Idealism: The crass cousin of true virtue
After the election of Donald Trump, a friend of the family mentioned that she and her daughters were attending the Women's March on Washington held on the first full day of the Trump administration. I wondered if they were recreating a Woodstock-we-were-there moment and what might be their takeaway. The Women's March, foreshadowing so much of today's crass and chaotic protesting, was basically Woodstock's Country Joe and the Fish cheer — let me hear you say, F---! — without the historic performances of Jimi Hendrix and The Who.
Woodstock idealism in the end was just grand romance, a chance to ignore rules, take your clothes off, and get high while listening to great music. Years later, a gallery owner with whom I did business moaned that he had thought the '60s actually represented a breakthrough, a cusp beyond which the zeitgeist of peace, love, and understanding would launch Utopia. That kind of naïveté shocked me because he talked about art intelligently, yet he seemed completely confused that his '60s idealism hadn't panned out. Later on, that same naïveté jumped out of an L.A. Times article on the Women's March. An attendee offered this pronouncement.
"I'm not going to sit back and in 20 years have my grandchildren say, why didn't I do something?" said Anna Vastano, 57. The retired social worker expects "a revival of the '60s" to unfold these next four years and she and her daughter, an aspiring lawyer, plan to be part of it.
My gallery-owner friend and Ms. Vastano made the mistake most idealists make by conflating idealism with thoughtful methods and noble ends. In actuality, idealism almost always gives way to cynicism because idealism rarely delivers. Thoughtful and noble like Obama's Hope and Change are really people's nostalgic projections that give cover to activists who take advantage of the average American's basic decency in wanting to right wrongs.
The real harm in idealism is the power to transform the sacred into the profane. As a result of the idealistic plagues of the last year and a half, people are cowed and thus loathe to stand up for the sacred because to do so is to call into question the left's new idealism. In this diabolical postmodern alchemy, the New Idealism has
- profaned the divine nature of biological sex in promoting sex "reassignment" for children too young to understand what's taking place.
- profaned Martin Luther King's legacy as BET network billionaire founder Robert Johnson called for thirteen trillion in reparations with some going to himself, LeBron James, and Oprah Winfrey.
- Profaned American Olympic greatness by legitimizing hammer-thrower Gwen Berry, who turned her back on the flag and the National Anthem at the medal podium and now childishly claims, regarding the timing of the anthem, "I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose." Can we say "backtracking"?
In the face of this sordid bandwagon idealism, America needs a National Day of Shuddering to think about what comes next.
Spruce Fontaine is an artist and retired college art instructor.
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