How Social Justice Ideology Gave Us Donald Trump

President-Elect Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

President-Elect Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

I didn’t sleep at all last night. As the election results came in, I had a familiar feeling of growing concern, the same feeling I had experienced watching the results of Brexit. However, this time around, I was more than half expecting a Trump win, albeit not by such a convincing margin.

In both cases, there would have been little joy to be found in any of the results on offer. Both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 American election have exposed deeply and poisonously divided societies. Scott Alexander is right: the result last night shouldn’t change the narrative. It only makes the divisions harder to deny. The election exposed the nation’s climate; the election result is just the immediate weather forecast.

All of the protestations of her supporters notwithstanding, Clinton was a truly terrible candidate. That the same nation that twice elected Barack Obama preferred Donald Trump—Donald Trump!—to her should give an indication of just how terrible. This can’t simply be chalked down to sexism. Exit polls suggest that Trump beat Clinton by 10% among white women. These women voted against the potential first female president for a man who boasted of—and has a string of women accusing him of—sexual assault. The narrative of deep misogyny robbing Clinton and her entire sex of the win to which they were entitled is understandably a reassuring one, but one at risk of becoming a comfort blanket for people unwilling to face up to an unwelcome reality.

On the other hand, the fact that America, in large measure through the white evangelical vote, has elected Donald Trump, should be a cause of profound national and Christian shame and deep concern. Nothing about the result changes the fact that Trump is utterly unsuitable for office: temperamentally, politically, and morally. I think there is great cause to be fearful for the future of America. I unreservedly stand by all of the questions that I asked of people considering voting for him.

Our response to the result and our posture in the coming weeks and months must fundamentally be one of prayer, love, grace, and compassion for our neighbours. There are a lot of people justifiably fearful right now. Many are feeling deeply betrayed. Some are wondering, not without good reason, what this result means for their continued stake in American society. A great many relationships have been fractured or poisoned, some beyond repair. It is increasingly clear that the practice of Christian virtues of kindness, grace, love, mercy, and compassion aren’t merely preferable to their alternative, but essential to the fragile health of America as a nation. Reach out to your neighbours today and show kindness. Pray for President-Elect Trump and for the good of the nation as he leads it. Volunteer in your community. Invite someone to your church.

The Need to Reflect

Alongside such practical responses, it is imperative, however, that we address the question of why this happened. Such reflection, as it may involve unwelcome and painful charges, may be regarded as unloving. I don’t believe that it need be, although it will be difficult and unpleasant. The fact that a man as patently unfit for presidential office as Donald Trump has just been elected to it wasn’t an accident. We need to understand why.


I have been seeing a number of moderate and progressive Christians blaming evangelicals for Trump’s election. There is much truth there and is essential that we reflect upon it. I hope that you read such pieces. However, my purpose here will be to stress a different aspect of the story, one that might deny progressives the balm of moral superiority with which many of them are dressing their wounds today. This isn’t intended to elbow out or deny the great importance of those other accounts, but to supplement them.

Within this post I want to draw attention to one of the major reasons why this has happened, which is the toxic effect that social justice ideology has had upon American society and politics. This ideology has empowered a candidate who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

Some people have regarded the debates about social justice and political correctness in universities as a pointless and exaggerated sideshow to the political, economic, and social issues that really matter, something ginned up by conservatives to create self-serving outrage. However, the capitulation of universities and the establishment liberal mind with them to the social justice cult is arguably one of the primary causes of our current dire situation.

At their heart, the struggles for free speech in the university are a fight for the ailing mind of the Democratic Party. As long as the various ‘studies’ programmes (women’s, gender, race, etc.), critical theory, and the culture they perpetuate have sacred status in universities and form the prestige religion of the educated elite and their various institutions and organs, our situation will only get worse.

Liberal Obliviousness

For several years, I have been a habitual eavesdropper in the comments over on Metafilter. I appreciate Metafilter for the window that it gives into the minds and habits of discourse of highly intelligent liberal progressives. It has always been very important to me to understand how liberal progressives think, to be able imaginatively to get inside their ideological framework and sense of the world, to understand how deeply well-meaning and smart people could relate to the world radically differently from the way that I do.

Throughout the election period, and over the course of last night (here and here), I regularly lurked in the comments of election threads. What struck me more than anything else was their frequently profound and often utter obliviousness to non-liberal ways of thinking.

This obliviousness isn’t just extensive, it is often insistent. It isn’t merely that people don’t get it: they often completely refuse to get it. I have seen attempts to represent the thinking of Trump voters with any degree of charity treated with great hostility. On account of people’s professed vulnerability and the illegitimacy of giving sympathy to hateful voices, most discussion didn’t stray too far from a narrative attributing everything to misogyny and racism. It was a telling window into another group’s echo chamber.

Within the cushioned walls of their safe place, many of the liberal progressives of Metafilter may take comfort and confidence in the absolute justice of their cause in the Manichaean battle against the countless evil and hateful supporters of Trump who have overrun the country. The American population have unambiguously voted for racism, misogyny, and ignorance.

The troubling thing is the frequent unwillingness to attempt to believe better of their fellow Americans, to explore the possibility that perhaps many Trump voters are intelligent, well-meaning, and, yes, fearful people just like themselves, people who are actually opposed to misogyny and racism and only voted for Trump because they believed there was no other choice. The fact that such liberals seem to find it more reassuring to believe that an overwhelming multitude of their compatriots are irredeemably hateful and evil than it is for them to believe that a well-meaning and intelligent person might support an opposing candidate is immensely revealing. Perhaps it suggests that such people have more of an existential stake in the cocoons of ideological communities than they do in the world of social reality.

The narratives of feminism, gender, and race theory provide a comforting prophylactic against the intrusion of unwelcome reality on many fronts. Being assured that you are a victim of evil social forces, hateful individuals, and dark structural processes conspiring against your success can be a comforting belief when the alternative is to admit the possibility of a natural reality or a broadly unavoidable social reality that doesn’t function according to our egalitarian prejudices. The possibility, for instance, that historic male dominance in social power might largely be a naturally grounded phenomenon is much less palatable than the belief that this order results from a profound and more or less universal evil disorder instigated and maintained by the male sex.

The problem with such sacred narratives and the communities that coalesce around them is that they rigorously preclude intellectual exploration. As genuinely wounded, vulnerable, and fearful people are heavily invested in them for their sense of psychic worth, the community-sustaining narratives cannot be interrogated and stress-tested. Alternative theories are precluded from consideration. Challenges to the narratives are perceived to be an attack upon the people who take refuge in them.

These narratives identify a great many genuine social wrongs, but they consistently overplay their hand, in a ‘motte and bailey’ doctrine fashion. Unfortunately, when they have assumed a sort of sacred status, one cannot challenge the overplaying of the concepts without being presumed to dismiss the genuine wrongs they identify. The cancerous theories that result can grow unchecked by healthy critical processes and steadily metastasize until they destroy their host institutions.

The result of all of this, unfortunately, is an adherence to a comforting ideological script at the expense of charitable engagement in an open public square. Indeed, far from charitable engagement, this ideology encourages ever shriller and angrier attacks on and denunciations of people who differ. Faith in the possibility and power of discourse, persuasion, and the possibility of forging common ground with people who differ are swiftly eroded. When ideological security requires protection from the cognitive dissonance of recognizing, or at least being open to, valid points in opposing arguments, or to the goodness of our critics, politics will rapidly devolve into condemnatory shouting matches. Prevailing social justice ideology is great for virtue signalling for the purpose of in-group membership among progressive liberals. It is useless and, indeed, entirely counterproductive when it comes to the tasks of persuasion or understanding.

Liberal Contempt

One of the prominent themes in the liberal discourses that I have seen throughout this election has been deep contempt for the demographics who would vote for Trump. ‘White’ people (‘white’ primarily serving as code for ‘red tribe’ white people), men, straight and ‘cisgender’ people, evangelicals, older, and more provincial people are frequently spoken of with an unmasked loathing. Their bigotry, hatred, and oppressive actions are responsible for everything that is wrong with the country. They often speak as if these groups have an unrelenting hatred for them and they hate them in return.

While they flatter themselves that they are compassionate and open—they are standing for love!—their vicious vengefulness and hostility towards people, or the way that they sacrifice even the closest relationships on the altar of political and ideological differences, is truly terrifying. The other side isn’t just driven by different yet valid group concerns, or well-meaning but mistaken, or even compromised yet open to moral suasion. No, for so many they are evil and beyond redemption, a group that cannot be won over by reason, service, or love but can only be eradicated. For instance, here is one of many such comments from the Metafilter threads:

This chart showing how The Youngs voted is very, very nice. All we need to do now is get rid of all The Olds.

The contempt that social justice ideology drives can be galvanizing for opponents. The unedifying spectacle of privileged Ivy League students attacking the misogyny and racism of people in struggling American communities who voted for Trump, for instance, and failing to summon up the slightest compassion for people in difficult economic straits, simply because they are white, sticks in the craw of people who haven’t swallowed the ideology. Reading liberal progressives’ own words, one can see that many of them have undiluted hatred for these demographics and just want them to perish. They complain about Trump’s statements about immigrants, but one wonders whether they listen to themselves talk about Midwesterners.

‘How are you feeling about the extinction of white men?’ Lena Dunham, a prominent figure among Clinton supporters, asks her father in a video she posted last week. ‘Well, white men are a problem … straight white men are a big problem, that’s for sure,’ he answers, ‘but I actually feel pretty good about it…’

It is clear to many Trump voters that liberals don’t just disagree with them, but truly hate them for who they are. Another comment from the Metafilter threads:

Bit of a story here, but I’ll tie it into this election—bear with me a second.

So, I own a small business and we’re in the midst of seemingly never-ending renovations. We’ve got a contractor who I strongly suspect screwed us on a flooring job and used outdoor-only sealant on part of the space (we’re doing one half at a time). The fumes have taken a week to subside; it was only when we rented (at our own expense) a super-serious, heavy-duty ventilation system and ran it all weekend that they finally died down enough that our employees said they could bear to work in the other side of the space and NOT have to wear gas masks to work.

We’re in a retail space with apartments above and behind, and our landlord has had to pay for hotel rooms for some of the tenants, chemical testing, and a variety of other things, and has told me he intends to bill us for it. Shit just keeps rolling downhill, and I don’t have the money to pay for this crap.

I’m talking with our attorney and insurance company to see what our options are—long story short, it looks like we’ll be going after this dishonest contractor and/or his insurance company for damages. Whatever he and/or his insurance company (assuming he has one) can’t cover, our insurance should be able to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this, because the guy seems kind of like a dumbass and overall kind of nice, and he subbed out the flooring job, and I suspect he honestly didn’t know what happened.

But I’m also about 90% sure he’s a Trump voter. I can just tell.

After tonight . . . fuck it, I’m going after him, guns blazing. Fuck this guy.

Oh, and while I may be a business owner and in the top 4%, income-wise, I’m also a person of color who’s heard my own customers say stupid shit about my own ethnic group on My. Own. Fucking. Sales. Floor. (My skin tone is kind of ambiguous; people don’t necessarily know my ethnic background by looking at me.) And one of my stores—my flagship store, and the one currently under renovation and the one that just got fucked over by said contractor—happens to be in the capital of the old confederacy. So I suspect this guy’s a good ol’ boy.

Well, fuck this guy. You get the next four years. In the meantime, I get your house.

(Yeah, we’re supposed to be better than this, and eventually I will be. But I also have a 21-month-old girl who was born during Obama and who I wanted to see grow up during Hillary’s administration, even if I was initially a “BernieBro.” Now I won’t see that happen. I need somewhere to put this anger. Eventually, I’ll channel it somewhere more productive. Right now, at 1:08 AM on election night, it’s going toward this contractor who could potentially kill my business.)

The sort of open and unapologetic hatred of particular demographics that one sees on the left are a good explanation for why it lost—and, yes, deserved to lose—yesterday. That social justice ideology systematically provides cover for such venomous hatred is part of the problem (‘And let go of the illusion that ANYBODY but white people—particularly white males—gave this election to Trump. White men are scum.’). The fact that this hatred often comes from the more privileged people educationally and socially and is directed at those with a much lower socio-economic status merely makes it all the more reprehensible. Until the ideology that permits such hatred is uprooted, the progressive left will lack both the power to persuade and moral credibility.

Liberal Mercilessness

“When you surround the enemy
Always allow them an escape route.
They must see that there is
An alternative to death.”

—Sun Tzu

White men (well, apart from the enlightened college-educated progressive men who support social justice ideology) have repeatedly been told that they are everything that is wrong with the world. The same is true of evangelicals as a group. They must assume a crippling guilt and much vanish into cultural dhimmitude until demographic changes eliminate them from American society. As they represent evil, no allowances must be made for them, no quarter must be given to them. They must be eradicated.

The last few years have revealed the mercilessness of liberal progressives, their refusal to provide avenues for Christians to shelter from their cultural domination. In a whole host of cases, Christians have seen that liberal progressives intend their cultural extinction. Progressive liberals care little for conscience protections, the integrity and independence of their institutions, their capacity to speak freely in the public square, work and sell without coercion in the marketplace, and enjoy freedom of association.

Liberal progressives have established a cultural total war. Photographers, florists, bakers and others will have their livelihoods destroyed if they don’t sacrifice their consciences and fall in line. If you don’t accept prevailing transgender ideology and socially orthodox views on homosexuality, you can be hounded out of academia. Equality and anti-discrimination laws are expanded as far as possible, with no concern for religious freedom. You must bow the knee. You don’t have a choice. You will be made to care.

The Supreme Court and the Presidency have gained new powers or exploited existing ones in the context of these battles. Christians know that liberals, who have demonized them and have a profound contempt for them, desire to destroy them completely and to use these weapons to do so. With Scalia’s death this threat became a lot more real.

At this point, moral principle and honour can easily be abandoned. It is a matter of survival and evangelicals refuse to consent to the fate designed for them. What they need is not a moral exemplar as a president, but more of a fighter who will act as their defender. The fact that they voted in such numbers for a man as reprehensible as Trump is not surprising, and is in large measure the fault of progressives.

What Identity Politics has Created

The monster of Trumpism is in large measure a monster created by the social justice ideology and identity politics of the progressive left. The more that a demonizing and merciless ideological narrative is used as a weapon against particular demographics, the more that they will resist it. The social justice narrative calls for white people, and men in particular, to assume a crippling guilt, to be the scapegoats for America. Trump’s movement is exactly the sort of resistance that such a narrative will provoke.

White people and men refused the narrative. For all of the progressive left’s insistence upon the evilness of America on account of straight white Christian men, Trump’s movement is founded in large measure upon the counter-claim that, for all of its undeniable faults, the nation of America was once great, and it was predominantly white Christian men who made it great.

Trump is a shameless and guilt-free candidate. This is exactly the sort of candidate who will thrive in the current context. As Michael Story has observed, the progressive left so radically overused the necessary antibiotics of shame and guilt that they produced a shame and guilt resistant candidate and movement. When people appreciate that guilt and shame have been weaponized to force them into cultural dhimmitude, they will start to celebrate shamelessness and guilt-freeness.

As the progressive left constantly demonized their intersecting demographics, non-college educated white Christian men became more assertive about their identity and communities. As their hastening demographic collapse was celebrated on the progressive left, they became more open in celebrating their identities and communities and in reasserting the importance of their immense historical stake in the nation. In some quarters they started to exhibit the patterns of polarized identity politics voting. If every other demographic will play identity politics, why shouldn’t they do so too? And because they are such a big demographic, this is very bad news for the left.

The more that the untreated cancer of social justice ideologies spread through the once public institutions of government, the political parties, academia, big business, the mainstream media, and Hollywood and rendered them tribal, the more that white Christian Americans will simply dismiss their authority and cease to trust them. In place of the old public authorities, they assumed more tribal identities, rather than playing a part in a public square they had come to believe was rotten. In this context, the celebrity figure of Donald Trump, who was trusted as a familiar celebrity and who identified with their demographic was a natural person to rally behind.

They pushed back against the narrative of historical inevitability that condemned them to the ‘wrong’ side. Sabotaging the election of Hillary Clinton, who symbolized the unrelenting forward thrust of a progressive vision of history was especially satisfying for them in this context. Indeed, her manifest weakness as a candidate meant that her presidential bid rested very heavily upon identity politics and the progressive vision of history. A large number of people in America voted against this vision of history yesterday, a vision in which they must consent to cultural death for their past and present sins.

The election of Clinton was also presented by so many on the progressive left as if an action of pure identity politics. The unpleasant particularities of Clinton as a candidate disappeared beneath the claim that people were at long last being given the chance to assent to the inexorable forward march of history and cast a vote for the fairer sex, whose time had finally come. Repeatedly, when Clinton faced challenges or questions, the gender card was played by her supporters, as if the prospective holder of the most powerful office in the world merited gentler treatment by her critics. I am sure that many in the nation envisaged four long years of interminable feminist hot takes, by which Clinton’s sex would always be treated as if it were the most important thing about her. Voting for Clinton was a vote for a particular brand of identity politics and yesterday millions across America said ‘no, thanks’. Reading the pieces that followed America’s decision, I am sure that I am not along in feeling, on this front at least, considerable gratitude.

The Failure of the Liberal Mind

I have already discussed the failure of progressive liberal discourse, with its inability to tolerate ideological dissent and argument. As Heterodox Academy and other groups are highlighting, the modern college is increasingly granting social justice ideology sacred status. The modern college, especially in subjects such as the social sciences, is characterized by radical lack of viewpoint diversity: conservative voices are absent from the conversation.

Liberal progressives cannot understand conservatives, not only because of the Manichaean demands of their social justice ideologies, but also because conservative voices simply aren’t present in their environments. They’ve never been forced to understand intelligent conservatives on their own terms, let alone practice intellectual sympathy. Consequently, they routinely resort to caricatures and weak man arguments.

The sheer scale of progressive liberals’ insulation from the rest of the country is remarkable. Not only do they not understand it: they have virtually no relationship with it. Once again, progressive liberal bien pensants on Twitter have been made to look like fools, completely out of touch with public opinion. The journalists, the comedians, the pundits, the pollsters (with a few exceptions) all now look ridiculous. They really do not have a clue and we should ask why we are still listening to them.

The fact that they are so out of touch also relates to their demonization of Trump supporters and voters. Perhaps this ignorance also drives their hyperventilating warnings about the prospects of a Trump win (Fascism!!! The end of Democracy!!!) as it is rather easy for them to believe that his victory in the presidential election is a victory for all that is evil. After years of their crying wolf about various candidates, one isn’t surprised the public ignores them. Trump’s presidency will almost certainly be a poor one, but there is no reason to expect the apocalypse. When you are largely oblivious to and disconnected from the population that exists outside of your cosmopolitan circles in big urban centres, it is much easier to believe that the rest of the country is a racist and misogynistic religion-addled wasteland. Alternatively, it is easy to believe that John Oliver’s latest smug rant truly ‘destroyed’ Trump.

The Failure of Liberal Anthropology

The liberal mind has also failed in other ways. Only a few days ago, the Huffington Post was saying that it was 98% certain that Hillary Clinton would win and dismissing those who suggested otherwise. One should attend to such signal failures and let the stock of the opinions of such news sources plummet in your mind. Such exceedingly poor predictions are a good sign that they are of limited value when it comes to informing you about the social reality of America.

It is interesting to look back and to see who actually predicted the election. From what I have seen, the people who best predicted the election were generally people who were attentive to human nature and psychology and the values that drive us, the dynamics of human societies and cultures, the qualitative differences between particular demographics, etc., rather than people operating with liberalism’s skeletal anthropology. A number of the people in question, people like Steve Sailer, for instance, are pariahs of the establishment, condemned for noticing things that one is not supposed to notice. Their analysis was primarily qualitative, rather than quantitative. Liberalism’s anthropology needs to be identified as a deep part of the problem here.

People don’t function as mere detached and interchangeable economic individuals, whose differences are primarily on the surface. They form various types of communities, with contrasting characteristics. Groups have deep cultural differences in their structures, values, and behaviours. Sexual differences are real. People have networks of trust, complicated psychologies and attachments, and dynamics of group behaviour. People want to be part of something greater than themselves and desire meaning in their lives. Sadly, the study of these sorts of things is increasingly taboo within the social justice order.

The left’s impoverished vision of humanity is exposed in its failure to read the election. The thin understanding of the fungible homo economicus with the thin veneer of identity politics simply does not do justice to the sort of beings that we are, the sorts of communities that we form, and the manner in which we make decisions. A movement that works with such a poor understanding of human nature will not be able to understand why human beings act in the way that they do. Consequently, hatred is constantly introduced as an explanation where it really need not be. Where a number of us were trying to grapple with the complex motives of hypothesized Trump voters, the progressive left tended to indulge itself in the ideological fantasy that their opponents were merely racists and misogynists, whose hate was leading them to vote against their interests.

The Failure of the Progressive Liberal Social Vision

The progressive liberal social vision has taken aim against the politics of local attachments and championed ever-increasing diversity. It has operated on the assumption that human populations and persons are interchangeable. It has operated on the assumption that economics is the most determinative consideration for human action and values. Immigration has been celebrated as an economically empowering practice, raising the wealth of a nation. The diversity that it establishes has been lauded as that which makes America great.

Unfortunately, the progressive liberal paradigm fails to recognize that importing people is not like importing apples. People have deep and contrasting values, behaviours, forms of community, etc. When you import people, you import their values. When you change the demographic constitution of your nation, you will invite significant changes of its culture, institutions, and values. America was never formed by diversity as such, but by particular regionally differentiated mixes of cultures, some being more successful, others less, and most retaining something of their original and distinct characters, long after their origins retreated into the distant past.

They have wilfully ignored the evidence that high ethnic diversity often directly undermines the intangible communal values and meanings that many people most care about: trust, affinity, belonging, heritage, etc. They have failed to attend to the marked differences between cultures and to the much deeper affinities that certain groups have to America’s historic values and identities. While this definitely need not mean that diversity is undesirable, it should allow for a conversation about a more prudential immigration policy.

Liberalism, and perhaps progressive liberalism especially, has celebrated a sort of cosmopolitanism of shallow and indifferent differences, all curated by its ideology. It has attacked the concern of non-cosmopolitan white voters for protection of national and regional identities against radical demographic erosion as racist and xenophobic. While the Democratic Party took borders seriously in the 90s, it increasingly ideologically fetishizes the absence of them. All while white liberals frequently perpetuate a NIMBYism and gentrification, whereby their communities and schools are spared from the most serious effects of demographic change.

Any suggestion that the integration of the values of specific religious and national communities might pose significant challenges has been dismissed as racist, Islamophobic, and bigoted, despite extensive evidence of the real effects of the cultural divides in question. Liberals have loudly condemned concerns about Muslims, while signally failing to address very real issues of Islamic terrorism. When people ideologically refuse honest discussion of pressing problems, they leave the door wide open for others who will.

Failing to honour the multigenerational stake of particular communities in America and the particularities of American identity, they have practiced an extreme universalism and an indiscriminate welcome, often wilfully pursuing the displacement of America’s historic demographics. When progressive liberals frequently gloat that white Americans will be a minority themselves before too long, those white Americans have good reason to resist demographic movements designed to secure their marginalization. Proud American identity has frequently been treated with a sniffy disdain and the attachments of the majority of the American population regarded with scorn. The fact that many white Americans find deep meaning and identity in the particularities of their national, regional, and even various ethnic attachments is ideologically abhorrent to many progressives.

The more than liberalism has rejected these human realities, the more it has opened up the possibility of a natural attachment to one’s place, one’s people, and one’s culture to curdle into an ugly xenophobia and rampant racism. Sadly, just such a phenomenon has risen to the surface around and been partially legitimized by Trump.

This election has also revealed that progressive liberals don’t actually have quite the power among minorities that they might think. The identity politics of social justice ideology involves progressive liberalism’s ideological curation of a range of different tribalisms, especially within the academy. Whether one is an Asian, a Muslim, a woman, an LGBT person, an African American, progressive liberalism provides you with an ideological framework within which to assert your tribal identity.

Progressive liberalism can easily fall into the trap of thinking that, simply because minorities currently largely align with it and the Democratic Party for the pursuit of their best interests, it will always remain that way. It assumes that a progressive liberal ideology grounded in a European tradition will always enjoy the privileged place, encouraging and accumulating tribalisms like pet lion cubs.

It fails to recognize that the alignment is often opportunistic and cannot be banked upon in the long term. Latinos didn’t come to heel for the Democratic Party as they needed them to this time around, for instance. As demographics shift and minorities gain more power and progressive liberals lose credibility in wider American society, one should not presume that minorities will fall in line behind it. While Islamic scholars may often be treated as if pets of their movement by progressive liberals, for instance, one should not simply presume that this relationship will be sustained in the long term, as little natural affinity exists. It is dangerous to treat tribalisms as pets. When they grow big enough, they may turn on you. Minority groups as groups often have much more in common with social conservatives than with their current liberal patrons. A great many of the things that cosmopolitan liberals most hate about rural white Americans have their analogies in minority groups.


Progressive liberals represent the enervated heart of a culture without deep civilizational confidence, energy, and vigour. As people, they are obsessed with discussing transgressive sex and sexuality, yet are increasingly struggling to reproduce themselves. While they expect the ever-continuing expansion of what they deem civilization, its conveniences, and its pleasures, they are afflicted by a deep and wasting decadence. They have failed to feed the hunger for meaning and purpose in the human soul, perhaps the most devastating failure of the movement of all. Despite its current cultural dominance and power, such a movement cannot survive indefinitely. The future of America and Europe belongs to peoples who have the cultural energy that liberalism lacks.

In an ideal world, progressive liberals might take some important lessons from this election. Perhaps some might develop a principled appreciation for more limited government powers and reach. Increasing the reach and power of government seems great to those who are convinced that the arc of history will always bend in their direction, less so to those who recognize that history doesn’t work that way.

Sadly, I fear that most won’t and social justice ideologies are much of the reason why.

The dynamics of the social justice movement reinforce the echo chambers within which it is trapped, preventing it from encountering, hearing, or listening to challenging voices. Sacred egalitarian values prevent them from grappling with differences. A commitment to a merciless Manichaean vision leads them to demonize, alienate, and even radicalize opponents. An impoverished understanding of human nature prevents them from appreciating and engaging adequately with the human drive for meaning, purpose, and self-transcendence.

The fight for the university as a realm of open and pluralistic discourse, unshackled by social justice taboos and sacred values, has never been more imperative. The cancerous growth of unchecked ideology must be arrested and the valid concerns of social justice thought must once again be situated within the realm of public contestation. On account of the systemic failure of the university to resist the metastasization of social justice ideology, its growth has spread to all of the major institutions of liberal thought and expression. The result has been devastating for the political health of the country, saddling us with a cultural elite that is incapable of understanding or engaging with the nation that they are living within, and fiercely hostile to many of the people within it. This elite is rapidly losing its credibility and moral authority and radicalizing its opponents, rendering those opponents dangerously immune to the antibiotics of guilt and shame.

It should not be forgotten that the current social justice movement is one that is profoundly invested in not noticing the unwelcome contours of reality. If it consistently succeeds in its purposed failure to see realities such as sexual difference, we should not expect it to recognize its own systemic failings in these regards. While it may still seem to enjoy considerable cultural power, we shouldn’t bank on this continuing indefinitely. The election of Trump—something they brought upon themselves—may just be the first of many cracks to appear.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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37 Responses to How Social Justice Ideology Gave Us Donald Trump

  1. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    without getting TOO detailed the fractures between the Old Left and the New Left in North America got seriously underplayed by mainstream center-left coverage this year and last. There was a recent piece at The Atlantic you might have read already that described how older New Deal anti-bank populists were cast out by the post-Watergate generation of senators and representatives over issues such as racial segregation, military adventurism and failures (real or perceived) to address the problems of the Nixon administration. Along the way, however, the newer left/center made peace with the banking industry in ways the old left/New Deal generation didn’t.

    So when a candidate like Trump, arguably a populist agitating demagogue of the sort Jacques Ellul warned about half a century ago, comes along, the class-based resentment of the financial sector no longer had a mainstream Democratic symbol to rally behind. It “could” have in Sanders, but we got to see how shut out of serious consideration he was for the DNC candidacy.

    In the short run scapegoating red state voters is more popular but there have been people in the Left who have been highlighting why they didn’t consider Clinton to be a good option and how the larger Clinton legacy (both Bill and Hillary) laid the foundation for a populist like Trump to have an opportunity.

    It’s surprising how surprised the blue state voting blocs are that their open contempt boomeranged on them at an electoral level.

    Robert P Jones has written about the end of white Christian America at the mainline and evangelical level–perhaps to the extent that white Christians heard from the mainstream press their day was done this contempt inadvertently (for progressives) catalyzed them to vote as though they were a shrinking minority themselves; or the smoke hasn’t cleared yet (Clinton’s reportedly won the popular vote, after all, which makes speculation about the demography of the popular vote potentially moot compared to the Electoral College). It may turn out that a progressive scapegoating of the uneducated red state voter isn’t what happened, after all. We’ll get to find out soon enough.

  2. cal says:

    But part of the story is also how a society fed on tv-drama, commercialization, and mass-media created the Donald who is now set to rule. Liberal progressive hate, from the get-go, was fascinated with Trump. Trump the Buffoon, Trump the Hatemonger fell along the same lines as Trump the Last Hope, Trump the Cowboy. Everyone became fascinated in the blurry world where love and hate comingle around fixation.

    Identity politics plays into this as its a means of, completely devoid of reality, one constructs one’s self. Evangelicalism has been engaged in this, and now, perhaps “white men”, are now too. A mass-media Barbie style approach to your body and soul feeds into the crowd-mentality of the alienated, conservative and liberal alike.

    I’m glad Clinton didn’t win, but I don’t feel quite as conciliatory as you. America deserves Donald Trump, for he reveals the vile face of American greed, vanity, and cruelty. The wrath of the liberals is no different than the wrath of Trumpists, it would be they, not so-called liberals, out on the streets protesting. Clinton supporters talk about Trump the anti-Latino and xenophobe, while Clinton was toppled Honduras’ government and keeping the noose around South America’s neck. No one thinks that it was Julian Assange and Wikileaks that sought to upend Clinton, hardly a reactionary.

    This election also reveals, pretty bluntly, the nihilistic politics of Evangelicalism, so tethered as it is to Americana. Predictably, the Evangelicals who clamored for Trump will, just like the Reagan years, be left standing in the White House lobby as the door is closed on them. Once again the cult of the nation leaves them blind and dumb, like the idol they worship. Once again, moral bankruptcy is revealed by God’s judgments. May reformation come quickly before the whore of Babylon is consumed by the beast she sought to ride.


    • Chris E says:

      “The wrath of the liberals is no different than the wrath of Trumpists”

      I agree with cal’s point, the incivility you highlight is just a mirror of incivility in all of these kinds of communities, there are equally metafilters of the right where words like ‘mudslime’ ‘vermin’ and ‘degenerate’ are common currency, incivility takes the form of other-ing everywhere.

      Secondly, it wasn’t liberals who made Trump the Republican candidate – the triumph of Trump overshadows a malaise in the conservative movement. After all, the conservative elites were not able to field a candidate who could speak to the ordinary members of their movement half as convincingly as Trump.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

      yeah, agreeing with Cal P and chris e, that the level of contempt blue state and red state people have for the very process of democratic governance itself when things don’t go their way is the same across the board. Had the election gone the other way it would still be an electoral cycle governed chiefly by contempt in both directions.

      The cults of red and blue merely appear to be different but are the same sort of jingoistic imperial cult underneath. The two teams have labored over generations to ensure that the Bible presents a gospel of what they already want That red state/conservative voters have managed to appropriate what they regard as the self-pitying privilege of social justice warriors is an irony they won’t be able to observe or appreciate but that’s probably the ultimate irony of red state electoral contempt for social justice warriors, that in an era of the United States in which a victimhood narrative can be appropriated by those the social justice warriors regard as the oppressive classes, the rhetorical device has become a skeleton key of universal self-pity for Americans who regard themselves as victims regardless of political alignment.

      Evangelicals seem more concerned about their loss of prestige than the social issues themselves., which hardly helped over the last thirty years.

  3. gbg says:

    Excellent article, the best early consideration so far, which is unlikely to get an airing in the secular media. Along similar lines, however, pre-election was a great “prophetic” article by John Gray, entitled “The closing of the liberal mind” in the Spectator 4 -10 Nov, in the UK. Its scope is broader than the US, covering the West in general.

    I found my way here, via your recent article on the Gospel Coalition. Not only has there been a retreat from public debate, there has been an exclusion from the pubic square and a lowering of the level of discussion. On any panel, with expert sociologist, scientist, philosopher, parliamentarian, lawyer, artists, and Christian apologist, theologian, who will be prejudged as being biased and bigotted?

  4. gbg says:

    That should read NewStatesman, not Spectator. Apologies.

  5. WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

    highlighting the previously mentioned rift between old left and new left (aka also called neoliberalism).

    The center-left press spent more than a little time ignoring the left critique of its establishment base while not taking Trump’s candidacy seriously. If they couldn’t take Trump’s candidacy seriously that was expected, but dismissing an intra-left critique of the left itself is a bit tougher to explain.

    • Chris E says:

      The center left was convinced that everything could always be won from the center, as there was an economic consensus.

      They were buoyed up in this belief by the success of triangulation over a couple of election cycles (Blair and Clinton being the master exponents of this).

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        yeah … that explains things. 🙂 I was just getting out of high school when Clinton pulled off that hat trick in the early 1990s. An editor I used to work with after I got out of college used to joke that the secret to Bill’s success was that he ran as a moderate Republican.

  6. cookiejezz says:

    Good post, Alastair. To my mind that line about “getting rid of the Olds” is telling.
    Got a baby you don’t want? Get rid of it! Got unwanted Olds? Get rid of them too.

    Where is abortion culture taking us?

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  8. An excellent analysis I thought, and one that chimes with and expands on much of what has been in my thoughts not only over the US Presidential election, but also our own Brexit referendum. I was particularly struck by your comment that “When people ideologically refuse honest discussion of pressing problems, they leave the door wide open for others who will.” It reminded me of this article I also read today ( that was offering a similar analysis but from a more economic viewpoint, and rooted in analysis of the rise of the EDL in the UK. One point made there was that the EDL supporters the author had spent time with felt (and indeed were) deeply disenfranchised, unable to find a single ‘legitimate’ political force that would speak for them or even listen to them. They had lost their cultural identity and felt that everything they had previously depended on was being eroded with nothing replacing it.

    It amazes me how those on the left can rail at Brexiters/Trump voters’ ‘hate speech’ while at the same time totally failing to realise that the terms they are using to protest amount to just more of the same. Only tonight on the News I have seen protesters burning effigies of Trump in the streets. After Brexit I repeatedly saw comments along the lines of ‘people over 60 should not have been allowed to vote as they will not live to see the effects of their vote’. Even now, months after the referendum, the characterisation of all Leave voters as racists or idiots persists. A couple of days ago someone on my (overwhelmingly left-leaning) Twitter feed posted a link to an article that they thought all Brexiters should read. Immediately came a reply: “As if they /can/ read!” It’s so much easier to dismiss opposing views as the product of an ignorant or diseased psyche than actually engage with them and admit that, yes, there might be people in the world who have different opinions and that’s ok. No – this is the new world order and all must submit. Orwell would be proud.

    Apologies for long comment/rant! I am a Leave voter constantly frustrated by the ease with which 140 Twitter characters allows others to characterise me as a racist idiot, and the impossibility of using the same 140 characters to express my complex and nuanced views about the anti-progressive, empire-building monstrosity that I believe the EU to be. Having said that, had a vote for ‘Leave’ equated to a vote for Farage to become Prime Minister, I would have voted ‘Remain’. The thought that my Leave vote would put me on the same side as some people who are, yes, undoubtedly holders of distasteful and dangerous views, had me wavering right up until the point at which my pen hit the ballot paper. As far as Trump goes, I believe him to be a deeply distasteful man. I also believe him to be a consummate actor, performing to his identified voting bloc with impressive skill on the election trail. It remains to be seen what role he will adopt while he is in office.

  9. Tim says:

    Thanks for your insightful post, Alastair. I’m a conservative, theologically and mostly politically, and thinking more about this troubling phenomenon makes me want to, for my own part, strive all the more to be charitable, learn from people I disagree with, and make the most of any opportunity to have meaningful dialogue.

    If I were looking for two or three writers or media outlets that might represent some of the best of liberal thinking on political, social, and cultural issues – people from whom this conservative here could read both to learn more about the issues and about how liberals think about those issues – who would you recommend?

  10. M.G. says:

    This is a stirring condemnation of Left’s intellectual bankruptcy, its utter lack of charity towards opposing viewpoints, its quasi-genocidal tendencies, and its wholesale inability to see that good people who are completely opposed to misogyny nonetheless felt compelled to vote for a self-professed misogynist (not sure how that last points works exactly). Much here is valuable and necessary critique. Nonetheless, my concern is that the essay may be guilty of the very things it condemns insofar as the portrait of the Left painted here borders on caricature.

    Indeed, I am worried that the essay picks the very worst tendencies within progressive culture and presents it as uniform/unquestioned practices, which is no more fair than the progressive desire to reduce Trumpism to the racist/misogynist/antisemitic elements of its alt-right base.

    • Progressives aren’t the left, nor are they all liberals. Many liberals and left wing thinkers are saying exactly the same as me here. Many liberals have been vociferous critics of progressives from day one. I also distinguish between various elements of the progressive liberal left in my follow-up post.

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  13. quinnjones2 says:

    Alastair, I have read your post and the comments here with interest, but I still doubt if I’ll ever fully understand why Trump won the election! The media seem to be awash with people offering explanations for the result, and there seems to be some truth in many explanations. There are two factors that are still very much on my mind: voter turnout and the popular vote; the US voting system. For instance, on 9th November Ben Shapiro posted this tweet about the popular vote:
    ‘Trump won fewer popular votes than Romney 2012 and was about on a par with McCain 2008. Hillary lost 10 MILLION VOTES from Obama 2008.’ I have no reason to think that these statistics are not factual, and they do suggest that there was not a Republican surge, but that there was a Democrat collapse. If this was the case I can think of no explanation for it. Maybe some of the 10 million Obama voters were elderly and are now deceased, though I doubt if that explains it! I can think of many other ‘maybes’ but they are all just speculative.
    I have a few thoughts about the US voting system. Hillary won – just! – the popular vote. If the election had been based on a ‘popular’, referendum-style voting system she would now be President-Elect, and Trump would not be a happy chappy, despite the fact that he favours Brexit, is great pals with Brexit champion Nigel Farage, and therefore presumably approves of the ‘popular’ referendum-style voting system. Trump seems to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds! I really think that Trump is an opportunist and that he did exploit all the leftie weaknesses that you explored in your article.

    • Ian says:

      I am not sure that the popular vote measure is that important. Given the college votes system, as in the UK with FPTP, people will commonly not have voted in States where they felt either they didn’t need to or they couldn’t make a difference. Fully 49% of eligible voters cast no vote for one reason or another.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your response, Ian. The more I think about all this, the more I become aware of the complexities of it, and the more I think about the complexities of it, the more I think about Bob Dylan: ‘The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.’

  14. mnpetersen37 says:

    (Sorry for any typos, I’m on my phone, and the text editor isn’t working. I’d write it up on a computer, but I don’t think I’ll have that opportunity for quite a while.)

    I have a question that I’m not sure how to phrase without it sounding rhetorical, but I mean it as a genuine question that I think you can give a good answer to, and that if you have time to respond I can learn from your response.

    Why do you write this sort of article, giving justified blame to liberals? When I see this sort of piece from liberals, or leftists, it reads like a call to repentance; but from or to Conservatives it seems they can become finger-pointing, and discovering someone else’s sins, and so hiding our own sins from view.

    I’ve also seen lots of Manichean conservative memes saying the same thing, and part of me wonders if this sort of post (whether from a conservative of a liberal) can give a sophisticated veneer to the memes.

    Again, I know someone could ask that question rhetorically, and give that explanation of the question as an argument. But I liked and shared the piece, but am genuinely confused re: what its intended effect on its intended audience is, and think you would have a good, thoughtful answer that would help me think more clearly. And the explanation is meant to give body to the question, not to argue against your piece.

    (And I know you criticize the right in the follow-up, and, I this piece, encourage people from the right to read them the criticisms. But those facts don’t help answer my question.)

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  17. Nico says:

    “On the other hand, the fact that America, in large measure through the white evangelical vote, has elected Donald Trump, should be a cause of profound national and Christian shame and deep concern.”

    May I suggest that you have another look at what the Good Book and more specifically the Red Words have to say about rulers and the rich? If you are looking to a prince of this world for your salvation, you are already doomed.

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  19. Virginia Pleban says:

    The problem I see was back 2+ years ago when each party started seeking candidates for the president. Why did Trump win, from my perspective he is a great salesman, he had the drive to win and I believe he had a pretty good campaign committee. I was saddened when Ben Carlson, excuse me if I use the wrong last name, dropped out. To me any one that wants to run for the high level political jobs have too much money, probably know people in “higher” places and can’t figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. I will not forget the criticism from both candidates. I like to think we are a spiritual nation in some respects, but to let these candidates drag in all the personal trauma is disheartening. Both candidates have a history of events in their lives that should not be revealed. I thought campaigning is to find out from each candidate what they plan to do for this country, not bring in all the terrible aspects of each candidates background. In my opinion, both of the candidates should be hauled into court and given public service duties such as cleaning up other people garbage, stopping at homeless shelters, visiting prisons that are not fit for human beings, visiting street trafficking homes for young girls and women. Let’s have them face reality, they are human, I think, and are not above any of us no matter what our belief is, our political party we choose to follow. My last thought is, only God can save this country as we are facing some times that only the devil will challenge Mr. Trump. Amen

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Hi Virginia – that’s a heartfelt comment. I live in the UK and I can only imagine how difficult it can be living in the US at this time. You are in my prayers. Christine.

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  24. Sam says:

    Just got your article linked to me (two years late, I know) & thought it was quite brilliant to be honest & I’ve even gone as far as bookmarking it. I don’t think anyone has summed up the current political climate so well in such a short piece of writing. Keep doing you & good luck in all future endeavors.

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