Politics & Policy

What on Earth Happened on November 8?

Voters cast their ballots in Medina, Ohio, November 8, 2016. (Reuters photo: Aaron Josefczyk)
Progressives did not see coming the tidal wave of popular contempt.

What on earth happened on November 8? In a word, the legend of Progressivism ceased to be believable.

For some 150 years, the loudspeakers of progressivism boasted of the meritocracy of the college-educated, political policy by “experts,” and steady increases of the power of the federal government for the sake of “progress.” At the same, progressives disparaged the American founding, individual achievement, and business corporations. (Progressivism could be true only if the American founding were wrong.) The legend held that progressivism would lead to disinterested government — whereas corporations were the sole incubator of self-interest. Good and evil were easy to define: Good was more government, evil was more corporate power.

Most American college students seem to believe this legend. Their belief is reinforced by their surrounding university communities, the deepest-blue districts on the U.S. political map. Almost all the major media broadcast the legend of Progressivism.

Well, on November 8, this legend morphed into the legend of Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

WikiLeaks and other revelations shattered all the pretenses of “disinterested” meritocracy by revealing personal communications in the political circles surrounding Hillary Clinton and her husband, President Clinton.

On November 8, a greater transformation was wrought than in eight years of the would-be transformationist, Barack Obama. Progressivism lost all credibility. The legend of the disinterested expert went up in smoke.

All those college students who took to their beds, or at least to their “safe spaces,” dimly saw that their Legend had disappeared. They became afraid. They wept.

Myron Magnet in City Journal said it best: “Americans don’t want to be ruled. They prefer self-government. The election was not about liberals versus conservatives. Rather it was a contest between Progressivism and the anti-Progressivism” of those who had been betrayed by the progressive faith.

On November 7, the strutting Emperor of Progressivism had shown smugness and self-assurance. By the night of November 8, the strutting Emperor of Progressivism stood naked. Progressives did not see coming the tidal wave of popular contempt.

Progressives have long announced that they represent the “reality principle.” As Ronald Reagan used to say, the trouble with progressives is not what they don’t know. It’s what they know that isn’t so.

Progressives have long insulted white males as the very bastions of privilege. This year they told that to the coal miners of West Virginia, the factory workers of the rust belt (who walk past shuttered factories while breathing in the environmentalists’ fresh air). They have received the rebuke they deserve.

Privileged? Were unemployed workers privileged? Or their children who had to withdraw from college because of the job losses of their parents? To taunt these men and women as privileged was more than they could bear. The whole country will have to reorient itself about who has been privileged and who has not.

The election of 2016 made it thunderingly clear that progressivism is little more than a bottomless thirst for power. It masks an insatiable lust to rule the tiniest details of life, even bathroom etiquette. Its rule is more fine-meshed and intrusive than that of George III. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt ridiculed the new purple royalty of industry, he underestimated the royal appetites of government. Today’s confused Left is no more disoriented than the British after Yorktown.

On November 7, the strutting Emperor of Progressivism had shown smugness and self-assurance. By the night of November 8, the strutting Emperor of Progressivism stood naked.

Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” said it all. “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.”

Such lists of insults are not uttered solely by Hillary. They are endemic to Democrats, who seem mentally to divide the world into the progressive and the backward, the good and the bad. Who can forget Barack Obama’s remark about “clingers”? “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. . . . They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.”

The riots in at least 19 cities after the election demonstrated exactly what traditional Americans can’t stand about progressivism. Progressives don’t really believe in the will of the people. Progressives believe in their own right to rule. When soundly defeated, young progressives act out. Or else they grow faint. They take to bed. They cancel classes. They weep.

How can one respect people like that? How can one accept them as one’s rulers? They who have all the privileges of a college education look down upon those who did not go to college. Their inferiors.

The gap between the college-educated and their inferiors has been growing for at least 50 years. Charles Murray has recently nailed down every facet of that growing gap in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. That’s what this election was about.

Near the top of the book of Genesis, the Lord God Creator instructs Jews and Christians: “Man and woman He created them.” You’d think that is pretty basic. You’d think that if you got that wrong, everything else would be wrong. So it has been held down through history, but progressives know better: Now corridors in our public buildings have bathrooms marked for three kinds of people: “Men,” “Women,” and “Progressives.”

The founding generation of Americans (and many generations after that) were a Biblical people. As John Adams pointed out, the American Constitution was written for a Biblical people and would not work for any other. The founding generation held that the lucky discovery of the treachery of Benedict Arnold of September 21, 1780, came at the hands of a Providence favorable to the American cause.

In that spirit it cannot be wrong to regard the surprising election of Donald Trump, like the surprising election of Barack Obama before him, as a work of Divine Providence. And as we know, from the selection of the adulterous King David, and the Christ-denying Saint Peter, God’s Providence often acts through sinners.

As the greatest American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, often pointed out, the besetting sin of large American majorities is moralism. Americans love to talk too much about high morals and too little about the grubby interests and powers that make up the stuff of political decision-making. It is moralism to regard as the single criterion of sound political action the moral behavior of the agent. To concentrate on moral behavior so centrally as to lose sight of the powers and interests at play gravely weakens sound political judgment.

It was one of the great satisfactions of the election of 2016 to see so many American religious people — 81 percent of Evangelical Protestants and an unusually high 52 percent of Catholics (and an even higher 60 percent of white Catholics, or Reagan Democrats, as we used to call them) — avoid the error of moralism. They seem to have kept their eyes on the real interests, powers, and swollen ambitions of the ruling elites of the land.

The historical reputation of the Rebellion of 2016 will depend on how successfully it reintroduces classic humanism and Biblical realism into the working equipment of our media elites. In any case, it will be wonderful if our nation gains a proper respect for the dignity of those without college educations, those who work so hard, those who have been displaced during the recent global expansion.

The Rebellion will succeed if it produces more civic amity among the several races, cultures, and social bodies that make up this great nation. The whole country must be lifted up by new business start-ups, some millions of new jobs, rising incomes, and a quick start toward 4 percent growth per year. Because the current elites who have brought so much division, disappointment, and discouragement into our national life hate him so much, and their hatred is so deep that they expect very little of him, President-elect Trump is in a position to prove them wrong by a very wide margin.

God bless the new president of the United States.

Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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