The Left Seeks to Return to Familiar Ground, Confident that 2016 Was an Anomaly
Any directed tour depends on prior knowledge of the scenery so it can be introduced as it comes into view. A guided tour into the unknown is impossible by definition. What has kept pundits from accurately predicting what comes next in these years of turmoil is that they were surprised by developments like everyone else.
The result is that the Narrative is now burdened by a tremendous accumulation of events whose significance no one can quite understand. The liberal response to this jumble of mysteries has been less to explain it than seek a way to return to familiar ground. They want to go back to the old story. Reports that anonymous officials in the White House are waiting to topple the president via the 25th Amendment or arguments that no one appointed to the Supreme Court can be validly confirmed periodically raise hopes that some shortcut to their Trump nightmare may yet be at hand.
But the idealized past continues to fade under each new initiative of this astonishing administration. The cancelation of the Paris Agreement, the end of the Iran nuclear deal, the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, the rejection of the PLO, the renegotiation of trade agreements, tariffs on China, a new strategic alliance with India, the formation of a Space Force, rapprochement with North Korea, the rejection of the International Criminal Court, and a set of sanctions against Russia, Turkey, and Iran are but a few of the demolition charges detonating against the face of the global world order.
Nor is Trump the only termite in the building. Europe appears to be unaccountably in the midst of what the media vaguely describes as a drift to the "extreme right." Even Sweden, long the iconic "moral superpower" of the left, is developing a distinct right-wing list. So far the liberal analysis of this growing challenge has been to treat it like an aberration. Their strategy for getting things "back to normal" has focused less on adapting their political program than on concentrating on breaking the momentum of the populist uprising.
Apparently, the expectation is that if the populist tide can be stopped at America's 2018 election, as Hitler's panzers stalled before Stalingrad, it will of its own accord subside into the sewers of bigotry and flow back into the septic tank of history. The trouble is, this model repeatedly failed to work in Europe as shown by this BBC graphic. Time and again the expected ebb never came. But the 2018 elections are so important that this time, if the mighty liberal establishment proves unable to effect a pivot, it may finally be forced to admit that something has really changed.
Thomas Kuhn, the author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, argued that crises were the normal precursor to change. "Discovery begins with the awareness of anomaly ... [and] anomaly appears only against the background provided by the paradigm." But lest anyone think failure in 2018 will force the left to re-examine its premises, Kuhn noted that a sufficiently powerful orthodoxy could avoid a paradigm shift by either subsuming the anomaly or coexisting with a powerful rival model indefinitely.