A Year To Remember (Even if We Don’t Want To)

REVIEW: ‘The Morning After The Revolution: Dispatches From The Wrong Side of History’ by Nellie Bowles

(David Ryder/Getty Images)
May 19, 2024

It’s hard to even think of 2020—a year filled with scams and causes and revolutions and the word unprecedented—as anything other than a big joke. Think about Nancy Pelosi kneeling down for nine minutes in Ghanaian kente cloth. Who was that for? Or watch videos of white crowds hysterically begging for the forgiveness of the black people standing over them. Remember the faces of middle-aged liberal do-gooders when they suddenly realized, after campaigning and protesting for it, what it actually means to live in an autonomous zone, a police-free space that quickly refills with death, drugs, and destruction—not to mention human feces, because autonomous zones never really worked out their sanitation plan?

In her new book The Morning After The Revolution: Dispatches From The Wrong Side of History, reporter Nellie Bowles takes the right attitude to this almost unbelievable moment we all lived through and, in most cases, prefer to forget. She tells us that "the ideology that came shrieking in would go on to reshape America in some ways that are interesting and even good, and in other ways that are appalling, but mostly in ways that are—I hate to say it—funny."

It’s funny until it isn’t. That is, until you remember the ludicrous ideology we were all subjected to and forced to adopt. If not, we were branded Nazis. Fascists. We were doomed to forever be on the wrong side of history. Bowles, who now writes the TGIF comedy news roundup for Bari Weiss’s the Free Press, was given this ultimatum herself from her then-employer at the New York Times. She describes suggesting a trip to Seattle to see what was going on for herself at a moment when the city’s Capitol Hill had been turned into one of these autonomous zones—you know, actual reporting. "Why did I want to see what was happening there? I ran into a colleague who was a rising newsroom leader. He said he was worried about me and this. He was worried about what these story ideas said about me and if I was thinking about my career."

This is when the whole thing turns from a big joke into something more sinister. These journalists and "thought leaders" in charge of objectively documenting what happened in that unprecedented year are still in high paid, respectable jobs and have faced no consequences for choosing to tell us lies. In 2020, it seems that being on the right side of history meant making a lot of it up.

Some of the fallout of that year is here to stay. As Bowles writes, "the movement fell apart because of how fully it succeeded. It didn’t need to announce itself so loudly anymore. We didn’t need to notice it anymore. Schools in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago, were offering racially segregated high school math and writing classes, and it was no longer a big or shocking story. It’s voluntary, they say, so it’s legal. There are a thousand tiny changes we’ve just grown accustomed to." Other parts were blatantly unsustainable. Such as CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone), which Bowles details beautifully through characters such as Faizal Khan. The liberal coffee shop owner at first welcomed the BLM protests, but after a few weeks "under occupation in a great American city," and having his shop windows smashed through after being identified as somebody "not on board" with the regime, was subjected to torment, as Antifa guards "barricaded" Khan and others inside the shop by "sitting in lawn chairs with guns." The book is woven with such meticulous and colorful on-the-ground reporting that I often had to remind myself this really happened—a level of description that the Times was foolish to have passed up.

This is why Bowles’s book is so important in a world where facts are quickly forgotten and washed over with something a bit more forgivable. The first phase of the revolution, Bowles writes in the final chapter, was ending as she wrapped the book. "The movement leaders were sneaking off with funds gathered in the height of rage, settling into pretty canyons. The rallying cries were being deleted from websites and memories. (No one ever said abolish the police, I’ve been told recently.) Black Lives Matter was in disgrace. All the autonomous zones had shuttered. The police were re-funded. The Tavistock pediatric gender clinic in England where children would be assessed and begin their transitions? That’s shutting down." Blink, and you’d have missed it.

Few of us who stayed sane in 2020 really permit ourselves to think back about how hysterical it all got, which is why this book’s fun ride through an unfun time is so valuable. We exited that time just as we entered it: sleepwalking. We flowed through all of these movements in a trance. #MeToo into BLM into Transgenderism. Now we are watching the next fixation of what Nellie calls the New Progressive. The clever college students with high test scores wrapping themselves in keffiyeh condemning the Jews. Just as the liberals apologizing for toxic whiteness didn’t know they were volunteering to be publicly shaken down in 2020, the New Progressives aren’t really sure why, right now, they hate the Jews. Nonetheless, they bay and rally and "protest" the things that MSNBC says to. What comes after? Bowles’s next book will no doubt cover it.

The Morning After The Revolution: Dispatches From The Wrong Side of History
by Nellie Bowles
Thesis, 272 pp., $30

Kara Kennedy is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.