The conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist by training, first diagnosed “Bush Derangement Syndrome” in 2003. It was a clever neologism, describing the disgust and rage Bush incited in people on the Left, who bristled at his cowboy mannerisms, his mangled syntax, and his religiously inflected moral certainty. BDS, however, was not the first episode of this kind of mania. It was preceded by Clinton Derangement Syndrome, which inspired a litany of wild conspiracy theories (multiple murders!) and culminated in Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Now it’s Obama Derangement Syndrome that grips about a third of the population. Sufferers see the 44th president as a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” socialist dictator who sympathizes with Islamic extremists.
Why does every president now summon such unhinged hatred? As Kevin Glass at Townhall pointed out last week, it’s not just a matter of policy differences: Presidents have become totems in America’s raging culture war. With his tax cuts, Christian references, and strutting American exceptionalism, Bush embodied the red state values that urban progressives loathe. For red state conservatives, Obama personifies a horrifying new era of multi-culti, redistributionist Big Government. Virtually every political argument today is a proxy for the culture war: Do you identify with the police or young black men? Gun owners or gun victims? Are immigrants law-breaking leeches or hardworking, aspiring Americans? Are you one of Us, or one of Them? When ODS subsides, I feel safe to predict, it will be replaced by the conviction that President Scott Walker or Hillary Clinton or whoever is not only wrong, but deeply evil—a usurper intent on destroying America.
William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine’s first issue in 2001. He was previously a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.
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