Politics & Policy

Progressive Elites Need to Stop Normalizing Illiberal Behavior

President Obama campaigns with Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, N.C., in July. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
For decades, the Left has been encouraging the authoritarian tendencies it now finds dangerous.

The word of the week is “normalize.” Pundits and activists are terrified that America is on the verge of “normalizing” Donald Trump. They fear that his personal insults, his disregard for the truth, his angry impulsiveness, and his extraordinary ignorance will simply become part of the fabric of American political life. They see him as an unprecedented threat to the American order.

Dartmouth political-science professor Brendan Nyhan tweeted that it was “Important for everyone to see how many scholars/journalists who study illiberal/authoritarian regimes are deeply alarmed about the U.S. right now.” He went on to draw “parallels” to the breakdown of democracy in Russia and said: “Our institutions/elites keep accommodating illiberal behavior. It must stop.”

Yet what have elites spent decades doing if not accommodating the “illiberal behavior” of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? To hear people like Nyhan tell it, Trump is the one, true outlier. He represents something truly terrifying not just because he is a strongman, but because the American people seem to have rejected their own system to empower him.

Yet the reality is starkly different. Trump was not the only illiberal candidate on the ballot, and Trump was running to replace an illiberal administration. For the first time in living memory, Americans didn’t have a “normal” choice.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in fact so abnormal and illiberal (in different ways) that tens of millions of Americans held their noses and voted for the least popular candidate in American political history just to stop them, reverse their policies, and weaken their ideological allies. For the first time since the advent of modern polling, a majority of Americans were dissatisfied with their candidate options. Only a quarter of Clinton voters were happy with the presidential choices on the ballot. As the Washington Post notes, that’s the lowest total in more than 30 years.

And there’s ample reason for this discontent. It was fundamentally illiberal for the Clintons to behave as if the rule of law did not and should not apply to their own conduct. The e-mail scandal was bad enough — it would have landed any common soldier in jail — and it was just one of many controversies that have dogged the Clintons for 30 years, during which time the Democratic party overlooked, rationalized, and justified their misconduct because they kept winning elections. 

Liberal cultural physician, heal thyself. You were sufficiently intolerant that Americans voted for Donald Trump, just to send you a message.

Obama thankfully doesn’t share the Clintons’​ long record of personal corruption, but his administration has behaved in countless illiberal ways. The Left has long forgotten about and discounted the IRS’s targeting of tea-party groups, but conservatives remember all too well that assault on the First Amendment rights of patriotic Americans. The IRS unlawfully audited conservatives, leaked personal information to the press, sought information about donor lists and the political activities of family members, and even attempted to “piece together” criminal prosecutions in the absence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

And that’s just one agency. Applying the principal that the ends justify the means, the Obama administration abandoned normal lawmaking and rulemaking on a breathtaking scale. Obama’s team granted executive amnesty through memoranda. They used letters to rewrite federal statutes and implement radical “reforms” from elementary school through graduate school, sweeping aside due process, restricting free speech, and advancing the most revolutionary new concepts of gender and human sexuality. They ignored the Constitution and dared the courts to stop them.

The list can go on. And it doesn’t even cover the authoritarian wave that swept America’s bluest regions at the state and local levels during the Obama years. A Democratic prosecutor in Wisconsin launched a criminal witch-hunt that resulted in innocent Americans facing terrifying pre-dawn raids simply because they were conservative activists. Campuses melted down over “micro-aggressions,” and buildings burned over lies such as “hands up, don’t shoot.” Thugs have ambushed cops in the streets, egged on by rioting protestors, and the Democratic party is so in thrall to these radicals that its politicians can’t say “all lives matter” without immediately apologizing.

#related#So, yes, I agree with Nyhan. Our elites are too accommodating of illiberal behavior. And it should stop. In fact, the American people are demanding that it stop. If you take the focus off Trump, the illiberal Democratic party is in its weakest position arguably since Reconstruction, and for all those who decry Trump, more conventional Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Rob Portman outperformed him in key swing states. That’s not so much a lurch toward authoritarianism as a rejection of intolerant progressivism. So, liberal cultural physician, heal thyself. You were sufficiently intolerant that Americans voted for Donald Trump, just to send you a message. If you have ears to hear, then you have a chance to change.

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