By Victor Davis Hanson
America went from the freest country in the world in December 2019 to a repressive and frightening place by July 2021. How did that happen?
Nations have often gone mad in a matter of months. The French abandoned their supposedly idealistic revolutionary project and turned it into a monstrous hell for a year between July 1793 and 1794. After the election of November 1860, in a matter of weeks, Americans went from thinking secession was taboo to visions of killing the greatest number of their fellow citizens on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Mao’s China went from a failed communist state to the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, when he unleashed the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
In the last six months, we have seen absurdities never quite witnessed in modern America. Madness, not politics, defines it. There are three characteristics of all these upheavals. One, the events are unsustainable. They will either cease or they will destroy the nation, at least as we know it. Two, the law has largely been rendered meaningless. Three, left-wing political agendas justify any means necessary to achieve them.
Citizenship as Mere Residency
Two million people are anticipated to cross the southern border, en masse and illegally, over a 12-month period. If that absurdity were to continue, we would be adding the equivalent of a major U.S. city every year. The new arrivals have three things in common: Their first act was to break U.S. law by entering the country. Their second was to break the law by residing here illegally. And their third will be to find false identification or other illegal means to continue breaking the law. One does not arrive as a guest in a foreign country and immediately violate the laws of his host—unless one holds those laws in contempt.
Arrivals now cross a border that had been virtually closed to illegal immigration by January 2021. In the cynical and immoral logic of illegal immigration (that cares little for the concerns either of would-be legal immigrants or U.S. citizens), arrivals will be dependent upon the state and thus become constituents of progressives who engineered their arrival.
Yet the issue is not illegal immigration per se. If protests were to continue in Cuba, and 1 million Cubans boated to Miami, the Biden Administration would stop the influx, in terror that so many anti-Communists might tip Florida red forever.
How strange that the U.S. government is considering going door-to-door to bully the unvaccinated, even as it ignores the daily influx of thousands from Mexico and Latin America, without worrying whether they are carrying or vaccinated for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the progressive media shrilly warns that the new Delta Variant of the virus is exploding south of the border. Note how the administration applies standards to its own citizens that it does not apply to foreign nationals illegally entering the country.
Crime as Construct
Crime is another current absurdity. There exists a mini-industry of internet videos depicting young people, disproportionately African American males, stealing luxury goods from Nieman-Marcus in San Francisco, clearing a shelf from a Walgreens with impunity, or assaulting Asian Americans. These iconic moments may be unrepresentative of reality, but given the mass transfers and retirements of police, and the frightening statistics of large increases in violent crime in certain cities, the popular conception is now entrenched that it is dangerous to walk in our major metropolises, either by day or at night. Chicago has turned into Tombstone or Dodge City in the popular imagination.
Scarier still is the realization that if one is robbed, assaulted, or finds one’s car vandalized, it is near certain the miscreant will never be held to account. Either the police have pulled back and find arrests of criminals a lose-lose situation, or radical big-city district attorneys see the law as a critical legal theory construct, and thus will not enforce it. Or the criminal will be arrested and released within hours.
So a subculture has developed among Americans, of passing information about where in the country it is safe, where it is not, and where one can go, where one cannot. This is clearly not America, but something bizarre out of Sao Paulo, Durban, or Caracas.
The Campus Con
The universities over the past 40 years were intolerant, hard Left, and increasingly anti-constitutional. But they also fostered a golden-goose confidence scheme that administrators dared not injure, given the precious eggs of federally guaranteed student loans that ensured zero academic accountability and sent tuition costs into the stratosphere. There was an unquestioned supposition that a degree of any sort, of any major, was the ticket to American success. In cynical fashion, we shrugged that most prestigious institutions were little more than cattle branders that stamped graduates with imprints that gave them unearned privilege for life.
Yet universities now have both hands around their golden goose’s neck and are determined to strangle it. The public is becoming repulsed at the woke McCarthyite culture on campus, and will be more turned off when campuses open in the fall in 2019-style. At the Ivy League or major state university campuses, admissions are no longer based on proportional representation in the context of affirmative action, but are defined increasingly by a reparatory character.
Grades, test scores, and “activities” of the white and Asian male college applicants are growing less relevant. Only “privileged” white males with sports skills, connections, or families who give lots of money are exempt from the new racial reparation quotas. The new woke admission policy ironically is targeting the liberal suburban professional family, the Left’s constituency, whose lives are so fixated on whether children graduate from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, or like campuses.
Given the radical change in incoming student profiles, the faculty increasingly will have to choose between accusations of racism, or grading regardless of actual performance, given thousands of new enrollees do not meet the entrance standards of just two or three years ago. Remember that since wokeism was always a top-down elite industry, minority progressives still will fight it out with white leftists in intramural scraps over titles, salaries, and managerial posts.
The public has had enough. For the first time, people will ask why are we subsidizing student loans, why are multibillion-dollar endowments not taxed, and why do we think a B.A. in sociology or psychology or gender studies is an “investment” that prepares anyone for anything?
Commissars and Jacobins
The critical race theory craze is reaching peak woke, or is already on the downslope. No complex and sophisticated society is sustainable with a Maoist creed of cannibalizing citizens for thought crimes. Commissars do not produce anything or serve anybody, but only monitor thoughts and speech to ascertain the purity of diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are not just a drain on the productive sector but will insidiously destroy it, since their currency is to ensure a timid, obsequiousness and banal orthodoxy.
We know from the failed Soviet system and from the French Revolution that the most mediocre in society became its most eager auditors of correct behavior. The arbiters of proper thought—the self-righteous paid toady, the perpetual victim employed in service to government payback, the freelancing snitch—were always the villains of freedom, productivity, and humanity, whether we read of the killing off of Alexander the Great’s inner circle, the forced suicides of the Neronian circle, the Jacobin murder spree, or the nightmarish world described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
That the Biden Administration has now joined with Silicon Valley to hunt down on social media any dissenters from this month’s official policy on vaccinations and mask-wearing was not so shocking as to be expected from a media that banned coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop. In Cuban-fashion, millions of judge-jury-executioner online snitches, with government encouragement, will help root out incorrect thoughts at light speed.
Inflation Is a Mere Construct
We used to know what inflation was, its pernicious role in past civilizations, and how to combat it. The danger of worthless currency is a staple of classical literature from Aristophanes to Procopius. The scary fact is not just that we are destroying the value of our money—the exploding price of gas, food, appliances, lumber, power, and housing are overwhelming even Joe Biden’s entitlement machine—but that we are constructing pseudoeconomics to justify the nihilism.
Right now, we witness a multitrillion-dollar fight over borrowing beyond our $30 trillion debt to build “infrastructure,” a word that has been expanded to include mostly anything but roads and bridges. What exactly is so liberal about the farmworker paying $5 a gallon for gas to commute to the fields, the small contractor doing a remodeling job with plywood at $80 a sheet, or the young couple whose loan qualification is always a month behind the soaring price of a new home?
Our People’s Military
Americans during this entire descent in madness sighed, “Well, at least there is the military left.” By that, I think they meant John Brennan had all but wrecked the CIA, while James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Kevin Clinesmith, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page, et al. had weaponized the FBI. But the military was still a bastion of traditional, nonpartisan service, whose prime directive was to defend the country, win any war it was ordered to fight, and to maintain deterrence against opportunistic enemies. It was not envisioned as a “people’s army.” It was not a revolutionary Napoleonic “nation in arms.” And it was not a “liberation army.” The Constitution, 233 years of tradition, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice all reassured America of its wonderful defense forces.
And now? We are in the process of a massive reeducation and indoctrination campaign. The revamping not only draws scarce resources away from military readiness, but targets, without evidence, the white working class, and defames it as insurrectionary—the very same cohort that disproportionately died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If only General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, had been as animated, as combative, and as fired up in congressional testimony about winning in Afghanistan or deterring the Chinese in the waters off Taiwan as they were in defense of their recommended lists of Marxist-inspired critical race theory texts!
One purpose of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was not to prevent retired top brass from attacking beloved presidents, or even blasé ones. Its aim was to remind the country that it is the business of civilians, not pensioned retired military subject to recall in times of crisis, to galvanize opinion against loudmouth unpopular presidents like Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, or Donald Trump.
The reason why the “revolving door” became a bipartisan worry was that four-star officers had mastered the navigation of Pentagon procurement. They possessed a rare skill easily—and hugely—monetized upon retirement, and thus its use was to be discouraged wholeheartedly.
The code is a mere construct. The revolving door is an advertisement for advancing to high rank. Policing the thoughts of American soldiers is apparently more important than fathoming the minds of our enemies on the battlefield.
Keep Cuba Castroite?
What was so hard about understanding that Cuba since 1959 has been a Communist gulag, antithetical to human freedom and consensual government? What was so difficult about conceding that Cuba had been an ally of the nuclear Soviet Union, always egging it on to war against the United States?
Yet here we are with protestors against a failed, evil state in the streets of Havana, and our own government, media, and professional classes are worried that ossified Communism in Cuba may fall.
After opening the U.S. southern border to pseudo-political refugees, the Biden Administration is terrified that thousands of real ones might come to Miami in the fashion it invited millions to storm into Texas. The Biden Administration, and the Left in general, finally revealed what many of us have known: it had no real ideological view on illegal immigration. Its immigration policy was entirely utilitarian and hinged only on whether illegal immigration altered the demography of the electorate in the correct way.
The United Nations Über Alles
Finally, almost all Americans used to agree that the U.S. Constitution was unique and guaranteed personal freedom in a way the United Nations charter could not. Dozens of fascist, Communist, totalitarian, and authoritarian regimes, usually the majority of governments on earth, ensured that any General Assembly or U.N. committee ruling would parrot the views of its illiberal and corrupt members.
Not anymore. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has invited in the U.N. to assess whether the United States meets global standards of justice or, in fact, is racist and in need of global censure: “I urge all U.N. member states to join the United States in this effort, and confront the scourge of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia,” he said last week.
That is like asking Libya in 2001 to assess whether our airline pilot training met proper standards or having China adjudicate the conditions in U.S. prisons.
America went from the freest country in the world in December 2019 to a repressive, and frightening place by July 2021. It went not so much hard-Left, as stark-raving mad.
That abrupt descent, too, is not workable and millions will collectively decide they have no choice but to push back and conclude, “In the 233rd year of our republic, we tens of millions are not going to cede freedom of thought and expression to thousands of Maoists. Sorry, no can do.”