A Reset Of Liberal Thought In America?

All systems of government—even totalitarianism—cannot operate without the support of the governed.  Although this support may be bought in all sorts of unsavory manners through lies, threats, or the handing out of unwonted benefits that translate into outright bribery, some provision must be made to obtain the cooperation that is necessary to ensure the operation of the basic economy and the maintenance of public order.  Failing this, no government can long survive.  Even if the actual benefits for citizens are set so far in the future that blandishments and symbolic gestures must suffice for today, leaders invariably maintain power by offering some pleasing mixture of perceived economic security, national pride, and protection from criminals within and enemies without.

Modern liberalism, which traces its roots back several hundreds of years, has sustained its support across the centuries by essentially promising that a benign and expansive government can supply economic security by way of a mix of government benefits, enable national pride by supporting freedoms not found in illiberal nation’s elsewhere, and provide protection from criminals by removing the basis for most criminality—want and anger—through state-sponsored laws and programs that will both fill stomachs and gladden hearts.  Enemies beyond one’s borders will—although bullets will unfortunately sometimes still be necessary—be largely vanquished by the shining example of your nation’s incredible goodness, which others will surely wish to emulate.

Therefore, liberals are, by their very nature, supporters of—and proselytizers for—government in all of its manifestations.  Given enough taxes and legal authority, poverty, ignorance, and injustice can—and must—be eliminated, and these governmental ideas must be exported across the globe in order to create interlocking and mutually supportive liberal international authorities to manage the world for the benefit of all.  Misbehavior and overreach by government entities will be controlled through an alert and interventionist judiciary, and mismanagement of money and resources will be driven to the point of extinction by a secular priesthood of credentialed experts who will guide their nations and people to something approximating heaven on earth.  No problem will be unsolvable as long as government is free, after some period of study and reflection, to provide the most perfect of all possible solutions.

Of course, the obvious trade-offs here are two-fold.  First, tax money—and lots of it—will be necessary to support the Byzantine governmental structures necessary to monitor and manipulate human behavior to ensure the best outcome for all.  Second, any pesky adherence to traditional cultural, moral, or religious beliefs must be openly denigrated and actively suppressed—if not outright outlawed—should they not serve the greater good as defined by liberal government.  Unfortunately for the social engineers, two harsh realities tend to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of governmentally-imposed nirvana if liberal aspirations are allowed to proceed unchecked: Money tends to run out rather quickly, and your citizens get a tad annoyed about being constantly ordered around.

When given its proper place within a broader governmental system that also respects traditional institutional norms and personal beliefs, liberal political values provide an idealistic appeal that is a necessary counterbalance to the daily grind of governance—and which also brings new energy and fresh ideas into the process.  However, if allowed to proceed unrestrained, the idealism that animates liberal thought can curdle into sanctimonious scolding, and programs and laws intended to improve the lives of the citizenry can turn government into a horde of micromanaging busybodies armed with all the legal authority that the state can provide.  If the judiciary, which is meant to check the abuses of government powers, has also been captured by liberal ideologues, the daily lives of citizens, schools, businesses, medical providers, the police, the military, and houses of worship are subjected to a daily beat down by bureaucrats and attorneys who are determined to reshape humanity to fit their goals and purposes.  If no reason or relief is available, the inevitable outcome will be an insurrection at the ballot box, and I believe this is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today.

If you scratch the surface of the average American voter, you will find a fundamentally fair and kind-hearted individual who would rather live life with fewer constraints upon their choices and behavior.  These citizens, who do the work and pay the taxes that keep America moving, are generally good to their families, friends, and neighbors—and quite sympathetic to those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.  However, having cared for themselves and others throughout their lives, they are set in their values and loathe to adopt new ideas unless their benefits can be clearly demonstrated.  Often blessed with an abundance of common sense, they are innately suspicious of pie-in-the-sky promises and unwilling to allow elites to scorn their lives and aspirations.  Like a terrier, they are loyal to a fault, but they will administer quite a ferocious and memorable bite if sufficiently annoyed—which America’s liberal establishment now knows to be the case.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump did not herald an army of Klansmen hooting out of the hollows and hillsides, although one would imagine from the prevailing media narrative that goose stepping goons were ready to round up the resistors at any moment.  This fraught—and dangerously wacky—reaction to election results that were a surprise to no one other than the commentators at MSNBC perhaps served the political purposes of progressive partisans who were determined to delegitimize President Trump from the outset and paint his victory as a win for bigotry and intolerance, but it has also caused damaging fear and suspicion to pervade our nation.  

The reality was perhaps a bit less dramatic—or worrisome.  Fed up with a federal government that seemed more interested in bathroom politics than creating the conditions for economic growth, Americans were willing to roll the dice on a rude and confrontational outsider who promised massive changes.  Moreover, many wanted see immigration laws enforced, regulations reduced, taxes lowered, government shrunk, and accountability returned to federal agencies that operated with the impunity of medieval royalty.  In addition, it cannot be overemphasized that Hillary Clinton ran one of the worst political campaigns in American history, and her evasive and defensive responses to legitimate questions regarding her use of an unsecured email server while serving as Secretary of State only served to cement the voting public’s unflattering perceptions of her slippery character and deficient honesty.

The upcoming midterm elections will provide an opportunity for voters to decide whether they like having a reflexively combative President who delights in punching his opponents in the face and chortling at their pain.  Moreover, and certainly more importantly, the midterm elections will serve as a referendum on the rollback of liberal thought and action that Donald Trump’s election certainly signaled.  My guess is the expected “blue wave” will not materialize, and the post-election analyses will blame Americans for surrendering to fear and stupidity by helpingPresident Trump to continue to torch liberal institutions and philosophies that many wrongly assumed were inviolate.

However, as painful as this might be for some, the political dominance that President Trump now enjoys might serve as a necessary corrective that will later facilitate a more measured liberal phase—one now counterbalanced by a conservative stamp on many institutions of government—which will permit the good of liberalism to persist without the excesses that obviously annoyed so many voters in the past.

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