What is the purpose of the American left today? They’ve won most of their social battles – we have gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, sexual liberation, women outnumbering men at universities. Their economic ideas, from Obamacare to cash for clunkers to democratic socialism, have largely flopped.
So what then? If nothing else, it would seem the modern left should exist to stop something the likes of which happened last night, the descent of the right towards deleterious nationalism behind a Franco-like figure. Genuine liberals and progressives were needed here, to counter America’s regression into a dark past usually witnessed across the Atlantic. Instead, they couldn’t even win Wisconsin. They hitched themselves to the galactic entitlement of the Clintons, whose clientelistic corruption is neither liberal nor progressive, for no reason other than that Hillary is supposed to get what Hillary wants. They discarded their values, forgot their own history, and fell in line behind a power couple that’s let them down time and again. They assured themselves that this time it would be different, and it was: the post-Clinton Republican sweep came eight years earlier.
Post-Bernie Sanders, the left in this election ceased to be a political movement in the strictest sense of the term. They campaigned, but they didn’t bring out new ideas to be sold beyond their base. Instead, their foundation was pompous assumption, that their axioms are natural law, that their recycled ideas are manifestly just, that Trump was only enduring thanks to a freak flare-up of racism in the hinterlands—what’s the matter with Kansas, anyway? They seem forever on a lazy cultural victory lap. They claim to seek dialogue, but they can’t even talk to their own union voters, many of whom rejected them last night in favor of a buffoon. They ran working-class whites out of their coalition in favor of metropolitan secularism and never fathomed the consequences. Their patron saint isn’t Mill or Marx, but Samantha Bee, howling weekly at the slobs in her midst.
The problem arises when the slobs decide to fight back, which is what non-college-educated whites did last night, beating the left at its own identity politics game. Say what you will about Trump: he wanted a coarser and more protectionist America, and he made his case in digestible terms. From the Keynes-in-the-faculty-lounge assumptions of the stimulus to passing Obamacare so we could find out what was in it, progressives don’t persuade anymore; they hector. So now they’re spinning furiously. The Huffington Post is panting that Trump’s victory in Wisconsin is the fault of…Scott Walker’s 2011 anti-union law. Liberals on Twitter are hacking away at James Comey, that convenient villain. Anything to fit Trump’s triumph into their comfortable narrative, anything to dodge the mirror.
Seriously, what is the point of a Norm Ornstein, posturing as a robed graybeard of gentle Washington, when his shallow anti-Republican analysis got everything wrong? Why do these people continue to draw fat paychecks for counsel that’s so self-absorbed and myopic? There were plenty of augurs that a Trump victory was possible, from the Brexit precedent to the mass dissatisfaction with Washington to the yard signs in flyover country, yet the prevailing wisdom until about 9 p.m. last night was that the death knell was finally sounding for those extremist Republicans. How hard is it to skip brunch one Saturday, put down the statistics, drive out to Fauquier County, and see what’s happening for yourself? We all thought Hillary was going to win, but some of us thought it more than others, and none so much as the incurious liberal.
Having crowed for years that Republicans need to modernize or die, Democrats today find themselves locked out of political power, facing a sea of red that’s run through state legislatures, governors’ mansions, the House, the Senate, and now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I suppose there’s still a couple town selectmen in New England who identify as Democrats, but the rest of the country has made their preference clear. The left now faces a crisis, one from which they’ll only escape if they stop sneering and start listening.