NOVEMBER 13—The Democrats’ 2016 debacle should have been a wakeup call. Outspent by his Democratic opponent by a factor of 2 to 1, a manic former game- show host with a losing track record in most every business he has touched, was swept to victory on a wave of anger and disillusion among disenfranchised Americans in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—Rust Belt states to a one.
Four years ago, the desertion in large numbers of working class voters—traditionally a core constituency of the Democratic Party—became cause for derision, not reflection, among the liberal intelligentsia, which does so much to influence the direction of the Democrats and their operatives in the media, the academy, and within the government bureaucracy itself.
Instead of a true reckoning over what went wrong, for four long years we have been treated to the utter madness of the #Resistance’s odd, wholly ahistorical brand of performance politics. Surely we’ll look back on the spectacle of wealthy, utterly secure members of the professional and managerial class pretending to the mantel of World War II–era antifascist partisans as one of the more cringeworthy episodes in a political culture that has rarely lacked for them.
Setting aside the sheer foolishness and self-delusion, we will one day look back in amazement at the self-aggrandizement of #Resistance leaders for even adopting the term: could it be (and, spoiler alert: it could) that the likes of Joy Anne Reid, Rachael Maddow, Joe and Mika, and Don Lemon and the #Resisters at major publications like The New York Times and the Washington Post are unaware of the human cost paid by the French Resistance or the Home Army’s anti-fascist Resistance in occupied Poland? On what planet is getting into the Range Rover with the kids, donning a pink hat and taking to the streets in downtown Washington anywhere comparable?
Still worse, the #Resistance remained utterly silent when Donald Trump committed, you know, actual crimes. Where were the howls of protest when he illegally launched cruise missiles against Syria, sent troops to occupy sovereign Syrian territory, and authorized drone strikes on Iranians? Where was this vaunted #Resistance when Trump lent intelligence and military aid to our actual enemies in Riyadh for their grotesque war on the civilian population of Yemen? I’ll tell you: They were busy forming an alliance with the most sinister, and indeed the most dangerous political faction in America: the neoconservatives. As my colleague Marshall Auerback and I recently noted in the Asia Times, “On foreign policy, Democrats have moved rightward in recent years, having fallen not only under the spell of “Russiagate” but also increasingly under the influence of neocons and other former Bush officials who have pushed that discredited narrative for their own ends.”
But it’s more than merely the #Resistance’s alliance with neocon militarists such as Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Jennifer Rubin that ought to rankle. The problem, as I was made to see over the course of many conversations with the late Sherle Schwenninger, is far more pervasive. Sherle would often warn against what he saw as the hegemony of “progressive totalitarianism” as he watched this phenom take hold in the liberal/progressive intelligentsia.
The man knew of what he spoke: Driven from the think tank he co-founded, New America, by the former Clinton State Department official Ann–Marie Slaughter, Sherle was all too aware that the alliance of Silicon Valley, the defense industry, and the “woke” would subvert the country’s best traditions—pluralism, respect for diverse opinions—and force us down the path we find ourselves embarked upon. Trump came, Trump made a mess of most things, Trump is gone. Yet the #Resistance remains—a blight of illiberality and intolerance that poisons our discourse and our polity.
We’ve now got thought police “empowered”—a word one comes to detest—by social media, underwritten by Big Tech, and endorsed by the corporate press and broadcasters as they launch smear campaigns against any and all who dissent from approved “narratives” on topics as disparate foreign policy, gender roles, and police reform. They have no genuine program (nor genuine concern, now almost completely absent) for the American working– and middle classes (a group that very much includes blacks and Latinos). The dispossessed, immense in number now, have been systematically decimated by free-trade agreements and an obscene degree of neglect while Big Pharma inflicted the epidemic of opioid deaths upon them. What do we get from the liberal intellectuals? Calls for the abolition of the family, defenses of looting, crass and relentlessly mockery of voters with whom they disagree.
In the case of a number of the more prominent progressive totalitarians, one might pass it off as a simple case of repellent people saying repulsive things. But considering the evident currency of this kind of crudity on “the Left”—and we need the quotation marks now—the rot would seem to run deeper.
As some within the liberal intelligentsia poured energy into attacking the few of us who dared suggest that buying into some bullshit dossier might increase tensions with the world’s second-largest nuclear power, the crisis of Middle America grew and grew.
The toll of dispossession.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose 4.6% in 2019, to 70,980, including 50,042 involving opioids.” The Princeton University scholars Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who published Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism earlier this year, found that life expectancy for white Americans aged 45 to 54 is declining “in a pattern seen almost nowhere else on Earth.”
The decline in the life prospects of this particular demographic is not new. Shortly before his untimely death in 2010, the late historian Tony Judt observed that “the impact of material difference takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and good increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice towards those on the lower ranks of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked.”
Sound familiar? Vive la Résistance, of course.
Where We Are Today
On Election Day 2020, the inept, crude, and deeply ignorant Donald J. Trump still won more than 70 million votes, while Democrats sustained significant losses on the down ballot. The Biden–Harris victory, while understandably welcomed by many as a relief from the circus of the past few years, was nothing if not anemic. U.S. equity and forex strategists at Deutsche Bank found that if roughly 25,000 voters (or .016 percent of all voters) across three states (Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia) had switched to Trump, he likely would have emerged victorious.
What does this tell us? For one thing, it tells us that the liberal intelligentsia is dangerously out of touch. “Myopic” doesn’t even begin to describe them: It’s more a marriage of nihilism and narcissism. Nearly a week after the election, the millionaire comedian Stephen Colbert cried like a spoiled child over comments Trump made about the election at a press conference. Van Jones, a former Obama campaign official turned CNN talking head, likewise broke down over the allegedly terrible psychic toll Trump’s tweets have taken. That same day, Susan Rice also shed fresh tears on ABC.
Alas, no tears were shed (or have ever been) for the millions of Americans in dire need of employment, drug treatment (and very often both).
Saddled with an unearned superiority complex, the liberal intelligentsia refuses to—or cannot, the more likely case—see what is before their very eyes: the unraveling of middle America, a tragedy for which they themselves are more than partially responsible. Instead of taking responsibility for this, they blithely blame the victim and move along. Meanwhile, it is foreseeable that Trumpism might live on within the Republican Party under the moniker of “national conservatism.”
It is entirely possible that, by 2024, it will be the Republicans who adopt an approach to immigration advocated by Democratic congresswoman Barbara Jordan in the 1990s; it will be the Republicans who stand against mindless military adventures in the Middle East; it will the Republicans who stand for the interests of the American worker, athwart the predations of free-trade agreements that have so decimated the American manufacturing and industrial base. This leaves the Democrats as the party of Silicon Valley, the defense industry, Wall Street, various “woke” crusades. And if that’s the case: you can keep it.
I return to that dire need for a wakeup call: 2016 clearly didn’t do the trick, and 2020 seems as though it may only prolong the slumber.