The Stages of Liberal Grief: How Might the Left React to Midterm Failure?

By | 2018-11-01T19:56:02+00:00 November 2nd, 2018|
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While analysts and experts spill much ink trying to forecast the results of the November midterm elections, suffice to say that liberals have long since assured themselves of the inevitability of a coming “blue wave.” The left-leaning press has been only too happy to reassure them that America is indeed on their side. The election of Donald Trump was an anomaly, say the pundits, and the voters will soon make a course correction that will restore the Left to power.

First of a four-part series.

Inconveniently, the polls, slanted though they may be in the Democrats’ favor, do not cooperate with this narrative. Granted, Democrats might obtain a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, but even this minuscule “victory” is uncertain.

Meanwhile, it seems highly likely that Republicans will continue to be the majority party at all other levels of government: in state legislatures, in governorships, in the courts (thanks to Mitch McConnell and President Trump), in the presidency and cabinet, and, perhaps most importantly, in the U.S. Senate. The energy and enthusiasm that Republicans are now showing—at Trump rallies, in polls, and in early voting tallies—suggests that the “blue wave” could even come to naught.

It has not escaped the notice of many conservatives that quite a number of liberals became unhinged in the wake of President Trump’s surprise election victory two years ago. They recoiled in disbelief, and subsequently in disgust, and the intensity of their reaction was as stunning as it was long-lasting. Few leftists, in fact, seem to have recovered their bearings even at this late date.

What we want to know is this: what effect would a midterm defeat have on the already-tenuous liberal grip on reality? How dangerous and unstable—or how cowed by ignominy—could liberals become, and what specific forms would their derangement take?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous theory of the “Five Stages of Grief,” in which she characterized the reaction of terminally ill patients to their unwelcome diagnosis holds that the five phases of self-adjustment include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

For a great many liberals, Trump’s election was a trauma not unlike the imminence of death itself. One might expect, two years on, they would be nearing completion of the grieving process. By now, most liberals should have accepted the reality of Trump’s presidency and decided to make the best of it. But, as we all know, such is far from the case.

Some leftists still seem stuck at the denial phase, which may be summed up with the mantra, “Not my president!” They reject the very legitimacy of the 2016 election, claiming that Russians hacked the voting machines, or “voter suppression” efforts kept minorities from accessing the polls, or corporate money bought a sordid victory for candidate Trump (never mind that a lot more corporate money, and money in general, flowed to Hillary Clinton). The pathetic and deceptive nature of these excuses for Democratic failure has long since been made clear to rational observers, but more than a few liberal die-hards refuse to concede that Trump even is the president, and they really do expect him to be driven from office any minute now. Rosie O’Donnell, when she implored the military to “get” Trump and remove him from the White House, gave voice to these surprisingly widespread sentiments. Of course, nothing of the kind will actually happen. One can only pity the poor souls who think otherwise. Their defense mechanisms are operating in overdrive.

It seems that a far greater number of leftists are fixated on the anger stage. One can find ample evidence of this juvenile pique in the recent Brett Kavanaugh confirmation debacle and in the sanctimonious tirades it provoked, but one could equally well see this anger borne out simply by going to a restaurant with a prominent Republican and attempting to enjoy a quiet meal. The frothing rage and the extreme recriminations with which one would be greeted would dispel all doubt.

To some extent pollsters been able to capture this liberal malice. For instance, a Marist poll in August indicated that 80 percent of Democrats gave President Trump’s job performance the lowest possible rating: “poor.” By comparison, President Nixon, when he was on the verge of resignation in 1974, got a “poor” rating from only 70 percent of McGovern voters—that is, hardcore Democrats. This is suggestive of record-setting animus, but truthfully pollsters have yet to examine methodically the full magnitude and intensity of this leftist anger.

Bargaining appears not to be in the liberal lexicon. Bargaining would require the Left to meet Republicans halfway—to acknowledge the legitimacy of some conservative values and beliefs—and apparently, this is a bridge way too far for most “progressives.”

True, some Democrats have contemplated the possibility that their party might have to tack closer to the center in order to restore its electability, but this is a strategy contemplated mainly by establishment politicians and policy wonks. By contrast, the liberal grass roots consistently reject it. The true-believers seem much more inclined to turn up the volume of “progressivism” to drown out any dissent. Bargaining, therefore, seems to have been bypassed utterly by those experiencing a severe case of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome).

Have some liberals descended into a state of depression because of Trump’s win in 2016, and due to his many wins since then? Yes, but in general the Left seems to have been energized by the challenge that Trumpism represents rather than deflated. Despondency, which we might expect would lead to an inclination to give up on the Democratic Party, does not seem to have many liberals in its grip. If it did, we would expect that liberals’ interest in the midterms would be flagging, or the Left would be plagued with a litany of distracting Green Party and independent-cum-wingnut candidacies that would draw liberal votes away from Democrats. None of this seems to be the case.

And acceptance? Given the gnawing and desperate hunger on the Left for negative stories, no matter how contrived, about Trump and his associates; given their constant need for reassurance that the wheels of justice will soon—any day now!—flatten every member of the Trump family under their crushing weight; given their donation of countless millions to Trump-hating progressive candidates across the country (the more “socialist” the better!); given their increasing penchant for self-isolation from all conservative or Republican voices and influences; and, lastly, given their searing contempt for anyone and everyone who supports Trump, and their belief that ostracizing, heckling, or punching in the nose whomever fits this description is justifiable, even laudable—for all these reasons we are left in no doubt that liberals have eschewed acceptance altogether.

And now we come to the $64,000 question: how will these same liberals react if the deliverance that they have been promised, in the form of a “blue wave,” fails to materialize? How greatly will their tenuous grip on sanity suffer as a result of this reversal? Which of the stages of grief on which they have foundered so far—denial, anger, or depression—will dominate the leftist mindset in the weeks and months after November 6?

Photo Credit: Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images

About the Author:

Nicholas L. Waddy
Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.