OK. I get much of the vitriol. Those of a progressive persuasion remain angry, hurt, upset as a result of Election 2016.
The reasons for the tumult are familiar: A “third” Obama term dashed; a missed opportunity to break the glass ceiling; a daunting five- or potentially six-seat conservative majority on the Supreme Court; Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, Paris, and every other major Obama era initiative placed at risk.
But the depth of emotionalism attendant to the progressive response is remarkable. Indeed, some of us who lived through the Reagan years believed the rancor of that era could never be surpassed — we were wrong.
You see, not so long ago, even the most vehement of congressional opposition respected the universally recognized sacrosanct: God, flag, country, public service, work ethic, American exceptionalism.
Crossing these lines meant wholesale condemnation by the other party, isolation by one’s own, and critical coverage by a mainstream media with a stake in keeping the ball between the hashes (football analogy in recognition of a terrific Super Bowl).
The lines frayed during the Obama era. Recall Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina screaming, “You lie!” during an Obama State of the Union speech. Unacceptable. Still, much of the GOP’s criticism of Obama originated in the perception that he had failed to honor properly one of our above-referenced safe harbors.
Witness the intense conservative reaction to Obama’s demonization of flyover country (“They cling to guns or religion”) or his none-too-subtle shot at self-made entrepreneurs (“You didn’t build that”). Not just right-wingers were put off, either. Many independents who had voted for Obama (twice) turned instead to Donald Trump in 2016.
If the lines indeed frayed during the Obama years, they have been washed away with the advent of the Trump era. Check out CNN commentator Joy Reid’s instructive tweet during Trump’s SOTU:
“Church … family … police … military … the national anthem … Trump trying to call on all the tropes of 1950’s era nationalism … the goal of this speech appears to be to force the normalization of Trump on the terms of the bygone era his supporters are nostalgic for.”
Implicit here is the notion that there is no longer a cultural set of iconic American principles — at least during the Trump presidency. Accordingly, mere referencing of such topics amounts to a “dog whistle” (to quote one of Hillary Clinton’s favorite phrases).
Similarly, “eliminate MS-13” is more like an ethnocentric attack on Hispanics; “respect the flag,” just additional disrespect for the African-American tradition of social protest; “honor small business” — akin to acknowledging “crumbs” dropped from the proletariat’s table; chants of “USA, USA!” — ugly nativism.
The flip side of the same coin is the refusal to acknowledge what is (was) universally accepted good news. How much worse can it get when the announcement of historic levels of African-American employment is met with … silence?
The bottom line is that it took a year of the Trump presidency for the resistance to blow up what had been mutually respected foundational elements of our political lexicon for more than two centuries!
Trump’s use of blunt, sometimes coarse language in questioning the Establishment’s most sacred assumptions further fans the flames. For context, recall Trump’s challenging the bona fides of the U.N., NATO, a one-China policy, the Paris accord” the Clean Air Act, TPP, NAFTA, PLO subsidies, the Iranian nuclear deal — even NFL kneelers. These and other “disruptor” statements have the Never-Trumpers preoccupied with his alleged retro-nationalism.
But what really started the downward spiral? It has to be more than a Manhattan real estate developer’s propensity for locker room talk and hard-nosed bargaining tactics when disparaging the Establishment’s most sacred assumptions, right?
Well … yes. And it all harkens back to those unhappy mugs on your television screen during what was otherwise seen as a strong “State of the Union” address. Those who sat on their hands throughout the evening are charter members of the (ascendant) uber-progressive wing of the Democratic party.
It was not so long ago that parents of all colors, ethnicities, religions and socio-economic classes taught their children to tackle life’s obstacles — to confront and take them down.
These are the hardcore purveyors of “victimology” — that always handy remedy for anytime life throws you a curveball. Recall, this is the ideology being taught to your son or daughter at college. Its successful indoctrination produces young “snowflakes” — those soft millennials who are ill-equipped to deal with life’s disappointments. It is also a ticket to an unsuccessful life.
It was not so long ago that parents of all colors, ethnicities, religions and socio-economic classes taught their children to tackle life’s obstacles — to confront and take them down. The lesson was basic to American culture. Here, Horatio Alger’s narrative flourished. Dr. King’s admonitions followed the same optimistic tone: “We will overcome” … “[It’s about] the content of your character.”
Today, however, not so much. It’s just too easy to be a victim. The culture will celebrate it; the media will happily push your narrative. It’s probably the result of all those participation trophies. After all, it’s not your fault that you lost … you were victimized … must have been some nefarious scheme by “the man.”
This is one cultural war America cannot afford to lose.
Robert L. Erhlich is the former Republican governor of Maryland and previously represented the state’s 2nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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