by Victor Davis Hanson
There was once a tradition of Democratic liberalism. But that wing of the Democratic Party no longer exists and died sometime in the 1990s. Old-style liberalism has been absorbed by Progressivism at best and unapologetic socialism at worst—in a journey on the supposedly predetermined arc of history that bends toward 1984.
The new-old leftist aim is not to operate within either the existing parameters of the Constitution as written or the customs and traditions of America—a 150-year-long nine-justice Supreme Court, the Electoral College, a 50-state nation, a Senate filibuster, two senators per state, and a secure border. All are obstructions to the drive for power.
Given its redistributionist creed, socialism cannot afford to be patent and honest. If socialism were transparent, it never would gain majority support. Joe Biden cannot talk about the Electoral College or court packing, unequivocally condemn the violence in our urban centers, discuss the Green New Deal, name his likely Supreme Court appointments, be honest about his plans for fracking, or explain his views on the borders, because he is now owned lock, stock and barrel by the hard Left whose agendas were rejected even in his own Democratic primaries.
The Left seeks to transform America into something never envisioned by the founders, a huge all-encompassing, panopticon state, one run by anointed Platonic guardians. Our elite watchmen will use their unlimited power to force upon us an equality of result society—with themselves properly exempted.
The hard Left’s defense is that its mission is so critical, so morally superior, that all means can be justified to achieve its noble ends. And so almost every institution that the Left has in its line of vision is now petrifying.
Large swaths of the downtowns of America’s large cities—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland—are becoming unhygienic, unsafe, and uninhabitable. Substantial corridors swarm with the homeless. Crime is increasing but commensurately redefined as a sort of cry of the heart, no-bail social activism. The cities are broke and yet demand more bailouts to spend more money that will ensure things get worse.
The summertime scenes of looting, arson, rioting, and random violence are contextualized away by both mayors and governors. They see the anarchy and chaos as a “chickens-coming-home to-roost” useful tool in this election year.
We do not know fully yet the lasting effects upon city living from the virus, the quarantine, Zoom and Skype telecommuting, and urban violence. Certainly, millions are questioning the wisdom of living in high-rises, predicating their existence on constant elevator use, and riding on crowded mass transit in this age of globalized viruses. Add in filth, crime, high taxes for terrible services, and the chance to work at home—and home can become far, far away.
Thousands of urbanites also know their taxes will only rise in relation to declining public services—and they will be collectively demonized for having the “privilege” to pay the escalating taxes from their own “you didn’t build that” careers and businesses. Stepping over human excrement, accepting that if mugged the assailant will either rarely be caught or if so, released shortly without bail, and resigned that “brick and mortar property” is not properly one’s own are all no way to go through life.
Since the 1960s, the hard Left has demanded to run America’s cities. They have had their way for decades. And the fruition is what we see now in Portland and Seattle, or on a weekend night in Chicago. In other words, they made a desert and called it social justice.
Sports was once a place to escape work, politics, and family tensions—a unifying experience where grudges, feuds, and vendettas disappeared for a few hours. Not now. Franchises became self-acclaimed woke ministries, in which poorly educated athletes—almost exclusively multimillionaires and without much knowledge or appreciation of where their seemingly limitless salaries derive—have become preachers. And they are poor preachers at that.
The more a LeBron James remonstrates with America, the more NFL athletes refuse to honor the national anthem, the more all professional sports display glitzy politicalized logos, so all the more fans who pay their salaries tune out.
The problem is not just that half the country is at odds with the politics of professional sports, but also that it watches them to see athletic excellence and root for favored teams—not to hear adolescent rants about their own moral shortcomings from supposedly victimized elites, some of whom have less than sterling characters.
Worse still, the monotonous anti-American fantasies of half-educated players are cynically predicated on their own careerist realities—and more than just constructed to appeal to woke 20-something consumers with cash for sneakers and downloads.
China, for all practical purposes, now owns not just the NBA name but the players as well. We know that because for all the loud social commentators in the league who weigh in ad nauseam about American pathologies, none would dare mention Chinese racism, the systematic and ongoing attack on the Uighurs, the absorption of Tibet, or the strangulation of democracy in Hong Kong.
The NBA is increasingly writing off America, mostly because it dreams of replacing trickling domestic revenue streams with an envisioned torrent of 1.4 billion Chinese consumers. Professional rich athletes wanted to be even more relevant. So they tried, ruined their brand, and are becoming as irrelevant at home as they are fawning embarrassments abroad.
College has long ceased being a sheltered place to acquire the inductive method of thinking and disinterested empiricism, along with mastering a body of general, shared knowledge to equip the student to be aware of his past and present world. Instead, higher education seeks to teach millions of American youth how to think “correctly.”
In 21st-century America, “correctness” centers around memorizing unquestioned near-religious commandments—identity and racial politics, redistributionist government, affirmative action, abortion on demand, anti-Westernism, climate change, transgenderism, open borders, police defunding, iconoclasm, and agnosticism or atheism. All that cannot be queried without being socially ostracized, professionally hounded, or sometimes even physically threatened.
The Left sought to make the university woke and loud. It succeeded beyond its wildest dreams and so ensured that it is now increasingly mocked and bypassed, its graduates both abjectly ignorant while zealously arrogant. Life on campus was supposed to be an unforgettable, irreplaceable educational experience—a Socratic odyssey of free thought, unconventional ideas, and constant reexamination.
But it is not, and outside of the sciences and professions, undergraduate liberal education has turned instead into a sort of summer camp bore for prolonged adolescence, a chorus of nodding and chants. The virus and lockdown reminded America that going into hock for a collective $1.4 trillion in student debt while offering the nation millions of unskilled and poorly educated activists could be bypassed with online replacements at ten cents on the dollar. If universities do not have real core education, unleash ranting ideologues on their classes, and the campus experience is dreary indoctrination, what, then, is exactly lost by distance learning?
Democracy Dies in Wokeness
The new globalized media promised us real-time coverage of breaking news from around the world, spiced with televised graphics and supposedly learned insight—all part of their mission to keep a democratic populace informed and thus capable of self-governance.
But while always liberal, the media at least once knew that half the population turned on the news or read the papers not to be swayed, lectured, or insulted, but simply to get facts, occasional opinion editorials from both Left and Right, and enough information to draw their own conclusions.
Yet journalists always dreamed of becoming more than just reporters, in the sense of evolving into activist movers and shakers of politics, culture, and society. And now they, too, have gotten their wish as pop ideology replaced meritocracy.
The most boringly woke journalist is deemed the most successful, and the result is that Americans are going elsewhere for their daily information. Just as no one turns on a basketball game to hear the crackpot morality of Steve Kerr, so too few wish to learn from Brian Williams, Don Lemon, or the editorial staff of the New York Times that Americans are moral pygmies. The hard Left finally got its monopoly over the media, and predictably has destroyed its profession to save it.
Gone With the Wind
Hollywood was always left wing, but usually sufficiently subtle to insert that message within good drama, top-flight scripts, and brilliant acting.
Not now. “Casablanca,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “High Noon,” “On the Waterfront,” “Ben Hur,” “Hombre” and “The Wild Bunch” were all dramatically engaging films with lessons about fascism, imperial autocracy, appeasement, American callousness and corruption—morality embedded within, not superimposed upon, plot, action, dialogue, and characterization.
Like the indentured NBA, for all practical purposes China and its huge market now own Hollywood. We can see this both in the way that they are tailoring films for the Chinese market and delighting in their anti-American propaganda. Political correctness, the insular world from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu, and the appeasement of China explain why films cannot be critical of, or even neutral about, Chinese Communism, why light-skinned American actors are sometimes favored over their dark-skinned counterparts, and why Hollywood now focuses on comic-book action heroes, poor remakes of past classics, and psychodramas rather than tragedies.
The now-gray lions of the 1960s got their wish and took over Hollywood, and they did to it what they had done earlier to the campuses.
Seven Days in May
Our retired military once stayed out of politics. The few who weighed in to attack a sitting president usually were vilified by the press, and written off as right-wing nuts—whether it was Douglas MacArthur, Curtis LeMay, or Edwin Walker. Hollywood films like “Dr. Strangelove” and “Seven Days in May” purported to remind Americans that their liberty was always only a military coup or stand-down away.
At the height of the McCarthy period, in paranoia about coups over “Who Lost China?” and “Why not bomb Manchuria?” liberals pushed through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in which even retired high-ranking officers were forbidden to use language disparaging their commander-in-chief. How the worm turns.
The Left once demonized retired four-star admirals and generals as warmongers, revolving-door grifters who became insider lobbyists, and corporate board cronies courted for their contacts with active Pentagon procurement officers rather than any demonstrable business acumen. A Pentagon billet was once seen as a sort of dead-end assignment among the swamp of Washington.
Not now. The Left discovered that, unlike clumsy government, the military could streamline social change by fiat. And so it did, once they got control of it. Lethal Islamic terrorism at home was reduced to “workplace violence.” Women in front-line combat units were fast-tracked. Man-made and thus correctable global warming became a military gospel. The transgendered posed no problems in combat efficacy. Promotion and evaluation had to encompass far more than combat readiness, strategic and tactical insight, and natural leadership but instead reflect diversity and proportional representation due to disparate impact.
No wonder then that by 2020 former top brass were appearing on television to brand the commander in chief a Russian “asset,” a veritable traitor based on the fables of the Steele dossier, the yarns of a likely Russian spy ensconced in the Brookings Institution, and the demonstrable rogue operations of the FBI.
The president was not just unfit, but according to those who recently ran the U.S. military, was a fascist “Mussolini” who emulated “Nazi”-like tactics to divide the country, and who built cages on the border in the fashion of the death camps of the Holocaust—and thus should be removed “sooner the better.”
Joe Biden was so enthralled at the military resistance to the president that he boasted he would win, Trump would resist leaving, and his newfound retired four-stars would help remove him from the White House.
At last, political activism finally “woke” the military. And the result is that the reputation of its once hallowed retired class is in shambles. If the Left convinced the military that sex and race could adjudicate promotion, then why not further recalibrate the military as the guardians of progressive democracy, ready to step in and remove any president deemed a right-wing nut in a just and noble “resistance”?
Indeed “coup porn” is now the media’s new obsession, endlessly dreaming how their newfound beloved brass might frog march the evil Trump out of the White House.
Again, the Left finally got what it has always wanted, and thus with its anti-Midas touch and Medusa glare turned gold into dross, and flesh into stone.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. 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.
Photo “Police Protester” by D. Sinclair Terrasidius CC BY 2.0.