Decadence Anyone?

January 31, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Five years ago, I borrowed Stephen Colbert’s title I’m America, and So Can You for a post on the tendency of some columnists to attribute their own views to “Americans,”  “the public,” “the country,” or some other collective mind. “The public seems to be angry about values,” wrote David Brooks at the time. So much for “I-statements.” (That blogpost is here.)

Once you become sensitive to this rhetorical tactic, you can’t help noticing it. In his New York Times column today (here), Ross Douthat writes.

What are Trumpistas and Bern-feelers rebelling against? They’re rebelling against decadence.

Is decadence really the problem that is roiling the Trump and Sanders supporters? I don't recall seeing that term on any of their signs and slogans ( “Down With Decadence,” “Trump Trumps Decadence”).
A Lexis-Nexis search for “Trump” and “Decadence” in the last seven months turned up only one article in the US press linking these two –  a Times op-ed a month ago with the title “Cracks in the Liberal Order.” It was written by Ross Douthat. 

Swap out “Trump” for “Bernie Sanders,” and you get only this same Douthat column.

There was one article (Rochester, MN Post-Bulletin, Jan. 13) referring to a “Trump-style tower in giddy display of decadence.” And an editorial in the Providence Journal by Jay Ambrose said that Sanders and progressives generally should “stop their decadent way of supposing that people are poor because others are rich.” But these were saying that Trump and his would-be emulators and Sanders and his fellow progressives were themselves decadent, not that they were responding to decadence.

Despite the months of pre-primary coverage, journalists turn up no voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, or anywhere else who complained they were troubled about decadence in America. The Obama-haters compare him to Hitler, not Caligula. The Sanders supporters are rallying against inequality, not iniquity.

Decadence is in the eye of the beholder, and the only eye that seems to be beholding it belongs to  Ross Douthat.

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