In the summer of 2016, America witnessed both peaceful protest and civil unrest after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Amidst the rhetoric, a string of police assassinations took place, notably in Dallas, Baton Rouge and later in Des Moines. That melodrama began a bitter election season with jaundiced press coverage leaving major swaths of the country unprepared for the idea that Donald Trump could really, actually win the presidency. That in turn led to the attacks on the election’s legitimacy launched almost immediately afterward and stirred by a media class casting about to explain what just occurred.
In 2020, it appears we’ve decided to double down on all the mistakes of 2016, but harder. Blessedly, we haven’t seen targeted assassinations of police officers, but a number of police officers and others have been injured and killed in the fatal civil unrest still taking place.
Many have remarked that 2020 is a uniquely bad year. They think about COVID-19 and our politics and create memes about how uniquely tough the year has been or how long it’s seemed. While this is an opinion piece, I’m here today with some hard news for you. I’ll break it now: 2020 is a uniquely bad year looking backward, but this is how the coming decade is going to feel. Off-election years may be a bit smoother or feel a bit less suffocating, but the overall feeling 2020 is giving you is the new normal.
It will remain so until we resolve a series of governance challenges that America has refused to face. Our problems are bipartisan, as is our ignoring of the debt, but it must be said that the destabilizing populism we see in our streets is driven by one side of our politico-cultural aisle. The departure from constitutional – not political – norms is inherent in the programs Democrats have casually proposed in their primaries and during the pandemic, with historic and irreversible consequences if enacted. These are not partisan differences; these are governance challenges. Disagreements of this magnitude pose a literal threat to the sustenance of our federal political union as convened.
We may look back at the struggle to resolve these issues and see 2020 as a breeze. That's how serious and fundamental it is to have a non-minor portion of the country believe in the things we’re hearing the Left not only voice support for but, remarkably, appear to think they have the right to enact. Beyond the long-held goal of the Left to replace the Bill of Rights with a manifesto of positive rights, what we are seeing is not an elevation of the tribal version of politics we’ve all lamented before, but an elevation of cause-based political affiliation over other symbols of unity and importance.
Our division is not just deepening. It’s actively eclipsing the remaining areas of American comity. You can see this demonstrated very literally as the NBA replaces surnames with political messages on the backs of their jerseys, and the NFL considers playing what some refer to as the “black national anthem” before games. Healthy, united countries do not have two national anthems.
As we continue to divide, our ability to agree on what the rules are, and what government can and can not do, will further erode. Those in our streets in Portland and elsewhere are quite open about their disregard for the rules, admitting that their goal is to overthrow “the system,” and the rules that supposedly perpetuate it. Given the coddling of the protesters as they destroy federal property and insult and mock police officers, we rationally know we’ll have more destruction as 2020 rolls into ’21.
We remain shocked at the normalization of revolutionary rhetoric amongst our youth. However, we are slow to recognize the fact that one side of the political aisle has a street arm that creates a misimpression of widespread support for a radical ideology and harms the body politic via the subtle application of political intimidation. Nothing about turning the calendar from December 31, 2020, to January 1, 2021, changes those dynamics. And nothing magic will happen on January 1st to slow the revolutionary tide from demanding wholesale changes to American government akin to the New Deal and Great Society in scope and consequence.
It may be 2022 when a Democratic president declares the power to ban the purchase of private health insurance or entire classes of firearms. Or 2024 when steam builds to replace the Electoral College via a constitutional amendment to replace the 12th. It may be 2026 when what by then could be 25 million illegal aliens mount mass demonstrations of their own, insisting we yield our sovereignty to their demands. By 2028, as conflict with China looms, our debt will start crowding out domestic spending priorities, providing even fiercer competition over limited discretionary resources as the public sector unions feel their monopolies threatened.
The lack of consensus on core constitutional issues will pose a cost as our differences come to a head in this decade. Think about that as you complain about 2020 and know: we’re only getting started.