Imagine a nation conceived in a struggle for liberation from distant imperial management, born out of a declaration of independence that sought “liberty and justice for all,” raised in the tradition of natural rights and constitutional self-government, that matured into a beacon of hope and freedom for oppressed people around the world.
Up until somewhere in the mid-20th century, that nation was the United States of America. But over the course of the past 60 years, the destiny of the United States has turned in a very different direction.
Early last year, Claremont Institute scholar Christopher Caldwell published a landmark history of post-World War II America, titled “The Age of Entitlement.”
Caldwell maintained that civil rights reforms in the 1960s, although just and necessary, produced a series of unintended consequences. He argued that affirmative action measures, willingly accepted to make room for the entry of African Americans into the mainstream of American business and professional life, led to the development of an adversarial culture that left Americans living under entirely different ideas about what it means to play by the rules.
“Civil rights ideology,” wrote Caldwell, “especially when it hardened into a body of legislation, became, most unexpectedly, the model for an entire new system of constantly churning political reform. Definitions of what was required in the name of humanity broadened. Racial integration turned into an all-embracing ideology of diversity.”
The Orwellian notion that a reliance on a skin-deep “diversity” is the best means to achieve national “unity” became the centerpiece of an aggressive radical movement that eventually captured the Democratic Party and led to the development of an alternative American constitution that’s frequently incompatible with the original.
Today, America’s leading formative institutions welcome racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in areas such as university enrollment and professional employment, but are almost entirely opposed to diversity of thought and opinion.
This disposition has led to the emergence of two Americas struggling to live in the bosom of a single state. One America is guided by the traditional “de jure” constitution of 1788, the other by the “de facto” constitution of the post-1960s that enjoys the near-unanimous approval of establishment politicians, mainstream media, progressive intellectuals, judicial elites, and civic educators.
Origins of the Alternative Constitution
The philosophical origins of America’s “alternative constitution” stretch back to early Utopian socialism, Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” “Das Kapital,” the British Fabian Society, the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School, American progressivism, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and post-modern Critical Race Theory.
Over the past century, the United States—along with many other countries—has been lured steadily away from the kind of classical liberal principles once held by its Enlightenment-era founders. For the most part, the principle of individual “equality before the law” has been replaced by an imperative to ensure a selective “equity” in the distribution of power and wealth between competing interest groups.
Adherents of the post-’60s “living” constitution believe that adherents of the written 1788 constitution are racial bigots and a threat to democracy. The liberal-progressive leftists who pledge their allegiance to the alternative constitution are dominant in American high culture.
The End of Civility
Sitting astride the fulcrum of this left–right continuum is a so-called “moderate” left and right who were once content to regularly exchange the spoils of political power. Throughout the 20th century, the center-left could be depended on to moderate the excessive demands of a growing neo-Marxist movement in America. Lacking confidence in their own moral capital, the center-right conceded to almost all of the social justice movement agenda of the left and became more comfortable turning their criticism toward so-called “populists” and “nativists” on the right: the “basket of deplorables” that challenged America’s progressive conventional wisdom in 2016.
The longstanding practice of moderation appeared to end somewhere around the second term of the Obama administration. Since the founding of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the summer of 2013, the division created by the emergence of an adversarial constitutional order has made the American way of life nasty, brutish, and dangerous.
In a recent editorial, First Things Magazine editor R.R. Reno pointed out that years of anger-politics on the left has inevitably produced anger-politics on the right.
Reno suggests that, up to now, the political and cultural establishment has considered discontent from the left to be the only legitimate source of complaint. Conservatives could always be cast in the role of villains who sought to threaten “the working poor” and “vulnerable minorities.” So the establishment-right learned to lie low and avoid taking any strong positions that could be spun by the media as racist, bigoted, or fascist.
The bipartisan establishment’s rush to impeach the legacy of former President Donald Trump clearly illustrates the common goal of all elites: to preserve and protect their established power and sources of wealth. With a crusty, reliable, lifetime progressive politician like Joe Biden assuming the leadership of the post-modern American syndicate, corporate America’s senior partners seek to censure and suppress any open expression of outrage from middle- and working-class Americans.
“In sum,” Reno wrote, “the senior partner is senior because he mediates radicalism on the left while enjoying the stability of the status-quo upon which wealth and power depend. He can put a BLM sign on his front lawn and make $500,000 per year as a college president.”
A Point of No Return?
The stunning post-inaugural capitulation to the radical left by the Biden-Harris administration portends the end of the Democratic Party’s role as the nation’s natural healer. Given the deliberately demeaning reversal of the Trump administration legacy on the first day of the Biden presidency, it’s clear, as Reno notes, that establishment concessions to the extreme left are turning into complete capitulation.
This is why adherents of the 1788 constitution are angry. They see themselves as having paid dearly in high taxes and lost jobs for concessions to global elites, while Democrats remain in a position to exploit left-wing outrage, violence, and institutional corruption for electoral advantage. They feel betrayed and disowned by leadership that appears anxious to hunt them down as “domestic terrorists.”
The mustering of some 25,000 National Guard troops to protect Washington against a largely imaginary domestic security threat during Biden’s inauguration may be a sign of more draconian measures to come. American elites are disavowing their own people, whom they consider deplorable rubes that must be kept in their place by any means necessary.
Whether the United States is at a point of no return will depend on its ability to rediscover the same faith, prudence, insight, and courage that was summoned in 1776 to produce the greatest experiment in constitutional democracy in the history of mankind.
William Brooks is a writer and educator based in Montreal. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.