The Left Screams 'Armageddon,' but Is Anyone Listening?
Liberals like Nancy Pelosi are prone to using words like "Armageddon," and yet, so far, we have not yet arrived at the end. Most Americans go on living in comfortable homes with more than enough to eat, dependable utility services, and well funded retirement accounts. It has been 74 years since the conclusion of the last world war, the global economy is doing well, life expectancies continue to rise, and murder rates are down. Compared to the hardship of life a century ago, we are closer to Eden than Armageddon.
So why the use of sensationalistic words like "Armageddon," and why the sense among the young that we are just a step away from what Ocasio-Cortez calls "the end of the world"? Is the danger real, or is it just an escalation in rhetoric by liberals who have nothing else to offer? Is sensationalism the only way to get the public's attention, and if it is, what happens when the public becomes so jaded that it can't distinguish between mere rhetoric and a real threat, or between degrees of harm that involve very different outcomes?
The use of the phrase "hold hostage," a favorite of liberal politicians, is a good example of this misguided rhetoric. If you fail to agree with Sen. Schumer 100% of the time on every detail, it seems you are holding somebody hostage. When Adam Schiff began his investigations into the Trump administration, the president defended himself with tweets denying wrongdoing. Just that act of defending himself was "holding the American people hostage," according to Sen. Schumer.
Nothing in Washington is what it seems. A panel of liberal economists recently charged that the president's trade policies are "holding a gun to the head" of the American economy. One of those economists, Ely Ratner, who was deputy national security adviser to Vice President Biden, claimed that Trump's economic policy "has basically failed." This at a time of 3.6% unemployment.
The most recent issue of Fortune magazine (Dec. 2019), with its front-page headline of "Why Trump Is Bad for Business," claims that President Trump's aggressive trade and economic policies "have left many in the business community shaking their head [sic]." Aside from the poor grammar, the coverage seems about as negative and one-sided as it could get. CEO confidence is at "the lowest level in a decade," steel shares are lower than before the election, Trump is "undermining our global leadership," Trump is "Tariff Man." That kind of cherry-picking of detail and name-calling is not what I call balanced reporting. It seems more like a political hit piece with little mention of what the president has done for the overall economy. If business confidence is so low, why has the stock market set 100 new highs since President Trump's election?
One outcome of rhetorical escalation is that credibility is lost. I have long since lost faith in the mainstream media and in the editorial judgment of publications like Fortune, but worse yet is the effect of divisiveness among the American people. Despite regional and ethnic differences and a devastating civil war, America has remained "one nation under God." It is essential that we remain one people guided by a general consensus regarding our national identity. When this consensus breaks down, division and mistrust will lead to endless conflict. America has entered the early stage of this breakdown, as indicated by the Left's refusal even to discuss issues.
Amid this rhetorical inflation, it's not surprising that the public is losing its ability to distinguish fact from fiction. When the president pointed to a "crisis" at the border, Democrats responded that it's a "manufactured crisis" — that is, until they were finally forced to acknowledge the facts of a humanitarian crisis. But then, according to Democrat Sen. Coons, what was happening was not just a crisis; it was a "dramatic" humanitarian crisis, and the president — who had been pressing for billions in aid for months — was the cause of it!
Sen. Schumer chimed in: "The border situation has been made worse and worse and worse by President Trump." (One "worse" would have sufficed.) According to Schumer, Trump's policies are "erratic" and "inhumane." Why not just admit that you were wrong?
With the 2020 election, it's unlikely that any of this will get better. It raises the question of where the Left goes from here. How can you expand on calling your opponents "racists," "Nazis," and "murderers," as prominent liberals have done so far? How to enlarge the accusation that billionaires are "a moral and economic outrage" and that they "should not exist" (Sen. Sanders)? Having inflated rhetoric to the extent that they have, how can radicals like Warren and Sanders, and even Biden, make their point in the 2020 election?
They can't, and there are hopeful signs that the public is tiring of some of it. Warren's poll numbers are plummeting, and Sanders is stuck at about 20%, his followers the same ragtag army of idealist losers who supported him in 2016. But this doesn't mean we've heard the last of Armageddon.
The writer Flannery O'Connor once said the most important virtue is the ability to "discriminate" good from evil. Once everything is evil, it's impossible to discriminate. Phrases like "the end of the world" and "holding a gun to my head" aren't intended to promote rational discussion. They're designed to end discussion altogether by labeling one's opponent an idiot or a fascist. Radical environmentalists are not willing to debate the issues; they smugly pronounce that "the science is settled" and demand agreement on every point.
If liberals persist in this inflated rhetoric, there will no longer be any way to engage in discussion and attempt reasonable compromise. Once political opponents can no longer talk, they must resort to force: the force of a temporary majority lording it over its opponents, the force of demonstrations in the street, the force of incivility and intimidation. This is precisely what we have been seeing, especially from the Left.
Wouldn't it be better to talk?
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).