The Left Is Slipping into Terminal Irrelevance

By | 2018-07-02T18:29:36+00:00 July 1st, 2018|
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Well, last week was quite a week. For one side, a week of winning. For the other, a week of wailing.

It will be no secret to regular readers that I am in the former camp. I think it is a good thing that so-called “public-sector unions” can no longer force non-union workers to pay dues. Indeed, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I think public-sector unions are an abomination that have no place in a free republic. They all-but-guarantee systematic corruption.

As Daniel DiSalvo notes in Government Unions and the Bankrupting of America, such unions “extract dues from their members and funnel them into politicians’ campaign war chests, then those same politicians agree to generous contracts for public workers—which in turn leads to more union dues, more campaign spending, and so on. It is a cycle that has dominated the politics of some of America’s states with dire consequences.” Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court took an important step in breaking that vicious cycle.

First Amendment Wins
Last week was also a win for religious liberty and free speech. Henceforth, religious pregnancy counseling operations will no longer be required to post advisories informing clients that an abortion is just a quick trip to the local abattoir, a.k.a. Planned Parenthood.

Then there was the decision upholding President Trump’s moratorium on travel to the United States from certain countries known to be hotbeds of terrorism. I am wholeheartedly with the majority on that one, too, partly because I think our government has a duty to be circumspect about whom it allows into the country, and partly because I dislike grandstanding district court judges who presume to usurp the president’s legitimate constitutional powers by issuing injunctions on a “nationwide basis” against properly formed executive orders.

All of these decisions are important and, in my view, beneficent. But they were overshadowed by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he was retiring. Although Kennedy sided with the majority on these three decisions, historically he has been a wild card, siding with the Left on Roe v. Wade and many other cases involving “social issues.” His retirement, in the context of the president’s promise to “appoint justices who, like Justice Scalia, will protect our liberty with the highest regard for the Constitution” sent the Left into a histrionic orgy of vituperation, paranoia, and rage.

Well, “sent” is not quite right. At least since the wee hours of November 9, 2016, the Left has fully occupied those dismal precincts of incontinent hatred and self-pity, leavened everywhere by rhetorical extravagance and fantasies of revenge.

Fire Over ICE
At the moment, the focus of that fantasy is the attack on ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, which helps police our borders and enforce our immigration laws. God bless them.

According to the orchestrated media onslaught, however, agitation to abolish ICE is “going mainstream.” Don’t worry about that. It won’t happen. But as of this writing, the promised disruption is going strong. Hence the president’s press secretary and his head of the Department of Homeland Security find themselves harassed at public restaurants; one of his chief aides is besieged by protestors at his home; and members of Congress like Rep. Maxine Waters are publicly calling for “rage” and the harassment of the president’s supporters: “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station,” the honorable member from California said the other week, “you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

Commentators on both sides of the political divide speculate that the rhetoric, and the violence, will escalate. The stupidity already has. The New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, “the largest socialist organization in the United States,” recently tweeted a bulletin urging its sympathizers to “Abolish profit, Abolish prisons, Abolish cash bail, Abolish borders.”

Maybe there is something in the water in New York. The conservative commentator Glenn Beck warned the “chaos” he predicted some years ago was “happening right now and it’s only going to get worse.” A much-read piece from the far Left last week issued a similar warning, but in tones gleeful rather than admonitory: “This is just the beginning,” it crowed. “The U.S. had thousands of domestic bombings per year in the early 1970s [fact-check alert!]. This is what happens when citizens decide en masse [all three dozen of them] that their political system is corrupt, racist, and unresponsive. The people out of power have only just begun to flex their dissatisfaction.” I wonder what this scribe would have said had the “people out of power” when Barack Obama was president acted as he suggested their successors do now?

Nostalgia for the Days of Rage
The aging New Lefty
Todd Gitlin waxed nostalgic in more decorous terms in The Washington Post. “Does the arc of the moral universe still bend toward justice?” he asked with characteristic modesty. There were bad times in the Nixon years, he said. “Despair was my demon then, and I was not alone in the feeling.” Now the bad times are back. We have an “aspiring autocrat in the White House.” The stock market is soaring, unemployment is at historic lows, business is booming, consumer confidence is at a generation high, we’ve moved our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, we might just write finis to the Korean War, the mad Mullahs in Iran are tottering, etc., etc.—you can see why Gitlin and his ideological confrères are so unhappy. Winning is painful if the victory compasses your own defeat.

In short, the Left is yelling so loudly because it is fast slipping into terminal irrelevance. The Daily Beast, with its typical restraint, tells its readers that Trump is already early-stage Mussolini. Why? Strip away the rhetoric and the baseless accusation and you find out it’s that he enforces the laws of the land.

Actually, that is secondary. They are behaving as they are (badly) because their candidate lost. Democracy according to them is a system of government in which their people, and theirs alone, can wield political power. Sad, anomie-filled souls congregate in public spaces waving signs charging that the president is “putting people in cages,” but then it turns out that the relevant photos are from 2014 holding facilities presided over by the God that Failed, Barack Obama. Oops.

The Left is praying for more disruption and violence because they think it will somehow exonerate them. “See? We told you Trump was bad. Look at all the violence.” Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for the country), unlike the “Days of Rage” during the Nixon Administration, there is no Vietnam War for the Left to rally around. The economy is humming along. And Donald Trump continues doggedly fulfilling one campaign promise after the next—doing, that is to say, what people elected him to do. He governs like Eisenhower. They act like Abbie Hoffman on meth.

Harassment as Liberal Principle
As the leftover Left descends further into panic, they jettison one bedrock democratic institution after the next. The Electoral College? Ditch it: it elected Donald Trump. Color-blind justice? Forget it. Say yes instead to “affirmative action,” i.e., discrimination on the basis of race, or sex, or some other “progressive” marker. Fidelity to the Constitution? That’s so yesterday. 
The New York Times just ran a story about how conservatives have “weaponized the First Amendment.” Free speech was OK in the 1960s because it was the Left that espoused it. Today, “liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.” You don’t say? Why? Because “free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo.” In plain English, these “liberals” support “free speech for me, but not for thee.”

I put “liberals” in scare quotes because, pace the New York Times, there is nothing less liberal than the woke blokes who harass people because they support a politician they don’t like. What they seek is ostracism because of policy differences. You support Donald Trump, ergo you are a bad person. How is that going to go down?

And this brings me to a curious fact about contemporary leftism. It used to be that the defining virtue for liberals was tolerance. Their god was the J. S. Mill of On Liberty. Let people alone to do what they like so long as they do not interfere with others while doing it. That, with some qualifications, is the doctrine. There are, to be sure, problems with Mill’s gospel of tolerance, most penetratingly analyzed by Mill’s great critic, James Fitzjames Stephen, in his neglected classic Liberty, Fraternity, Equality. “Complete moral tolerance,” Stephen observed, “is possible only when men have become completely indifferent to each other—that is to say, when society is at an end.”

But what we’re seeing today is the rise of disabused, erstwhile liberals who wrap themselves in the sanctimoniousness of their former suasions while preaching the dogma of programmatic intolerance. There are no liberals on the Left these days, only aspiring totalitarians. The jarring discrepancy between their moral pretensions, on the one hand, and their brutal pronunciamentos and actions, on the other, is yet another reason that their crusade for intolerance is likely to redound against them like an inept soccer player who scores an “own goal” against his own team.

Donald Trump has instituted no gulags, he has started no wars, he is presiding over a bustling economy and an increasingly confident populace. He is normal. Maxine Waters and her ilk, on the contrary, loudly call for incivility, intolerance, disruption, and even violence. They, and their pathetic media enablers, are the outliers, screeching piteously on the margins of life.

Learning to Love What’s Right and Abhor What’s Wrong
Many observers are as surprised as they are alarmed that a large percentage of Millennials (more than half, according to 
one study) claim to be favorably disposed towards socialism and even towards Communism. That is more or less like being favorably disposed towards tetanus or smallpox. The people who say they like it, most of them, haven’t been exposed to it. In essence, socialism is just Communism without the latter’s monopoly on power. And Communism is the most soul-blighting political philosophy ever invented by the crooked ingenuity of man.

How is this perverse efflorescence of fondness for socialism to be explained? Is it simply an affectation of affluence? That’s part of the story. These spoiled brats know nothing of want or deprivation. They see no reason why they should not project their sense of entitlement on society as a whole. If society fails to live up to their airy standards, society must be to blame.

Another part of the story involves the failure of schools to teach their charges about the history of Communism and the rudiments of civics. The stupendous intellectual, moral, and political labor that stands behind the creation of the American republic—locating, for the first time, sovereignty in the people—is an eloquent and effective counterweight to the illusory blandishments of socialism. But if that story is neglected, or perverted in the telling, then it is no surprise that young (and some not so young) people embrace high-sounding delusion in place of steady if prosaic reality.

But there is an even more fundamental education that concerns not school curricula but the nurturing of civilizational values.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle notes that good education means having been trained from childhood to like and dislike the proper things. More and more, alas, our country has reneged on that fundamental responsibility. Large swathes of our society, especially elite society, are reticent about as well as ignorant of the vital achievements of our civilization. Resuscitating that lost confidence is at the center of the task that confronts the friends of liberty. We need to learn again to like the right things and abhor the bad.

The silver lining in the insane sobbings of would-be socialists and anti-Trump agitators is that they offer such clarifying examples of what not to like. For that, anyway, we owe them thanks.

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About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.