American liberals appear finally to be facing down sexual harassment in their own ranks. The awakening has led some to conclude that feminism and American liberalism in general may be turning a corner. Younger people, particularly younger women, are no longer willing to play Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem’s game of covering for sexual predators in liberal ranks. Could it be that liberals are waking up to the divisive and destructive nature of identity politics, which, after all, is the ideological centerpiece of American liberalism?
Sadly, I doubt it. Although the exposures seem long overdue and are certainly for a good cause, they are being processed by the media and body politic in the same old divisive narratives of group versus group — in this case, men versus women. They are making us more fearful of one another, and they are escalating a sense of social grievance that is at the heart of identity politics.
To understand this phenomenon as an escalation of identity politics and not a turn away from it, we must understand the nature of modern American liberalism. As I argue in my book, “The Closing of the Liberal Mind,” the essential emotion of liberals today is an absolute intolerance of any idea or behavior they deem offensive. American liberals have been doing “zero tolerance” for years, against, for example, conservative speakers and sexual harassment charges on campuses.
What is different now is not the tactic but the target — liberal figures who have been hiding behind liberal protection. But here is the rub: The change is not an abandonment of militant feminism. Rather, it is a purification. It is a purge of elements within feminism’s ranks that are violating its most basic principles. By abandoning the political corruption of Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton, who stood beside Bill Clinton, the new feminists are embarking on a new crusade.
All this is true. But despite the new targets and purification campaigns, there really is less change going on here than meets the eye. For starters, we will see how far it goes go to unseat actual sitting liberal politicians.
For another, the new crusade is merely doubling down on the identity politics of modern American liberalism. Over the past 60 years, American liberalism has moved consistently to the far left. Progressive liberalism today has left the old-style progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson far behind. Today, liberalism is not so much a coherent political philosophy as it is a radical social movement intent on upending morality, transforming gender and sexual relations, and overturning social traditions like marriage. It aims to revolutionize the culture, and by so doing to create a new social order governed by an increasingly illiberal, authoritarian state.
This new type of leftism, born in the 1950s and 1960s, invented modern feminism, but it got derailed by the Clintons. The pursuit of power superseded true gender equality. Nevertheless, the original premise of modern feminism — that men and women are locked in a death struggle for power — not only persisted, but remains a central concept of modern liberalism. It’s not the old liberal idea of just getting women more opportunities in the workplace, or reducing gender discrimination. Rather, is has become largely about settling cultural and even biological scores.
If the issue were exclusively about men sexually mistreating women, it would not have taken so long for liberals to expose men such as Al Franken, Matt Lauer, and John Conyers. Nor would Mike Pence, who embodies the Christian approach of abstinence until marriage and treating women with respect, be dismissed as patronizing women.
The New Left’s cultural divisiveness, and its attendant intolerant style of politics, have entered the larger American culture. Even some conservatives are starting to emulate the tactics of the New Left. They have adopted the end-justifies-the-means mentality that sometimes sacrifices their principles.
This is a Faustian bargain. Many Americans are starting to see through the hypocrisies of progressive liberalism. They see liberal journalists, politicians, and Democratic Party donors from Hollywood who claim to champion women’s rights, but who prey on women behind locked doors. They are also beginning to see one of the dark sides of the 1960s sexual liberation movement — namely, a culture that promotes the licentiousness of rapacious men.
But we are also seeing self-proclaimed Christians embrace a Senate candidate who violates their own moral standards. In this political war, no one wins. Everything becomes only about power. Identity politics becomes the cultural law of the land, and no ideology or political movement is exempt or safe.
As the old saying goes, power corrupts. In a nation supposedly founded on creeds and principles, these are dangerous trends we owe mainly to the radicalization of liberalism over the past 60 years.