Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff and Chicago mayor, once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” During the Trump administration, this may as well have been the rallying cry of “Resistance” Democrats and the radical left. Where there were no actual, serious crises to exploit, the Trump-hating left manufactured them.
A Russian collusion hoax dominated media discourse for years. Articles of impeachment were drafted on the basis of a legitimate phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, plunging our politics into new depths of polarization and anger as the coronavirus threat stealthily built. When COVID-19 reached American shores, when an actual crisis emerged, Democrats and their media enablers exploited it to the maximum. They blamed President Trump for anything that went wrong and refused him credit for anything that went right. Taking Emanuel’s adage to heart, Democrats also used the crisis as a pretext to overhaul election rules across the country to their benefit, instituting measures far beyond what was reasonably necessary for safety during the pandemic.
Given all this, it is interesting to see the left’s evolving relationship with the concept of crisis. Instead of rhetorically creating crises where there are none, the left today is in fact creating real crises while pretending it hasn’t.
We were told over the summer that leftist violence — including the destruction of businesses, the torching of a Minneapolis police station, and the establishment of a lawless “autonomous zone” in Seattle — constituted legitimate civic activity or was, at least, nothing to fret about. As CNN anchor Chris Cuomo put it, “Please, show me where it says that protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” And then there was CNN’s remarkable caption, “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests After Police Shooting,” projected across the screen while a reporter stood before flaming wreckage in an American city. That particular moment should surely enter the Broadcast Duplicity Hall of Fame.
And yet these are just intermediate steps in the left’s “crisis management” strategy. Not only does the left downplay its own crises, it denies their existence altogether. Witness Joy Behar of “The View,” calling Antifa a “fictitious idea” and “not a real thing.” Behar, in saying so, echoed Joe Biden’s statement that “Antifa’s an idea, not an organization.” All of this constitutes a bad game of telephone, distorting FBI Director Christopher Wray’s congressional testimony on the subject. While Wray would not describe Antifa as a single, formal organization, he also stated bluntly: “Antifa is a real thing. It is not a fiction.” Those affected by Antifa violence and destruction in Seattle, Portland and elsewhere know this to be true.
Or see the Biden administration refusing to admit that there is a crisis on the southern border, one that Biden’s de facto open-border policies and rhetoric directly caused. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “The surge in illegal immigration across the southern US border is shaping up to be the biggest in 20 years.”
This is happening, of course, in the midst of a global pandemic, with the associated health risks of overcrowded living conditions. The White House, when addressing the border, alternately speaks of a mere “challenge” or blames Trump, while dismantling his border control measures. It has also worked to silence any contrary narrative. Federal border agents were essentially placed under a “gag order,” controlling what they say to reporters. In an affront to a free press, the administration prevented journalists from photographing the chaos, using COVID as the all-too-predictable excuse.
Only once has White House press secretary Jen Psaki accidentally told the truth on the issue, referring to “the crisis on the border.” Recognizing her “error,” Psaki naturally “circled back” to approved talking points.
Consider, too, the left’s “reassuring” take on the intellectual crisis of cancel culture. When companies cancel speech and individuals alike — say, books, or the president of the United States — we are told that they are just making “business decisions.” But such a characterization is incomplete at best. The left, while proclaiming the importance of social forces in other contexts, refuses to acknowledge the social force that it, itself, has unleashed. Though some corporate boardrooms agree with leftist ideology, others surely feel compelled to respond to its coercive power. They are trying to stay ahead of the online mob.
Today’s radical left does not downplay or deny a crisis to prevent panic or instill calm. It does so, instead, to hide its true aims and the effects of its policies, hoping the electorate somehow won’t notice and vote it out of power. These ideologues never let a crisis go to waste — and they never let the truth get in their way.
Augustus Howard is a columnist, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and a J.D. from Duke University School of Law.