The progressive “religion” we see in the streets is an outgrowth of the old faith. Its values are not repudiations of the old world, the way that the Beatitudes so directly contradicted the pagan ethos. Instead its commitments are morbid, or exaggerated — the Christian virtues set loose from one another to run wild. It demands reconciliation, but lacks forgiveness. It demands equality, but overlooks virtue and moderation. It puts a victim at the heart of the social order, but the reign is not one of peace. In some cases, this movement is an elaboration of existing American civic religion. Some of it clearly comes out of, harkens back to, and tries to recreate the spirit of the black Church during the civil-rights movement. In this way, it fills a gap in a culture that is increasingly unchurched.

There is, however, another half of the story, because the protest movement is also a demotic reaction to a political culture that is in plenty of respects undemocratic. Many of the “reforms” progressives now propose are meant to stack the deck in their favor by changing the constitutional structure of the American political system — e.g., to blunt the strength the Electoral College gives rural states, or to weaken the power of Republicans in the Senate. But their belief that the system lacks democratic legitimacy may not be due entirely to its constitutionally enshrined counter-majoritarian features.

Instead, much of what this movement resents and opposes as an offense to democracy is the result of a political conversation dominated by policy wonks, technocrats, and “experts.”