If you’ve lived through it yourself, you know that The Turn doesn’t happen overnight, that it isn’t easily distilled into one dramatic breakdown moment, that it happens hazily and over time—first a twitch, then a few more, stretching into a gnawing discomfort and then, eventually, a sense of panic.
You may be among the increasing numbers of people going through The Turn right now. Having lived through the turmoil of the last half decade—through the years of MAGA and antifa and rampant identity politics and, most dramatically, the global turmoil caused by COVID-19—more and more of us feel absolutely and irreparably politically homeless. Instinctively, we looked to the Democratic Party, the only home we and our parents and their parents before them had ever known or seriously considered. But what we saw there—and in the newspapers we used to read, and in the schools whose admission letters once made us so proud—was terrifying. However we tried to explain what was happening on “the left,” it was hard to convince ourselves that it was right, or that it was something we still truly believed in. That is what The Turn is about.
You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state, but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid while having little interest in American kids dying on the streets because of failed policies. If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you.
The Turn hit me just a beat before it did you, so I know just how awful it feels. It’s been years now, but I still remember the time a dear friend and mentor took me to lunch and warned me, sternly and without any of the warmth you’d extend to someone you truly loved, to watch what I said about Israel. I still remember how confusing and painful it felt to know that my beliefs—beliefs, mind you, that, until very recently, were so obvious and banal and widely held on the left that they were hardly considered beliefs at all—now labeled me an outcast. The Turn brings with it the sort of pain most of us don’t feel as adults; you’d have to go all the way back to junior high, maybe, to recall a stabbing sensation quite as deep and confounding as watching your friends all turn on you and decide that you’re not worthy of their affection any more. It’s the kind of primal rejection that is devastating precisely because it forces you to rethink everything, not only your convictions about the world but also your idea of yourself, your values, and your priorities. We all want to be embraced. We all want the men and women we consider most swell to approve of us and confirm that we, too, are good and great. We all want the love and the laurels; The Turn takes both away.
But, having been there before, I have one important thing to tell you: If the left is going to make it “right wing” to simply be decent, then it’s OK to be right.