Images of those traumatized by the election of Donald Trump are indelible. I mean specifically the sight of empaneled experts, red-eyed, choking, and stuttering as they said things like “CNN is now prepared to call the state of Wisconsin for Donald Trump.” Or of rainbow mobs of sign-wavers in urban centers declaring (absurdly and solipsistically) “Not My President.” Or of classroomsful of Millennials exiting state-funded college lecture halls and public high schools to register their outrage at reports from reliable, non-fake-news sources that transphobic Vlad Putin had directed the hacking of enough voting machines to steal the election from Hillary Clinton.
The indelible nature of those images may be partly the result of the fact that we enjoy watching them on YouTube. (Guilty as charged.) Martha, Miley, Megyn, and Snoop; the Young Turks; the Stephanopoulos; Stephen and the Two Jimmys—all of them gathered in hundreds of compilations, a feast of liberal suffering, their gooses cooked, sauce for the gander, waiting to be consumed.
It might be time to stop. For in a moment I will show you what is, and what is to come.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that Trump won, and not just because I voted for him. I did not want Hillary Clinton to be president. I did not want her nominating Supreme Court justices. I think it’s likely that Trump will do some of what he promised to do regarding illegal immigration and trade. I’m pleased that Cold War II: The Wrath of Putin (a very real possibility under an HRC presidency) is no longer coming to a theater near you. I’m particularly pleased that, under a Jeff Sessions Department of Justice, cops of all races who do their jobs will not live in fear of accusations of hate crimes and federal prosecution. That is enough.
But that will not “save America.”
Nor will the populist-nationalist revolution that purportedly occurred. Provided that President Trump does indeed halt the flow of illegal immigration—a transformative phenomenon that is both political and cultural—what we now have is a little more daylight. And if conservatives don’t redeem the time, we are in for a world of hurt.
The late Andrew Breitbart famously said that “politics is downstream of culture.” This echoes the philosophy of Chronicles, which holds that there are no political solutions to cultural problems. This is no trite truism. It is the very heart and soul of traditional conservatism: a Christian view of the world, of government, and of human nature that reflects natural law and the natural order—a view and a deep inclination that is grounded in history, our “remembered past,” which “is not even past.”
Think about it. A hook-up culture of licentiousness in which watching prostitutes fornicate is “adult entertainment,” and fathering illegitimate children is thought natural and normal, is upstream from the political protection of abortion rights and a welfare state. Churches’ toleration (or celebration) of infecund, contraceptive marriage and fictive no-fault divorce is upstream from the political protection of infecund, fictive “gay marriage.” Parents willing to settle for the Marxian indoctrination of their children—and who electively fund it with tuition dollars at the college level, on top of the tax dollars confiscated from them for public education at all levels—will not blink when a president reneges on his campaign promise to abolish the institutionally Marxist Department of Education. Culture, and the institutions of culture, drive and shape politics.
That is not to say that politics does not turn around and influence culture. But the more it does, the more disordered society and culture become, as witness the Elizabethan Age and the Soviet Union. We have not yet arrived at star chambers and gulags, but we are on our way, as witness Sweet Cakes and Memories Pizza. God in His mercy has given our vast continental empire the limits of space and time—limits that we are suicidally eager to transcend, despite C.S. Lewis’s warnings in The Abolition of Man. But at present, the U.S. government does not force Americans to value material possessions over their children’s education. Government does not force Americans to shop at chain stores and eat at chain restaurants, depriving local businesses of customers. Government does not force American men to use coarse language and laugh at it in the presence of women and children (whether or not they, too, use such language), demonstrating that there is little in them to honor or protect. Government does not force us to abandon Shakespeare and Milton for television treacle, or liturgy for entertainment, or poetry to poststructuralist loons, or the wife of one’s youth for this year’s model. Government does not require us to listen to the media’s lies and cannot compel us to believe them when we do. Government does not restrain us from learning the doctrine of Just War, or subsidiarity, or the Holy Trinity. The Armed Forces—which routinely invade and destabilize the Middle East, degrading women by sending them to war, only to let wounded warriors twist in the wind when they come home traumatized or maimed—remain all-volunteer.
Aha, some may say, but government applies pressure, by providing economic incentives for many of these evils. This we must grant. But why does government do these things? Or rather, what sort of “self-governing” people accepts these things? And if, by some miracle, the federal and state governments stopped or curtailed these economic incentives, or the American people suddenly were to have more disposable income—better-paying jobs, tax breaks—would they stop patronizing Walmart, Lady Gaga, Paramount Pictures, and CNN? Would they leave behind their culturally Marxist, multimillion-dollar public high schools in favor of St. Paul’s or Veritas Prep or the homeschool co-op that meets in the church basement? Would they get married and stay married? Would they stop blaming guns for murder and racism for indigence? Would men inadvertently discover that masculinity is not a social construct?
And isn’t blaming Mammon (or its lack) for moral degradation—the loss of virtue, public and private—the very essence of Marxism, cultural or otherwise?
In the summer of 2015, Americans were shown undercover videos that graphically and horrifically exposed Planned Parenthood’s sale of mutilated baby parts for scientific research and cold, dead cash. The media scorned this as a right-wing misogynist campaign to give the women of America undetected late-stage breast cancer and a racist campaign against inner-city women who cannot afford to have their children slaughtered without financial assistance. Plenty of Americans bought it, so much so that they forgave Washington when a bill to defund Planned Parenthood died in the GOP-controlled Senate. Cecile Richards spoke to thunderous applause at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, trading on her credibility as Planned Parenthood’s president and chief sorceress to endorse her dear friend Hillary Clinton. “Hillary has always been in Planned Parenthood’s corner,” she said—only one year after the baby-parts exposé—“because she knows that women deserve someone in theirs.” Her friend went on to win the popular vote by over two million.
As I write, Robert Kuttner, cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect, is suggesting that Cecile Richards would make a better DNC chair than Keith Ellison, a black Muslim who placed his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s Koran when Nancy Pelosi swore him in to the U.S. Congress.
Washington is not a swamp that can be drained; it is a cesspool fed by the detritus of American culture—the very culture that cultivates the American people. It cultivated Baby Boomers into hippies, yippies, and indulgent parents; Gen-Xers into “whatever” slackers “waiting on the world to change”; and Millennials into snowflake hipsters, gamers, and basement dwellers. This culture shaped an electorate taught from birth to be instinctively Marxist, gnostic, relativist, ideological, and hypersensitive to any appeal to Christianity, tradition, authority, or flesh-and-blood history. Yes, this electorate (through its undemocratic and antiquated Electoral College) chose what pundits describe as “populist-nationalist Donald J. Trump.” It is the same electorate that in 2008 elected Barack H. Obama, who ran in the Democratic primary as a populist, framing Hillary R. Clinton as an elitist insider, on a platform of “change” and an appeal to unite the entire American nation, black and white (as is his very person), Red Staters who have “gay friends” and Blue Staters who go to church and own guns. And they reelected him in 2012, after he bailed out the American auto industry, pledged his loyalty to the “99 percent,” and endorsed the overtly and self-consciously populist Occupy Movement.
Already for two solid months, while Trump was picking his Cabinet, dealing with Carrier, calling Taiwan, and tweeting, Americans were absorbing a daily interpretive spin on Trump’s every action. Scratch “daily”: Thanks to our addiction to social media and the preposterously named “smart” devices that serve headlines, paragraph summaries, and instant reactions to our leisure-free brains, minds, and souls, we receive these binary interpretations continually, if not continuously. We remain within this insular political Matrix of our own free will, even at the dinner table. Inside the Matrix, everything is like or dislike, yes or no, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, nationalist or internationalist, populist or elitist, bigoted or tolerant, left or right. The medium is the message.
For some years, we have been surrounded by manifestations of binary code—the pastiches of ones and zeroes, yeses and noes, elaborately arranged to form digital images and sounds that enter us through the eyes and the ears and alter our very being. Now the binary code is inside us.
Forget the science-fiction horror of a world gone mad, in which man-made AI becomes self-aware, attacks, and takes over: Our own intelligence has become artificial. The Red Pill works only if your brain itself is outside of the Matrix.
We make a grave mistake if we assume that leftist Democrats are incapable of learning from their political miscalculations and returning to power. Some of them have already figured out what went wrong. Jon Stewart is among them. To Generation X and the Millennials, he is a wisenheimer turned sage. Stewart eschews the mantle, complaining about Americans’ failure to note the difference between news and satire, then turns around and wears it. Predictably, the New York Times enthused at the prospect of receiving his wisdom on the Trumpocalypse, and he did not disappoint:
Not everybody that voted for Trump is a racist. I don’t give a f–k what any of you say to me. You can yell it at me, you can tweet it at me. They’re not all racists. Or they’re not giving tacit support to a racist system. We all give tacit support to exploitative systems as long as they don’t affect us that badly. . . .
I know a lot of first responders. I spent a lot of time in that community. A sh-tload of them voted for Trump. The same people that voted for Trump ran into burning buildings and saved whoever the f–k they could no matter what color they were, no matter what religion, and they would do it again tomorrow. So, if you want to sit and tell me that those people are giving tacit approval to an exploitative system—I say, “OK, and would you put your life on the line for people who aren’t like you? Because they did.”
Bill Maher is saying the same sort of thing. Following the election, he told his Real Time panel that
what happened was, for the last eight or ten years, liberals have been telling white people in America, “Your time has passed,” and so they made them feel like a minority. And then they went out and voted like a minority. . . . The Democratic Party lost the white working man. That’s what they used to have. They made the white working man feel like, “Your problems aren’t real.”
Here’s the thing. Anyone who has paid attention to Stewart and Maher over the years knows that they do, in fact, believe that a majority of Americans are racists, that Middle American and Southern whites are hopelessly ignorant, and that Barack Obama was a great president. They felt the Bern, but when the embers cooled, they got behind Hillary Clinton, assuming like everyone else that she—they—would win in a landslide. She did not. They did not. They do not wish or expect to lose again.
What Stewart and Maher are exhibiting now is what leftist cultural critics and philosophers like Seth Abramson call the “new sincerity”—a cultural expression of “metamodernism.” They are not card-carrying members of a metamodernist club, but the same can be said of most philosophies and their unconscious adherents today. Metamodernism is the left’s natural and inevitable answer to the unsustainability of postmodernism, which denies objective truth and makes everything relative, fragmenting (“Balkanizing”) society into identity groups that are transformed into political interests. Metamodernism is a kind of dialectical synthesis of postmodernism with its predecessor, modernism, which made bold, universal truth claims that derived not from revelation and tradition but from reason and raw human will; its hubristic confidence in a rationalist, Darwinian march of progress was shattered by world war and the collapse of Western society. But postmodernism lacks the get-up-and-go of modernism, except within its little identity groups—the LGBTQs, the tree-huggers, Black Lives Matter. You can’t rouse the will of Americans to go to war to make the world safe for democracy by spouting postmodern nonsense about “my truth.” Once your postmodernism is made fully manifest, you can’t win at the polls. A coalition of rights-demanding identity groups is not enough. It was not enough to elect Hillary Clinton.
Metamodernists like Abramson still hate your guns and cling to their irreligion, and see the world in Marxian terms as comprising disparate victim groups and their oppressors. But publicly, they talk like modernists. Rather than pit minority groups against one another, they seek to find common ground in “areas of overlap.” Liberals like Hillary were wrong to denounce white privilege, Abramson says, which alienated actual white people (necessary voters) who do not perceive that they are privileged. White privilege must not be demonized but rather repurposed as upward mobility, the American dream—and can’t we all agree on that? Metamodernists think the demand that a candidate (for whatever position of power) be identifiable as a member of an aggrieved minority is foolish and cannot succeed, however true it is to the postmodern ethos. Barack Obama was half-white, after all, refrained from “virtue signaling” while campaigning, and wreaked his social-justice havoc in the form of policies, which (we’ve already forgotten) he always and carefully framed as benefiting all Americans.
Bill Clinton, white as a sheet and from Arkansas, was a master of the new sincerity, of being “simultaneously sincere and ironic” (“safe, legal, and rare”). You saw the new sincerity when he campaigned for his wife, and a lack of it after he introduced her and she took the podium.
Abramson’s marching orders are simple: Convince Americans that nationalism is indeed good, and that left-liberals are its true guardians. (Such a view arguably has history on its side.) Cast every minority grievance as a problem that everyone shares, which can be solved only through the “collapse of distances,” a blending of identities. How to accomplish this? By dialing back the virtue-signaling vitriol and blanketing America’s cultural institutions with narratives that illustrate this unifying paradigm. Allow the mainstream media to hammer away at Trump and frame the terms of his failure, while providing the “alternative” everywhere else—germs that will sprout and bud over time. Manipulate the normies, not through “dank memes” and trolling, but by expressions of the new sincerity.
This, he describes as the rise of the “Alt-Left.”
What is particularly sobering about these cultural observations is the fact that several demographic shifts are already in place, which favor the Alt-Left’s success. Trump may indeed seal the border and deport the Mexican rapists and drug dealers. A mass deportation of all illegals is highly unlikely, which means “immigration reform” will remain on the table for future politicians to grab up. In the meantime, the birthrate of these unassimilated people is higher than that of the indigenous population. They are already here, whether more come or not. Furthermore, should they assimilate, they will do so within the cultural paradigms of schools and churches (“conservative” ones included) that are already metamodern—the same philosophical constructs that have shaped today’s Millennial snowflakes, who tweet and march with the confidence of a modernist, yet view all authority and tradition with suspicion. They have never felt the loss of industrial jobs, which had vanished before they were born, and for them, America was “great” when Barack Obama was president. Had Obama run for a third term, they might have even crawled off their couches at Starbucks and voted. Their morality is fiercely absolute and entirely relativistic and personal. They are the world. They already belong to the Alt-Left, whether they know it or not. Who will teach them otherwise?
It is easy to revel in the misery of forlorn liberals, but it is also easy to get caught up in their binary political game. Already in attack mode, they would prefer that conservatives pay all of their attention to them. Whether we agree with them or denounce them with a thousand Facebook posts, tweets, and viral videos matters little. For while we focus on politics, they are continuing to work upstream, in the culture.
Their long march through the institutions is long complete. We have yet to leave base camp.