The liberal response to the shock election of Donald Trump resembles Elisabeth Kubler-Ross‘ model of dying with the steps out of order. In the 2016 case the steps in their order are: depression, acceptance, bargaining, denial and finally … anger. David Brooks relates his particular journey to defiant anger in a New York Times op-ed. First shock, then disbelief, then white hot anger and hatred took their places in turn.
I was on PBS trying to make sense of what was happening while trying to text various people off the ledge. At one point I was opining about the results while a disbelieving text flashed across my phone: “Change It! Change It! CHAAAANGE IT!”
Those emotional reactions were a fitting first-night response to the greatest political shock of our lifetimes. Still, this is probably not the best mentality for the coming era. …
Trump’s bigotry, dishonesty and promise-breaking will have to be denounced. We can’t go morally numb. But he needs to be replaced with a program that addresses the problems that fueled his ascent.
After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think.
But Brooks may have started his story too late in the timeline. The tale really began in 2008, or to an even earlier when many Democrats refused to concede the 2000 presidential elections to George W. Bush. In each case the effects were similar, but growing in amplitude. “Not my president” replaced by “not your president”. The 8 years of George Bush led to Barack Obama, determined to undo his predecessor and “fundamentally transform America”. The 8 years of Obama have similarly led to Donald Trump who is equally determined to uproot what his predecessor planted.
Neither side appears ready to accept the legacy of the other. We have a series each step of which consists of undoing the previous term. The result is divergent. Each election creates a backlash which drives half the country away from the other half. There is no coming together in consensus but rather a growing drifting apart. What David Brooks offers with his vision of impeaching Trump within a year is more conflict, the same old, same old at a higher tempo. Why wait till 2020 when they can begin changing the president now? Why wait a year when you have now?
Readers of the Belmont Club will remember in this development the sorrowful fulfillment an earlier prediction: that 2016 would mark the beginning rather than the end of conflict, because neither side could completely govern though either side could sufficiently give offense. Two factors will continue this explosive trend. The first is the Internet, especially social media, which has made it possible to recreate the sectarian quarters of the Ottoman Empire, where each side can retreat into its ideological echo chamber. It is now convenient to rabble rouse and doubtless everyone will continue to.
The second is a genuine crisis in the Left. It’s dying, having exhausted the intellectual content of the Communist Manifesto. The 20th century has proved its program futile, unsuccessful and homicidal. The future in which it lived had at last been caught in the form of the EU and the gigantic Federal government, and upon examination that future looked just like the past.
What it had left was habit. On it shambled like a zombie. The residual power of the Left in Western institutions masked its intellectual bankruptcy until when tested that strength proved insufficient to stop Brexit or the election of Trump. Now it faces a bleak future: sans faith, sans conviction, sans power and sans tomorrow. It must reinvent itself, as the conservatives did after 2008 with its Tea Parties that never became parties but served as incubators for ideas that have not yet full hatched. The Left must reinvent itself, perhaps even stop being Left and becoming something wholly new. For the moment they’re lost and confused. As David Brooks clearly demonstrates, they’re in hell and they hate it.
One of the main challenges of the next decade is to manage the conflicts caused by the simultaneous dying of radical Islam, the demise of the Western progressive project and the dissolution of the post-WW2 international order. Trump is not himself the problem, but part of a phenomena so big that we may not even grasp its full extent.
The status quo is shattered and not even George Soros can put it back together again. New ideas will be necessary to successfully find a way forward. It will not be enough, as some have suggested, to warm over the old ones. To Corbynize the Left by choosing Keith Ellison or Bernie Sanders as the new standard bearer of “tomorrow” will do nothing. Tomorrow for them was a long time ago.
For the moment both sides of the political spectrum are cut adrift from old certainties united only in their conditioned resentment for each other, rivals facing off in a wood surrounded by darkness, both more in peril from the unknown than from the known. In such cases only time can resolve the dilemma. The task should be to avoid any more divergence than absolutely necessary in order to survive one more day.
Perhaps time and history will bring a new beginning, a lasting consensus, another age that suits us all. No one can predict how the 21st century will develop. Perhaps humanity will go its several ways, divided into affinity groups, or even among the several planets. The one likely thing is the solution is probably not what we now imagine. All the pundits in the world couldn’t even predict Trump. How can they know the future? All we know is that we are lost, but given time we will find a way. Humanity always has.
Follow Wretchard on Twitter
Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.
Recently purchased by readers:
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich, middle class, and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, brilliantly blended with the latest social-science research.
Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten’s most personal cookbook yet, filled with the recipes Jeffrey, her husband, and their friends request most often as well as charming stories from Ina and Jeffrey’s many years together. There are traditional dishes that she’s updated, new favorites like roasted salmon tacos, new salad recipes like kale with pancetta and pecorino and, for the first time, a chapter devoted to bread and cheese.
The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914, by Bela Zombory-Moldovan. About this book, Henrik Bering of the Wall Street Journal says: “To a certain extent, World War I memoirs written from the ant’s perspective resemble one another, all mud and horror. What makes this one stand out is the author’s painterly eye for detail, his ability to evoke a vanished way of life, and his tone of voice—gentle and civilized but perfectly capable of the occasional sardonic flash.”
Treason’s Harbour, by Patrick O’Brian. Part of the Aubrey & Maturin series, this novel is set partly in Malta, partly in the treacherous, pirate-infested waters of the Red Sea. While Captain Aubrey worries about repairs to his ship, Stephen Maturin assumes the center stage for the dockyards and salons of Malta are alive with Napoleon’s agents, and the admiralty’s intelligence network is compromised. Maturin’s cunning is the sole bulwark against sabotage of Aubrey’s daring mission.
The Ascent Of Man, by Jacob Bronowski. First published in 1973 to accompany the groundbreaking BBC television series, this book is considered one of the first works of ‘popular science’. In his highly accessible style, Dr Bronowski discusses human invention from the flint tool to geometry, agriculture to genetics, and from alchemy to the theory of relativity, showing how they all are expressions of our ability to understand and control nature.
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