Our Revolution’s Logic
By Angelo Codevilla
In 2010, Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Angelo Codevilla reintroduced the notion of “the ruling class” back into American popular discourse. In 2017, he described contemporary American politics as a “cold civil war.” Now he applies the “logic of revolution” to our current political scene.
From The American Mind
The primary objective of any people who find themselves in the throes of a revolution is to find ways of diverting its logic from its worst conclusions.
Prior to the 2016 election I explained how America had already “stepped over the threshold of a revolution,” that it was “difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate how it might end.” Regardless of who won the election, its sentiments’ growing “volume and intensity” would empower politicians on all sides sure to make us nostalgic for Donald Trump’s and Hilary Clinton’s moderation. Having begun, this revolution would follow its own logic.
What follows dissects that logic. It has unfolded faster than foreseen. Its sentiments’ spiraling volume and intensity have eliminated any possibility of “stepping back.”
The Democratic Party and the millions it represents having refused to accept 2016’s results; having used their positions of power in government and society to prevent the winners from exercising the powers earned by election; declaring in vehement words and violent deeds the illegitimacy, morbidity, even criminality, of persons and ideas contrary to themselves; bet that this “resistance” would so energize their constituencies, and so depress their opponents’, that subsequent elections would prove 2016 to have been an anomaly and further confirm their primacy in America. The 2018 Congressional elections are that strategy’s first major test.
Regardless of these elections’ outcome, however, this “resistance” has strengthened and accelerated the existing revolutionary spiral. We begin with a primer on such spirals, on the logic of mutual hate that drives them, and on their consequences; move to a general description of our evolution’s driving logic, describe the 2016 elections as the revolutionary spiral’s first turn and the “resistance” thereto as the second. Then we examine how the “resistance” affects the other side, and how this logic might drive our revolution’s subsequent turns.
The Cycle and Us
Corcyra’s revolution in 427 BC, the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War, is a paradigm of revolutionary logic. Thucydides tells us that the citizens’ divisions had been of the garden-variety economic kind. Its Assembly had taken an ordinary vote on an ordinary measure. But the vote’s losers, refusing to accept political defeat, brought criminal charges against their opponents’ leader. By thus criminalizing differences over public policy, by using political power to hurt their opponents, they gave the revolutionary spiral its first turn. The spiral might have stopped when the accused was acquitted. But, he, instead of letting bygones be bygones, convinced the assembly to fine those who had brought the charges. After all, they had to be taught not to do such things again. The assembly approved the fine. But the second use of political power to hurt opponents gave the revolutionary spiral its second turn. Had the original wrongdoers paid up, the problem might have ended right there. Instead, outraged, they gave it the third push, bursting into the Assembly and murdering him. That ended all private haven from political strife. Civil war spiraled into mutual destruction, until the city was well-nigh depopulated.
Thus does Thucydides’ account of how revolutionary logic manifests itself in personal behavior echo through the ages—an account that strikes Americans in October, 2018 as all too familiar: “men too often take upon themselves in the prosecution of their revenge to set the example of doing away with those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity, instead of allowing them to subsist against the day of danger when their aid may be required.”
The more freely to harm enemies, “words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.”
“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected … even blood became a weaker tie than party …. The fair proposals of an adversary were met with jealous precautions by the stronger of the two, and not with a generous confidence … when opportunity offered, he who first ventured to seize it and to take his enemy off his guard, thought this perfidious vengeance sweeter than an open one…success by treachery won him the palm of superior intelligence.”
How near we are to all that, and how far from once-great America!
The American republic’s essence had been self-restraint toward fellow citizens deemed equals. The Constitution of 1787 had been its paradigm. Under its words and by its laws, Americans had enjoyed safety and predictability for themselves and their way of life. But Progressives’ subordination of the Constitution, laws, and institutions to their own purposes and for their own primacy ended all that. The rest of America’s increasing realization that only fire can fight fire has followed naturally.
This is our revolution: Because a majority of Americans now no longer share basic sympathies and trust, because they no longer regard each other as worthy of equal consideration, the public and private practices that once had made our Republic are now beyond reasonable hope of restoration. Strife can only mount until some new equilibrium among us arises.
The logic that drives each turn of our revolutionary spiral is Progressive Americans’ inherently insatiable desire to exercise their superiority over those they deem inferior. With Newtonian necessity, each such exercise causes a corresponding and opposite reaction. The logic’s force comes not from the substance of the Progressives’ demands. If that were the case, acquiescing to or compromising with them could cut it short. Rather, it comes from that which moves, changes, and multiplies their demands without end. That is the Progressives’ affirmation of superior worth, to be pursued by exercising dominance: superior identity affirmed via the inferior’s humiliation. It is an inherently endless pursuit.
The logic is rooted in disdain, but not so much of any of the supposed inferiors’ features or habits. If it were, the deplored could change their status by improving. But the Progressives deplore the “deplorables” not to improve them, but to feel good about themselves. Hating people for what they are and because it feels good to hate them, is hate in its unalloyed form.
Hence, in our revolution, as in others, which side first transgressed civility’s canons matters only historically. In our revolution, as in others, truth comes to be what serves to increase fellow partisans’ animus against socio-political opponents, and words to mean neither more nor less than what serves the speaker at any given time.
As Thucydides pointed out, once people cease adhering to “those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity,” partisan solidarity offers the only immediate hope of safety. And that, in turn, is because “those general laws” are by, of, and for the good of all. Once people no longer see any good common to all, justice for each becomes identical with advantage. The only good or justice that prevails is the good or justice of the stronger. As Plato points out in Book I of The Republic, far from being a rare phenomenon, this is mankind’s default state.
Hence, among us as well, subjection by force is replacing conviction by argument. Here too, as contrasting reactions to events fan antagonisms into consuming flames like a bellows’ blows, victory’s triumphs and defeat’s agonies’ become the only alternatives
Although understanding our revolution’s logic tells us nothing about how it will end, keeping it in mind sheds light on what is happening at any given time.
The 2008 financial crisis sparked an incipient revolution. Previously, Americans dissatisfied with their Progressive rulers had imagined that voting for Republicans might counter them. But then, as three-fourths of Americans opposed bailing out big banks with nearly a trillion dollars, the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates joined; most Republican legislators joined all Democrats; The Wall Street Journal joined The New York Times, and National Review joined The Nation; in telling Americans that doing this was essential, and that their disapproval counted for nothing. And then, just as high-handedly, all these bipartisan rulers dropped that bailout scheme, and adopted another—just as unaccountably. They showed “government by the people, for the people” to be a fable.
This forced the recognition that there exists a remarkably uniform, bipartisan, Progressive ruling class; that it includes, most of the bureaucracies of federal and state governments, the judiciary, the educational establishment, the media, as well as major corporate officials; that it had separated itself socially, morally, and politically from the rest of society, whose commanding heights it monopolized; above all that it has contempt for the rest of America, and that ordinary Americans have no means of persuading this class of anything, because they don’t count.
As the majority of Americans have become conscious of the differences between this class and themselves they have sought ever more passionately to shake it off. That is the ground of our revolution.
Identity and Power
Our time’s sharp distinction between rulers and ruled, the ever decreasing interchange and sympathy between them, is rooted in the disdain for ordinary Americans that the universities have sown since the Civil War. Ordinary Americans and their rulers are alienated now in ways unimaginable to the Northerners and Southerners who killed each other a century and a half ago, but who nodded when Abraham Lincoln noted that they “prayed to the same God.” Both revered the American founding. Both aspired to the same family life. Often, opposite sides’ generals were personal friends. And why not? The schools they attended, the books they read, did not teach them the others’ inferiority. They were one people. Now, we are no longer one people.
In our time, the most widespread of differences between rulers and ruled is also the deepest: The ruled go to church and synagogue. The rulers are militantly irreligious and contemptuous of those who are not. Progressives since Herbert Croly’s and Woodrow Wilson’s generation have nursed a superiority complex. They distrust elections because they think that power should be in expert hands—their own. They believe that the U.S Constitution gave too much freedom to ordinary Americans and not enough power to themselves, and that America’s history is one of wrongs. The books they read pretend to argue scientifically that the rest of Americans are racist, sexist, maybe fascists, but above all stupid. For them, Americans are harmful to themselves and to the world, and have no right to self-rule. That is why our revolution started from a point more advanced in its logic than many others.
The anti-establishment “wave elections” of 2010 and 2014, in which the Democratic Party lost Congress and control of a majority of state legislatures, only led America’s Progressive rulers to double down on their positions of power in the judiciary, the media, corporations, etc. The Supreme Court struck down a referendum by liberal California defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had become law by near-unanimity, was overturned bureaucratically and judicially. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on the books just as firmly, was undone by executive, judicial, bureaucratic, corporate, and mediatic subordination of religious freedom to anti-discrimination. By the 2016 election, America’s Progressive rulers were demonizing and punishing persons who define male and female by their birth and personal plumbing. 1984’s Big Brother had not been so imperious.
The 2016 election’s primaries were all about the American people’s search for means of de-throning increasingly insufferable rulers. Even on the Democratic side, many bridled at their self-serving unaccountability. But since the Democrats are the party of government, it was clear that protection from and vengeance against the existing power structure would have to come from the nominal opposition party. Yet the Republicans were very much part of the problem. That is why 2016’s real struggle took place within the Republican primaries, the most enduringly significant fact of which is that Jeb Bush, the candidate most closely identified with the Progressive ruling class, spent some $150 million and secured only three convention delegates. Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, were looking for the polar opposite.
Donald Trump was out of central casting—seemingly a caricature of what the ruling class said about its opponents. But the words he spoke were less significant than that he spoke with angry contempt for the ruling class. That—and the crowded field that never allowed a head-to-head choice—is what got him the chance to be the alternative to the ruling class. And that is what got him elected President of the United States.
Those who voted for Trump believing or hoping that he would do a, b, or c, were fewer than those who were sure that he offered the only possibility of ending, or at least pausing, the power of an increasingly harmful, intolerant, disdainful, socio-political identity. In 2016 one set of identities revolted against another. That was the revolution’s first turn.
The ruling class’s “resistance” to the 2016 election’s outcome was the second turn. Its vehemence, unanimity, coordination, endurance,and non-consideration of fallback options—the rapidity with which our revolution’s logic has unfolded—have surprised and dismayed even those of us who realized that America had abandoned its republican past.
The “resistance” subsequent to the election surprises, in part, because only as it has unfolded have we learned of its scope prior to the election. All too simply: the U.S government’s upper echelons merged politically with the campaign of the Democratic Party’s establishment wing, and with the media. They aimed to secure the establishment candidates’ victory and then to nullify the lost election’s results by resisting the winners’ exercise of legitimate powers, treating them as if they were illegitimate. The measure of the resistance’s proximate success or failure would come in the 2018 elections.
Partisan “dirty tricks” are unremarkable. But when networks within government and those who occupy society’s commanding heights play them against persons trying to unseat them, they constitute cold civil war against the voters, even coups d’etat. What can possibly answer such acts? And then what?
These people, including longstanding officials of the FBI and CIA, are related to one another intellectually, morally, professionally, socially, financially, politically, maritally, and extramaritally. Their activities to stop the anti-establishment candidate, and president—in this case, Trump—have spanned the public and private realms, and involved contacts in Britain and Australia. They enjoy The Washington Post’s, The New York Times’, the Associated Press’s, CBS’, NBC’s, ABC’s, and CNN’s unquestioning megaphone effect to the rest of the media.
The Democratic Party’ opposition “research,” for which the wife of a senior FBI official was partly responsible, was cross-validated by the FBI and became the substance of a counterintelligence warrant for surveilling the Trump campaign. After Trump’s victory, the intelligence agencies’ summits continued their political and socially partisan alliance as “resistance” against the elected President. Even before inauguration, the Times and the Post published what the highest intelligence officials said were the agencies’ conclusion (no evidence, just conclusions) based on highly classified information, that Trump had “colluded” with Russia to steal the election.
When the surveillance and the investigation turned up nothing, intelligence and Justice Department officials played peek-a-boo with snatches of classified information behind transparently bogus claims of national security, and tried to catch him in perjury traps and other “procedural violations.” With the Media’s help, they created headlines and hampered Trump from governing. Two years later, the agencies continue to fight Congress’s demand that the classified bases for the allegations be made public.
The intelligence agencies’ “resistance” has also meant that the executive aides whose jobs require security clearances—nearly all do—are hostage to these agencies’ agendas. Even as Trump was being inaugurated, CIA withdrew the clearance from the official he had appointed to oversee African affairs at the National Security Council. The reason? The young man had criticized the Agency. Trump’s accession to the agencies’ assertion of the power to decide with whom he may or may not speak of the nation’s secrets radically decreased the number and quality of appointees. Trump’s similar deference to the Agencies’ classification and selective leaking of politically sensitive materials has also helped “the resistance.”
The bipartisan ruling class inside and outside the government have made the “resistance” a “full court press.”
Non-governmental parts of the ruling class are full partners in the “resistance,” often in partnership with government, from which they draw money directly or via special treatment, with the support, of course, of the media. Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, and countless other such groups have helped restrict the 2016 election’s effects by an unending stream of lawsuits and “reports,” amplified by the press, that have intensified attacks on the politically incorrect.
Silicon Valley’s corporate giants played a large and growing part. Since well before the 2016 election, suppressing dissent has been at the very top of Progressives’ agenda. Suppression of dissent is what Political Correctness is all about. The First Amendment and dedication to freedom of speech’s deep roots in American life have limited its grip and blunted the ruling class’s efforts to penalize whatever they choose to call “hate speech.” E.g., one Blake Lemoine, a senior engineers at Google, discussed with colleagues censoring anything favorable to Tennessee’s Republican senatorial candidate, Marsha Blackburn because said they, she is a terrorist. Such talk in such places is as good evidence as any of how broad and deep is the assault on Americans’ freedom of speech.
Every executive order, every law, every utterance, occasions obstruction, and obloquy in the strongest terms. Reductio ad Hitlerum is commonplace. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, some federal district court judge somewhere has either stayed or outright declared every action of his and his subordinates unconstitutional, dictated remedies, and passed that off as the rule of law. Thus do such judges exercise the powers of the president and Congress. At a minimum, fighting such obstruction through the appellate courts (panel and then en banc) and then to the Supreme Court takes months or years.
And since the Supreme Court has been the Left agendas’ chief legitimizer, holding on to it by any and all means has been a priority.
The revolutionary import of the ruling class’ abandonment of moral and legal restraint in its effort to reverse election results cannot be exaggerated. Sensing themselves entitled to power, imagining themselves identical with legitimacy, “those general laws to which all alike can look for salvation in adversity“—here the US Constitution and ordinary civility—are small stuff to them.
Their ruling class’s behavior regarding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’ nomination to the Supreme Court has been a further, epochal step in this regard.
No one doubted that the ruling class would “Bork” Kavanaugh. But the 1986 attacks on Judge Bork had caricatured his ideas, not slandered the man. The 1991 charges against Clarence Thomas, though untrue, had involved an accuser who actually had contact with him and hence might possibly have been true. But it was virtually impossible for the accusations against Kavanaugh to be true. Their patently insincere manner and substance advertised their purely slanderous nature.
Those who made them did so knowing that all alleged witnesses denied knowledge of the event. The the accuser’s closest friend denied ever hearing of the incident, or of Kavanaugh, which denial the accuser blew off by a gratuitous reference to the friend’s “health problems.” To avoid liability for perjury, she repeatedly claimed not to remember any checkable facts whatever. But at least once, she slipped up. Asked “Have you ever given tips or advice to somebody who was looking to take a polygraph test?” she replied: “Never,” despite an eye witness to the contrary. Yet, Republicans did not dismiss the affair as a hoax.
The anti-Kavanaugh campaign’s power and significance lies precisely in the ruling class’s perpetration of an in-your-face hoax. Making someone pretend that your patent lie is true may be the most humiliating of assertions of power. The ruling class, knowing the Republicans, dared them publicly to dismantle the fraud: to show the accuser is an emotionally troubled person, a Democratic Party activist who has worked for Corcept Therapeutics, manufacturer of an abortion drug, who engaged in slander and possibly perjury. In some measure, it looks like Democrats won the bet. The Republicans absorbed tirades and mobs, while protesting generically about “politics,” even as Democratic activists were intimidating them physically at airports, in elevators, chasing them out of restaurants, and disrupting their private lives.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh endured vilification and taunts for inability to prove his innocence, even questions about when he lost his virginity, as if these were legitimate, without giving a judge’s lessons in law. After he protested the squalid injustice being done to him, following predictable charges of intemperance, his apologetic op-ed in the Wall Street Journal kissed his tormentors’ hands. Apologizing for something of which one should be proud is an establishment Republican hallmark.
The anti-Kavanaugh campaign did not keep him off the Supreme Court because, it seems, Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Susan Collins, who had reasons and constituencies for voting no, supported him partly out of revulsion for the smear campaign. Very rare!
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was better than defeat. But it was not a perfect victory for the White House or for the Republicans. The “resistance” succeeded in showing: if we can do this to this man on this basis, we can wreck anybody, as may be convenient to us. It showed Americans what today’s Progressive movement means for those it dislikes: “If they can do this to him, they could do it to me.” The campaign has been part and parcel of the resistance’s ever growing violence against the rest of America. This has changed America. Like lost virginity, it cannot be undone.
The anti-Kavanaugh campaign is but the latest of the ruling class’s nationwide incitements to intimidation, inconvenience, and even violence against persons who stand in its way. Violent “protests” against candidate Trump’s appearance in several cities nearly forced their cancellation and led the media to blame ….Trump. Conservative speakers on campuses routinely expect “protests” in which people get hurt. “Protesters” at public figures’ homes mean to show that “the people” will not allow “enemies of the people” to live normal lives. House majority whip Steve Scalise and his baseball team were fired upon by someone energized to do just that. This sort of thing—“demonstrators” attacking the rulers’ opponents—is standard in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Iran.
In 1919, a member of the Russian Duma had asked: “Comrade, is this just?” Lenin famously answered: “Just? For what class?” Forty years later, in similar circumstances, Fidel Castro delivered the dime store version: “Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, nothing.” In 2018 our ruling class, in unison, set out to destroy all but the biological life of a political adversary. It substituted vehement assertion for truth, cast aside argument, foreclosed questions, celebrated its own deed and vowed to persist in it. Asked whether what they were doing was right, Senators Booker and Hirono answered directly—the others did so indirectly—that this was the right way to proceed with a person whose jurisprudence was so objectionable. Whether they know whose footsteps they are following matters little.
What matters a lot is that our ruling class does not deal and will never again deal with their opponents as fellow citizens. Theirs was a quintessentially revolutionary act, after which there is no stepping back.
The “resistance” worked. You may have won the last election, said the ruling class. But we’re still in charge. Indeed, they are. And they might stay that way. But human nature ensures that people reply, and repay. Establishment Republicans were driven to admit that their kind could no longer buy the Left’s comity. Hence the Wall Street Journal’s editorial announcing “We’re all deplorables now.” That is the only sense in which the “resistance” may rue the Kavanaugh saga. That is revolution’s logic.
By dropping all pretense of ruling for the common good; by presuming that they embody the law (Laws-R-Us); by instituting various kinds of boycotts (Institutions-R-Us); by using the strongest, most motivating language toward opponents; by inciting all manner of violence; by death-gripping their privileges; by using their positions’ powers in government and social institutions at or beyond their extreme edge; the people who occupy the government’s and society’s institutions continue to remove whatever deference the institutions (by the authority of which they rule) had inspired. They increasingly stand before their opponents, naked. By daring their opponents to capture these positions in any way possible, and to use them in the same way, they threw down a gantlet that is now being picked up.
In short, the “resistance” has begun to radicalize middle America. It redoubled millions of Americans’ sense of siege, their fear of unbridled rule by unaccountable powers, of being accused of “hate speech,” of normal life made impossible by Progressive socio-political demands. It confirmed the sense that Donald Trump and such as he, whatever their faults, are all that stands between themselves and having an alien way of life imposed upon them.
The voters who, over four election cycles, stripped the Democratic Party of the U.S. Presidency, left it in the minority in both Houses of Congress, without Governors in two-thirds of the States, and in the minority in two-thirds of the state legislatures did so not out of love for the Republican Party. They were being insulted and made to feel strangers in their own country, and wanted that to stop. But elections did not stop the ruling class’s assaults on their supposed inferiors. Instead, the “resistance” increased pressures on them. Political correctness is more virulent than ever, speech is more restricted than ever. Being on the wrong side of the right people is more dangerous than ever.
2016’s voters expected that their elected President and Congress would protect them, acting on their behalf with unrestrained power. But Congressional Republicans mostly joined Democrats, and Trump complained while mostly complying. Knowing that some good judges are being appointed raises hopes but does nothing now to protect Americans from what a host of hostile officials of government, corporations, education, in league with what the media are doing to whomever steps out of line.
While it is by no means clear how these voters will respond in 2018 and 20, surely, the “resistance” sharpened in them the revolutionary logic that dictates repaying outrages with compound interest, and revived the question that drove the 2016 election: what does it take to counter all this? Countering the ruling class as it has evolved through the resistance is the third turn of our revolution’s spiral.
If Trump isn’t what it takes, what is? The very question shows that Trump is neither more nor less than what serves his constituencies’ desires for protection and payback.
President Trump has found it easier to proclaim victories over middle America’s enemies than to achieve them. Often, he has simply protested the bipartisan ruling class’s continued rule while acquiescing in it, as he did on March 23, 2018 when signing the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill that continued financing every Progressive group, and increased funding for all of the ruling class’s priorities; and as he did on September 17, 2017 when he signed the Joint Congressional Resolution that urged all U.S agencies to combat “hate speech”—and defined it in such a way as to accuse his supporters of it. On national TV, he confessed that wise men in Washington had convinced him that his (and his voters’) desire to withdraw from the Afghan war had been wrong. Having finally decided to declassify documents many of which the intelligence agencies had given to the Washington Post, he apparently let them convince him that doing so would harm national security. While complaining of the Democrats’ slander of Judge Kavanaugh, he led Republicans in refraining from asking the questions and bringing out the facts about the accuser that distinguish legitimate complaints from slander.
Trump’s rousing speeches feed the body politic as empty calories feed the human body. Bluster followed by surrender has political legs both short and shaky. Trump’s tone has lifted his constituencies’ expectations. But tone does not give substance to public opinion, poses but a flimsy barrier to the ruling class’s concerted power, and does not begin to satisfy constituencies threatened by the ruling class machine that came of age in the anti-Kavanaugh campaign.
At any rate, what happens in our revolution’s third turn depends less on what Trump will do than on what millions of people on all sides will do.
Elections and Aftermaths
Who will accept losing the next elections? Odds are that neither the Left nor, now, the Right will accept it. What forms may such rejections take? We do not speculate on elections’ outcomes, depending as they do often on factors extraneous to the main issues. Rather, we consider how each side might react to the possible outcomes.
Were the Democrats to regain a majority in the House of Representatives in 2018, there is no doubt that they would redouble the “resistance,” and that a substantial portion of the Senate’s Republican majority would be friendly to it. That would leave the 2016 electorate’s defense to Trump—who would be forced to fully deploy Presidential powers in that task or to abdicate it to whomever would campaign credibly to fully exercise those powers after the 2020 election. Such leadership having become necessary—by Trump or whomever—it would carry with it the conservative side of both Houses into sociopolitical stasis for the next two years. Whether Trump were the candidate or not, the 2020 elections would bid for a historic national clarification, and make the 2016 ones appear to have been for low stakes.
Were the Republicans to maintain nominal control of Congress, the Democrats would have a chance to rethink “resistance,” and open the door for some kind of moderate settlement. But it is difficult to imagine the ruling class reversing a course that has been set by how its character has evolved over a century, renouncing its pretensions and privileges, and treating the “deplorables” as fellow citizens. Likely, its pressures on the “deplorables” would continue, as would the Republicans’ failure to deal with them. Such a Republican “victory” would make it likelier that Trump would be the 2020 candidate. This would add its own level of uncertainty to the outcome.
Were the Democrats to win the presidency in 2020, even Republican Congressional majorities—made up as they are of substantial “soft” elements—would be no barrier to an agenda about which no speculation is necessary. The revolution would flow along classic, predictable lines.
The consequences would depend on the extent to which the conservative side of American life rejected that presidency’s and its agenda’s legitimacy—and on how the ruling class would abide “resistance” to itself. What would a fully re-empowered ruling class that had tasted the possibility of dis-empowerment do to preclude anything like that ever happening again? How would it use the massive power that defines it and by which it defines itself? How would it marshal corporate power? How would it use the educational system? To what levels of demonization and repressionwould it descend? What license would it give to its affiliates to do what, to whom?
Trump had reacted to the post 2016 “resistance”—mainly by Tweets. Were the Left returned to power after 2020, it would not tweet about resistance—it would crush it, officially and by inciting unofficial violence. How would the crush-ees react? At what points would clashes occur? With how much violence? Sooner or later, somebody is going to get killed. Then what?
Were the Republicans to win in 2020 led by Trump or by whomever, the revolution’s logic would flow along lines parallel but different, opening the possibility of ending up in something other than war. There would be no doubts about brooking delays or major modifications to the conservatives’ agenda. The difference would lie in that agenda’s character and on the consequent possibility of a peace. A potential peace might be obtained based on the sorting out of populations and defusing conflict between them by means of loosening relations between the states such that these become looser than existed prior to the Civil War.
Prior to Progressivism, the American political tradition had not been about imposing any way of life on anyone. The earliest of our great religious-political controversies was settled in 1636 when Roger Williams led his followers out of Massachusetts to found Rhode Island. The Mormons, rejected elsewhere, made the desert bloom in Utah. Getting along by agreeing on the agreeable, agreeing to disagree on the rest, and the subsequent sorting out of people into compatible groups, is what kept the peace among a diverse people. The Civil War loomed because Southerners unreasonably insisted on expanding their “peculiar institution” since they feared—all too reasonably—that a preponderance of free states would force them to give it up. In 1861, Lincoln tried to avoid the war by pledging on the North’s behalf not to transgress on the South. But by then, neither side believed in self-restraint any more.
Nor does any side in our time truly believe in and practice self-restraint. For the Progressive side, it is anathema in principle as well as in practice. The conservatives, among whom the zealot’s taste for taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye is not widespread, revere self-restraint in principle, but are learning to transgress against it in practice.
Were a conservative to win the 2020 presidential election, dealing with the Progressives’ renewed resistance would be his administration’s most pressing problem. But had the Left’s resistance failed utterly during the previous four years, it may be possible to convince it to switch from its present offensive mode to a defensive one. Were this to be the happy case, the conservative side of American life, operating from a dominant position, might be able to obtain agreement to some form of true federalism.
Unattainable, and gone forever, is the whole American Republic that had existed for some 200 years after 1776. The people and the habits of heart and mind that had made it possible are no longer a majority. Progressives made America a different nation by rejecting those habits and those traditions. As of today, they would use all their powers to prevent others from living in the manner of the Republic. But, perhaps, after their offensive resistance’s failure, they might be reconciled to govern themselves as they wish in states where they command a majority, while not interfering with other Americans governing themselves in their way in the states where they are a majority.
Practical issues aplenty would have to be settled—e.g. the relationship between immigration, citizenship, and voting. For some, laws are already on the books (18 USC I/29/611) . Others, involving the judiciary’s reach, can be dealt with within the Constitution (Art III sec, 2). Foreign policy is an especially challenging area for any loose federation.
While there is no way to know the things that will happen, we know all too well why they will happen.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.
—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene I
Angelo Codevilla is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus of International Relations at Boston University.