History will remember the days that followed the 2016 election as the moment when a wave of liberalism broke itself spectacularly against an escarpment of nationalistic fervor and populist fear. The momentum of the last eight years provided what we saw as proof that the country was moving in the right direction; that modernity had brought about a triumph over racism and nationalism. In the end, we have been forced to face the reality that not much has changed in the last fifty years.
The response to that realization has been one of the most troubling outcomes of this election cycle. Left-leaning Americans have taken to the streets in droves to denounce a future president, fueling the fears of conservatives who truly believe that rule of law in this country has been compromised by liberal politicians and immigrants. What do we gain when educated young Americans choose a course of civil disobedience and lawlessness over institutions of civil society which heretofore have been the hallmark of the last half-century of liberalism? At what point did we lose our voice and instead resort to barbarism and the political instruments of the oppressed?
Across the country, demonstrators now seek to aim hate rhetoric back at the man who made such language a cornerstone of his campaign. At the same time, Trump and his aides have restrained their own language, taking conciliatory tones when discussing some of their more radical campaign promises. He and his allies have made a deliberate effort to portray themselves as the graceful victors, in stark contrast to the seemingly uncivilized supporters of his former opponent. It appears to be working - the internet is ablaze with anti-liberal sentiment.
To the protesters: this is not a revolution, nor is it the end of civil society unless you let it be so. We live in a nation that, more than any other in the world, values freedom of speech, and in a time when technology has provided a voice to the voiceless. Go home and think about you want for this country. You will not overthrow Trump, nor should you. The victory of liberalism is not that your candidate will win, but that your candidate can win - that the ruler is selected by a plurality of the ruled. Of course, the system is not perfect, but it is certainly better than most of the alternatives.
The Democratic Party has a lot of soul searching to do, but the truth is that not much has changed. The only thing that has is that the left is now confronted with the reality that it missed the mark this time around. Given the split in the electorate, it would seem that both parties have failed to meet the needs of a majority of Americans.
While many feel that this election was one of the most brutal on record, consider the following from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72:
How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote FOR something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?
This election was nothing new. The type of political maneuvering required to rise to the top in this country would disgust most people, and yet the reason that has not changed over the last 44 years is because we continue to vote for candidates that seek their support from the smallest possible constituency. When you only need to appeal to 51 percent of the voting population, why worry about the other 49?
Elections are told in the language of beasts. Candidates, pundits, supporters all lather at the mouth, waiting for the chance to tear at their opponents. It is a blood sport played out for the amusement of the people, but sometimes the endless spray of excrement and viscera is too much and we lose our taste for it altogether. As Thompson put it four decades ago, “The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It's come to the point where you almost can't run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip on each other with big sticks." We have allowed ourselves to be seduced by election rhetoric to the point that the post-election frenzy is such a conditioned response that we have wholly abandoned any attempt at reconciliation or forward progress in the aftermath of defeat.
Elections may be the sport of beasts and bear baiters, but politics itself is still a genteel game. We choose to participate because we decided long ago to rid ourselves of a Hobbesian reality. So why have we returned to some primal state of nature in the wake of political defeat? This is not Tahrir or Tunis or Benghazi. The Arab Spring had to happen, in part, because entire populations lacked access to any of the institutions of civil society. There was no political discourse. Protest, violence, insurrection, and revolution became the language of the people in the absence of the fourth estate. In fact, the only reason that political discourse became possible was because technology and social media provided a novel platform that had not previously existed in those countries.
What is our excuse then, we who have more institutions of civil society, more forums for political discourse, than any civilization ever? The American left is not voiceless, not by a long shot. It is time to go home, nurse our wounds, and think before we speak. When we do speak, it will be with a steady voice and a message that looks beyond 51 percent of the population.
We face a very real threat to liberalism and modernity. I will not apologize for Trump, nor will I tell you that everything is going to be okay if we throw our hands up and do nothing; however, I will tell you that there are no new ideas here. To once more quote Thompson, "Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represent it." We can choose to continue to make a spectacle of ourselves - to fulfill the fears of Republicans who would label us dissidents and proponents of chaos - or we can choose to respond to our failures, make amends, and return to the political table ready to begin the hard work that awaits us.