trump-era post-truth politics to postmodernism is similar to an argument in Lee McIntyre’s recent book, “Post-Truth.” “Even if right-wing politicians and other science deniers were not reading Derrida and Foucault,” writes McIntyre, “the germ of the idea made its way to them.”
In each of these cases, the writers invoke postmodernism to describe not a contested set of observations about the state of knowledge and culture but a committed belief system that forms the basis of partisan political calculations. Kakutani’s choice of words — “the gospel of postmodernism” — conjures such a system.
it’s clear that the real enemy of truth is not postmodernism but propaganda, the active distortion of truth for political purposes. Trumpism practices this form of distortion on a daily basis. The postmodernist theorists we vilify did not cause this; they’ve actually given us a framework to understand precisely how falsehood can masquerade as truth.