What do Democrats want? In the age of Trump, they want nothing so much as to have their assumptions validated. On the left, sermons dedicated to attacks on Donald Trump as anathema to American civic and political tradition sell. Often, the threat of impeachment is peppered into these homilies, satisfying the flock’s desire to believe the Trump era will be short-lived. Telling liberals what they want to hear can be a materially rewarding enterprise. For some Democrats, though, the endless shoulder massage has begun to yield diminishing returns.
In Hillary Clinton’s drive to seek absolution for losing the presidency to a political novice and former game show host, she has embarked on a whirlwind media tour. Clinton has demonstrated a masterful ability to manipulate the vulnerable liberal psyche. By affixing blame for her loss onto intangible factors, like American misogyny, or unquantifiable ones, like Russian interference in the election, the former first lady is doing her compatriots a disservice.
Committed liberal activists do not want to change to meet the moment. Rather, they want an excuse to view their opponents as dangerously outside the mainstream, deserving only of exile onto the fringes of acceptable American political discourse. They want their desire to retreat into ideologically homogenous bubbles deemed not only justified but righteous. Clinton is ready to deliver.
In an interview with New York Magazine, the former secretary of state went so far as to advocate biased journalism. She claimed that the impulse among journalists to present both sides of an issue irresponsibly confers legitimacy upon some points of view that don’t deserve the honor. You see, when it comes to some preferred liberal policy prescriptions, there are no two sides.
“The cable networks seem to me to be folding into a posture of, ‘Oh, we want to try to get some of those people on the right, so maybe we better be more, quote, evenhanded,’” the former secretary added. “When I mention MSNBC’s hiring of conservatives including George Will, and the New York Times’ new climate-change-skeptic opinion columnist, Bret Stephens, her brow furrows. ‘Why … would … you … do … that?’”
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens appeared taken aback by his denunciation. After all, he risked his position among his fellow conservatives by openly supporting her for the presidency in 2016. Stephens and Will, who left the GOP in 2016 in protest against Trump, have long records of intellectual consistency, honesty, and of being provocative advocates of their ideas. Their crime according to the cynical opportunists who pander to the far-left is that they also hold conservative views. Liberals just don’t want to hear it.
By speculating that present climate models, which have a habit of being wrong, might, in fact, be wrong—not even by questioning the validity of the theory of anthropogenic global warming—liberals demanded Stephens’s career. Controversializing relatively common points of view is an increasingly regular phenomenon. When student activists pose scandalized and run conservative speakers are off campus, as they so frequently do, they are guilty of the same censorious fragility that led to the backlash against Stephens.
George Will is also branded a “climate denier” by those who seek to appropriate the moral righteousness of revulsion toward Holocaust denialism for global warming enthusiasts. Liberal scolds further pilloried Will for questioning the accuracy of the statistics buttressing the claim that sexual assault on campus was exploding. His concerns were validated in well-researched studies by liberals in good standing published center-left outlets.
For Clinton, this is none of her concern. The activist left wants to hear that conservative views are beyond the pale, and she is happy to oblige—even if that means attacking her own voters in the process. This constituency also demands to be told that Donald Trump isn’t a legitimate president and that his impeachment is forthcoming, as soon as Democrats retake one or both chambers of Congress. Yet not every Democrat is giving in to their party’s darkest, most self-destructive impulses.
“I’m not going to rush to impeachment,” said Senator Cory Booker on Sunday. “If there are Americans that colluded with the Russians to undermine our democratic processes, they should be held to account.” Booker’s refusal to leap to the firm conclusion that the presidency has been sold to Moscow and that all that’s preventing impeachment proceedings is the congressional GOP’s cowardice is, in a way, an act of courage. There are social pressures at work here, and Booker must know there are consequences for bucking consensus. His is clearly the prudent course for those who think that the energy and enthusiasm generated by impeachment talk suffice for a set of issues.
“It’s hard to convince people around here sometimes how toxic our brand is,” said Congressman Tim Ryan of his fellow Democrats. “But, clearly the brand is damaged, and we need to see if something else can work.” A Democrat from Ohio, Ryan is acutely aware of his status as an endangered species, and he’s not shy about saying as much. He is still struggling to force a party that thinks speaking in four-letter words is an earthy enough display of populism to retake the Rust Belt.
Both men are nakedly ambitious political operators. Booker eyes the presidency and Ryan mounted a quixotic bid to unseat Nancy Pelosi as his party’s House minority leader last year. For them to gamble their stature among the progressives, upon whom they and their party depend for energy and capital, seems a dangerous bet. The riskiness of the venture betrays what they anticipate may be the size of the payoff.
Their gamble may end up being smarter than Clinton’s in the long run. Democrats can induce cohesion among their voters by constantly flogging the threat Trump poses and promising to impeach him, but one day they will have to deliver. In the interim, Clinton and those who humor the left’s crippling insecurities will only make that task harder.