I’ve been feeling sorry for my Democratic and progressive friends ( less so for their ideological allies in government and the news media) who are obviously upset and angry about how matters have proceeded, spinning horribly out of control from their perspective, since November 8, 2016. I hate to see friends in pain, even if they react to it by lashing out against me—well, maybe especially if they lash out against me—and I think I could help them understand why this happened if they were willing to listen, which they are not.
Most of all, their fate is due to hubris of a Euripidean scale, or perhaps Icarus (above) is the better comp. A truly democratic public understands and accepts–must understand and accept— that their side won’t always prevail , and that democracies are like a roller coaster on the way to someplace arguably better over time, based on common principles all of its citizens understand and embrace. Democracies are based on trust in the essential good will of neighbors, and also respect for adversaries, an ethical principle that has great pragmatic benefits as well: eventually, you will be on the bottom looking up, and if you didn’t plant your boot on the faces of those above you now, you are less likely to be tasting leather on a regular basis.
Despite historical lessons such as the nation swinging from Johnson to Nixon and Carter to Reagan, Democrats began to believe their own hype that they were on “the right side of history” in all things, and that the election of Barack Obama guaranteed a constantly ratcheting process towards the transformation of the United States into a socialist, European-style culture. Obama’s smug, superior character catalyzed this fatal error, and the device (which he permitted, if not encouraged)of automatically condemning his critics as racists became a mindset: anyone who disagreed with progressives were racists, sexists, bigots, and otherwise villainous. (You can see this attitude in the recent article in Splinter, a left-wing site, that refers to all of the jurists on the Federalist Society’s Supreme Court candidate’s list as “monsters.” )
This persistent contempt for the humanity of one’s political opponents in a nation is the stuff that totalitarian regimes are made of, and the Democrats, without (perhaps) even realizing it, were well on their way. Adding to their cockiness was the complete abandonment of objectivity by the mainstream media, which during the Obama administration devolved into an uncritical cheering section. Nobody was going to call them racists!
Progressives had won, was the assumption. After Mitt Romney’s defeat, in no small part due to Big Lies (“Romney’s paid no taxes!” ), illicit use of government power (the IRS, for example) and media complicity, complacency on the Left was palpable. Never mind that the economic recovery had been unforgivably slow, and the nation’s foreign policy had been bungled: the US was moving toward participation in world government, open borders, a gun-free society, abortion on demand, permanent group benefits for being born black or female,the avoidance of military commitments, and a nanny state. There was no need for real democracy in the Democratic Party so the nomination for President in 2016 was rigged . All potential rivals stood aside for Hillary Clinton, because it was “her turn.” She had been a loyal Obama-ite, after all. Only a non-party member, Bernie Sanders, and a couple of unemployed, unserious Democrats challenged her. Meanwhile, the GOP, with too many candidates, all flawed, was committing ritual suicide by allowing a boorish clown to hijack its agenda using a small but passionate mob of “deplorables.”
Hillary didn’t even run hard. It was as if nobody in her campaign had ever read “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Then Hubris met Moral Luck, and it was love at first sight. Instead of taking back both Houses of Congress in a Hillary landslide, the Democrats lost both Houses and most state houses too, and that clown was elected. This meant, in all likelihood, that the Left had also “lost” the Supreme Court for at least a generation.
Under the old political culture, the response of Democrats and progressives to such a cataclysm would be to shake hands with the winners, grit their teeth, celebrate the dynamism of a Constitutional system that had served us well, and resolve to convince the public to elect them the next time. But among the ethical instincts that hubris had erased was the ability to be graceful losers.
They couldn’t accept defeat. The shock was too great. So they reacted emotionally, angrily, insultingly, and unlike any substantial group of Americans before them. They rioted, tried to overturn the election, derided the system, insulted the new President (“But he started it!”) blamed malign outside forces, concocted conspiracy theories, denied accountability, and excoriated the electorate for what was, in fact, the fruits of their own arrogance and incompetence. As I wrote—futilely, of course—so often in 2015 and 2016, but about the Republicans, a party has an ethical obligation to the nation to select a Presidential candidate who is qualified both in character and experience. Both parties failed that duty, but the point that progressives simply cannot process is that the Democrats failed that duty, and this is why they lost.
It still might have turned out to be just a momentary stumble, except that random events and chaos theory kept doing the voodoo that they do so well. Trump was either lucky or good, or both. The stock market didn’t crash, as Paul Krugman assured everyone that it would, it soared. Unemployment dropped. Public confidence in the country and the economy rose, even though most of the public didn’t like the President. The long-handicapped recovery began moving at the speed it should reached years ago. Trump’s confrontational style did not cause a nuclear war, but instead sparked a hopeful thaw in North Korean relations. The news media finally paid the price for its shameless long-time partisan bias, and no longer was able to change opinions and lead the public to turn on the President, no matter how hard it tried, or how shrill it became.
Illegal immigration activists played their cards badly. Gun control advocates played their hands worse. Then the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck left the station, running over more liberals than conservatives—Weinstein, Franken, Keillor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey…and eventually, Bill Clinton. Hollywood, once a powerful progressive ally, was exposed as the basket of rank hypocrites it has always been in political matters. Meanwhile, the investigation that Democrats cleverly seeded to paralyze Trump and expose the impeachable offenses they were certain were there, exposed the corruption in the Obama administration and Clinton campaigns, not to mention the FBI and the Justice Department.
President Trump, meanwhile, did not melt down or crack up. Everyone underestimated him in this respect, including me. He likes conflict; he thrives on chaos. His major talent may be knowing how to make his opponents self-destruct. Nobody thought he was a Fox, but they did not suspect, apparently, that he is a Hedgehog. He knows “one big thing” and so far, it has been enough.
All of this, however, sprung from the hubris of the left. They forgot about humility. They forgot about respect. They forgot about the Golden Rule, they forgot about fairness, and most of all, they forgot what America stands for. They allowed Donald Trump to set a thousand butterflies flapping their wings in the Amazon, and chaos overtook the progressive dream of perpetual domination, and their reaction, so far, has been to throw a tantrum rather than change their ways.
I sympathize with my progressive friends. Nevertheless, they brought this on themselves.
57 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/29/2018: Reflections On Hubris And Chaos”
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Jack, you have taken many of the observations of my lifetime and distilled them into a single article. Human nature will out. Those who overthrow corrupt power eventually become corrupted by that power, only to be thrown out themselves by those who cannot stand the corruption. The wheel turns.
The coming elections will tell the tale: will Democrats retake control? If not, will they finally accept their mistakes and learn, or will they attempt to destroy the system they no longer control?