Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
For over forty years the left has been successfully reshaping American culture. Social mores and government policies about sexuality, marriage, the sexes, race relations, morality, and ethics have changed radically. The collective wisdom of the human race that we call tradition has been marginalized or discarded completely. The role of religion in public life has been reduced to a private preference. And politics has been increasingly driven by the assumptions of progressivism: internationalism privileged over nationalism, centralization of power over its dispersal in federalism, elitist technocracy over democratic republicanism, “human sciences” over common sense, and dependent clients over autonomous citizens.
But the election of Donald Trump, and the overreach of the left’s response to that victory, suggest that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the left’s cultural, social, and political dominance.
The two terms of Barack Obama seemed to be the crowning validation of the left’s victory. Despite Obama’s “no blue state, no red state” campaign rhetoric, he governed as the most leftist––and ineffectual–– president in history. Deficits exploded, taxes were raised, new entitlements created, and government expanded far beyond the dreams of center-left Democrats. Marriage and sex identities were redefined. The narrative of permanent white racism was endorsed and promoted. Tradition-minded Americans were scorned as “bitter clingers to guns and religion.” Hollywood and Silicon Valley became even more powerful cultural arbiters and left-wing publicists. And cosmopolitan internationalism was privileged over patriotic nationalism, while American exceptionalism was reduced to an irrational parochial prejudice.
The shocking repudiation of the establishment left’s anointed successor, Hillary Clinton, was the first sign that perhaps the hubristic left had overreached, and summoned nemesis in the form of a vulgar, braggadocios reality television star and casino developer who scorned the hypocritical rules of decorum and political correctness that even many Republicans adopted to avoid censure and calumny. Yet rather than learning the tragic self-knowledge that Aristotle says compensates the victim of nemesis, the left overreached yet again with its outlandish, hysterical tantrums over Trump’s victory. The result has been a stark exposure of the left’s incoherence and hypocrisy so graphic and preposterous that they can no longer be ignored.
First, the now decidedly leftist Democrats refused to acknowledge their political miscalculations. Rather than admit that their party has drifted too far left beyond the beliefs of the bulk of the states’ citizens, they shifted blame onto a whole catalogue of miscreants: Russian meddling, a careerist FBI director, their own lap-dog media, endemic sexism, an out-of-date
Electoral College, FOX News, and irredeemable “deplorables” were just a few. Still high on the “permanent majority” Kool-Aid they drank during the Obama years, they pitched a fit and called it “resistance,” as though comfortably preaching to the media, university, and entertainment choirs was like fighting Nazis in occupied France. The bathos and ridiculous hyperbole of their whining exposed for all to see their rank egotism and lack of discernment and judgment.
This childish behavior came hard on the whole “snowflake” and “microagression” phenomenon in colleges and universities. Normal people watched as some of the most privileged young people in history turned their subjective slights and bathetic discontents into weapons of tyranny, shouting down or driving away speakers they didn’t like, and calling for “muscle” to enforce their assault on the First Amendment. Relentlessly repeated on FOX News and on the Drudge Report, these antics galvanized large swaths of American voters who used to be amused, but now were disgusted by such displays of rank ingratitude and arrogant dismissal of Constitutional rights. And voters could see that the Democrats encouraged and enabled this nonsense. The prestige of America’s best universities, where most of these rites of passage for the scions of the well-heeled occurred, was even more damaged than it had been in the previous decades.
So too with the world of entertainment. Badly educated actors, musicians, and entertainers, those glorified jugglers, jesters, and sword-swallowers who fancy themselves “artists,” have let loose an endless stream of dull leftwing clichés and bromides that were in their dotage fifty years ago. The spectacle of moral preening coming from the entertainment industry––one that trades in vulgarity, misogyny, sexual exploitation, the glorification of violence, and, worst of all, the production of banal, mindless movies and television shows recycling predictable plots, villains, and heroes––has disgusted millions of voters, who are sick of being lectured to by overpaid carnies. So they vote with their feet for the alternatives, while movie grosses and television ratings decline.
As for the media, their long-time habit of substituting political activism for journalism, unleashed during the Obama years, has been freed from its last restraints while covering Trump. The contrast between the “slobbering love affair,” as Bernie Goldberg described the media’s coverage of Obama, and the obsessive Javert-like hounding of Trump has stripped the last veil of objectivity from the media. They’ve been exposed as flacks no longer seeking the truth, but manufacturing partisan narratives. The long cover-up of the Weinstein scandal is further confirmation of the media’s amoral principles and selective outrage. With numerous alternatives to the activism of the mainstream media now available, the legacy media that once dominated the reporting of news and political commentary are now shrinking in influence and lashing out in fury at their diminished prestige and profits.
Two recent events have focused this turn against the sixties’ hijacking of the culture. The preposterous “protests” by NFL players disrespecting the flag during pregame ceremonies has angered large numbers of Americans and hit the League in the wallet. The race card that always has trumped every political or social conflict has perhaps lost its power. The spectacle of rich one-percenters recycling lies about police encounters with blacks and the endemic racism of American society has discredited the decades-long racial narrative constantly peddled by Democrats, movies, television shows, and school curricula from grade-school to university. The endless scolding of white people by blacks more privileged than the majority of human beings who ever existed has lost its credibility. The racial good will that got a polished mediocrity like Barack Obama twice elected president perhaps has been squandered in this attempt of rich people who play games to pose as perpetual victims. These supposed victims appear more interested in camouflaging their privilege than improving the lives of their so-called “brothers” and “sisters.”
The second is the Harvey Weinstein scandal. A lavish donor to Democrats––praised by Hillary Clinton and the Obamas, given standing ovations at awards shows by the politically correct, slavishly courted and feted by progressive actors and entertainers, and long known to be a vicious sexual predator by these same progressive “feminists” supposedly anguished by the plight of women––perhaps will become the straw that breaks the back of progressive ideology. Just as ultrasounds, Planned Parenthood’s dismemberment of babies to harvest and sell their organs, and murderous ghouls like Kermit Gosnell have turned people against abortion, perhaps the lies, cover-ups, and rationalizations of Weinstein’s creepy assaults on more than 30 women will discredit Hollywood’s pompous posing and smug virtue-signaling on the part of self-proclaimed champions of women’s rights. The spectacle of a rich feminist and progressive icon like Jane Fonda whimpering about her own moral cowardice has destroyed the credibility we foolishly gave to Hollywood’s dunces and poltroons.
So do these signs portend at last the end of the leftist “fundamental transformation” of America? Will we begin to see even more pushback, and more reforms of our cultural and social institutions?
Other signs suggest we shouldn’t start celebrating. The lefts’ demolition of the American social and political order has reached deep into our schools, popular culture, and political policies. There are 66 million Millennials, the worst-educated cohort in American history, steeped in the progressive world-view since kindergarten. The shibboleths, clichés, mythemes, and transparent lies of that world view are second nature to them, signs of intellectual sophistication and class superiority. Their favorite oracles, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube, are morphing into Big Brother censors and manipulators of information on behalf of progressives. And these Millennials are going to be around for a long time, unlike the aging Boomers, among whom are most of the last remnants of the old America.
More ominous, the progressive redistributionist entitlement state and the habits of dependence it fosters are unlikely to be reformed, even as the increasing debt to finance this “kinder, gentler” Leviathan continues to drive us toward bankruptcy. The vast wealth and physical comfort we Americans enjoy fool us into thinking that all these cultural and political pathologies are affordable, nothing to worry about as long as the shelves of Costco are full, the cat videos keep coming on Facebook and YouTube, the new CGI superhero cartoons are showing at the Cineplex, and new Silicon Valley toys continue to be available. We can keep on enjoying our bread and circuses and not think about the Goths and Vandals gathering on the horizon.
So, beginning of the end of the leftist cultural regime, or a transient, doomed resistance? One thing for sure, we have a couple of national elections coming in 2018 and 2020 that will answer that question.