Andrew Sullivan: Politics as Religion: on Social Justice & Trump

Whether or not things change, he knows who he is.

He still has a sense of dignity and worth and he trusts that transformational change will come, though it may not happen in his lifetime.

Both the social justice movement and Trump arise out of idolatry.

The atheistic movements opened up a vacuum for other things, a type of politics.

People’s beliefs become more extreme when the move away from religion.

Religion is not the substance in the bowl.  It is the bowl.

Dividers, Not Uniters

In a new book, Steve Kornacki looks back at the 1990s — and finds the roots of today’s polarization in the Clintons’ ascent.

..  the 1990s was until recently an invisible decade. “The holiday from history,” it was called, a “lull” where nothing much really happened, a candy-colored coma between the Berlin Wall’s fall on 11/9 and the 9/11 attacks less than a dozen years later.

.. The Red and the Blue, is a political procedural that sets out to explain how we went from giga-landslides in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s to Electoral College squeakers today, how Republicans disappeared from the coasts and Democrats died their final deaths in the South and Midwest.

.. it benefits from the context provided by Trump’s ascent, which has clarified that one big reason we’re seemingly reliving the 1930s today is because both the Left and Right spent the 1990s and early 2000s rehashing the culture wars of the 1960s and early ’70s.

.. Because cable and the Internet have so completely transformed American culture over the past two or three decades, it’s easy to forget (and younger people can’t even remember) just how norm-shattering Bill Clinton was, compared to the Greatest and Silent Generation leaders who came before him. To social conservatives and foreign-policy hawks, Clinton’s election was downright triggering, and deserved nothing less than full-on #Resistance. Historian Steven Gillon famously interviewed one who succinctly fumed that Clinton was “a womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!”

.. aside from Gary Hart, whose ill-fated career was recently reexamined in the Jason Reitman movie The Front Runner, America hadn’t had a youthful, truly sexualized major-party presidential nominee since JFK — until Clinton came along.

  • .. The Federal Reserve’s preference for financialization and neoliberalism was at its very peak under the influence of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.
  • Nearly half of Americans still thought “sodomy” — never mind same-sex marriage or civil unions — should be illegal.
  • And while America was pro-choice, huge percentages of voters demanded restrictions to abortion-on-demand.

The Red and the Blue gives an excellent Gen-X-plaining of just how systemically, institutionally, and culturally impossible it would have been for Democrats to move even farther leftward than they did back then — of how much damage their “too far left” brand had done to the party in the ’80s and of the disastrous political consequences of Bill Clinton’s attempts to govern from the left in 1993–94, as epitomized by Hillary’s attempt at health-care reform. He reminds his readers with his trademark aptitude for facts and figures that America in the 1990s was still very much living in what Sean Wilentz called The Age of Reagan.

.. He manages, for example, to nail the most salient point of the abusive relationship between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich: that it was at heart a love story, and/or a co-dependency worthy of Dr. Phil. One man could simply not have managed to stay in office without the other.

.. It was Clinton hatred on the social right that gave us Gingrich, and it was Gingrich’s surefire ability to trigger the libs that protected Clinton year in and year out. “Do you want him – or me?” became the basic campaign pitch of both men.

.. his Officer Friendly approach to the media is just too naïve by half, especially for someone who is a cable-news host with considerable experience in online journalism. In Kornacki’s telling, reporters merely report, offering just the facts or serving as quickie Greek choruses and footnote sources. This might work for a tenth-grade term paper, but for a book that seeks to illuminate the decade that saw the rise of the Internet, the birth of Fox News, unprecedented media consolidation, and what Eric Alterman called “the punditocracy” at the height of its influence, it’s entirely inadequate.

From highly influential anti-Great Society “Atari Democrats” like
  • Michael Kinsley,
  • Joe Klein,
  • Sidney Blumenthal, and
  • Robert Samuelson and proudly un-PC pundits like
  • Camille Paglia,
  • Ben Wattenberg,
  • Bill Maher, and
  • Andrew Sullivan to donor-funded think tanks like
  • Heritage and
  • Cato, an entire intellectual infrastructure was shaping the national narrative for what became Third Way Clintonism well before the Clinton era began. Yet most of these people and institutions do not even appear in Kornacki’s index, or if they do, they’re curtly dispensed with in one or two lines.

.. It’s possible that with Donald Trump’s attacks on the press (and with some people using criticism of “the media” as an anti-Semitic dog whistle), Kornacki didn’t want to even go there.

.. But a book on 1990s polarization that omits Steve Jobs, Roger Ailes, and Bill Gates from its index? One that effectively ignores the O.J. trial, Maureen Dowd’s gendered, campy, sexist (certainly by today’s standards), Pulitzer-winning coverage of Monicagate, and Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill?

.. writers as far apart as Ann Coulter and Eric Alterman blamed Al Gore’s loss in 2000 on the media’s hatred of him (and his hatred of them)?

.. Limbaugh’s pioneering tactic (soon perfected by Gingrich, Coulter, and Karl Rove) of branding anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of, say, Sandra Day O’Connor or Dianne Feinstein, as a Loony Liberal, Radical Leftist, or Femi-Nazi. From Clinton and Dubya well into the Obama years, red-meat conservatives intentionally fuzzed the line between corporate social-liberals and the true hard left of Michael Moore, Pacifica Radio, and Thomas Frank, and Kornacki captures their strategy perfectly.

.. Aside from the Obamas themselves, no other politician would even remotely disrupt or challenge Clintonistas’ hold on the Democratic party for another ten or 15 years. But Clintonism could only continue as long as the true far-left remained repressed, and as long as the economy kept humming.
.. When a fist-shaking socialist senator from Vermont lined up an army of Millennials in formation behind him eight years after the dawn of the Great Recession caused in no small part by Clinton-era financial policy, it became crystal clear that Newt Gingrich had won the war.
.. When they exited the White House, the Clintons left behind a Democratic party that working class, rural, and/or religious whites had become almost allergic to, one more dependent on African-American and Latino voters than ever.
.. Donald Trump cruised to triumph in 2016 using all of the dog whistles and wedge issues that Gingrich, Rove, Buchanan, and Ross Perot had refined to perfection.
.. And just as education-conscious, socially liberal white professionals reacted against Gingrich’s and Buchanan’s reactionary rhetoric in the late ’90s, Trump’s Republican party has now been effectively evicted from places as once-synonymous with the GOP as Long Island, Maine, New Jersey, San Diego, and Orange County.

We All Live on Campus Now

When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well.

If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

.. The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect.

..  Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency

.. Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism.

.. Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction.

.. there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind.

.. anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

..  Liberals welcome dissent because it’s our surest way to avoid error. Cultural Marxists fear dissent because they believe it can do harm to others’ feelings and help sustain existing identity-based power structures.

..  the impulse to intimidate, vilify, ruin, and abuse a writer for her opinions chills open debate.

.. An entirely intended byproduct of this kind of bullying — and Roiphe is just the latest victim — is silence.

.. only a member of a minority group can speak about racism or homophobia, or that only women can discuss sexual harassment.

.. The only reason this should be the case is if we think someone’s identity is more important than the argument they might want to make

..  left-feminists are not just interested in exposing workplace abuse or punishing sex crimes, but in policing even consensual sex for any hint of patriarchy’s omnipresent threat.

..  In the struggle against patriarchy, a distinction between the public and private makes no sense.

.. There’s a reason that totalitarian states will strip prisoners of their clothing. Left-feminists delight in doing this metaphorically to targeted men — effectively exposing them naked to public ridicule and examination because it both traumatizes the object and more importantly sits out there as a warning to others.

.. Besides, if they’re innocent, they’ll be fine!

.. can anyone justify why the POSSIBLE innocence of men is so much more important than the DEFINITE safety and comfort of women?”

..  we now have a “gender editor” at the New York Times, Jessica Bennett

.. Does she understand that the very word intersectional is a function of neo-Marxist critical race theory? Is this now the guiding philosophy of the paper of record?

.. At The Atlantic, the identity obsession even requires exhaustive analyses of the identity of sources quoted in stories. Ed Yong, a science writer, keeps “a personal list of women and people of color who work in the beats that I usually cover,” so he can make sure that he advances diversity even in his quotes.

..  there is no art that isn’t rooted in identity.

.. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics

.. what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is.

.. the core concepts of a liberal society —

  • the individual’s uniqueness,
  • the primacy of reason,
  • the protection of due process,
  • an objective truth

— are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

.. The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke. You see: We are all on campus now.

.. prudence that worries about unintended consequences; that values thrift; that tries to insure itself against future risks; that takes the responsibility of government seriously; that worries about extreme rhetoric; that balances the budget; that insists on constantly taking pains to protect inconvenient constitutional norms; that defends existing institutions. I could go on. It all began with Burke’s recoil from the French Revolution.

.. Is there any institution in the West that is currently less conservative than the GOP?

.. No institution that is integral to our liberal democracy is immune from attack. This includes law enforcement (the FBI), the Justice Department, an independent and free press, the prerogatives of the opposition party, and regular order in the Congress.

It is a party that would impeach a State Supreme Court rather than give up its gerrymandered districts.

.. its cult leader never misses an opportunity to deepen racial divides and to inflame the gender wars.

.. Whatever else this record is, it is an open and outright assault on any concept of prudence, responsibility, or moderation. Which is to say it is an assault on conservatism itself.

.. If there is any future for the conservative soul and mind in America, it will have to start with the wholesale destruction of the current Republican Party. I made that case more than a decade ago now.

The New Republic’s Super Buzzy, Lefty Upgrade

103-year-old magazine today is a repudiation of its stuffy, neo-liberal past.

Two months later, the “new” New Republic resurrected itself, with eminent Canadian leftist Jeet Heer in the driver’s seat and a buzzy cover story stolidly titled “Whitewash”—a sizzling takedown of the magazine’s complicated racial and social-class history under Peretz’s nearly four-decade tenure. Then the magazine went full-throttle in favor of the Sanders cult, with sometimes frankly Marxist cultural analyses, attacks on Hillary Clinton (from the left), calls for single payer, the $15 minimum wage, resistance to Trump, and opposition to military interventionism.

.. Hughes’ move was not merely a rebooting or rebranding—it was a repudiation of the magazine’s past.

.. “I bought The New Republic to take back the Democratic Party from the McGovernites,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2012.

..  If William F. Buckley Jr. sought to reform and update the conservative movement with National Review in the 1950s, Peretz was just as redoubtable in his goal to remake Democratic liberalism in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Not until Roger Ailes joined Fox would an editor exert the kind of ideological tone-policing that Peretz proudly did at TNR.

.. During the 1980s and ’90s, The New Republic’s rise mirrored that of neoliberalism (a philosophy for which it became the definitive journalistic exponent), alongside yuppie New Democrats such as Gary Hart, Joe Klein, Larry Summers, Al From, Al Gore, and an Ivy-educated Arkansas power couple named Bill and Hillary Clinton

.. Once the Vietnam War (and the Pinochet takeover of Chile) ended virtually all support on the left for “imperialist” U.S. interventions, these foreign policy hawks (with which Peretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Leon Wieseltier were very much in accord) left for Team Republican.

.. Once the Vietnam War (and the Pinochet takeover of Chile) ended virtually all support on the left for “imperialist” U.S. interventions, these foreign policy hawks (with which Peretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Leon Wieseltier were very much in accord) left for Team Republican.

..  TNR’s two signal editors—a wisecracking Jewish atheist who attacked supply-siders from the right (Kinsley never believed that tax cuts for the rich, or anyone else, paid for themselves)

.. University of Kansas grad Thomas Frank ruthlessly satirized The New Republic in Salon as a place where sheltered young Ivy know-it-alls would “exercise the prerogatives of their class” by sliding into “ready-made” positions of power where they would “pantomime seriousness” while “trolling” the real left.

.. Peretz and Kinsley transformed the stodgy Washington insider into a brash, impudent, ironic, and irreverent voice that no other “serious” journal dared to match in those pre-cable/pre-Twitter days.

.. Peretz and Kinsley transformed the stodgy Washington insider into a brash, impudent, ironic, and irreverent voice that no other “serious” journal dared to match in those pre-cable/pre-Twitter days.

.. Kinsley agreed utterly with Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, and Margaret Thatcher—three of his all-time favorites—that the stagflation of the late 1970s and early ‘80s was directly due to greedy labor unions

.. And when Andrew Sullivan, openly gay, Catholic, Thatcher Tory, took the helm in 1991, TNR doubled down on “trolling the Left,”

.. Then came the attacks by conservative writer Betsy McCaughey against Hillarycare in 1993-94, followed by the controversy over Charles Murray’s 1994 bestseller, The Bell Curve.

.. “DAY OF RECKONING” cover—bordered in blood red with a cigarette-smoking “Preciousand Mary” black welfare queen—where the editors demanded that President Clinton sign Newt Gingrich’s welfare reform bill.

.. None of this would have been particularly remarkable in the pages of National Review or The American Spectator. But what made The New Republic sui generiswas that it took these positions while proudly, even aggressively, touting itself as the arbiter of acceptable liberal Democratic dialogue. TNR was a living rebuke to other opinion-meisters such as The NationMother JonesIn These Times, and NPR’s Democracy Now!, which more-or-less stayed with New Deal liberalism and 1960s-style idealism.

..  Peretz’s best friend and former student Al Gore was humiliated in his 2000 run for the Presidency—denied victory because of Ralph Nader’s Bernie Sanders-like attack from the left

.. And when TNR offered full-throated support for Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan interventions after 9/11—while capital-L liberals stood in opposition—whatever credibility the magazine had as The Voice of Liberalism finally collapsed. As far as left-wing voices were concerned, TNR’s neoliberalism and George W. Bush-style neoconservatism had now become practically one and the same.

.. one might say that there was simply no room left on the Left anymore for “even the liberal” New Republic. The death of the Peretz TNR and the rise of Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Socialists of America, Jeremy Corbyn, Chapo Trap House, The Young Turks, Mr. Robot, and Jacobinmagazine were all but simultaneous.

.. TNR alum Jonathan Chait, who has emerged as perhaps the top (white male) tone-policeman of (neo) liberals versus The Left, as he illustrated in his recent New York magazine piece, “How ‘Neoliberalism’ Became the Left’s Favorite Insult.”

.. From 1975 to 2014 (not coincidentally the era that historians Sean Wilentz and Gil Troy christened the twin “Ages” of Reagan and the Clintons), The New Republic was as indispensable an idea factory for “New Democrats” as the Heritage Foundation and Fox News were for Republicans