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.
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