The agenda of the Democratic Party, of liberal politicians generally, including socialist-liberals like Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison, and of liberal academics and “intellectuals” is pretty clear from the record of Barack Obama’s two administrations and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which ran on that record. Not nearly so clear is what the demonstrators who have been protesting en masse in the streets against President Trump since his inauguration want. Some of the reporters who covered the demonstrations in Washington on January 20 and interviewed random participants noted that many of them seemed themselves not to know, beyond abortion-on-demand and free contraception for the women. One young man, asked by a reporter why he was protesting that afternoon, replied with the wild-eyed look of a panicked actor who has forgot his next lines, something to the effect of “ uh . . . my life is in danger!” As the weeks passed, the protestors’ message gradually crystallized into one single-word exhortation: “Resist!” But resist what, exactly?
Unsure as anyone, apparently, the New York Times dispatched a reporter to make inquiries, mainly among young or youngish people. When asked to say what “resist” means, one young black woman replied, “creating a society where we divest from things that punish and invest in real community-based measures that keep us safe.” A female anti-First Amendment activist in her mid-30’s said “resist” means to get rid of “a variety of things that all make people uncomfortable and not able to rest well and feel like what they are doing is OK.” A “political and arts consultant” in Charlotte answered, “to stand up for the people who already make America great. The United States is diverse because we are a country of immigrants.” A young former press secretary for Senator Sanders’s campaign defined “resistance” as “stand[ing] up for what we know is right and true, not because it’s popular but because it is necessary.” For a young rabbi, it means “resisting the temptation to assume, to decide who is a person before spending time with him or her. . . . And more than anything, resist the ease of just being angry—dig down past that anger, toward the pain.” And a former organizer for Mrs. Clinton, a male aged 25, said, “We have worked hard to get to where we are, and it’s a little scary that we could move backward in the next two or four years. So to me it’s making sure we are protecting what we have gained and pushing the envelope further and working to engage more people in the process.” Tellingly, this atypically concrete explanation was offered by someone who had been directly involved in promoting the Obama-Clinton program that had just been superseded by that of the man liberals of all sorts never imagined could win the election, but rather assumed after eight years of “Sí, se puede!” that the progressive assault on America had become unstoppable.
None of this reflects anything that could credibly be described as a political movement based on reasoned political thinking as an expression of a political theory, or even as what today is inaccurately called ideology. Anti-Trumpism in particular, like all popular leftism in its present form, is about feeling rather than thinking, self-expression not political understanding. For modern popular leftists, liberals, and progressives, government is more than a public institution, politics more than “the public thing.” Government is not just outside them, asking certain things and giving others. It has become for these people essentially the private thing, with an interior even more than an exterior dimension. But when everything is political, nothing is really political. The French writer Hervé Juvin, in his book Le gouvernement du désir, published last fall, argues that consumer capitalism, having commodified the natural and the human worlds, now functions with “the government of desire” to mutually beneficial ends, each by stimulating the desire for ever new, and always more, material and political goods. Taking Juvin’s thesis a step further, one sees that the government of desire is not only about consumerism, profit, political power, and government itself: The phenomenon has psychological and even metaphysical elements as well. As R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has recently suggested in reference to “the democratic revolution that defines the modern era,” this is a revolution “more of the imagination than of the mechanics of government”—or, one might add, its form. This explains why the left today seems to want a society that is at once collectivist and individualistic. The political left outside the Democratic Party seems through with liberalism, disillusioned by it, unable to feel intellectually or emotionally connected to it, while being unable to imagine any clear alternative. (President Obama was never really left enough for the left, though leftists were willing enough to support his presidency as a way station on the journey they imagined they wished to take.) This accounts in turn for their angry, vengeful, and pseudorevolutionary frustration. The Last Man has arrived in the very modern form of a mass movement, and he is living in a mental vacuum and emotional chaos. For several decades now, young people have not been taught to think except in the most instrumental ways and under the direction of their ideologically exacting liberal teachers, never in a manner that might allow them to rediscover traditional philosophical and political responses, or even the means by which to approach them. Indeed, they have not been taught anything that is real or true at all. So the left cannot satisfactorily imagine a postliberal future, and the right can only imagine a return to the classical liberal past.
Today, a blind and angry superpartisanship virtually guarantees that even the smallest political incident or scandal (like General Flynn’s pre-inaugural conversations with Russian officials) becomes a political crisis. Modern or advanced liberalism, which can fairly be described as demagoguery by and of the educated and upper classes, as in some of its earlier forms it was demagoguery by and of the lower and uneducated ones, is responsible for this. In the immediate instance—the new presidency of Donald Trump—reality has hit unreality, as matter smashes violently into antimatter. Lastly, modern women—and many modern men of the metrosexual sort—simply cannot cope, mentally and emotionally, with a traditionally aggressive male in the White House. It is partly a matter of types and stereotypes. Liberals have them, too.
The question of secession is supposed to have been settled over a century and a half ago by Abraham Lincoln. But now one liberal state is openly threatening to secede from the Union, and others are making more discreet sounds in favor of going the same way. We shall see what, if anything, comes of this. Meanwhile, the reverse possibility has never been raised, or even imagined. Can the federal government expel a state from the federal union? It is perhaps a question for the current administration to consider. Like Titipu’s Lord High Executioner, many people are probably keeping “a little list.” Again, we shall see.
Meanwhile, advanced liberalism continues to function as a battering sea eroding a continental civilization on its eastern and western shores. What would be the fate of non- or anti-liberals today had Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and The Democracy won last year’s election? The anti-Trump movement does bring certain highly unpleasant possibilities to mind.