The Atlantic

The Appeal of Trumpism to Traditionalists

The work of David Gelernter helps explain why some intellectuals are attracted to the president’s authoritarian populism.
Source: Brian Snyder / Reuters

David Gelernter is an innovator in parallel computing, a prolific writer on religion and culture, a talented artist—and one of two apparent finalists for the job of science advisor to President Donald Trump. To call the Yale computer scientist “anti-intellectual,” as The Washington Post did in January, is to stretch the word past its breaking-point. But Gelernter is also at the center of two falsely comforting ways of thinking about Trumpism. The first assumes that the most anti-intellectual president in recent memory infects everything he touches—that when someone who writes books decides to back a president who never reads them, the former gets dumbed-down by association. The second assumes that when a cultural conservative like Gelernter supports Trump, there’s nothing more interesting at stake than an acute case of hypocrisy.

The reality is more complicated. Gelernter is under no illusions about Trump: In an op-ed last October, he conceded that Trump is “an infantile vulgarian” even in the course of endorsing him. And whether or not he gets the job of science advisor, Gelernter deserves attention. He offers one of the clearest cases of the appeal of Trump’s authoritarian populism to a certain kind of traditionalist intellectual. It’s Gelernter’s writing on religion, not science, that displays the variety of traditionalism capable of coming to

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