There is a new revolutionary ferment arising in the nation that is more robust and determined than other electoral surges of recent decades, and the best news is how it is grounded in the same sentiments, centered on the concept of “equality,” that gave rise to the radical Enlightenment the century before to build up and lift the American revolution and the establishment of a constitutional democracy in the U.S.
The first surge was the extraordinary outpouring of anger and protest that exploded in the first days of the Trump administration with millions of women and their allies literally taking to the streets to signal what would come from the predictable obscenities and assaults on decency and civil liberties of the new regime. That led directly to stunning electoral results overthrowing cornerstones of Trump’s legitimacy in Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
With the mass murder at a high school in Florida on this Valentine’s Day came the next escalation, a surge by the emerging next generation constituting the three million who will turn 18, and old enough to vote, this year, and the next, and the next, etc.. They’re joining the women’s surge as a new youth movement far more dedicated and resolute than their morally-compromised parents’ generation.
They called out another expression of a developing national mass strike, huge protests that were held all across the U.S. crying out against the consummately decadent symbol of the current “ancien regime,” the wanton control of the American political process by a pro-gun lobby that insists powerful and deadly weapons of war be available to everyone over age 18, the willingness of sleazy politicians to be bought and owned by it, and the unbelievable carnage this is causing among our citizens, including our women and children.
Now these students are backing a burgeoning strike wave of teachers against the underfunding of education.
The stupidity and crass immorality of those currently in power are helping to fuel this new revolution, centered in the profound dishonesty, deceit and debasement that defines Trump himself. He has dragged through his stinking, immoral political and personal offal almost every elected official in the Republican Party, soiling them with a putrid stain and odor that will not wash off before the next election.
(Of course, the deeper consequences of this vile corruption are in the process of coming to light in the investigation of this administration’s collusion with the brutal dictator of Russia to corrupt the free elections in the U.S., and since then sew helter-skelter chaos internally in the U.S. and in its global economic relations.)
In his monumental tome on the pre-American revolution ‘ce siecle eclaire’ (enlightened century), Princeton University’s British-born historian, Jonathan I. Israel, in his “Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution and Human Rights, 1750-1790,” quotes that revolutionary era’s Paul-Henri D’Holbach saying, “Would it not become possible one day to teach the common man to think in terms of uprightness, reason and justice? If error and ignorance have forged the chains of peoples, if prejudice perpetuates them, science, reason and truth will one day be able to break them.”
That is one among countless statements that sum up the mood and resolve of what fueled the Enlightenment century’s overthrow of religious superstition and political despotism with its arbitrary control over mankind. As Israel asserts, “The Enlightenment was the most important and profound intellectual, social and cultural transformation of the Western world.” Its “particular emphasis on reason was a belief that applying reason tempered by experiment and experience, not anything based on blind authority, would being vast social benefits.”
Central was the quest for truth, and not lies or deceptions, such that “freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade, freedom to realize one’s own talents, freedom of aesthetic response, freedom, in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world” were all critical tenets, including a focus on a free press.
These same values are today animating the new American revolution, challenging the same sort of institutional, arbitrary religious and political authority, and their underlying patriarchal social model that relegates women, children and subject peoples to subordinate status.
It’s cause for great hope.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].