Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center
Karl Marx famously said that historical facts and personages are repeated, first as tragedy, then as farce. But Marx could not have foreseen that the ideology he birthed would experience a third phase as well: therapeutic parody. The juvenile hysteria, tantrums, inflated “resistance,” and pointless vandalism of the left-wing Democrats are signs of leftism’s last phase. But that doesn’t make the left any less dangerous.
The “tragedy” wrought by the left is evident in its blood-stained history. The 100 million people murdered by purges and engineered famines were the victims of regimes founded on gulags, show-trials, lies, persecution, “re-education,” and censorship. Their deaths are one of history’s greatest tragedies. No more successful were the attempts to give collectivism “a human face” by creating the “soft despotism” of technocratic bureaucracies and agencies embodied in the EU and American progressivism, both increasingly sclerotic, ineffective, and desperate.
The “farce” came in the sixties, as one French ’68 leftist admitted in the famous graffito, “I am a Marxist, of the Groucho variety.” In less than a decade, the New Left’s embrace of hedonism and identity politics transformed it into a life-style choice and New Age cult for the affluent, pampered boomers rich enough to postpone adulthood indefinitely, and to avoid the consequences of their utopian fantasies. After a few spasms of terrorist attacks by outfits like the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the tax-payer-subsidized graduate seminar and faculty lounge, not the factory floor or the terrorist cell, became the nursery of the “revolution.”
A booming economy subsidized whole hordes of such parlor pinks, caviar communists, and radical chic poseurs. They turned leftist slogans and symbols into status commodities that capitalists from Hollywood and Madison Avenue were eager to co-opt and profit from. “Revolution” meant wearing a Che t-shirt, rocking with The Clash, and reading Noam Chomsky, pop-cultural brands that camouflaged sexual hedonism, licentious individualism, and conspicuous consumption. Finally, the “long march through the institutions” created not the collectivist utopia, but privileged elites in media, academe, and government whose stock portfolios, bank accounts, affluent zip-codes, and tony life-styles were indistinguishable from those of the robber-baron capitalists they demonized.
Now farce has become parody. Despite its dominance of the media, academe, and popular culture, subsequent decades of politically correct commissars policing language and thought; coercive regulations and laws encroaching ever more insidiously into private life and civil society; and the monstrous hypocrisy of an “effete corps of impudent snobs” who exempted themselves from the intrusive big-government regime they imposed on others less privileged and connected, all led to the repudiation of farcical leftism.
By November 2016, the eight years of Obama’s lies and blunders pushed the left-wing farce to the breaking point. The failure of a leftist president’s hijacking of the economy, and his foreign policy disasters wrought by a stale “we are the world” internationalism finally roused our generation’s forgotten men and women to throw the lefty bums out. It did not help that the Dems’ anointed candidate was the epitome of the left’s hypocritical mash-up mixing worn-out leftist bromides and shibboleths, with rank ambition, unseemly money-grubbing, and entitled arrogance.
The election of Donald Trump is the rude, brash, blustering, in-your-face wages of elitist hypocrisy. The political enormity of his victory has completed the transformation of “late New Leftism” into therapeutic parody. Now the narcissism of the teen-ager is the sum total of leftist ideology, all its exploded ideas and clichéd slogans reduced to Band-Aids for the wounded psyches of some of the richest, best-fed, freest ingrates in human history.
Today’s therapeutic left is a parody of old-school leftism. The old left took their bad ideas seriously as justifications for brutal action and personal risk. In 1843 Karl Marx warned the Prussian government, “We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism.” Vladimir Lenin in 1908 asked, “Do you think we can be victors without the most severe revolutionary terror?” And his mass murders of kulaks and clergy showed he meant it.
How disappointed, then, Marx and Lenin must be, in whatever circle of hell they share, to hear their sleek, well-fed left-wing spawn whine and cry and demand “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” just because they didn’t get what they wanted. According to Bloomberg’s, many progressives traumatized by Trump “are experiencing ‘hyper-vigilance,’ a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.” You know, just like a Marine vet who had his legs blown off in Iraq. In one survey, 25% of respondents are “very stressed” ––while 71% of Hillary supporters are “highly stressed.” Out of work coal miners know just how they feel. Speaking of Muslims, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State fretted, “We’re feeling very scared, emotionally raw, very vulnerable. In everyone’s minds, you are consciously and unconsciously looking for safe places right now.” Like, say, Middle-Eastern Christians, who are being systematically murdered and ethnically cleansed, or Jews in the U.S. who are three times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than are Muslims? Other professors speak of “vicarious trauma” and “emotional contagion,” tacitly admitting that some of the “traumatized” are faddishly feeding off the emotional displays of others. This laughable self-absorption, bathetic complaints, and psychic fragility would embarrass any genuine leftist.
But how about those black-masked “anarchists,” who recently waged war on Starbucks and the Cal Berkeley student union in order to shut down a talk by a gay libertarian “fascist” whom real fascists would already have murdered or shipped to a concentration camp? These brave “resistors” are a parody of the old-fashioned ruthless leftist thugs. Sure, they can rough up a few people and vandalize some stores, but they’re not even remotely the vanguard of violent “revolution,” any more than your average soccer hooligans are. And unlike the leftists of old, they know they’re not facing lethal mayhem of the sort unleashed by the Czarist secret police, the bosses’ Pinkertons, Hitler’s Brown Shirts, or Stalin’s NKVD. They know the police will shoot off some tear gas, make a few token arrests, or even back off completely, like the Berkeley campus police, or the Baltimore cops ordered by the mayor to give “those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” It’s easy to preen as a violent revolutionary and break some windows when “the man” is afraid to crack some heads.
So while we laugh at and scorn “snowflake” leftists whimpering and crying and throwing fits, we need to stay vigilant, and make sure the Trump administration and the Republican Congress dismantle the governmental infrastructure and polices that empower the left. There are ways other than gulags, famines, and bloody purges to destroy a people’s freedom.