During the Trump years, while many were relishing the carnivalesque thrill of “owning the libs”, the libs were rethinking themselves and plotting their route back to power. Within four years they had consolidated the elites into a united front, while American elites have become
An fascinating way of looking at things that I hadn't considered before- the lib beast that can shapeshift and swallow anything to survive, and thus accommodate wider socio-economic shifts. The frightening part of course is that, with the analogy of the Chinese cultural revolution, it's as if our entire culture was held for ransom by the Democratic party's wider coalition and influence network. One day the Republicans will be in power again, will the Dems initiate the same strategy again? Is it possible that the "Tea Party" of 2009-2011 and the moral majority/satanic panic are examples of the right deploying their own shock troops in a similar way? What are some guardrails that can be put in place so that ordinary people can't be terrorized to the same extent in the future? Excellent and thought-provoking as always!
This feels bleak and correct, but there is a loose end I wonder about: Politics is substantially about aesthetics and mood affiliation. Libs may have co-opted significant populist policy ground, but they are still cringe. Liberalism (in its Fight Song and Biden/Harris incarnation) still feels oppressive, hectoring, bland, enervating. So I think people are going to remain disaffected and restless and continue groping for alternatives. An economic catatrophe or other significant disruption -- or simply a continued period of stagnation -- could give one of those alternatives the momentum it needs.
This piece is interesting but strikes me as too bullish on the potential that Biden's victory has fundamentally shifted the trajectory of American politics. Liberals are far too committed to wokeness and identitarian dogmas to meaningfully pull back on the reins and bring any sort of stability to the United States. The degree to which they actually believe in the inanities they performatively spew is underestimated by many, although there are certainly some who are going along for entirely cynical reasons.
In addition, it would be a mistake to attach too much importance to the role of a desire for redistributionist policies in the GOP's populist shift. Trump's 2020 campaign was considerably more conventionally conservative on the economic front than his 2016 one, yet he retained almost all of his working class white support. Cultural issues play a massive role in the white (and to an extent, the hispanic) working class's shift to the right, and that is one area where liberals are completely unable to recalibrate, partially because of their own beliefs and partially because their class war against the working class contains a substantial cultural component that involves destroying any remaining sources of community and cohesion that can serve as bulwarks against the totalizing atomization of liquid modernity.
In sum, even if the Democrats are able to enact the policies they claim to support (which is unlikely given their tiny legislative majorities that they are likely to lose next year), such victories will not meaningfully dampen the populist fire on the right, and liberals' continued devotion to cultural upheaval means that there will be a substantial number of alienated centrists willing to roll the dice on the next Trump (or even Trump himself if he decides to run again).
The wild card in all of this, of course, is China. If a crisis develops over Taiwan in the next few years the impacts on US politics are difficult to predict.
I agree on the fact that Biden has deployed an incredible arsenal to reclaim very quickly (i.e. well before the 2022 mid-term elections) some good portions of Trump’s electorate. If not now, at the beginning of his mandate, and with an economy in need of a strong boost, when?
Not so sure about the de-woking of the environment. Sure, some excesses of the cultural revolution are being tamed. But I believe that the damages of a good 15/20 years of woke excesses are going to be long lasting. Not an easy time to be a university student in social science.
Bit of a long response here as it's one of the very few decent analysis I've seen the past year: The libs have been grossly underestimated; and used Covid in ways nobody 2 years ago could have possibly imagined. They used globalized institutional influence (WHO)to get themselves back into power when it looked as if on all sides, in every nation, the technocrat's rule was coming to an end- Take what happened in Ireland with Sinn Fein (they're not geopolitically relevant but are a good particular example). First time in 100 years or so, that the main two centrist parties were outvoted and somehow every party in the nation is in power except for the populist one that got the most votes lmao.
All the libs had to do is wait for a slight threat to the system (which covid offered) and we would all go running back to mum and dad with our tails between our legs. The appetite for a real alternative to liberalism was totally overestimated. The sheer horrors people faced 100 years ago and it only reinforced their political potency. Today, some slight threat and suddenly Trump is fascist, a hug will get you killed, stay inside.
Fukuyama was right, we are still all last men with no notion of any other plausible path(possibly no will or desire to really find one). We have truly been exposed as unorganized, undisciplined and unwilling to do anything, except for label the cultural phenomena around us as 'cringe'. 'Oh Biden sniffed a girls hair that's cringe, what a pedo. He's done! No look at this painting of a family in 1800s Italy. Wow so based and trad omg'. bla bla
It's difficult to propagandize free market ideology when half the world has been on welfare for the past year, but what's remarkable is that whatever model has emerged, it has totally neutralized threats form all sides against liberalism. (left and right).
My only discrepancy with your piece is that I think you may be looking at 'wokism' a bit narrowly. It's not only a useful, opportunistic political ideology (for alienation atomization ect.) There are significant philosophical(even theological) changes which it has brought about. Namely that of a classical liberal, somewhat rationalist and individualist model, to one which has set the ground work for something genuinely different. (Progressive) versions of race science, for one, have reemerged (think of that book white fragility). The loss of the liberal notion of the universal rational subject, morally understood through merit ect., which emerged victorious from opposing ideas such as entho-nationalism and Communism in the 20thc century, have actually remerged through Wokism. The idea of a rational individual adult (especially considering we have legalized the pharmaceutical neutering of adulthood through 'trans ideology'), is totally dead. You can win any argument or gain any benefit by appealing to 'personalized trauma' and that is not a temporary thing. Universities and corporations may continue to work like this for many years to come. Medicine and ideology are no longer separable.
Climate change and the use of bio-genetics will exacerbate this as it cannot be dealt with in the typically classical liberal way we have seen for 70 years. I don't think the technocratic libs themselves have any idea of how to deal with these things (which China will accelerate), and they are desperately searching for allies to sustain power. Once the boomers all age out, I do worry who will inherit the keys to the kingdom.
Politically yes, the libs have won. But at what cost? What deal with the devil have they struck? I don't think they are in control.
"Now that the liberal mainstream has broken with neoliberalism"
I think it may be too early to make this firm of a call. An infrastructure bill does not necessarily constitute a "break from neoliberalism" -- I view it as tossing peanuts to the peasants to keep them from revolting further. Joe Biden was called "the Senator from Mastercard" for a reason. Time will tell, I guess.
"has offered a comparatively dialed down version of the left’s misguided ultra-woke cultural turn"
This is just me, but I don't view the "woke" fad as particularly left; it's all about replacing class solidarity with personal grievance and provides a delightful smokescreen for the same old neoliberal policies.
Great read, Angela. I'm happy to see you on substack. I think the center under Biden probably has made a better offer to regular people than either the actually existing left or the actually existing right has. We'll see how much gets done, but I think they're at least starting with a lead over some pretty weak competition on both sides.
As for whether wokeness is likely to decline, I think it depends on whether you're talking about sex/gender or race. I see less incentive to rein things in with regard to trans issues, feminism, etc. They're definitely controversial in some circles, but most of that comes from the other side. And to the extent that some trans-related issues may be unpopular within the D coalition, they tend to be pretty low salience. I'd be willing to change my mind if I see some evidence to indicate otherwise, but I think things are probably going to continue apace here, pronouns are here to stay, things like to Equality Act and Freedom of Choice Act will eventually become law, and we're probably at most a decade away from decriminalizing prostitution.
On the other hand, I think continuing on the current course on race will probably make it too hard for the Ds to manage their coalition in the future. The country's becoming more Hispanic and more Asian. They're only going to increase in political importance and aren't likely to be as indulgent of black nationalism as white liberals (see: the affirmative action vote in California last year, increased support for Trump, support for Yang in NYC after repeatedly defying the wishes of activists, ongoing recall campaigns in SF, etc.). Add to that the fact that woke racial ideology requires some politically toxic positions on the crime issue, which is probably only going to become more salient, and I think its days are probably numbered.
That doesn't mean race-related identity politics will disappear. They existed long before wokeness, and we'll very likely still have different organizations purporting to represent different racial and ethnic groups lobbying for a share of political appointments or for or against policies they think will help or hurt "their people," but I have a hard time seeing Nikole Hannah Jones-style ethnic chauvinism not having to be dialed down in the future.