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Despite what you’ve been told, the American left is not composed of people who hate the country and want to see its institutions burned to the ground in an orgy of rage. Oh, sure, those people exist — but they’re not the whole left. Not even most of the left. Nor are they, on their own, all that dangerous, since burn-it-down-style radicalism inevitably runs up against the natural human desire for peace and order. (Even in Seattle, CHAZ could last only so long.) No, the great majority of Americans who identify with the left belong to a different faction: the whigs.
When I say “whig,” I’m not talking about powdered faux hair or the Democratic Party’s long-lost rival or British parliamentary politics. I’m talking about those Americans — and there are many of them — who take a whiggish view of the country’s history. Such people consider themselves patriotic. They hang red, white, and blue flags from their porches. They watch fireworks shows and march in July 4 parades. They swoon at the sight of military regalia. They flock to old battlefields and can rattle off facts about Benjamin Franklin and the Constitutional Convention. They also believe that Elizabeth Warren is the fullest expression of the Lincolnian spirit and that gas-powered cars must be abolished, lest life on Earth end.
If the whig left had a creed, it might be this: Social change is America’s genius. Resistance to social change is illegitimate and un-American. The Democratic Party, as the progressive party, is the natural steward for the best parts of American history — a history that consists of a series of virtuous struggles against oppression: the oppression of the British crown, the oppression of slavery, the oppression of the patriarchy, the oppression of unbridled capitalism, the oppression of the Jim Crow regime, the oppression of homophobia, the oppression of immigration restriction, and so on.
Our present-day struggles against systemic racism, climate change, Trump’s subversion of the democratic process, and Republican assaults on women’s right to choose and queer and transgender persons’ right to be included are merely today’s manifestations of the same old problem. After all, our great-great-grandmothers didn’t make the trek to Seneca Falls just so that we could be forced to stand barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen! We defeated the South (that backward hellhole!) once, and we can do it again!
Joe Biden’s misbegotten “Dark Brandon” speech is a prime example of whig leftism in action. Many in the commentariat misunderstood the lines about abortion and traditional marriage. When Biden tarred pro-life politics as fascism, he wasn’t just making a cynical calculation with an eye toward the November elections. No, he was expressing a widely held view among members of the American elite: that socially conservative beliefs have no place in the public square. They’re an aberration. Some ideas that were supposed to be dead and buried. The Democratic Party platform is America, and America is the Democratic Party platform.
And in a sense, they’re right. Because whig leftism is the American creed. It’s what all unelected leaders in major American institutions, private and public, believe. It’s what the head of the local chamber of commerce believes. It’s what the military officer class believes. It’s what every curator in every D.C. museum and every state historical society believes. It’s what every newspaper editor believes. It’s what every librarian believes. It’s what every professor believes. It’s what the school systems teach. It’s embedded in every part of civil society. It’s even encoded in the law itself. Only in some churches (not the Mainline Protestant ones), some weirdo classical schools, and, of course, the elected government itself will you find holdouts. But most who dissent belong to the disaffiliated, disorganized, and dysfunctional masses.
Perhaps it’s time for us conservatives to face reality: It’s not our country.Published in