Note: This article first appeared in Thermidor Magazine here.
With the inauguration of our hero, Donald J. Trump, taking place in a mere few days, it isn’t unsurprising that our modern Leftists have found themselves confused and adrift, looking for catharsis. No doubt it is this desire that has, in no small part, led to the supposedly massive protests which are planned for Friday’s inauguration in Washington.
It is possible that these protests will be, at least to some extent, violent, as has been the case in other locales over the past year or so (Ferguson, Baltimore, Portland, etc. ). These spasms of low-level Leftist street violence has led to much consternation and hand-wringing from people on, or at least sympathetic to, the Right. With certain voices, in particular, believing that this may herald the beginning of something like a low-level civil war.
One piece, in particular, has been making the rounds, David Hines’ Days of Rage “Tweetstorm”. In which he makes the case that the political chaos which has gripped the U.S. over the past year and a half signifies the beginnings of a low-level civil war.
This thread has a lot of moving parts to it, and it would be unwieldy to attempt to analyze the entire thing here. However, one thing, in particular, stood out to me about this analysis. Namely that, he seems to completely misunderstand the nature of the Modern Left. From his Twitter rant:
Now obviously, in a sense, Hines is correct here, but his analysis obscures more than it illuminates.
Although Hines makes clear, to his credit, that any political violence that will potentially occur in America in the near future will be different than the kind the political violence of the 1970’s (which had inspired his outburst in the first place) it still seems that he leans a bit too hard on the analogy.
This is a classic, and sadly popular, mistake of historical analysis. We are bombarded by think pieces and pop-history books telling us how X historical event is exactly Y present day event. That the “Fall of Rome” illustrates how America itself will one day collapse, or how the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq was exactly like the American War in Vietnam, etc.
Almost all such analysis is, at best, unserious. The parallels between particular historical events are almost always shallow and gloss over important details almost entirely.
The serious student of history should never go hunting for ways in which two separate historical events are similar. But rather, seek to illustrate how two historical events which to the casual observer seem similar, actually aren’t that similar at all.
This is perhaps the reason why I find some of his reasoning to be a bit specious, particularly his analysis of the Modern Left. Which he seems to mistakenly believe is the same “Left” that existed in the 1970s.
There are of course, certainly elements of the Left which are directly descended from the radicals of the 1960’s and 1970’s (much of American Academia in particular). Again, though, pointing this out obscures more than it illuminates.
The truth about the Modern American Left is that, despite superficial signs to the contrary, it is, at this point in time, little more than an Ideological corpse.
This was of course, not quite the case in the 60’s and 70’s. After all, back then it seemed very plausible that the Left might have at least a shot at winning the future. The Soviet Union was doing extremely well; the sexual revolution had liberated Americans from the repressions of Victorian morality (thus ruining countless lives through divorce and illegitimacy) and “intellectuals” like Noam Chomsky were vigorously defending the Khmer Rogue from the predations of American Imperialism. It seemed the world might be going their way after all.
Fast forward to today and little remains of “the artist formerly known as the Left,” as all of its real world experiments have almost entirely collapsed. There are precious few communist nations in the world, and the largest and most powerful, China, remains Communist in name only.
With the commodification of Leftist bohemian culture in the 80’s and 90’s giving rise to the Bobo and the SWPL. The Left, at least in most of the Western World, has almost entirely been subsumed into the ideological Borg of Neoliberalism.
Today, to be a “Communist” or “Anarchist” is about as meaningful as being a “Goth” (are those still around?) or a Packers Fan. It’s almost entirely a fashion statement; an intellectual thrift store were hip kids can rummage through an assortment of vintage Leftist ideology to add to their own unique, personal brand.
Not exactly the makings of a movement that’s prepared to win a civil war.
If one is not convinced by this analysis, I will invite them to simply survey the results of the political upheavals of the past ten years. Where and when did the Left meaningful change the course of world events over this period of time? The Answer, with the possible exception of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, is precisely nowhere.
The closest they came was with Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections. And it is this “close call” which is the most telling. Syriza had a chance to, essentially, tear up Greece’s debt notes to the EU and start over fresh outside the EU. They also would have had the support of much of the populace if they had chosen to do so. And yet they choose to submit themselves, in what was a truly humiliating spectacle, to the dictates of the Eurocrats in Brussels. In the Leftist-Liberal relationship, it was quite clear who, to borrow some Hegelian terminology, was the master and who was the slave.
Now compare this performance to the Right’s. Which has essentially pushed Global Neoliberalism to the edge of the abyss. Brexit challenged the very foundations of the EU, while Trump’s upset victory may undo the very unipolar world order which is a prerequisite for Neoliberalism’s continued survival as a viable Ideology. This is, of course, without even mentioning the rise of Right Wing governments throughout Easter Europe.
But what, one may ask, do these events have to do with U.S. political violence?
The Answer is: everything of course.
Once one understands that what passes for “The Left” in the United States is little more than the Bohemian mask worn by the Neoliberal establishment’s academic wing, things start to become a bit clearer for us.
While it certainly is true that “The Left” (which we can now merely refer to as the “Liberal Left”) has much more institutional support for its violent methods than the Right does at present. It’s important to note just how limited and, in context, relatively tame much of these methods actually are.
Of the notable riots of the past year, a few stand out in one’s memory as being particularly notable: Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte and Portland with many minor episodes in between.
Now, it is telling the first 3 in this series were carried out almost entirely by inner city Dindus who were reacting to the various imagined injustices that had supposedly been perpetrated against them. But who were in really merely exploiting current events as convenient excuses to burn some stuff and make off with a few flat screens. The perpetrators of these particular crimes, it should be noted, were almost entirely members of the Black lumpenproletariat, most of whom are not politically motivated in any meaningful way. Thus, it would be misleading to include these events under the banner of genuine “Leftist violence.”
We are left then with the events in Portland which occurred immediately after the American Presidential election. This event saw a group of mostly white protesters descend into downtown Portland, apparently to protest Trump’s election and then proceeded to vandalize much of Downtown Portland (which it should be noted, is an extremely Liberal City). This event (and those like it, such as the Occupy Wall Street Protests) is a much better representation of what actual Leftist violence looks like in practice and what it portends for the future political violence in the U.S.
What it looks like, basically, is large groups of adjunct professors, crust punk heroin addicts and overweight feminists descending into particular metro areas to “protest” some manifestation of supposed “fascism” through civil disobedience and “direct action”.
I highlight this, not to insinuate that these protest movements don’t pose a problem for the American Right. But rather to indicate just what the nature of this threat is. And it is not one that is particularly existential.
For at the end of the day, these various “Antifa” protesters are more of a menace than a genuine threat. Problematic for those immediately impacted by them, but not a true danger for the Right as a whole.
There’s a big difference between pulling a bandana over your face and throwing some rocks through some coffee shop windows or roughing up a teenage Trump supporter you outnumber ten to one and engaging in real violence. Especially against opponents that are willing to employ real violence in response (a scenario they have yet to face.)
“The Left” as it is currently comprised is a zombie, an ideology which long ago passed its sell-by date. Those who still self-identify with its antiquated political notions are no more sincere or believable than the redneck who proudly sports a stars and bars bumper sticker. The former is no more likely to be willing to die for his “convictions” than the latter is.
The next four years will surely see its fair share of Leftist “violence.” But this, with the possible exception of some Dallas style lone wolves, will look more like Zuccotti Park in 2011 than it will Chicago in 1968, no less Spain in 1936.
Of course, I could be wrong about this. Friday may see the beginning of a new red terror with Communist Transexual death squads mercilessly gunning down anyone wearing a red Trump hat.This is a legitimate possibility. But at the risk of having to eat crow in the future, I’m not overly concerned with it. The 70’s are ancient history and so is “The Left,” which is no longer a meaningful force in global geopolitics.
The Right’s real enemies are writing think pieces for The Atlantic and sitting on the boards of major corporations, not throwing rocks through coffee shop windows and having drum circles in public parks.