After a week of victories by Trump and his Republican supporters, the Left has escalated sharply the rhetoric and practice of “resistance.” What once could be dismissed as a mere fringe phenomenon of a “few extremists” now appears to have the blessing and encouragement of the Democratic Party’s top leadership. Whether it manifests as confirmation hearing disruptions, impromptu checkpoints by Antifa in Portland, or an election day bombing plot, it’s clear that violence and incivility are supported by the highest ranks of the political Left.
Despite pleas from weary moderates for more civility, Hillary Clinton—not exactly a fringe figure—had this to say on CNN: “I would love to see us return to civility . . . [But] you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about. That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder took things further. “Michelle Obama, I love her,” he said at a rally earlier this week. “[She] always says, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No, when they go low, we kick them.” Charming.
This might be dismissed as mere campaign rhetoric and hyperbole, as such rhetoric is frequently saturated with military analogies about “tactics,” “fighting,” “battlegrounds,” and the like. After all, the word “campaign” itself is a military term. But we should consider the times we live in.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot at a congressional baseball practice by a leftist Bernie Sanders supporter who was supposedly shouting about healthcare as he fired.
Serious talk of impeachment occurred even before President Trump took the oath of office, and courts have engaged in unprecedented “nationwide injunctions” when they did not like the president’s decisions, even when he was merely reversing old executive orders. This is crazy.
Civility Requires Consensus
Civility, like good manners in general, is a valuable thing. It’s part of the broader tableau of American ideals like the peaceful transition of power, respect for freedom of conscience, and the old notion of a “loyal opposition.”
These ideals, of course, have frayed before. The Civil War, as well as the decade that preceded it, stands out as a time of political disunity that eventually devolved into total war. The labor conflicts of the turn of the 20th century and the political friction surrounding the Vietnam War were also times of political violence, though both were largely condemned in a bipartisan way.
Since the 1960s, however, the Democratic Party has undergone a kind of hostile takeover. New Left activists grew older and wealthier, gaining control of the party. They retained much of their youthful anger and cynicism towards authority, tradition, and America’s “so called ideals.”
The new Democratic Party rejected the old, limited goals of looking out for the “working man.” It is more ideological and shares little in common with quintessentially American figures of the old Democratic Party such as Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Politics as Religion
The root of the Left’s dalliance with political violence stems from the fact that politics occupies a different place in their mental and spiritual landscape. For the Left, it holds the same place that religion does for most people.
What is religion? For most, it’s a grand unifying scheme that ties the present to the past and the future, including the afterlife. It defines a person and his earthly life in light of the transcendent; it provides moral rules and ideals; it imposes deeper meaning on what would otherwise be mundane; it provides structure and spiritual sustenance during difficult times.
For the most part, Americans on the rightward end of the political spectrum believe in a limited politics. For us, the goal of political life is to create space and security for commerce, family life, private pursuits, and actual religion. As a result, conservative politics tends to be prosaic, limited in scope, and rooted in a deep recognition of fallible man living in a fallen world. It’s humble.
For the Left, by contrast, politics is the main event. It’s a high-minded affair that aims, ultimately, to eliminate injustice and save the world. It proposes to do this by transforming humanity into a superior creature through superior political conditions and indoctrination into correct beliefs. This is supposed to make us less tribal, less selfish, and more equal. The Left’s obsession with healthcare suggests we may transcend death itself, given enough technology and resources.
While Trump ran on the grandiloquent promise to Make America Great Again, it was ultimately a nostalgic appeal in which listeners could fill in the blanks, presumably harking back to better, less conflict-ridden times.
Far from thinking America was already great, the Left thinks America and any nation is always becoming. The Left promises to midwife this becoming and make America holy by undoing its not-so-great past of racism, sexism, and every kind of “otherism” one can imagine. As Obama loved to say, “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”
The idiom of leftist politics is analogous to that of the not-quite-conservative, puritan faction on the American Right. Both aim to purify a fallen and sinful world, and thus employ politics to encroach upon those areas of life that otherwise have their own varying and unplanned trajectories: private opinion, business, art, music, food, courtship, family life, and religion itself.
The Left’s religiosity is apparent all the time in ways great and small.
First, there are the small pieties and penances, such as recycling or using the preferred terminology for the ever-multiplying genders.
Then there are apocalyptic evils to be warded off, not least global warming and, before that, nuclear war.
It vigilantly guards against evil demons ready to spring back to life if insufficient commitment is shown, especially the Nazis, the risk of which has grown in the Left’s eyes, even as authentic racism has become more and more confined to a tiny fringe.
Above all, we see the Left’s religiosity in its approach to nonbelievers and critics: They are castigated, cast out, and condemned as heretics.
Various individuals have been shuffled off the stage for an impolitic remark, whether Jimmy the Greek, Don Imus, John Derbyshire, or, lately, Kanye West. The wrong word, the wrong thought, or the wrong vote are enough to summon complete and total condemnation. Private jokes among computer programmers and anonymous donations to popular political causes are sufficient causes for public humiliation and penury, even when these acts have nothing to do with one’s day job. The language of condemnation is swift, harsh, emotional, and total.
Of course, this extreme approach to politics is not exclusive to the Left. We know some on the right give politics an equally big place and refuse to associate with those who disagree. They write off friends and family on Facebook, and sometimes they do worse. But this too seems a consequence of the same fountain of “religious” politics on the Left: In the absence of a spiritual life guided by traditional religion, politics takes over the place and seriousness that religion alone should hold.
The Conditions for Civil Politics Are Absent
Civility is fundamentally a consequence of shared values about the limits of political life. It flourishes among a people who embrace procedures agreed to in advance in order to resolve their differences. Complaining about the less-than-fully democratic Senate, the end of the filibuster, the power of the Supreme Court, or the mechanics of the Electoral College when you do not like the results suggests that such a commitment is completely missing from one side in the conversation.
Yesterday’s civility took root in the fertile ground of a nation with a common history, whose Christian values were nearly universal and found on both sides of any particular political debate. These values provided limits to our enmity, and they also provided common reference points with which certain persistent injustices could be addressed, whether it was the plight of the working class or of black Americans under Jim Crow. In a real sense, we worshiped the same God.
That can’t be said in today’s America, where religion of all kinds is in decline, where new religions have been introduced artificially through immigration policy, and where the Left views Christianity’s program of internal transformation as a potential obstacle to worldly political enthusiasm. Who can forget Obama’s callous and tone-deaf remark about conservative voters who “get bitter and cling to guns or religion”?
Today, we no more worship the same God than did the opposing sides during the Crusades, the Siege of Constantinople, or on the Sands of Iwo Jima. We are in the midst of something of a war for the soul of the country in which the Left aims to transform America into their idiosyncratic vision of heaven on earth. Civility would indeed be nice, but the only sturdy foundation of civility and political peace can be found in a country unified along the important dimensions of language, culture, and blood.
None of those conditions are present at the moment; the Left, rather, is a religious movement, and all those who are not of the Left, are, in their eyes, the heretics. This is the stuff of civil war, unfortunately.
It’s time to pray.
Photo Credit: L’Illustration/Getty Images