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Donald Trump and the Death of Utopianism

The aftermath of this extraordinary election, likely the most important in American history, has been fraught with controversy and confusion.

The collapse of the fourth estate, for example, is a signal and unfortunate consequence.  Weeping "journalists," misguided and error-embracing "analysts," bias, fraud, malfeasance, and falsehoods mark the end of a once proud profession.

In the political and popular culture of the American left, there is a widespread and disturbing hatred and intolerance for those in the opposition that overwhelmingly eclipses a similar reaction to the election of George W. Bush.

The political culture now is so sour and the response of many who favored the losing party so extreme, so partisan, unforgiving, and unpleasant, that it seems clear that something much more than a presidential election defeat is the cause.

The absence of a unified theory of the collapse of the American progressive neo-Jacobin utopian left could be of some value in addressing these important questions.

 

 

Among the many reasons that explain the Democratic candidate's defeat is the fact that the constituency of the left is the totality of all living and future humanity.  Their agenda is global and humanity-wide in scope; their countrymen are not the highest in the order of value, but merely take their place among the family of mankind.  A rebellion against this view was at the core of the election result.

The problems of the world are common to every country – poverty, weather extremes, war, tolerance and intolerance, poor health and health care, inequity of wealth distribution, and economic opportunity, among many others.  Millions of American progressive neo-Jacobin utopian true believers support the idea that these problems are solvable everywhere and that the sacrifices made by their fellow citizens will provide the solutions.  The challenges faced by the world would all be resolved by the sweat, suffering, and financial and humanitarian sacrifices of them and their fellow Americans – a small price to pay for the greater good.

Because their motives, as they see them, are so amiable, humanitarian, and globally applicable, anyone opposed to their viewpoint must therefore be opposed to the advancement and benefit of humanity.  Those who do not agree with this program must be evil.

Only in this way can the vitriol, overreaction, intolerance, and hatred from the left toward the new president and his supporters – that is, those who do not agree with their utopian ideology, be explained.  Railing in public and private against absolutism and intolerance, they themselves have become the greatest practitioners of what they say they despise.

Having convinced themselves that their champion, the person who would continue the utopian program, could not lose the election – the shock of her defeat was particularly painful for many on the utopian progressive neo-Jacobin left.  Their frustration and cognitive dissonance after the election were (and continue to be) seen around the world, reiterating the global nature of this utopian dream.

In a non-utopianized political culture, 2016 would simply have been another presidential election cycle.  It was clearly not that at all.

The collapse of the American progressive utopian neo-Jacobin left is one of the most significant events in American political history.  Even greater than the election of 1800, the closest comparable scenario, when Thomas Jefferson moved the country from Washington-Adams Federalism to a more de-centralized and aggressively experimental approach to government and foreign policy, this election marks a far more significant political and cultural shift.

Utopians believe that the ends (i.e., their goals) are so critically important to all of humanity that any means are acceptable.  This very same belief brought guillotines to the streets of France during the French Revolution.  Convinced that their motives were beyond reproach, necessary and beneficial to France and to the world – and that anyone in opposition (even the ambivalent) was an enemy of the state – the 1789 revolution in France that had started with such high hopes for real and positive change finally imploded, the victim of its own savage absolutism and intolerance.

In the aftermath of this election, with so many broken friendships, so much vitriol, anger, rigidity, and fear-mongering on the left (and little if any considered and reasoned public political discourse and analysis that might explain the outcome), the consequence of the 2016 election for American leftist neo-Jacobin utopians was about much more than their candidate's defeat.

American progressive leftist neo-Jacobin utopianism has become something of a cult.  The idea that honest, decent, thoughtful, patriotic people could oppose them is not one easily comprehended or accepted.  Those not in agreement with the self-identified idealism and humanitarianism of the left are then beyond the pale, illegitimate, and motivated by ignorance and malignance.

The election of Donald Trump, Brexit, and the growing anti-EU and anti-globalist mood sweeping Europe and the world show that rejection of the progressive utopian neo-Jacobin liberal program is not an American phenomenon alone.

"Journalists'" tears, hateful rhetoric from utopian friends and relatives, weeping and wailing in the towers of academia and the studios of Hollywood, gnashing of teeth and recriminations in faculty lounges are less about the defeat of the Democratic candidate than about a deep sorrow, confusion, anger, cognitive dissonance, and regret that the utopian program itself was defeated.

In the '70s and '80s, when young people joined a cult, sometimes they were found by friends and family.  To be saved, the cult member was separated from the cultists and "deprogrammed."  This was often successful, though not always.  Most difficult and painful were those cultists who were unaware that they were in a cult at all.

The election of 2016, perhaps the most significant in American history, was about more than another peaceful transfer of American political power.  An ideology has been defeated, not just a candidate.

The bubble of utopian fantasies has burst.  A lesson learned from the horrors of history has re-emerged at the most advantageous time: there is no utopia.

 

By Daniel L. Mallock

Daniel L. Mallock is a historian, an analyst, and an author.  His book Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and a World of Revolutionwas published in February 2016.

 

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