Students are huddling in safe spaces to cry it out, protestors are storming the streets shouting #NotMyPresident, and celebrities and media personalities are in hysterics. “Saturday Night Live“ appears to have had a mental breakdown, abandoning comedy for mourning. Left-wing commentators are fighting each other on the air, and the New York Times is panicked that it has lost all credibility. In all, it appears as if Armageddon has happened.
Meanwhile, as people on the Left who are honestly seeking to understand how they lost have already recognized, there is an obvious explanation of how we got to this point. In several passionate—and vulgar—responses to the loss, the Left has correctly pointed out that you cannot call people racists and misogynists over and over and expect them to lie down and take it. At some point, they are going to turn around give you the middle finger and yell something that, as one author put it, “begins with an F and ends with a U.”
The Left has also figured out that political correctness did this. By political correctness, I mean the act of delegitimizing opposing views as unacceptable in polite, political discourse. Political correctness is the strict code of speech and action that colors every interaction in life. It has gotten us to the point where people feel unable to share what they think about reality because certain ideas are already racist, bigoted, or something else from a long list of liberal convictions. Left with no way to talk to one another, people go quiet. Only in the safety of the voting booth do they get to have their say.
Perhaps we should all take a step back and calm down. As my father reminded me, we all need to remember that this is “just politics.” The problem is, this only works for one side of the divide. One side, committed to limited government, can take a breath and move on, whether they win or lose.
The other side, committed to perfect social justice and unlimited government, has no such way forward. It is all politics. It is important that we realize there is a huge divide between how the two sides can process the outcome of any election.
Political Correctness and Liberal Hysteria Are Related
The Left’s freak-out is connected to the political correctness that got Trump elected. The two are logical outcomes of progressive political philosophy. While some on the Left want to change back to engagement and debate, it really is not an option for their team. The Right has a political philosophy that allows for dissent, but the Left does not. The Left requires political correctness, while the Right does not.
This is because the Right has no need for strict speech codes. If you believe that men are equal in that they are all imperfect and powerless to rule others well, it follows that politics is difficult and the aims of government should be limited. If you accept that the aim of government is a limited justice that people are capable of attaining—namely, ordered liberty—then you probably think human happiness is something government cannot impart but is found elsewhere, such as in religion, virtue, or good old-fashioned wealth. If this is the case, you probably accept that people should be allowed to, and will, disagree. This means you probably enjoy conversation, reason, and graciousness toward others when you disagree.
If you believe, however, that men are basically good and have progressed (either through evolution or history) to where they can live together in peace while also enjoying radical liberty (i.e., license to do whatever one wants according to one’s will and apart from any constraints of nature or convention), you have a problem. For one, if men can achieve a higher form of justice beyond mere freedom from the unjust rule of men, they should, and most likely will, pursue it in their politics.
To someone on the Right, of course, this is a rather utopian view of government. The Left is saying, in essence, that government is around to establish perfect social justice in every aspect of life. In raising, or returning, the aims of government to the heights of perfect justice while simultaneously promoting the radical embrace of human passion within every individual, political correctness follows.
If politics is about everything good, then there must be bad things people cannot talk about in politics. The higher the form of justice, the more harmony is required. Like a finely tuned, complex machine, a society striving for perfect justice becomes highly sensitive to any defects, no matter how small, and it demands complete conformity.
In sum, an understanding that man is imperfect and relatively limited in power leads to a notion that politics’ aims should be limited. In this view, human happiness and complete justice lie beyond the capability of human government. This requires that government and the use of legitimate force be limited to only those codes of conduct and speech required to preserve the body politic. The opposite view is that human happiness lies in the realm of government and that establishing justice requires strict codes of conduct and speech—political correctness.
Progressivism Requires Social Justice Warriors
Moreover, strict codes of speech and conduct require enforcers. Enter social justice warriors (or SJWs). That these warriors are frail should come as no surprise. Pursuing both individual emotional fulfillment and gratifying every fickle passion leads to fragile emotions and almost no self-restraint. Still, the SJWs fulfill the role of the guardians of the regime—policing society for any opinions opposed to the accepted narrative.
We should also not kid ourselves. Globalism, identity politics, the charge of privilege, the embrace of “the other,” and military adventurism abroad are also logical offshoots of such idealistic government. As the Left gives ground on political correctness (though this is already fleeting), you can see new arguments emerging from these other, connected positions.
They still frame the discussion in terms of identity politics and progressivism, insisting the problem is that the Left did not allow certain backward subgroups of Americans “time to adjust” to progress, as if they are just the slowest group and need special consideration. On other fronts, you will see articles with a similar claim: nationalism is an outdated idea connected to people like Hitler and rooted in a desire for authoritarianism. These two ideas are a temporary replacement of political correctness. Maybe “Cracker Barrel” Americans are not racist and bigots, they are just backwards and authoritarian (or slightly less bigoted and racist).
How Can People Think This Way?
Of course, not everyone involved is thinking so logically. Plenty of people have embraced the notion that people are basically good and that liberty means we are allowed to do whatever we please, but do not embrace the idea that government should be unlimited and government should seek to establish strict and complete justice. The incoherence of progressivism, which leads to unlimited government, and the pursuit of radical, individual liberty are not hard to see for anyone who looks at the two together.
Normal working people rooted in everyday life and people not corrupted by a college education may, in particular, be best equipped to see this. Still, the pleasure of “good feels,” the promise of world peace, and the comfort of social acceptance make resisting the allure of postmodern liberal politics extremely hard.
This problem is further complicated by the presence of neoconservatives and compassionate conservatives (if the two can even be distinguished) in circles within the Right. “Neocons” are often described as liberals who have been mugged by reality. In other words, they are people who seek perfect justice from government, but have come to think that the best way to accomplish it is through limited means. Reality, it seems, only partially robs them, taking their wallets but leaving their jewelry. This thinking is no more coherent than straight progressivism, and the similarities in ends make neocons fairly receptive to political correctness.
Compassionate conservatives might be different, although it is not clear. If they are, perhaps it is fair to say that compassionate conservatives are those who maintain that government should only provide limited justice, but they lose their way in how to get there and adopt unlimited means. Compassion, of course, is a valuable human trait outside of government, and it is all too easy to want to bring it into all parts of life. It does seem rather harsh to say that government should have no compassion.
The problem is, once we bring passion and charity into government, we tend to be unable to resist the preachy moralizing and commitment to social justice that comes with it. Compassionate conservatives appear to be the type who cannot resist the siren song of perfect love between people and creating the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Making Government Your Religion Leads to Hysteria
The simple fact is that the road to hell, or in this case, the breakdown of civil discourse, is paved with such good intentions and incoherent thinking. Whatever one’s intention, making government out to be more than it can be, whether as a progressive, neocon, or compassionate conservative, results in political correctness.
It also results in mass hysteria when elections do not go a certain way. If government is capable of pursuing social justice on a massive scale, it is also capable of social injustice on a massive scale. In other words, for the Left there is no “just politics,” because politics is everything. All justice and injustice comes from government, and bad government is terrible.
While I do not think we should legitimize the remarkable fear those on the Left profess, I do suppose I can understand why they are afraid. In a way, it is even rational. The Left expects the Right to do to them what the Left’s political philosophy would demand the Left do to the Right: hunt down any dissenting voices and silence or hurt them.
They do not understand the Right’s view of government and what the founders of America had in mind. The founders understood that government could only provide limited justice. This could then be used to enable the individual pursuit of happiness in a free country. As Washington put it, the object of our politics is “the benign influence of the good laws of a free government.”
In other words, the goal is to make the rule of law and the power of government as gentle and as unobtrusive as possible. Errors in politics, then, are deviations from being benign and are themselves fairly harmless. If the system of government you live under is limited, then you can take a breath when things do not go your way and continue to have a conversation and hope that next time you might win.
The end of all of this is to say that what you are seeing is the logical result of incoherent, utopian progressive political thought. Our society is full of those confused about the purpose of American government, and something changed with this election.
Before, there were two conceptions of justice competing under the surface, but only one knew that it had to destroy the other. Now, the other one has realized it has to fight to exist, and fighting it is. Until one wins out, this war of ideas will continue, the Left will embrace hysterics, and political correctness will reemerge.