The Corner

A Window of Opportunity for Reform Democrats?

Fresh winds are a-blowin’. Artemis Seaford, a graduate student at Stanford University who self-identifies as a liberal academic, has written perhaps the most important liberal post-mortem I’ve yet read, “Liberal Academia in Donald Trump’s World.” She focuses upon the situation in academia, and unleashes a bracing wind indeed:

Nowhere has this benevolent but ultimately self-defeating [liberal] myopia been more pronounced than on college campuses. We have dismissed our conservative peers in the classroom and taunted them on social media all while refusing to seriously engage their views. We have taken hard questions like affirmative action and abortion entirely off the table, as if we had already provided an answer that should be immediately convincing to all. We have refused to consider a diversity of viewpoints on what constitutes “diversity.” We have resolutely resisted paying more than lip service to socioeconomic inequality, rural alienation, and shifting patterns of exclusion while still purporting to speak on behalf of all marginalized people. We have proclaimed that the only reasonable way to respond to racial and gender inequality is to entrench pre-existing identities rather than overcoming them through what unites us all.

Read the whole thing. The pre-election wisdom would have been that any newer academic who penned a piece like that had doomed both her opportunity for ordinary career advancement — and her claim to be a liberal thinker. To Seaford’s credit, the latter appears to be more important to her.

And to the Trumpers’ credit, Donald Trump’s election may have opened a brief window of opportunity for reform-minded liberals willing to be as bold as Seaford. The sheer shock delivered by the manner of his victory, could have salutary effects, such as liberal elders being willing to give the likes of her a seat at the table. So perhaps, contrary to my expectations, hopes for Democratic self-reform, both within the party itself, and in its allied institutions like academia, are not receding, but in fact advancing. In that piece, I argued that “the ongoing spectacle of Trump’s bad behavior” — if he won the presidency — “would allow [Democrats] to avert their eyes from the mounting evidence of their own deepest failings.”

How I hope I was wrong about that! And here, perhaps, is a sign that I was. I do regard it as obvious, however, that within a year or so of his presidency, Trump’s inevitable errors and disgraces will have mounted up in way that will make the liberals’ tendency to gaze upon the ugliness of the Donald, the better to avoid looking into the mirror of self-analysis, all but impossible for reform-minded liberals to combat. Whatever victories for reform types are possible, probably have to be won now, before the window slams shut.

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