The increasing energy going into the intractable issues that divide Americans is producing a vicious cycle naturally tending toward violence. Members of the bipartisan class atop our administrative-corporate state’s commanding heights believe they are entitled to rule inferior Americans, whose opinions they deem unworthy of respect. This has energized a sociopolitical revolt that has shrunk the Democratic Party’s hold on elective offices around the country and placed Republican leaders under siege by their own voters. As a result, there is no longer a major constituency for restraint.
When Hillary Clinton put half of her opponents into a “basket of deplorables — racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, you name it,” and the other half into a basket to be pitied, she was merely explaining her party’s longstanding business model: make the Deplorables into something like outlaws, driving them to society’s margins by depriving them of recourse against the administrative state’s instruments as well as the prerogatives of major private institutions; grow programs that put more of society’s money into ruling-class hands, and use some of it to buy the Pitiables.
Republican and independent voters are not about to be persuaded that they are deplorable or pitiable. In 2016 they wanted to force the Republican Party to fulfill its promises, and looked for candidates who would return the ruling class’ disdain — with interest.
Donald Trump was elected to lead revolutions against the ruling class in general and the Republican establishment in particular. Mr. Trump did not create the hopes and resentments that elected him. Nor is it in any man’s power quite literally to “make America great again.” Even to try would require dismantling the ruling class that has grown upon us for three quarters of a century, and building up a different one. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s election fed the sentiments that elected him. But the reality of a ruling class more aggressive than ever has leavened them with disappointment and bitterness.
The ruling class’ “resistance” to the 2016 election results expresses its evolving moral and intellectual character. Growling and barking, “Racist! Sexist! Homophobic,” and now “Nazi,” it bandies projects of which previously it had spoken softly, such as requiring all hospitals, doctors and nurses — including Catholic ones — to perform abortions or at least to training to perform them, mandating that Catholic schools admit homosexual and transgender students, and ensuring that online transactions on such websites as Airbnb comply with evolving anti-discrimination standards.
It is also morphing the concept of “hate crime” into the criminalization of “hate speech” — meaning opposition to what these loving folks demand. In this regard, the Sept. 11 Joint Congressional Resolution identifies the political right with political violence and encourages those who wield the U.S. government’s vast powers to treat the ruling class’ sociopolitical opponents as public enemies.
Mistakenly, the ruling class believes that Mr. Trump is the ultimate expression of a passing populism. Discredit him, crush the Deplorables, buy the Pitiables, and they can rule unopposed. But their problem was, is and will remain not Mr. Trump but the indelible resentments that they have aroused. As the Sept. 26 Alabama Republican primary showed, not even Mr. Trump himself can save the rulers from a population that has come to understand them too well.
That is why whoever wins elections henceforth is certain to do so as the representative of one side of America, antagonistic to the other.
Were any Democrat to be elected president in 2020 he would make Barack Obama look conservative. Radical expansion of the concept of hate speech would restrict the exercise of religion and punish reticence to conform, as well as political opposition. The public sector’s transformation into the ruling class’ private preserve would be completed. The conservative side of American life, looking back to 2017, would try its own version of “resistance.” But whereas Donald Trump responded to “resistance” with complaints, the next Democratic president’s response would be to punish opponents — ignoring court orders, marshaling friendly corporations, and even using the federal agencies’ SWAT teams against them. “Stop me if you can.” The conservative side of American life will see no alternative to civil, or even violent disobedience. Then what?
Anyone elected in 2020 by the anti-establishment side would know that the left sees tolerance as a one-way street, that it is no longer capable of practicing it, that the Republican Party committed suicide by not fulfilling its constituencies’ desires on guns, abortion, religion, education, taxes and immigration. Hence, he has no choice but to fulfill them. The resistance of judges, bureaucrats and corporate executives would be even fiercer. A conservative administration would have no alternative but to sweep them aside. Then what?
In either case, both sides have already transcended the American republic in their hearts. When will they do so with their hands? We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is futile to speculate where it will end.
• Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University. A version of this paper was presented at a Claremont Institute symposium in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26.