After the Democratic equality-of-opportunity agenda was largely realized (Social Security, Medicare, overtime, a 40-hour work week, disability insurance, civil rights, etc.), the next-generation equality-of-result effort has largely failed.
What is left of Democratic ideology is identity politics and assorted dead-end green movements as conservation has become radical environmentalism and fairness under the law is now unapologetic redistributionism. The 2016 campaign and the frenzied reaction to the result are reminders that the Left is no longer serious about formulating and advancing a practical agenda. In sum, for now it is reduced to a party of teeth-gnashers.
Without an ideology that even remotely matched the life she led, Hillary Clinton could only run a campaign without consistent positions. She flipped on the Keystone pipeline and trade agreements. She refuted the entire 1990s Clinton economic and social agenda. Indeed, her positions of 2008 — anti–gay marriage, border enforcement, and rural populism — were the very positions that she smeared others for embracing in 2016. In 2008, Clinton damned Obama for his “clingers” speech; in 2016, she trumped him with her deplorables and irredeemables.
She both derided Wall Street and was enriched by it. Her 2008 brief flirtation with the white working classes as a modern Annie Oakley came full circle in 2016, with exultant promises to put coal miners out of work. In the end, Hillary had no ideology other than getting even richer by leveraging the office of secretary of state and pandering to identity politics in hopes that record numbers of women and minorities would vote for a 68-year-old white multimillionaire, much as they had voted for Barack Obama. The more she talked of the LGBT or Latino communities, apparently the more we were to think that the Clintons had subverted their offices and reputations to grift a $150 million personal fortune for the underprivileged.
Left-wing Hypocrisy Continues Apace, Post-Election
Liberal hypocrisy continued well after the election. Those who had become lapdog journalists before the election promised to be even more bravely biased afterwards. So Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank preened: “Rather than cozying up to this new establishment, the media need to savor our traditional role as outsiders.”
“Outsiders?” “Cozying up”?
What “traditional role” was Milbank himself ever trying to “savor” other than his own prior, predictable duty as an unethical insider? WikiLeaks had earlier revealed the Milbank apparently wrote the Clinton campaign begging for quick opposition research to help him write his column attacking Donald Trump.
When audiences heard liberal talking heads on television, in either brawling mode or rarified intellectual tones, they could assume that the Trump accuser (aside from being privileged) in many cases was either a plagiarist, fabulist, or ethnically compromised by previously weighing in with the Clinton campaign. Often the likes of Brian Williams, Fareed Zakaria, Doris Kearns Goodwin, or John Harwood proved such abject cynicism warranted when they damned Trump for failing ethical standards they themselves had earlier failed.
It was hard to know who was more cynical: the moralist DNC heads Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile, who conspired to rob Bernie Sanders of the nomination, or Bernie Sanders himself, who (after WikiLeaks confirmed his suspicions that Hillary Clinton was a shill for Wall Street, that the Democratic establishment had tried to rig the primaries, and that even the debate questions were compromised) ended up singing Hillary’s praises as he retreated to his new lakeside estate.
The cast of the Broadway hit Hamilton gave Vice President–elect Michael Pence a summary lecture on his need to respect diversity, along with sermons for President-elect Trump to meet the cast’s standard of probity. Was that a serious progressive moment, or just another empty teeth-gnashing psychodrama?
The cast may have broken recent custom by directly addressing individuals in the audience, but most of the sermonizing actors had not taken the time or energy to register, much less to show up, to vote. Again, more empty words in lieu of an idea or agenda. Pence’s progressive inquisitor, Brandon Victor Dixon, himself had previously, in quite illiberal fashion, tweeted sexual inanities that reduced women to “ho’s,” and he also had called for African-American men to take advantage of white women apt to be intoxicated on St. Patrick’s Day: “St. Patty’s day weekend is like Christmas for black dudes who like white chicks. Happy holidays boys.” Why the salutation “boys”?
Liberalism Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
Again, such cynicism reminds us that progressivism has morphed into little more than a rhetorical insurance policy, in which identity politics and abstract race/class/gender pieties offer lasting indemnity for candid, politically incorrect expression that’s often private: Harry Reid playing the loud liberal is the insurance policy he took out to underwrite Harry Reid as the private bigot. The Hamilton production, of course, was not at all diverse but had put out a cast call to fill certain roles with non-white actors only — oblivious to the illiberal felonies of ignoring “proportional diversity,” “disparate impact,” and “cultural appropriation” that demand an actor of one race not play a character of another.
Who will culturally audit the cultural auditors?
Who will culturally audit the cultural auditors? Were Dixon a conservative actor, he would be facing a Cosby moment for urging black men to sexually coerce inebriated women. Or is it worse than that still? Do the bigoted naturally gravitate to political correctness as either practical or psychological recompense for their own chauvinism — like a Colin Kaepernick’s being fined for the N-word only to become the de facto NFL auditor of supposed national bigotry, or a Barack Obama whose “typical white person” was later balanced by his politically correct charge that the police “stereotype”?
Attorney-general nominee Jeff Sessions took lots of hits for an incident of his supposed illiberal past, based on an alleged racialist remark three decades ago. But again, does anyone really believe that the Left is serious about the gravity of supposedly intemperate remarks?
After all, Sessions had never suggested, as Vice President Joe Biden did, that Barack Obama was “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Nor did he say, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did, that Obama was a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
Nor did he say of abortion, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did: “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
And unlike Eric Holder, Sessions had neither referred to a racial group as “my people” nor written off Americans as “a nation of cowards” for their failure to speak in ways he preferred on race.
What does the liberal media make of these disconnects?
The liberal media were never much interested in proper speech other than as a political mechanism for damning political opponents while exempting themselves.
Nothing much at all, given they were never much interested in proper speech other than as a political mechanism for damning political opponents while exempting themselves and paving avenues to political power. Progressivism, in other words, is now mostly rhetorical, and shriller for the fact that it is usually rooted in hypocrisy.
Bernie Sanders called for the new DNC chairperson not to be a “white person.” His former spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, added, “We don’t need white people leading the Democratic party right now.” (Surely if there is no further need for a “white person” DNC head, then there was never a need for a 73-year-old “white-person” socialist presidential candidate?)
That race exclusionism would mean that all the screeds by Howard Dean (who hopes to head the DNC) against the purportedly racist Donald Trump still could not win him exemption from the logical ramifications of his own identity-politics ideology. Representative Keith Ellison, as an African American and Muslim, is supposedly a leading candidate to replace Donna Brazile, the purveyor of debate questions to the Clinton campaign, who in turn replaced Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the saboteur of the Sanders campaign.
Even as progressives and indeed Ellison himself accused Jeff Sessions of racism, we were supposed to ignore the rules of progressive unredeemable original sin, namely the fact that properly non-white-person Ellison once had a formal association with the racist and openly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam. Ellison once wrote unhinged plans calling for mass racial segregation and voiced crackpot conspiracies, including his infamous lunatic comparison of 9/11 to the Reichstag fire — on the implication (shared by pundit and former Obama-administration green czar Van Jones) that the killing of almost 3,000 by terrorists was a planned mass murder carried out by the Bush administration for political aggrandizement. Ellison is out of some French novel, an obsessed character who seeks to become society’s arbiter of probity to mask his own murky past sins.
Progressive outrage should not be taken too seriously because it is not intended to be serious. When Barack Obama invites rapper Kendrick Lamar into the White House and announces that his “To Pimp a Butterfly” is the president’s favorite song of the year — whose album cover shows the corpse of a murdered white judge, with Xs in place of eyes, on the White House lawn, as African-American youth toast his demise with drinks and cash — do we really assume that progressives like Obama believe in stopping hate speech and imagery, or perhaps even believe in anything at all?
Donald Trump, to progressives, supposedly harmed the Constitution and threatened our democracy because he would not say, after the WikiLeaks revelations, that he would accept the outcome of the election if he thought it was rigged. Yet after Clinton’s defeat, suddenly irate progressives have lodged conspiratorial charges that voting machines (miraculously only in swing states Hillary lost) were supposedly rigged, that the Electoral College should be dropped, and that electors should be bullied to ignore their pledges. Did anyone ever believe their original outrage at Trump’s suggestion that election results might be rigged? Are we now to have recounts in Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, and all the close states Trump lost, and then on into spring more recounts of recounts, until the last count achieves the desired result?
The Democratic party leadership is no longer an alternative to corporate wealthy America, but is corporate wealthy America, albeit in a new garb of jeans and flip-flops, Silicon Valley–style. The small-business person, assembly-line worker, and non-government wage earner mostly now vote Republican. Progressivism is a pyramidal capstone of wealthy elites who have the influence and money to embrace boutique positions and the cunning to profess egalitarianism, all while they lead private lives that would otherwise be condemned as illiberal and apartheid-like. So affirmative action ends up providing high-cheekboned Elizabeth Warren entry into Harvard Law School, the same way that progressive investigative journalism is reduced to Politico’s “hack” Glenn Thrush (who asked the Clinton campaign to fact-check and approve his article), and in the manner that philanthropy is reduced to the Clintons’ piling up of millions by selling influence. We are a long way from Harry Truman’s working classes.
What exactly is the Democratic criticism so far of Trumpism? That he is jawboning companies not to lay off thousands of workers and leave the country? That he is barring revolving-door lobbying for five years? That he raised and spent too little on his amateurish campaign, had too few bundlers, and did not hire enough professional handlers? That he met with the press too much and mouthed off on the record? That too many working-class people voted for him and not enough of their supposed Silicon Valley, Wall Street, beltway, and Hollywood betters did? That conservative pundits had their columns fact-checked and researched by the Trump campaign? That the Republican party sabotaged his primary competitors to give him the nomination? Or that he wants impoverished miners to work again and export coal?
The Democratic party for now is reduced to a loud racist/sexist/homophobe broken record that fewer and fewer are listening to — including many of the Democratic elites who continue to play it.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.