To Chasten or Embolden

During the first year of President Trump’s presidency, it seemed there was an unrelenting series of articles about how the elites in “journalism,” academia, and Hollywood had not properly “learned the lesson” of 2016.

The specific details of what that lesson entailed could be debated, but generally, the idea was that the institutional Left had overplayed its hand. After all, as they had made it plain during the campaign, it was “Hillary’s turn”—a fact dramatized by her slow-motion coronation throughout the primaries. Further, Trump and his supporters were beneath contempt. Not only were his positions and his supporters’ concerns unworthy of serious consideration, they deserved incessant mockery by late-night talk show hosts, daytime talking heads, movie stars, the president, and the blue-check Gestapo.

That enormous hubris (and the unwitting ignorance it enabled) were the reasons that Trump’s victory came as such a surprise to the typical Hillary voter. In the aftermath, some of the more circumspect among them thought that the Left would come to its senses and recognize that their electoral reliance on America’s changing demographics did not constitute a carte blanche to advance an uncompromising, radical agenda—one they sold to the public as a bundle of moderate “common sense solutions” that any reasonable person would be eager to implement.

But the Left didn’t come to their senses. The blatant hypocrisy and distortion of facts by the media didn’t wane after the election—it intensified. The derision heaped upon Trump supporters didn’t let up—it increased. The corruption that defined the Obama Administration didn’t cease—no, even more egregious abuses of power were undertaken by the permanent administrative state to cover the earlier activity of the Obama Administration and to undermine the ability of the new president to implement his agenda. 

Activist judges claimed new authorities, at a rate historically unprecedented in this country. The culture industry, rather than backing away from the hedonistic cynicism and profanity, rolled out new product reaching new heights of depravity and continued taking political potshots at the president, even to the point of engaging in assassination porn. Those developing school curricula did not reverse the trend that abandoned civic education in favor of historical fabulation. Instead, many educators have since given up any pretense that they were educating rather than indoctrinating.

In short, although the American people rejected the secular progressive Left’s vision of the nation, when the shock of their loss wore off, our elites were not chastened—they were emboldened. Given that the Left’s electoral defeat only brought forward more hubris when it should have inspired humility, imagine their psychological response to a victory

Ask yourself the following questions as you contemplate a world in which Joe Biden is the president:

There is no doubt as to how those questions would be answered. Even a Trump win will likely increase, to some degree, the leftist assault on the norms of American governance and culture. But at least during a second Trump term, the Left would conduct that assault in the knowledge that much of America rejected their vision for the country and we would have a fighting chance. 

But if Trump were to lose, the most radical elements of the activist Left would take that outcome as an indication that the American people at large had endorsed and approved their dismantling of the nation. 

Look over those questions again. You might be on the fence about how some of them could be answered. The last four years have made it crystal clear: we cannot afford to find out.

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About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

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