Perhaps the most distinctive dynamic in American politics in recent years has been the frequency and rapidity with which leftist ideas infect it.
Again and again the furthest reaches of the left come up with proposals that seem absurd upon initial inspection but soon become de rigueur on the broader left, quickly acquire mainstream respectability and then become part of an entrenched orthodoxy.
Gay marriage was opposed by a majority of the population little more than a decade ago (including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton) but now even modest expressions of skepticism can produce social ostracism and wreck careers amid accusations of "homophobia" (raising the question of how, since they were once afflicted by it, the last three presidential nominees of the Democratic Party were so effectively cured).
Claiming that gender is a consequence of anything but biology would have been taken as evidence of scientific illiteracy just a few years ago, but the man who just won a presidential election with more votes than any other in our history has now issued an executive order that would seem to require schools that receive federal funding to allow men to play on women's sports teams if they "identify" as women.
Feminists in good standing who question this are diagnosed as "transphobic" (in other words, it's no longer the guys in dresses who have the mental problems but the folks who think guys in dresses have mental problems).
The Soviet Union's tendency, in its death throes, to imprison dissidents in psychiatric hospitals thus finds an eerie echo in our radical left's use of junk psychology ("phobias") to suggest that criticism can only flow from mental disorder.
It wasn't long ago that something as absurd as the 1619 Project would have been filed alongside the Protocols of the Elders of Zion because of being filled with similarly poisonous fabrications, distortions, and unproven claims (as some of the most prominent historians of the American founding have pointed out), but it is now published by the nation's most prestigious newspaper, awarded the most prominent prize in journalism (the Pulitzer) and will soon be required reading in public school curricula throughout the land (with anyone who objects accused of trying to keep students ignorant of racism and slavery).
Lefties that would instantly (and appropriately) scream "foul" if creationism were taught in biology classes now enthusiastically encourage the leftist equivalent thereof in history classes; that multiple claims in the 1619 Project have by now been decisively refuted by people who know a lot more about American history than the project's authors matters less than that it bolsters a leftist narrative and therefore has political utility.
It seems like only yesterday that we were beginning a perhaps overdue national conversation about Confederate flags and statues in public spaces, but now suddenly find ourselves struggling to keep the names Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln on schools and streets in a way that suggests scheduling that visit to Mount Rushmore sooner rather than later.
The point is that, like the narrator in that old TV series "The Outer Limits," the radical left now firmly controls both the horizontal and the vertical and thus determines the parameters of acceptable public discourse through an ever-expanding and hyper-efficient array of awards and punishments. That in most cases radical-left positions are patently absurd, fundamentally illogical, untrue, non-falsifiable, contradictory or all of the above doesn't matter; they become the new smelly orthodoxy to which all must subscribe, or at least pretend to if they know what's good for them.
What is politically correct (required) and politically incorrect (prohibited) is determined entirely by the left and a consequence of its stranglehold over our political discourse. It isn't the logic or power of leftist ideas or narratives that leads to their imposition but the fact that it is only the left that has the power to cancel its critics and is so obviously eager to use it.
The left wins because it exerts a chilling effect on ordinary citizens who don't go looking for trouble and know that the best way to avoid it is to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. It wins not through debate and persuasion but through fear.
The left's long march through the institutions was based on and confirms via its current consequences Andrew Breitbart's observation that "politics flows downstream from culture." All of the important influencers of political opinion and hence our political culture--academe, the mass media, the teachers unions and public education bureaucracy, the entertainment industry, professional sports leagues, the publishing industry, philanthropic institutions, and now the "Big Tech" that controls so much of contemporary information flow--are controlled by the left and used to propel the leftist narratives of the moment.
The ideas which most Americans are exposed to are now determined almost entirely by the left and consequently reflect left priorities and assumptions.
Americans suddenly woke up one morning and discovered that profoundly different values now ruled the day, and are baffled as to how it all happened.
And when we look at the ideas now percolating on the radical left, however loony they seem, we see what we will soon have to pretend to believe.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.