We went mad because we easily could. And we could, not because we were poor and oppressed, but because
Travel abroad and or talk to pro-American foreigners here, and you will be surprised at what they say. It is not boilerplate anti-Americanism of the usual cheap Euro style. And their keen criticism is not just that we are $30 trillion in debt, dependent on China, with a corrupt elite, or have gone insane inventing the most lurid crimes to put away the supposedly predetermined guilty Donald Trump.
Instead, they express disbelief, worry, lamentation even, that the one solid referent in the world has gone, well, completely rabid. They are terrified after the Afghanistan debacle that their old ally or new homeland, the once constant America, is delirious, incompetent, and self-loathing, and now there is no plausible alternative to the old American deterrence.
So, they wonder who will resist China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea—and are silently petrified to go it alone without the United States.
They seem staggered by the very ideas that now emanate from the United States: that nonexistent borders are desirable; that once rarified institutions like the FBI or CIA now function like the Stasi of old; that the very idea of meritocracy is considered racist; that one incorrect word can destroy a life-long career; that there are three or more sexes, not two; that biological men with male genitalia and physiology can compete, and destroy decades of advances, in women’s sports; that race is the sole mode of self-identification; and that half of America dislikes American customs, history—and the other 50 percent of the population—as much as do its enemies.
Onlookers no longer see American universities as free-wheeling bastions of unfettered research and expression. Rather they watch dreary (and sometimes scary) places where conformity to the old Soviet-style is enforced—or else.
There is an apprehension that Russian hypersonic missiles are superior to America’s, that China could easily sink the Pacific fleet if it got too close to a blockade of Taiwan, that America is now reconciled to a nuclear Iranian theocracy, that North Korea will try something stupid soon—and that the American military is now somehow different, somehow less lethal.
Dogma and Stalinist-like orthodoxy now plague our films, our fiction, our research, and even our scientific inquiry. Public policy discussion of real problems like long COVID can be as much about what race is affected the worst by it—and thus which diabolical actor or demographic is to blame—rather than a Marshall Plan rush to find a cure for everyone.
A discussion of Homer’s Odyssey in college is likely to be a Sovietized melodrama of rooting out the sexists and racists in the preliterate bard’s cosmos, rather than why and how such an epic has enthralled audiences for over 2,700 years. The subtext is that we are growing poorer, weaker, and more ridiculous—an acceptable price if we can at least prove we are woke.
So, what made America unhinged?
The Woke Plague
Wokeness is a large part of it. Properly understood, wokeness is simply the doctrine that all perceived inequality must be the result of culpability, not personal behavior or conduct. There is no role for chance, individual health, inheritance, or character that make us different. There are no cosmic forces like globalization that transcend race.
What’s left instead is a nefariousness that divides the world into a collective binary of the noble victimized and their demonic oppressors. Thus, the duty of government and righteous egalitarian culture is to divide the country, in post-Marxist style, to identify the victims/oppressed, and to redistribute power, money, and influence to them. That allows the anointed to condemn the victimizers/oppressors collectively and to stigmatize, ostracize, and enfeeble them.
Every agency available—government, popular culture, science, history, literature, the arts, the university, the media, big tech, the corporate boardroom, and Wall Street—must be subordinated and recalibrated to spot supposed inequality so that they can fix it through reparatory discrimination. All being equal and poorer is preferable to all being richer, but with some richer than others.
Sometimes the effort manifests in reparatory commercials where 40 to 50 percent of the actors are black. Is that corporate America’s way of helping stop the carnage in Chicago—from a safe distance? Sometimes the effort is media-based and designed to ignore self-confessed racial motives in violent crime when the black perpetrators deliberately target white or Asian victims. And sometimes, there is a general exclusionary rule that media grandees can openly generalize and stereotype all whites as toxic—in language that would earn their firings if applied to any other groups. Is the theory that a white assembly-line worker without a college degree born in 1990 properly owes society for the purported sins of the long dead?
Wokeness is also, at its most basic, a selfish creed. We still gladly use the very institutions and infrastructure we inherited from our ancestors—from Stanford University to the Hoover Dam—and then damn them as inferior to our standards. Left unsaid is that our generation can neither create a new major research university nor build a monumental dam.
The wealthiest and most deductively biased among us are the most likely to project their hatreds onto the middle classes that lack their prejudices. Generally, the immigrant poor and dispossessed who enter America know why they came and thus see it as their salvation. In contrast, the more elite and blessed the immigrants who thrive in America, the more likely they are to chomp the hand that fed them.
Woke must destroy its critics. And who are they? The age-old individualist. The traditional outspoken. The familiar maverick. The unbeliever. The apostate. Anyone who believes woke is really a familiar and ancient evil with a mere 21st-century face, our version of the Inquisition but supposedly redirected to noble justice, cruel Jacobinism now masked in enlightened racial clothes, or toxic Bolshevism with an iPhone.
Can you have wokeism without Twitter and Facebook, a cancel culture, censors, and an array of punishments?
No more than you could have the witch trials without Reverend Samuel Parris’ mass hysteria, or the Reign of Terror without Robespierre and the guillotine of his “Committee of the Public Safety,” or the purges without Stalin and Beria, or the loyalty oaths without Joe McCarthy.
So, cancel culture itself is always dangerous and led by rank opportunists and careerists disguised as social justice warriors—as we know from ancient scapegoating, ostracism, exile, and modern Trotskization.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.
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