American liberals continue to play out the five stages of grief in response to Donald Trump’s win. Rubbing their eyes the morning after, they were in denial, as Hillary Clinton waited to concede. Once reality began to set in they responded in anger. Now they appear to be in bargaining mode, trying to figure out just how little they might need to evolve – not merely to keep Trump in his box, but also to keep him from winning again.
If the pattern continues to hold, depression will soon follow when American liberals reckon with just how intractable the opposition is across the country. And acceptance, finally, might someday allow for more productive moves, to reinvent themselves beyond their loss.
“Why not secede from the union?” a colleague asked at one funereal Massachusetts gathering I attended, days after the election. Some Californians have proposed “Calexit”; in a liberal daydream, blue states could become social justice utopias were they to sever their ties to their God-fearing and gun-toting fellow citizens in the red ones. It was a classic attempt to pivot from denial and rage to seeking some way to soften the blow. Born in St Louis, Missouri, where I lived half my life, I pointed out that stranding such social justice on the coasts hardly seems, well, just. Not least when much of the revolt against American liberal elites currently under way is traceable to coastal policies, and many of thecountry’s most intractable problems, like de facto segregation in schooling or racialized mass incarceration, cut across all sections of the country.
The most regular version of bargaining, however, has been changing the liberal brand, with a focus on messaging and optics. If too many Americans in “flyover country” will not support liberalism, this half-measure says, the problem must be a failure to sell them our candidates, if not our values. By this account, our values need not change, provided the rhetoric of politics convinces voters to punch the ballot for the Democratic party rather than the Republican one.
In the most notorious example, Mark Lilla likened trawling for voters to a fishing trip, and indicted “identity politics” as a misbegotten bait for the electoral hook. Liberals, he charged, currently yell at fellow citizens…