The Orlando gay club massacre has stirred up a hornet’s nest because it challenges the most cherished assumptions of liberal politics — and not just intellectually, but on a survival level.
The Left is often proven wrong. However, for so long as those defeats were cushioned by wealth and security, they were of an intellectual character that could be dismissed as a glitch.
For example, when Paul Erlich — the celebrity prophet of overpopulation and resource scarcity — lost his bet with business professor Julian L. Simon that the world would start running out of resources by 1990 and lost $10,000, his supporters could still argue that the liberal argument only needed some tweaking to be right. One could point to Venezuela as proof of the failure of socialism, but Venezuela was far away, and surely Bernie would do better than Hugo.
For a long time, being a false prophet had no real cost.
What’s different about the issues involved in Orlando is that the stakes that night were not about the price of metals, but about the foundations of liberal social and foreign policy. The vast quantities of political capital and money wagered on multiculturalism, the benign nature of radical Islam, and the power of the state to provide physical security were irreplaceable.
In one night, they had a vision of those foundations turning to sand, and it has spooked them.
This was no academic wager they could laugh off. By losing this bet, liberals would stand to lose not only money but their actual lives.
ISIS has published a “kill list” of thousands of persons in U.S. cities. This time even liberals are wondering: what if it’s real?
The staying power of the revolt against the global elites, as embodied by the Brexit referendum in Europe and the surprising rise of Donald Trump in America, is based on the single fact that the West has used up the safety and prosperity margin that formerly masked the failures of liberalism. Populations now see themselves under immediate threat.
No longer will the formulaic assurances of Obama easily calm the faithful. Failure has hit the public where they live.
Death and poverty have at last come to the West and this fact is burning holes in the narrative. For the first time in decades, there is real doubt in the air. When Donald Trump closed his New Hampshire stump speech with the cadence “we will make America rich again, we will make America safe again, we will make America great again,” he was hammering at this new situation the way a carpenter might pound in nails.
Many liberals, dismayed to see their once invincible rhetorical ripostes fail, wrongly assume it comes from some fault in their wordcraft. The actual reason is simpler, captured in the final tweet of someone trapped in the Pulse nightclub:
Call them mommy
I’m gonna die
“I’m gonna die” very probably sums up the last thoughts of Ambassador Stevens as he waited for the end in Benghazi, but “now” sums it up even better.
The words are neither original nor very literary. In fact, David Sims of The Atlantic complained the recent movie depicting the Libya attack didn’t “have nearly enough perspective or hindsight to place these events in a context worth examining artistically.”
Yet “now” has a power all its own, one which those accustomed to living in the Narrative may not immediately appreciate. Now is real; real in a way that the Narrative can never be.
Liberalism’s triumphs were always in the future. That was where it lived. It was the scene of all their victories, the Valhalla at the end of the rainbow arc of justice where they could bask in vindication forever. Suddenly all that’s left is “now” — the narrow shelf of time where what matters most is competence.
It must succeed on the actual ground or fail. Trump may have no more competence than Hillary, but at least he knows he will need competence, while Hillary has not yet realized it.
That’s all it is, but the simplest changes are hardest to make.
Follow Wretchard on Twitter
Recently purchased by readers:
Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate, Former Secret Service officer Gary Byrne exposes the truth behind Hillary, Bill, and their public facade. Book to be released on June 28, 2016, pre-order now.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Author Chris Voss, a former FBI international hostage negotiator, takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and reveals the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. This practical guide shares the tactics and strategies you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life.
The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, Author Joshua Becker shows you why minimizing possessions is the best way to maximize life.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Business reporter Charles Duhigg explains the science of habit formation and change and shows that by harnessing this new science, you can transform businesses, communities and lives.
America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal makes a powerful case for American re-engagement abroad.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club