What has transformed the Democratic party into an anguished progressive movement that incorporates the tactics of the street, embraces maenadism, reverts to Sixties carnival barking, and is radicalized by a new young socialist movement?
Paradoxically, Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and 2012 and yet helped to erode the old Democratic Party in the process.
Supposedly, changing demography, massive illegal immigration, and identity politics had preordained a permanent 51 percent “Other” whose minority statuses, as defined by gender and race, had now become a majority, given the destined demise of the white working classes.
But while Obama sermonized about our predestined “arc of history” and how its moral curve bent this way and that, he managed to lose both his supermajority in the Senate and the House itself by 2011. By 2015, the Senate lost its Democratic majority.
Ruling by pen-and-phone executive order only took the country more leftward. And it came at the price of stagnating the economy, acerbating social, cultural, and racial differences, raising taxes, and recalibrating foreign policy.
Progressives once thought that Obama was their godhead and their assured pathway to permanent power. In those heady days of 2009, the American system of government was still deemed wonderful.
But then with the loss of local, state, and federal legislative power, progressives grew understandably bitter. Never had so much been promised and so little delivered. And they began to recalibrate Obama the erstwhile savior as mostly a narcissist who had thrived while emasculating his followers.
That bitter disappointment was something akin to the shipwreck of Republican dreams of the late 1950s. Giddy after the elections of 1952 and 1956, Republicans had thought that a beloved Ike was their permanent salvation, when, in fact, Ike, but not necessarily his party, did well for a brief hiatus of two terms — after following 20 years of Democratic presidential rule and ushering in eight more.
The 2016 Election
The 2016 election understandably embittered and radicalized Democrats — as happens when a party wins the popular but loses the electoral-college vote.
On Election Eve, the New York Times still preened that its various models and polls gave Donald Trump no real statistical chance of victory — or rather respectively a mere 15 percent, 8 percent, 2 percent, or less than 1 percent chance of winning the election.
A boastful lame-duck Obama was lecturing the nation on the eve of the anticipated Clinton landslide that there was zero chance of any party, much less any nation, warping the U.S. election.
Indeed, dozens of the careerists and progressive appointees at the Washington FBI, DOJ, CIA, and National Security Council took all sorts of risks to insure a Clinton blowout.
Hillary’s defeat caused unimaginable shock.
Worse still, Clinton had blown a huge lead by foolishly seeking an electoral mandate while Trump, the supposed dunce, outsmarted her analytics and young techies by battering down the blue wall and stealing her Democratic Midwest with a populist nationalist message, part JFK, part Ronald Reagan.
Nothing is more humiliating than to be already doling out White House patronage jobs on Election Day at noon, and by evening suffering a shipwrecked candidacy and the certainty of eight more years of progressive rule incinerated.
In the past, the usual progressive attack on traditionalists and conservatives had been met with a sort of tsk-tsk appeasement, a Marquess of Queensberry forbearance from men and women who had learned their polite political manners at the country club.
The Bush, McCain, and Romney approach was to be above the fray and expect Americans to condemn progressive excess, when in fact the attitude of exasperated conservative voters was always something more like, “If they won’t do their job and fight back, then why in the hell should we support them?”
Then came Trump, who considered politics as a sort of televised WWE wrestling mat, and who enjoyed the political fray as much as he had when he once climbed into a real Wrestlemania ring with Vince McMahon.
He said bluntly and often crudely what most had thought silently and soberly.
Progressives soon woke up to the reality that without power they were unable to stop Trump, and so they embraced any desperate means necessary to trap the ogre.
Blacks Lives Matter, Antifa, and #MeToo were all in a sense weaponized to do what elections had not.
They bitterly lament the unfairness that a Wyoming or Montana might have as many senators per state as California or New York.
How could it be that a picture-perfect system that had empowered Barack Obama now gave the country Donald Trump?
If the system does not deliver the correct results to progressives every time, then change the damned system to ensure that it does!
The Supreme Court
In 2008, all the stars above — terror over the September 14 stock meltdown, unhappiness over the Iraq War, the kick-me McCain campaign, the Obama heritage candidacy, and stay-home conservatives turned off by the traditional Republicans — aligned to give Democrats control of the Congress and presidency.
Progressive astrologists predicted a series of Obamas for the next half-century. But in truth, the country was never really progressive.
Trump, however, not only got elected but in matters of court appointments he also proved to be an originalist and constructionist in a way that recent Republican presidents had never quite envisioned.
Fear grew over a future that would be even worse than the bad present.
Trump’s criteria for selections seemed to be youth, strict constructionism, and intellectual brilliance — along the lines of a cohort of young Scalias.
The catastrophic yet suicidal loss in the 2016 election and the disappointment over the Obama presidency radicalized Democrats.
When Democrats lost, they realized that they still lived in a Republic and not a volatile Athenian democracy — and found this also hard to take.
More exasperating still was the loss of the Supreme Court, the last bastion of elite brilliance and superior morality that might yet save America from the prejudices and ignorance of the irredeemables, deplorables, clingers, and crazies.
Add it all up, and it was enough to drive any liberal to binge progressive drinking.
Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. @vdhanson