This week’s New York Magazine all-hands meeting featured a conversation between writers Rebecca Traister and Jonathan Chait, moderated by New York’s editor-in-chief Adam Moss. The discussion was intended as a little perk for staffers, not for public consumption. But several staffers leaked some of the meeting’s contents, revealing somewhat surprising comments from Chait about President Trump.
At one point in the discussion, the writers were asked if any part of them was happy to live in an era in which they can write about Donald Trump as president.
Ashley Feinberg at HuffPost reports:
“Traister went first and gave the right answer, which is ‘no,‘” one employee, who’s been granted anonymity to speak freely about an off-the-record meeting, told HuffPost. “She said there isn’t ‘a single molecule’ of her that is happy Trump won and that we’ll all face repercussions for generations.”
Chait, however, answered the question with an affirmative “one hundred percent.”
If people with left politics have anything positive to say Trump’s win, it’s usually that his pure awfulness may accelerate our society into realizing its own flaws, provoking a reaction that will change things more quickly than we would had he not crashed into the White House like Miley Cyrus in the “Wrecking Ball” video. This was not the argument that Chait made.
“He compared the situation to Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about how, from the back seat of a cab, the whole world outside becomes entertainment,” the New York magazine staffer explained. “He said he’s deadened his emotions to a point where he doesn’t get emotionally involved with the Trump situation.”
According to the staffer, Chait said with a laugh: “Maybe that makes me a sociopath.” Some of the employees in attendance said the group was stunned by Chait’s response; others were less surprised to hear this sentiment come from a self-described disenfranchised white man.
Chait thinks the absurdity of the Trump administration is fun to watch. That may be true, if you can totally remove yourself from the reality of how his presidency will directly impact people’s lives. That’s pretty easy to do if you’re a wealthy, straight, white man with a cushy job living in New York City. It’s perhaps less easy for, say, immigrant parents who are currently separated from their children, or women who worry about the future of reproductive rights.
In a response to HuffPost, Chait tried to clear things up:
Chait also added that his comments “were intended for an audience which, I assume, was familiar with my work and the obvious seriousness with which I take politics in general and Trump in particular. I was commenting in an ironic and self-deprecating fashion about the way in which I can professionally disassociate myself from the events I am commenting on.”
I’m not really sure that familiarity with Chait’s work makes these comments come off any better. The fact that he can “professionally disassociate himself” from these issues is one of the biggest problems with his writing. It’s why he can write that calling Trump a white supremacist is more dangerous than Trump’s white supremacist policies. The reality is, most of us aren’t sitting around worrying about symbolic victories for free speech on college campuses. We’ve got bigger problems to deal with.