By Paul Ingrassia
Until recently, American liberalism was an ideology founded upon the free exchange of ideas and the rule of law; it was an advocate of American exceptionalism, as well as the spread of Judeo-Christian values across the globe. However, over the past decade or so, all of these sentiments have been virtually expunged from the New Left’s platform. Broadly defined, leftism traditionally called for more government intervention to remedy the perceived social injustices of the free market, which contrasted with the classical liberal approach of non-intervention.
Where the latter diverged from the former with regard to the size and scope of government, these competing philosophies–classical liberalism and classical leftism–were essentially united in their adulation of the American cultural bedrock, which was deep-seated in natural law. However, somewhere along the line, the Left became more radical and slowly molded its platform around the ideology of its extremists.
The fact that in today’s times, Gore Vidal, a radical of the 1960s, would feel happily at home with the worldview propounded by modern leftists should draw the ire of traditionalists everywhere. This rather heinous development of the past decade is perhaps the greatest existential threat of modern times, given the inherent degeneracy of an ideology rooted in a sort of Camusian relativism that views reality as a social construct, history as a class struggle, cultural homogeneity as regressive, and institutional authority, particularly of the religious variety, as grossly incompatible with modern notions of “progress.”
To many, this ideology was happily inhibited by several booming victories for conservatives over the past year and a half— the successes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency were viewed as abject failures of the leftist establishment to address the needs of the everyman, both of which will undoubtedly have significant longstanding consequences. Yet, despite these sweeping victories, conservatives must not relent or become complacent. The Left still remains, arguably still, the dominant intellectual tradition in contemporary times; its stranglehold over the curriculum in many public schools, universities, and large portions of the mainstream media demonstrate just how influential it remains. To this end, many conservatives see this leftist infiltration as malignant; a continuation, more or less, of the free-spirited sixties cultural ethos that has left not a part of our society unscathed. Today’s penchant for informalism, for example, and our heightened skepticism of authority, are but rather benign in comparison to the mounting societal forces that are increasingly denying objective truth, reducing once unassailable aspects of reality into nothing more than some man made, illusory creation.
Accordingly, conservatives must remain vigilant about what we perceive as an outright attack on the American cultural fabric. This ongoing battle is perhaps most evident in the political obstructionism incited by congressional Democratic leaders to block President Trump’s agenda at every turn, such as in their petty yearning to complicate Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation vote, which does enormous harm to the rest of the country.
It should be made clear that those in Congress who are working to oppose Trump’s every move are simply acting out the sort of seedy dogma that belies contemporary leftist principles. In so doing, they have implicitly shown which part of their shrinking constituency matters most to them: not the jobless coalminer, nor the disabled veteran, nor even the inner city African-American. But instead, the rabble-rousers on college campuses and the holier-than-thou Hollywood-types that have in their nastiest moments advocated for a military coup of the Trump White House. When they are not spewing this brand of fatuous nonsense, today’s radical leftists emboss the President and his supporters as irredeemable “deplorables,” in their view, helplessly clinging to an outmoded, degenerative worldview anathema to a quickly changing national identity.
The most extreme of them hope to irrevocably tarnish the legacies of America’s mostly white, male, Protestant forefathers whose accomplishments no longer comport with their vision of a brave new world. For every hyperbolic attack peddled by leftists against our newly elected president for being “authoritarian”, there is an actual case of anti-democratic nonsense that arises from their side. Take, for example, UC Berkeley’s violent suppression of free speech, which forced the controversial right-wing speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, to rescind an invitation to speak on their campus due to the destruction caused by radical, left-wing agitators.
This sort of obstructionism that typifies many in today’s Left has worked its way into national politics as well. While Democrats in Congress may not be protesting in the streets, their attempts to stop Trump at any cost showcase a clear favorite among their constituents of whose policy preferences are prioritized. These are the radical, leftist loonies, who have become something of a juggernaut in the party, particularly on the coastal regions. They typically in their thinking resort to emotive tropes, instead of rational exposition, which is demonstrated in their policy preferences for open borders, big government and neo-puritanical “tolerance,” the latter of which includes everyone save those lockstep in their doctrinaire worldview.
Democracy, of course, is not a one-way street, but whenever either side reaches a point in which anyone who disagrees becomes deplorable by default, there is a serious problem. This is compounded especially by how radical some on the Left have become in degree of their demands. For instance, during one of the Democratic primary debates, both Clinton and Senator Sanders agreed that on the topic of immigration, all undocumented aliens should remain in the United States so long as they don’t commit a dangerous crime. In other words, the Democratic Party platform basically legitimated open border anarchy, a topic that subsequently became a major liability for Clinton, who made great strides to avoid speaking about it on the campaign trail.
But what turned many people off from Clinton was not so much the extremity of her positions on policy (though that certainly was part of it), but in the condescending rhetoric that was leveled against those who actually supported, for instance, reasonable measures to protect our borders. And make no mistake, this was not a fallacy committed by those simply on the Left (or more precisely, those in the Democratic Party).
This was keenly illustrated by Mitt Romney, a supposed ambassador of conservatism, whose own inflated ego clouded his sensibilities when he attempted to despoil Trump’s candidacy in his long forgotten March 2016 speech. What this shows is that contemporary leftism has largely defined the rules of the modern political game, even for large swaths of the Grand Old Party.
As a result, whenever an ideological outlier like Trump arises, they become the enemy by default, and become subject to ruthless assault by a political establishment that resorts to many of the same obstinate tactics of radical leftists. To the chagrin of the Romneys and Bushes of the world, the ideological forces that mounted Trump happily proved insurmountable, in part because the President tapped into something that was authentic and conservative.
It is perhaps altogether fitting to end on an optimistic note with a piece of advice from one of modern conservatism’s founding fathers, William F. Buckley Jr. He once said, “a conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling stop!” Now, perhaps more than ever, conservatives ought to take this most prescient advice and use the advantage accorded to them by the changing political climate to effect real, substantive change.
Paul Ingrassia, FCRH ’17, is a mathematics and economics major from Patchogue, New York.