Tuesday’s Election Will Show if Left’s ‘Hate America’ Strategy Worked

Past dissidents loved the U.S. and wanted to reform it — today's progressives think the country itself is the problem

Image Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Many opinion pundits are focused intently these days on what the correct temperature is for a mutually respectful national political conversation.

To wit, the Right blames recent incendiary comments by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and a host of left-leaning talking heads for the ugly and very public confrontations lately perpetrated on Trump administration officials and GOP members of Congress by progressive activists.

In turn, the Left (and many of its acolytes in the mainstream media) blame President Donald Trump for the coarse, hyper-personalized tenor of today’s public dialogue and say he is responsible for the pipe bombs sent to high-profile Trump enemies. Some are adding this past weekend’s synagogue murders in Pittsburgh to the indictment of the president.

Typical of such skirmishes, each claims to be the “wronged” party — and is aggressively taking its case to the voting public in the most emotional terms possible. The goal, of course, is to emerge the winner in the 2018 midterms.

Recent over-the-top invective notwithstanding, here are a few observations for consideration.

Toxicity in the pursuit of power is a familiar narrative. Recall your high school civics class, wherein you learned how Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton hired surrogates to attack one another in that era’s newspapers.

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There was also the lesson about how Aaron Burr later shot and killed Founding Father Hamilton in a duel, how Union Gen. and then President Ulysses Grant was portrayed as a habitual drunkard on the campaign trail, how John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism led to ugly innuendo regarding his “true allegiance,” and how five U.S. presidents were assassinated by political opponents.

The deep and abiding social chasms that accompanied the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1950s and 1960s (along with the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King) also apply here.

You get the point. Democracy is never pretty. The worst among free people have often resorted to the most vicious modus operandi (and actions) when fighting over political power.

In modern times, left-leaning activists tend to act out because it’s what they do. Campus demonstrations organized by leftist professors and administrators and large boisterous marches on Washington are so … 1960s. And, yes, such demonstrations were at times violent and disruptive.

Equally reminiscent of that era is the specter of Hollywood actors and comedians jumping on the progressive bandwagon (think Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory) in order to agitate for political change.

The bottom line: Loud and very public social activism is more associated with progressive causes for a reason. The Left has always used its influence venues (academia, Hollywood, the press) to further its agenda. Today’s resistance fully understands its considerable assets and acts accordingly.

There is nevertheless something fundamentally different about the messaging from today’s resistance movement. I (and many other observers) discern something unique within today’s unremittingly contentious culture, and it’s not simply the visceral reaction to the ways and means of one Donald J. Trump.

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The focus seems to be on the country itself. Even the culturally divisive social movements of bygone eras retained a sense of recognition (to some extent celebration) regarding the great American tradition of dissent.

For example, flag burners claimed theirs was a constitutionally protected form of expression and what was more American than good old-fashioned political speech? Herein was a sense that America’s innate goodness was being perverted by an indefensible war, or the denial of civil rights to minorities and women.

In contrast, a growing segment of today’s progressives reject the centrality of the American experience, of our alleged goodness, and greatness (yes, exceptionalism). These folks have a more attenuated adherence to traditional American values and allegiances.

Further, they tend to shy away from reflexive support for U.S. history with or without its well-chronicled warts. This modus operandi is far different from the past, and is perhaps best captured by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent comment that “America was never that great.”

The governor (and likely 2020 presidential aspirant) follows this critique with the usual hyperbolic narrative: Our storied American experience in pluralism, capitalism and religious freedom has proven to be more of a flawed journey into imperialism, nativism and racism.

This once career-ending remark proved to be a short-lived story. Remarkably, leading progressives (including members of Congress) are daily taking to the stump in order to denounce a sadly “-ic” and “-ism” ridden America. Here, it’s not the familiar struggle to better a flawed America, but rather America, flawed.

That this revisionist narrative has found a comfortable home on the new Left is without doubt.

Whether it is a winning message in a presidential election cycle is a far different matter.

In light of the progressive tenor of the 2020 Democratic field, however, we will likely witness this hypothesis put to the test.

Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich was Maryland’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007. He previously served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump and the End of Washington’s Regular Order.”​

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