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In “Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches From the Wrong Side of History,” Nellie Bowles discusses the tumultuous year of 2020, a time when the convergence of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the looming re-election of Donald Trump created a frenzied political and cultural landscape. Bowles delves into what she calls the “New Progressivism,” a wave of liberal ideologies and ideas that began reshaping society, often referred to as “wokeness.” She attempts to critique and satirize this movement, drawing on inspiration from past works of New Journalism that mocked the counterculture absurdities of the 1960s and 1970s.

Bowles highlights some of the more absurd aspects of the New Progressivism, such as white-lady struggle sessions and the collapse of Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, with a critical eye and a touch of humor. However, she often relies on lazy mockery and sweeping generalizations, distorting some of the social justice conversations that took place in 2020. Her portrayal of the New Progressivism as having triumphed in various sectors, including big business, tech, and academia, is also challenged by the current societal trends that indicate a backlash against these ideologies.

The aftermath of the upheavals of 2020 is evident in the corporate world, where companies are scaling back on social justice initiatives and diversity programs are being dismantled. College campuses are also experiencing a shift, with clashes over free speech, sensitivity, and the inclusion of certain radical ideologies. The era of content warnings and policing microaggressions may be coming to an end as institutions grapple with shifting priorities and competing demands in a polarized environment.

While some may be relieved to see aspects of the New Progressivism fade away, such as clunky language and restrictions on speech, there is a recognition that the energy and urgency of addressing systemic inequalities that characterized the politics of 2020 are dissipating. Despite the flaws and excesses of that period, there is a sense of nostalgia for the progressive momentum that marked the Trump era, as the country now faces renewed challenges and divisions heading into another election cycle.

In reflecting on the events of 2020, Bowles offers a provocative take on the societal response to Trump’s presidency, likening it to an immune system reaction to a novel pathogen that has left the country exhausted and vulnerable. The cycles of societal upheaval and backlash, along with the shifting tides of public opinion and institutional priorities, highlight the complexities of navigating through turbulent times and the ongoing struggles to address long-standing issues of inequality and injustice.

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