Both the Left and Right are susceptible to political hysteria
The main political divide in the country right now isn’t over who should sit on the US Supreme Court or how illegal immigrants and their children should be treated. The real difference between liberals and conservatives is more basic: whether you think President Trump is dismantling democracy and leading us to the brink of an authoritarian era that will destroy all we hold dear.
If that sounds more like partisan hysteria than a coherent critique of Trump’s policies, it is. But you’d be wrong to dismiss a discussion about such fears.
The volume of protests against Trump and the routine way he and his administration are compared to 20th-century fascists and Nazis isn’t merely a function of disgust with his personality and Twitter account. Trump’s opponents are unable to separate his personality from the conventional conservative way he’s governed.
While liberals fantasize about Robert Mueller making the bad Trump dream go away, the country has carried on with a booming economy and, as the nonstop attacks on Trump from the mainstream media prove, with freedom of the press preserved.
But listen closely to the angry voices of the left and you’ll hear more than just disagreement on the issues. These days even some mainstream liberals truly appear to believe American liberty is hanging in the balance, and nothing short of active “resistance” is required in order to prevent the country from sliding into a fascist nightmare.
Part of this can be put down to the fact that Americans no longer all read, watch or listen to the same media, a trend that has been exacerbated by the rise of social media, allowing us to isolate ourselves from all opposing views.
That has fed not merely an inability to listen to the other side but a sense of despair about politics and society and a belief that opponents aren’t just wrong but have bad intentions. That explains both the over-the-top rhetoric as well as the breakdown of civility that allows otherwise decent people to justify insults and harassment of people whose only crime is to hold different political opinions.
But while conservatives may scoff at liberal nightmares, they also ought to sound vaguely familiar.
One of the best analyses of the 2016 campaign came from Michael Anton, whose article “The Flight 93 Election,” published in the Claremont Review, set off a furious debate. His thesis was that for many on the right, the election was a last chance to save the republic from certain doom.
Just like the passengers on United Flight 93 on 9/11, who were forced to charge the cockpit even though the odds of survival were small, many on the right believed the election of Hillary Clinton had to be prevented at all costs. That justified backing a man like Trump, so long as the liberal transformation of the courts and the rest of society championed by President Barack Obama was stalled.
Trump’s conservative judicial appointments and other policies have justified the faith of almost all Republicans and marginalized what’s left of the Never Trump remnant. The right’s fear that liberals will effectively eradicate religious freedom for conservatives is, at least for the moment, assuaged.
But for liberals, this is their “Flight 93” moment.
The debate about immigration has sunk to a contest in which all border-security measures are demonized to justify the apocalyptic rhetoric we’re hearing. And now a conventional ideological battle over control of the Supreme Court is being depicted as nothing less than Armageddon, as if preventing the confirmation of a fifth conservative justice is all that stands between us and “The Handmaid’s Tale” becoming reality.
The same hysteria is what lies behind the willingness of so many in the press to drop even the pretense of objectivity in favor of blatant anti-Trump and anti-GOP bias.
Think what you like about Trump, but it’s time for reasonable people to stop buying into the lunacy that the sky is falling and that we are living in the moral equivalent of the last days of the Weimar Republic. For all of our problems, the Flight 93 analogy is a dangerous fantasy.
Both sides need to step back from an all-consuming left/right culture war that’s doing far more damage to democracy than anything Trump or his opponents can do.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review.
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