The revolution is not coming

Mitt Romney and Joe Biden show that change is a very remote possibility

Joe Biden and Mitt Romney.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

There's something in the air. A feeling of hope, a sense that everything is on the brink of collapse, and that maybe this is a good thing. With lockdowns ending across the country, churches and bars have reopened and hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets to call for a radical restructuring of society, including such progressive luminaries as Willard Mitt Romney.

This is not vice rendering homage to virtue. It's opportunism. The junior senator from Utah has enthusiastically defended the privatization of prisons in Massachusetts in his autobiography. He is a three-strikes, mandatory minimums guy whose idea of criminal justice reform is giving prosecutors the ability to appeal sentences they consider too lenient. If you think Mr. 47 Percent became a Black Lives Matter protester overnight after a lifetime of tough-on-crime talk for any reason except spite for the president who decided not to make him secretary of state, have a look at this pamphlet for a new blood testing startup I just founded.

Romney’s support should be the first clue that, however noble their intentions, the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis have already been subsumed into the endless meta-argument about Donald Trump. Romney understands all too well that his actual views about criminal justice or any other issue matter less than his willingness to offer inchoate emotive criticisms of the president. Four years after being lectured about accepting the results of the 2016 election, half the country has proven that these never very sincere concerns were misplaced. F.H. Bradley defined metaphysics as the finding of bad reasons for things we believed upon instinct; #NeverTrump conservatism is the finding of bad reasons for performatively opposing policies its adherents all support anyway.

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Still, if the worst thing that could be said is that a bunch of main-chancers are using the protests as a pretext for making new versions of tedious arguments about Donald Trump, we would be much better off than we actually are. The problem is not that the calls for revolution have become so mainstream that Pokémon is tweeting about #BlackLivesMatter. It's that actual change is such a remote possibility that there is nothing to lose in instrumentalizing the cause.

If you don't believe me that the events of the last two weeks are not going to culminate in the toppling of what even mainstream liberals are now referring to as the "regime" in this country, ask yourself for whom the vast majority of the protesters intend to vote in November. Joe Biden has already made it clear that he does not support defunding, much less abolishing, America's police departments; he may or may not remember that he is the author of the infamous 1994 crime bill, someone who bragged about "60 new death penalties" (presumably he was referring to the number of crimes subject to capital punishment, not the varieties of execution) and "125,000 new state prison cells." The former vice president opposes single-payer health care, withdrawal from Afghanistan, decriminalizing illegal border crossing, and the series of proposals his old chum Nancy Pelosi calls "the green dream or whatever." Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have changed her mind about Biden, but he is never going to change his mind about the vast majority of the policies favored by the 30-year-old progressive New York congresswoman and her enthusiastic supporters.

If the revolution is already canceled, where are we headed then? There are two possibilities. One is that Uncle Joe squeezes past Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and spends four years trying to remember what office he holds while the GOP-controlled Senate refuses to confirm new Supreme Court justices. The other is that the president is re-elected. Pinks hats will make a comeback and impeachment proceedings will return by the end of January 2021.

Either way, the most revolutionary thing about the next decade will be the arrival of the world's first trillion-dollar fortune and Bill Belichick winning the AFC East without Tom Brady.

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