Thursday, March 01, 2018


Bret Stephens devotes the first half of his latest column to praising fellow conservatives who oppose Donald Trump. In case you think Stephens's anti-Trumpism is halfhearted, I'll note that he compares Trumpers to Stalinists and Trump to Hitler. (He writes: "... you want good guys on the other side of the partisan divide, no matter how irrelevant they currently appear to be. When Trumpism fails, as it inevitably will, who will be the Republican Adenauer?") He's serious about his opposition to Trump.

But what follows, inevitably, is bothsiderism.
I write this as a parallel contest is taking shape within the Democratic Party, most visibly in the rift between traditional liberals and the social-justice warriors of what used to be the far left. Dianne Feinstein’s failure this week to claim her party’s nomination for the Senate seat she’s held since 1992 is another depressing indication that the rift is widening....

My advice to traditional liberals is not to repeat the establishment Republican mistake of not taking the threat of populist illiberalism seriously, and of not fighting it fiercely. The fabric of an open society is more frayed than most people realize, and it is coming unraveled from more than one end. What happened to the G.O.P. in 2016 could happen to the Democrats in 2020.
And who's on either side of this liberal battle line, according to Stephens?
One side believes in the power of reason, the possibility of persuasion, and the values of the Enlightenment. It champions social solidarity for the sake of empowering the individual, rather than creating a society of conformists. It doesn’t see compromise as a dirty word. Its belief in the benefits of civility and diversity does not override its commitment to free speech and independent thought.

As for the other side, it thinks it knows what’s True. It considers compromise knavish. It views debate — beyond its own tightly set parameters — as either pointless or dangerous. And while it sees itself as the antithesis of Trumpism, it is, in its raging intolerance and smug self-satisfaction, Trumpism’s mirror image.
There are people who match Stephens's characterization of the illiberal left, but they're not even remotely close to taking control of the Democratic Party or liberalism.

Let's look at California. Delegates to the party convention denied Feinstein their endorsement, and gave a majority of their votes to her rival, state Senate leader Kevin de León. However, rank-and-file voters prefer Feinstein to de León 46%-17%, according to a recent poll. And de León is a strong progressive, not a liberal fascist -- when I looked for a list of ways he's tried to distance himself from left-centrist Democrats, I was told that he'd championed legislation to make California a sanctuary state (an act of some defiance, but one that's no more radical than long-standing policies in many American cities) while also seeking ways to keep California environmental and worker protection standards at pre-Trump levels. Also, he's looking for a workaround that will allow Californians to continue deducting state property taxes on their federal income tax.

In other words, he's not exactly Antifa.

Neither are Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, or any of the other top contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination. Neither are the Democratic candidates who won races last year in Virginia and have been winning special elections all over the country. These aren't people whose main issue is shutting down conservative speech, or whatever it is that Stephens believes most clearly characterizes left illiberalism. The most progressive of them talk as if they want to be modern versions of FDR, not Maduro or Castro.

And how ideologically inflamed are Democratic voters? Let me remind that three of the four most popular governors in America, according to Morning Consult, are centrist Republicans serving in extremely blue states -- Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland, and Phil Scott of Vermont. Yes, those deep-blue voters are so radically, uncompromisingly, illiberally left-wing that they praise the work of Republicans -- or at least of Republicans who are willing to work with Democratic legislators.

Trust me, Bret: Democrats are nowhere near the point where they'd follow a left-wing Donald Trump. Some might even say that Democrats are too compromising, even now.

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