The Politics of Petulance: A Spirited Defense of “Mature Liberalism”

The Politics of Petulance: A Spirited Defense of “Mature Liberalism”

Wade Lee Hudson

Donald Trump is another Joe McCarthy. So says Alan Wolfe in The Politics of Immaturity: America in an Age of Immaturity. Wolfe’s passionate, eloquent affirmation of “mature liberalism” is not uncritical of post-war liberals who challenged McCarthyism. But Wolfe urges us to remember “what they got right.”

Trump loved McCarthy’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who was “notoriously malicious” and practised “the dark arts of American politics.” They became close friends and Cohn greatly influenced Trump.  When James Comey and Jeff Sessions frustrated Trump, he famously declared, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” His link to Cohn was more than personal. They shared the same worldview: demagoguery. Trumpism parallels McCarthyism .

Concerning many of the liberals who criticized McCarthyism and the radical right that emerged from it, Wolfe acknowledges:

Their rightful hostility toward the Soviet Union translated itself into a rigid anti-communism that became, for some, an ideology unto itself. Seeing fascism in unexpected places, they exaggerated the dangers posed by both the student movements and the black protest of the 1960s. Equality for women was the furthest thing from their minds…. Indeed, most of them, with the exception of Richard Wright and Reinhold Niebuhr, seemed to have not all that much interest in the question of race at all…. There may have been an antidemocratic tinge….

Nevertheless, Wolfe insists

for all their flaws, these thinkers stand redeemed today because they brought both the classical and the Enlightenment understandings of politics back to life and thereby offered a starting point for trying to understand why Americans, who profess to love democracy and freedom, elected as their president in 2016 a man and a party that seemed to respect neither….

One could dismiss or even attack their positions so long as American politics showed some signs of stability. Alas, such complacency, given the right-wing demagoguery shaking both the world and this country, is no longer affordable…. That is why, despite their occasional blind spots, it makes sense to return to what these intellectuals had to say…. If Trump's accession to the presidency does not cause intense introspection, nothing can. It is, furthermore, not an explanation of one rogue election we need. It is a discussion of what kind of nation we have become.

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