American Values

American as a Social Movement

The fifth post in the Volokh Conspiracy symposium on "Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative" (ed. by Joshua Claybourn).

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

When I was thirteen years old I won an essay contest, "What the United Nations Means to Me," with Eleanor Roosevelt serving as a judge. She noted the similarity in our names. I was Eleanor Roeloffs, and getting singled out in that way by a former First Lady lauded for her human rights work made a big impression on me. I didn't know much about politics then, but I knew enough to understand that she was a driving force behind what the United Nations stood for and that I wanted to be on her side.

I learned to define my politics and values by identifying heroes to look up to and follow. I think a country does the same thing. The people we choose to elevate and remember over time signify the American narrative. In my own life, the social justice movements that shaped me individually and America as a country, which despite our problems remains the envy of the world, are the civil rights movement, the fight for women's liberation, and the mobilization against the Vietnam War.

These social movements are America's story, and they're my story as a woman born in the middle of the last century whose life was made measurably better amid these broad strokes of history.

Young people coming of age today are shaped by Black Lives Matter, the Me Too and Time's Up movements, and the advocacy for LGBTQ rights, which led to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling on 26 June 2015. The progress in this area has been remarkably swift in sweeping away political opposition once thought intractable.

For those who despair about our current state of extreme partisanship, I would urge them to turn away from partisan politics and celebrate the progress of the disability rights movement as an analogue of the gay rights and civil rights movements in freeing people to be fully productive citizens. I am also watching with enormous pride the emergence of the next generation of activists, born out of horror at mass shootings and determined to assert their right to be safe from military-style weapons.

Set in motion by Parkland, Florida, high school students who survived a school shooting that killed seventeen of their classmates, people of all ages rallied on 24 March 2018 in Washington and cities all over the country, and indeed the world, in solidarity against a permissive gun culture that sanctions military-grade weaponry in the hands of civilians claiming the protection of the Second Amendment.

Social movements take a long time. They don't make change overnight. If you ask people who waited sometimes for decades to marry the person they love whether the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage happened quickly, they would likely say no, it was a long time coming. They're right, of course, but when we consider how fast things moved once the groundwork was laid, and the courts got involved, and constitutional protections were put in place, it's possible the same shift in thinking could happen around gun safety and commonsense gun laws.

I always thought that if I weren't a reporter covering Hillary Clinton that we would be friends. I admired her intelligence and her fortitude in the face of personal challenges and stinging political defeats, and I hope she finds some comfort in the fact that she has inspired more people, especially women, to get involved in politics because she lost a race she was supposed to win than if she had actually won. They say history is written by the winners, and the record hundreds of thousands of people who participated in the Women's March the day after President Trump's inauguration are winners too, and they will be writing the next chapters in the American narrative.

The women's movement popularized the phrase that the personal is political, and thanks to the internet and social media, more people have the tools to tell their stories and guide the history yet to be lived.

NEXT: Comparing Law Professors With Doctorates to Those Without Doctorates

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  1. Interesting…let’s open the floor to Jack Germond and Morton Kondracke.

  2. Am I the only one who finds it odd and inconsistent of Ms Clift to laud social movements which worked to strengthen individual freedom, and then pivots in the very next paragraph to lauding a “social movement” which is actively working to decrease individual freedom? Maybe that extreme partisanship which Ms. Clift claims to abhor is affecting her own powers of reasoning?

    1. If the goal of the government is to maximize individual freedom and liberty, as Clifton implicitly makes the case that it is, you are correct to note that such a goal necessarily entails the use of government force to decrease the individual freedoms of those who Clifton disagrees with. He’s advocating for a secular theocracy, rather than tolerance, as Epstein did in our last entry in this series.

      1. How can a theocracy be secular?

        1. In practice. Noted example: communistic atheism which treated the state as deity.

          Look at it this way: Clift sees government’s primary role as expanding personal liberty as built on a culture organized by BLM, feminism, anti-war movements, civil and disability rights (etc. etc.). He admits that it takes time to wash away old traditions for the new culture, but that’s what he wants.

          Meanwhile, a theocracy sees the role of government as protecting the Common Good (as defined by religious moral precepts) as the highest role of government, built on a culture organized around citizenship, churches, schools with religious indoctrination of the young (etc. etc.). The role of the conservative, here, is to defend tradition.

          Progressivism is a secular theocracy because it acts as a theocracy, using indoctrination and regulating compliance with government force: Merely God is swapped out for BLM/feminism/trans rights.

          1. “The role of the conservative, here, is to defend tradition.”

            The natural role of the conservative is to oppose progress (that is nevertheless shaped by society’s better elements against conservative hopes and efforts), then to mutter bitterly and inconsequentially about all of this damned progress, education, science, tolerance, reason, and inclusivity.

            More recent conservative thinking and action tend to direct particular emphasis toward the defense of intolerance, ignorance, and superstition.

            1. The natural role of the conservative is to conserve liberal mistakes already in effect, and then to try to prevent further liberal mistakes.

            2. “Progress” In other words, the changes which you and your faction benefit from?

              1. The divide is plain:

                Education vs. ignorance.

                Tolerance vs. bigotry.

                Reason vs. superstition.

                Progress vs. backwardness.

                Science vs. dogma.

                Inclusivity vs. insularity.

                Modernity vs. pining for illusory good old days.

                Successful, modern, educated communities vs. desolate rural and southern backwaters.

                Strong liberal-libertarian universities vs. fourth-rate, science-disdaining, censorship-shackled, conservative-controlled schools.

                The results of this sifting have been and will continue to be predictable, desirable, and, in nearly every context, deserved.

                1. Arthur, as a long time vc lurker, let me just say that the majority of your posts denigrate conservatives and religious people and don’t engage arguments.

                  I don’t know where your apparent anger comes from, but maybe you can drop your schtick and try considering why you are so angry at the thought of people believing things you do not. It shouldn’t matter to you whether private groups follow your beliefs or their own.

                  Sure, feel free to say that so and so politician has the wrong idea about whatever policy you dislike. But to harangue private groups for their beliefs smacks of non-progressive authoritarianism.

          2. “Merely God is swapped out for BLM/feminism/trans rights.”

            Why can’t we just swap out “BLM/feminism/trans rights” for anything, like “conservativism” or “individual rights”? You aren’t adding anything with this discussion.

            1. Your ability to not see the forest for the trees is particular and peculiar.

              In short, progressivism is a secular religion with all the trappings, filling to spiritual void left behind by the decline of mainline Christianity, as human nature itself seeks spirituality and religion to find meaning in this world of great unknowns. This idea, NT, is hardly unprecedented, and it quite an accepted one. So, if it is new to you, then I am adding something to the discussion…to your education at least.

              1. Nazis were also a religion.

  3. I am also watching with enormous pride the emergence of the next generation of activists, born out of horror at mass shootings and determined to assert their right to be safe from military-style weapons.

    You are an anti-American terrorist, who should be stripped of citizenship and deported immediately.
    Shall Not Be Infringed. Get out of MY country.

    1. Poe’s Law in action right there folks.

  4. Young people coming of age today are shaped by Black Lives Matter, the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, and the advocacy for LGBTQ rights, which led to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling on 26 June 2015. The progress in this area has been remarkably swift in sweeping away political opposition once thought intractable.

    Set in motion by Parkland, Florida, high school students who survived a school shooting that killed seventeen of their classmates, people of all ages rallied on 24 March 2018 in Washington and cities all over the country, and indeed the world, in solidarity against a permissive gun culture that sanctions military-grade weaponry in the hands of civilians claiming the protection of the Second Amendment.

    So then

    – Police are violent racist sociopaths who habitually gun down unarmed black men
    – Only the police should have military-grade weaponry

    As my longtime Usenet ally, Chris Morton, wrote, “Pick ONE”.

    1. You appear to have an invisible ‘all’ before Police in your first axiom.

      But what’s your alternative? Police are racist, so lets let black people get into shootouts with them; that’ll cut down on the deaths?!

  5. He’s right about one thing, social movements take time. Those who think the status quo ain’t to bad, or in a manner of Chesterton’s fence, want marginal change, aren’t the one organizing.

  6. All this talk about a basis for national unity reminds me of this joke:

    https://www.aish.com/j/j/51475782.html

  7. Ms. Clift managed to negatively exceed my rock bottom expectations for her contribution. Well done.

    We need commonsense left wing pundit control.

    1. How are comments such as this one going to change the course of America’s culture war?

      1. I could ask the same of your comment, right above mine. At least his had some sense of humor.

        1. I see no reason to desire any change in the trajectory of American progress. My preferences have prevailed throughout my lifetime. I expect to observe and enjoy more progress shaped in line with my wishes.

          1. I suspect you’re going to find a more mixed bag in the future, as liberalism has failed as an ideology, however, enough people will hold your mess together.

  8. It is a good thing Ms. Clift learned a valuable lesson about government when she was 13 years old. In the political arena, winning is about knowing and appealing to the people in power.

    Unfortunately, it appears Ms. Clift forgot that lesson.

  9. Do we need to read anything other than the sentence wherein she presumes she and Hillary, one of the least likeable politicians of her generation. would be friends?
    I mean: Biden, ok, sure; Obama, yeah, I get it.
    Even AOC, though she’s a bit batty, is cute and has a certain effervescence. But HILLARY?
    How many different synonyms are there for “hack”, Eleanor?

  10. May be too old for a you tube clip bet I recall being stunned on Sunday morning hearing her say (paraphrase) “I don’t care what he did to her (Lewinski) – I would also get down on my knees in the Oval Office just to thank him for keeping Abortion legal”

    1. If she really said that, which I rather doubt, she ripped it off from another feminazi who wrote the same thing only more graphically.

    2. It was Nina Burleigh, and she was only standing up for women against white male sexists:

      https://www.huffpost.com/entry/watching-the-clintons-for_b_74965

      1. “I said it (back in 1998, but a good quote has eternal life) because I thought it was high time for someone to tweak the white, middle-aged beltway gang taking Clinton to task for sexual harassment.”

  11. “I would urge them to turn away from partisan politics and celebrate the progress of the disability rights movement as an analogue of the gay rights and civil rights movements in freeing people to be fully productive citizens. ”

    Lovely down’s kids are slaughtered on a massive scale in the womb. Not much to celebrate there yet, but someday abortion will be viewed as a horrific practice from history, on par with slavery. Either that, or we’ll go backwards and slavery will make a comeback.

    1. Lovely down’s kids are slaughtered on a massive scale in the womb

      Bet you’re a riot at parties.

      1. Just another bitter, disaffected casualty of the culture war — and stale, intolerant thinking.

        1. Yes, Rev, you definitely are bitter and disaffected, sorry about that. Best to avoid social media.

          Oh….are you talking about Mil. Lawyer?

          Hmm, be more careful with what you write Rev, the jokes write themselves.

        2. Abortion will go the way of slavery. Those who supported it will be shamed for eternity.

          1. More to the point:
            We will be thought barbaric because we were not even allowed to legislatively debate the notion that a 16 week old baby has a right to live.

    2. I assumed the line “disability rights movement” was referring to the more recent push to normalize abnormal behavior, like men believing they are women.

      Is this not the case?

  12. Let’s discuss common-sense restrictions…
    Ok, get a Constitutional Convention together and convince 37 States to agree with you or, Have Congress vote for a Constitutional Amendment and have 37 States ratify it. Easy-peasy.
    Same with the Electoral College.
    But, you already knew that Eleanor.

  13. “…thanks to the internet and social media, more people have the tools to tell their stories and guide the history yet to be lived.”

    As long as, Twitter, Face Book and Youtube agree with your point of view.
    Otherwise, not so much.

  14. “Common sense” is NOT to issue emotion-based statements on issues that you know nothing about. “Common sense” is NOT to encourage politicians who cannot even correctly describe what they want to ban to limit our freedoms.

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