Bob Ehrlich: The Deplorables vs. the Progressives - Whose Version of America Will Win?


Barack Obama was a master at it — but in limited circumstances. Alas, it was the pre-Trump era, seemingly light years ago to activists on the uber-left. Today it is utilized on a more regular basis, whenever the latest progressive full court press against accepted social norms is on the receiving end of cultural push back.

I refer, of course, to the “that’s not us” mantra. You have become familiar with the context. Progressives advocate on behalf of the latest and greatest social justice cause: sanctuary cities — no border “walls” — voting rights for illegal aliens — elimination of ICE — “free” college tuition — “free” health care — reparations — “trans” anything — court packing — and whatever is the next frontier identified as requiring change of societal attitudes.

Yet when the committed opposition answers, the response is instantly seen as illegitimate and immediately transformed into indictments of “white privilege” — “toxic masculinity” — “white nationalism.”

The resulting cultural battle lines could not be more transparent. All of the socially abhorrent beliefs of Trump’s irredeemable deplorables on one side aligned against a new progressive program and value system on the other.

In this fight, the Trump folks and their Neanderthal attitudes are guaranteed to fall woefully short. After all, what they represent is certainly “not us.” CNN just told me so!

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The rhetoric is powerful. “Not us” is an emotional appeal to the great American traditions of tolerance, pluralism, freedom – the melting pot at its very best.

Now, some of you may be confused at this point because progressivism hardly celebrates America and its grand traditions these days. It more typically seeks to degrade the American experience as an exercise in greedy materialism/destructive nativism to the detriment of indigenous peoples and other minorities. Here, Columbus Day is condemned, not celebrated.

Today, “not us” is trotted out so frequently because it defines an entire opposition in one fell swoop. But a question arises: is “not us” a rhetorical construct or a heartfelt belief? The answer, of course, depends on the individual. There are those cynics who seek to utilize the phrase to their political advantage, but it is the true believers who present a more long-term problem.

For this starry-eyed group, the world needs to be turned around: what is illegal should be legal, what is unconventional should be conventional, what is unconstitutional should be constitutional — whatever is at odds with traditional values must be acknowledged, honored and accepted — while everything that fits into the “not us” paradigm must be demonized, refused and extinguished.

This latter point is particularly true with respect to the president, where even disproven charges lodged against Donald Trump are ignored in order for new charges to be posited — and quickly transmitted around the swamp.

In real life, this approach means freedom of speech must be curtailed in order to achieve an offense-less dialogue, respect for religious freedom must be made secondary to the emerging sexual mores of the moment; traditional notions of citizenship and national sovereignty must surrender to borderless nation-states, and self-identified victims (as a function of race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity) must be awarded special status — even reparations in some cases.

Now, this is clearly not the America those of us of a certain age were encouraged to celebrate. Indeed, we’ve been taught to cherish (even love) our values despite the fact our forbearers were imperfect human beings.

Note that this was never a major obstacle for most of our history. Americans could distinguish between love of country on the one hand and acknowledgment of our sins (slavery, discrimination) on the other, even sins by principals, the Founding Fathers. Still, the new progressive theology rejects acknowledgment of the latter.

Rather, it sees the mistakes of our Founders as rendering the American experience illegitimate — as nothing more than a falsely marketed, delusory failure — with a multitude of victims to boot.

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Per this revisionist school of thought, it took the better part of 240 years for our citizens to understand that our America — Ronald Reagan’s shining city on a hill — is but a cruel hoax. Accordingly, the glorification of wealth, capitalism, upward mobility, free speech, dissent, privacy, assimilation, national sovereignty, American exceptionalism and Western civilization itself must be rejected as “not us.” Who would have thunk?

Fortunately, this revisionist travesty will not be an easy sell between the coasts. The social contract between our country and its citizens is not so easily torn asunder, the maladies of victimhood and identity politics notwithstanding. Be thankful for small favors.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.