The New Moral Law 

February 8, 2022 Updated: March 2, 2022


President Joe Biden’s announcement that a black woman would be his nominee to replace Justice Stephen Breyer may violate the core liberal principle of individualism, but in no way should anyone be surprised.

Liberals have been crossing liberal premises for so long that no exertion of identity politics on their part should call for the charge “Hypocrite!” When someone pledges one thing and does another over and over, moral judgments only cloud the behavior. It’s too consistently inconsistent for that. Something else is going on.

The phenomenon is everywhere. We have super-liberal parents who put Black Lives Matter signs in their yards but do anything to get their kids into Tier One schools with a tiny black population. They say they care about people and they attach their ears to one NPR story after another on this victim and that, but they live in neighborhoods those victims could never afford. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like Trump’s wall; at the same time, he was building a mile-long, six-foot-high wall around his Hawaii estate and blocking longtime access to the beach.

Biden claims to bring harmony to a nation divided by Trump, and proceeds to align opponents of his voting bill with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. Officials mandate masks and forbid gatherings, then they … well, you know.

Stop wasting your time yelling, “Hypocrisy!” Don’t bother pointing out the contradiction. They don’t care. Consistency isn’t a liberal virtue. Only the outcomes matter, as the favorite term equity underscores (equity seems to have passed diversity on the ladder of values), and the first outcome is that liberals remain in power. They’re the good ones, the responsible ones, the enlightened ones, and if they waffle and feign, if they self-contradict with a smile, they do so in order to protect the country from the deplorables and their impulsive leader.

It’s indeed remarkable to watch a committed liberal shrug off allegations of the financial corruption of BLM and the riots of 2020, while the very sight of a trucker in a MAGA cap at a rally excites feverish indignation. It’s personal, you see, or perhaps social is a better word. Ideas come second to personalities, as we saw when Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shared some ideas about protecting the American worker, but the same thoughts uttered by Sanders, which they approved, became abhorrent when in the mouth of the Bad Man. Sanders was one of them; Trump was sui generis, and that made him dangerous.

In a situation like this, when politics become entirely a contest of identities, logic and rationality slip and falter. All’s fair in love and war. Say this one day, say that the next, and worry not about integrity. Do you want to win or lose? Do you want to rule them or be ruled by them? When feminists in the ’60s coined the slogan “The Personal Is Political,” they meant it. (The line was aimed mostly against the middle-class household, where women were putatively oppressed and exploited.)

If everything is personal, however, the civic sphere no longer exists. The First Amendment on which the American public square is based is no longer a market of ideas and words, values, and policies. It’s a schoolyard, a battle of egos and identities, and in that setting, the requirements of consistency and sincerity go down. We get identity politics, not democratic politics. When the left first pushed identity politics many decades ago, they did so in the cause of the victims, the marginalized, we were told, and the major institutions of our time have bought that rationale.

The cancel culture of the 2020s proves it wrong. It’s a merciless, joyless, unforgiving project, happy to make new victims of anyone upholding beliefs contrary to progressive dogmas of race, sex, gender, borders, and equity. The people who cheer the cancellation of a witless individual who told a stupid joke on social media or muttered “homo” as an insult and got filmed doing it are like neighborhood gangs clearing the parks of kids who don’t belong, whose looks annoy them, who talk funny. They clear the grounds of intruders, which is how the “woke” regard the “un-woke.”

When liberals twist their own principles, then, they have a binding goal: protect themselves. The woke schoolyard is competitive and unpredictable. It’s also inconsistent, as when last year’s cultural respect becomes this year’s cultural appropriation. We shouldn’t expect consistency from liberals when they manage such a tense, mercurial environment, or merely seek to survive within it. Biden doesn’t have to be principled. He just has to endure, to go with the woke flow, reverse course when he must, drift into illiberal words and deeds when necessary, scrap the old civic rules that kept politicians from demonizing a fair slice of the American public.

We now live under a governmental/corporate/digital regime that has shown its willingness to trash the old norms of free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, and rights of privacy. Liberals in power will compromise, trim, prevaricate, dissemble, and accuse in order to appease the zealots and keep their posts. America has entered a whole new moral condition, and the sooner conservatives realize it, the better they will fight the ideological war now thrust upon them.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Bauerlein is an emeritus professor of English at Emory University. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, the TLS, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.