In 2020, Nellie Bowles writes in her new book, Morning After the Revolution, “liberal intelligentsia, in particular, became wild, wild with rage and optimism, and fresh ideas from academia that began to reshape every part of society. 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.”

Bowles’s funny and sobering takedown of the “New Progressive” movement is also an account of her own disillusionment with said movement. We’re still deep in the historical-cultural moment that Bowles, a former New York Times tech reporter, says led to these dispatches from the political fringe. With a cool eye, she records absurdity upon outrage upon tragedy—from online gatherings of guilty white women trying to erase their Karen-ness, to medical practitioners proclaiming that children as young as 18 months know whether they have been “mis-gendered,” to drug addicts assisted into premature deaths by blue-city bureaucracies. A lesbian, Bowles learns she’s supposed to call herself as a “non-man attracted to non-men.”

Bowles grew up privileged in San Francisco and she came to adulthood with undeniable progressive bona fides. She crusaded for gay rights in high school, attended Nation readings with the “Brooklyn Left,” and when “Hillary Clinton was about to win” the 2016 election, she writes, “I was drinking ‘I’m With Her-icanes’ in a drag bar.” Her dream was to work at the New York Times and be at the “heart of the resistance” to then president Donald Trump. Her dream came true, but what she would learn would be more the lesson of a staffer at Pravda than a crusader looking to find the Pentagon Papers. The desperately woke New York Times that employed Bowles bears no more resemblance to the very same newspaper where I worked two decades ago than did my hidebound and stuffy era to the freewheeling Prohibition-era fun of The Front Page.

The first hint that her reportorial curiosity fell outside the bounds of “All the news that’s fit to print” came when she pitched a story on “CHAZ”—the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle established during peak George Floyd/defund-the-police mania. The mayor had cordoned off a section of the city’s “gayborhood” for a utopian experiment in self-governance, which rapidly descended into a Hobbesian nightmare of drug and sexual abuse. Oh, and murder. Why would she want to see what was going on there? asked a Times editor, asserting that he wanted to be on “the right side of history” and that she was flirting with the wrong side.

Bowles kept digging, even at the risk of the political shibboleths she still carried around in her New Progressive tote bag. Which made it all the more mystifying to her cohort that she would ask impolite questions like, What happened to all that Black Lives Matter money? In a chapter called “Abolitionist Entertainment LLC,” she reports that $600 million flowed into the Minneapolis chapter alone post–George Floyd. As one critic of these “fake nonprofits” concludes, “What happened is theft.” One thing is for sure: Taxes were not paid—a fact not disputed by a BLM leader, who merely offers the excuse that the tax code is “triggering.”

Bowles leaves lines like that there, because to pass judgment would seem like piling on. She is content to show these bizarro-world phenomena for what they are, with occasional descriptive flourishes. Antifa protesters have the “coiled squirrely energy men have” in their 20s. In a chapter called “The Failure of San Francisco,” she prefaces her critique with a lyrical paean to her hometown: “The cliffs, the stairs, the cold clean air, the low-slung beauty of the Sunset District, the cafés tucked along narrow streets, then Golden Gate Park drawing you down from the middle of the city all the way to the beach. It’s so goddamn whimsical and inspiring.” But then she sees the rampant carjackings, the unchecked fentanyl epidemic, “young people being eased into death on the sidewalk” by a bankrupt urban ideology of “progressive-libertarian nihilism” that treats addiction as a choice not to be interfered with. It has become “a cruel city,” a failed city, whose school board abolished a magnet school because, in the words of one board member, “‘merit’ is an inherently racist construct.”

As the attention span among those “LARP-ing left-wing values” waned for BLM, she notes the seamless transition to Trans Lives Matter. When a man was accused of flashing in the women’s section of a popular Koreatown spa here in Los Angeles, trans activists demonstrated outside and shouted down anyone not on board with their cause. Turns out the guy wasn’t trans at all, just a serial perv who’d done the same thing at a West Hollywood rub joint. In a chapter called “The Best Feminists Have Always Had Balls,” on the womb wars between trans women and traditional feminists, she quotes trans protestors screaming at biological women, “You’re dinosaurs! Fossils!” We can only hope they’re wrong or the human race will cease.

The most disturbing chapter in Bowles’s book is “Toddlers Know Who They Are.” It’s about how, say, if your son tries on a princess dress in preschool, as my defiantly hetero (sorry, “cis-het-allo”) teenagers once did, it’s a clear sign that their “sex assigned at birth” is incorrect. “He” is obviously a “she.” Let the transitioning begin! Little Nellie herself liked playing with trucks and hated dolls. Nowadays, as she reports, that would be all the green light many parents and medical professionals would need to start hormone therapy ensuring she wouldn’t go through the “wrong puberty.” Thus, in the name of gender fluidity, gender stereotypes are reinforced. Calling yourself a “lesbian,” as Bowles does, isn’t just a quaint or dated concept but, in one trans writer’s formulation, “hate speech.” It definitely pushes you down on the “Progressive Stack,” a system determining the order of speakers at an event in which the most oppressed “folx” are given priority over the less oppressed—or certainly over their oppressors.

Bowles gives a lot of ink to the metastasizing of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which reached an apotheosis of cringe when even CIA recruiting videos featured agents offering testimonials like “I am intersectional.” She attends anti-racism workshops led by a former clogging enthusiast upgraded by our upside-down society to “the most important white woman in the world” for coming up with a list of “white traits,” such as punctuality, later famously adopted by the Smithsonian. An attendee at one of these reeducation Zooms worries that her “toxic whiteness” might harm her mixed-race children and wonders whether “it would be better if I weren’t here.” Bowles confesses that even she began to cry.

I found myself craving more personal reactions like that from her. She describes shopping for a gun—for home security—without telling us which gun she got, if any. But she delivers at the end. Talking about the public shamings and “struggle sessions” of our cultural revolution, she owns up to a canceling that she participated in, describing its appeal as “a very warm social thing with the energy of potluck.” But then came another cancel mob—and she found she couldn’t bring herself to write the required mean tweet about a young editorial-page guy she knew and liked. Around the same time, she fell in love with Bari Weiss, then a heretic op-ed editor and writer considered a Nazi by the cool kids in the Times cafeteria. Bowles preempted her own cancellation by leaving the paper and marrying Weiss before they could defenestrate her. She now writes the TGIF column for Weiss’s online engine of news and opinion, The Free Press. And like that column, her vision of the “morning after the revolution” falls somewhere between Pollyanna and Cassandra.

Bowles’s tone is perfectly captured by her observation that while DEI is quietly disappearing from HR suites in corporate America and even parts of academia, this could just mean “the movement fell apart because of how fully it succeeded.” Witness the moral idiocy on display at college campuses, which this book was too late to cover. More promising is the backlash that occurred in the city that birthed Bowles’s once-progressive views: San Francisco. “Nationwide mockery” of the school board led to the recall of three of its members, and the D.A., because, she writes, “people can be bullied or gaslit into all kinds of things for a while, but eventually people’s willingness to put up with the bad stuff cracks. Dogmatism buckles under pressure from reality.”

I suspect Bowles sees her reportage in the tradition of Tom Wolfe, P.J. O’Rourke, and her avowed No. 1 literary influencer, Joan Didion, whose essay “On the Morning After the Sixties” this book is a hat-tip to. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t add one more intellectual antecedent: Norman Podhoretz. Joseph Epstein, in his New York Times review of Podhoretz’s 1979 memoir Breaking Ranks, writes that his subject’s “crime” is that “he has come out against the intellectual culture that spawned him. He broke ranks, and did so because he perceived that the assumptions upon which he had been educated were half cocked, intellectually bankrupt and—as put into action between 1965 and 1975—finally pernicious.”

With this book, Nellie Bowles has committed the same crime and, I’m happy to report, is guilty as charged.

Photo: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

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