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Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

The Eeyore Syndrome

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

In A. A. Milne’s classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen.

Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist (“if you think it’s bad now, just wait”) always enjoys advantages over both the realist (“so what, life goes on”) and the optimist (“oh, come on, it can’t be that bad”).

When the pessimist frequently errs in his gloomy prognostications, he can plead that they were intended to be didactic, if not therapeutic. Only by offering scarifying models can the glum epidemiologist and statesman sufficiently terrify the public and thereby allow policymakers to enact the necessary draconian shelter-in-place protocols. That strategy could apply to the recent near celebrity Neil Morris Ferguson, OBE FMedSci, the British epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biology at the Imperial College in London, whose “2 million” possible deaths terrified America into lockdown, just as his modeled “500,000” fatalities in Britain did the same in his own homeland.

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Corona Meltdowns

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

As the coronavirus outbreak begins to reach its zenith, it remains unclear whether the measures taken to stem its tide will prove sufficient, insufficient, or an overreaction. What is certain, however, is that a number of individuals and entities have behaved shamefully and demonstrated no capacity for leadership or usefulness in this moment.

Nancy Pelosi: Gone are the mythologies that Nancy Pelosi was a pragmatic liberal voice of reason among the otherwise polarizing American Left, honed after years of paying her dues to the Democratic Party, as the mother of five dutifully ascended the party’s cursus honorum.

It does not matter whether her political and ethical decline was a result of her deep pathological hatred of Donald Trump. Who cares that her paranoia arose over the so-called “Squad” that might align with socialist Bernie Sanders to mesmerize Democrats to march over the cliff into McGovern-like oblivion? All concede that very few octogenarians have the stamina and clarity to put in the 16-hour work-days and transcontinental travel required by a Speaker of the House.

Instead, all that matters is that for a nation in extremis she is now puerile, even unhinged—and increasingly dangerous.

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America Is Still a Global Leader

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

A current global myth alleges that America under the Trump administration is not leading the world fight against the coronavirus in its accustomed role as the post-war global leader.

Yet the U.S. was the first major nation to issue a travel ban on flights from China, with Donald Trump making that announcement on January 31. That was a bold act. It likely saved thousands endangered by Chinese perfidy and soon became a global model. None of the ban’s loud critics are today demanding it be rescinded.

In typically American fashion, as we have seen in crises from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, after initial shock and unpreparedness, the U.S. economic and scientific juggernaut is kicking into action.

Already the U.S. is transitioning from a long, disastrous reliance on Chinese medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. In ad hoc fashion, companies are gearing up massive production of masks, ventilators, and key anti-viral supplies.

The number of known deaths from the virus — for now the only reliable data available — shows a fatality rate of about 7–8 per million people in the United States. That per capita toll is analogous to Germany’s and one of the lowest in the world among larger nations.

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Some Coronavirus Humility

Victor Davis Hanson // City Journal

There are two well-known themes, or topoi, in classical literature. One concerns the graphic descriptions in Thucydides, Sophocles, and Procopius of plagues—especially the human misery and despair that accompanies outbreaks that killed large numbers. The unknown plague at Athens (430–429 BC) killed one-quarter of the Athenian population during the Peloponnesian War, wrecking the social structure of the city. In 542 AD, during a virulent bubonic plague epidemic, millions perished throughout the Byzantine Empire, crippling and ultimately curtailing the emperor Justinian’s grandiose efforts to restore the Roman Empire by reclaiming its lost provinces in the West.

But just as frequently, we read of groundless mass panics that caused deadly harm. Thucydides’s description of the preparations of the Athenian armada on the eve of the ill-fated expedition to Sicily is a sort of fantastical bookend to the panic he previously described about the real plague. In 415 BC, a sudden public frenzy swept the Athenian demos to rule all of distant Sicily and get rich from promises of wealthy allies. Sicily was billed as a prequel to a Mediterranean-wide Athenian empire—at least until the money and the allies proved almost nonexistent and the scheme unworkable. Eventually, some 40,0000 Athenian and allied lives were lost in utter defeat.

In the United States, the collapse of the stock market and banks in 1893 and 1929 altered American life for generations, in part driven by panicked selling. One of cinema’s most dramatic scenes is the run on the Bailey Building and Loan in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life that threatens to turn idyllic Bedford Falls into a Potterville slum. I remember as a boy stomping on June bugs all summer long in 1962 to prevent their supposedly deadly contagion that was supposedly sweeping the nation—aping the behavior of those delusional at Athens who drew maps in the sand of Sicily, hooked on the fantasy of the riches to come from the extravagant 415 BC expedition.

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Viral Prerequisites and Nationalist Lessons in Time of Plague

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

President Donald Trump has courted endless controversies for promoting nonconventional policies and entertaining contrarian views. From the outset, he oddly seemed to have believed that having navigated the jungles of the Manhattan real estate market—crooked politicians, mercurial unions, neighborhood social activists, the green lobby, leery banks, cutthroat rivals—better prepared him for the job than did a 30-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Certainly, candidate and then President Trump’s strident distrust of China was annoying to the American establishment. The Left saw China in rosy terms as the “Other” that just did things like airports, high-speed rail, and solar panels better than did America’s establishment of geriatric white male has-beens. Many on the Right saw China as a cash cow that was going to take over anyway, so why not milk it before the deluge?

In sum, conventional Washington wisdom assumed that appeasing the commercial banditry of an ascendant China, at best might ensure that its new riches led to Westernized political liberalization, and at worst might at least earn them a pat on the head from China as it insidiously assumed its fated role as global hegemon.

Trump once enraged liberal sensibilities by issuing travel bans against countries in the Middle East, Iran, Nigeria, and North Korea as they could not be trusted to audit their own departing citizens. His notion that nations have clearly defined and enforced borders was antithetical to the new norms that open borders and sanctuary cities were part of the global village of the 21st century.

Trump certainly distrusted globalization. He has waged a veritable multifront war against the overreach of transnational organizations, whether that be the European Union or the various agencies of the United Nations. Even relatively uncontroversial steps, such as greenlighting experimental drugs and off-label uses of old medicines for terminal patients drew the ire of federal bureaucrats and medical schools as potentially dangerous or irrelevant in cost-benefit analyses.

Yet since the outbreak of the virus, Trump’s idiosyncratic sixth sense has come in handy. The country is united in its furor at China—even if it is giving no credit to Trump for being years ahead of where it is now.

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Progressivism’s Bastardization of Science

Terry Scambray // New Oxford Review

The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America,  Daniel Okrent.  Scribner, 2019.  402 pp.

          Daniel Okrent has marshalled a compendium of damning statements and information which demonstrates the ignominy of the eugenics movement and how its advocates desperately sought to limit immigration to the United States.  Though this tale is not new, Okrent’s telling of it is clear, well organized and full of the smaller stories and details that enrich a narrative.

          Francis Galton began the eugenics movement, the stimulus for which came from his cousin, Charles Darwin.   As Okrent writes, “without Darwin’s influence, Galton would likely never have begun his explorations into the nature of heredity.”  Darwin had supposedly demonstrated how nature made itself by the process of natural selection.  Better known as “the survival of the fittest,” natural selection was thought to be the engine of evolutionary progress, relentlessly forcing nature to better itself by killing the unfit while preserving the best and the brightest.

This simple material process, however, had the profound consequence of making a Creator superfluous.  Thus, as Okrent writes, “Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was revolutionary.”  It showed “a universe liberated from the intangible and unverifiable homilies of religion, supposition, and superstition. If the development of the species was not guided by a divine hand, Galton reasoned, then neither were the minds of men.”   Supported by a bevy of assorted “facts” which made his efforts appear scientific, Galton advocated what amounted to the selective breeding of humans with woke people like himself doing the selecting. 

Okrent tells the consequential and disturbing story of how eugenicists with their impressive scientific credentials insisted that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, especially, were inferior breeds who threatened to pollute the gene pool of Americans.   Eugenics had found favor in Europe and from there it quickly spread to the United States where a broad swath of influential individuals enthusiastically got on board.   Boston Brahmins like the Lodges, Cabots and the Adams’ united with labor leader, Samuel Gompers, and along with eminent scientists like Charles Davenport  and popular figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller and liberal theologians like Henry Fosdick were all proponents of restricting American citizenship to northern Europeans.

However, prominent individuals from America’s aristocracy like Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, favored immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe as did businesses who wanted cheap labor and likewise steamship companies who profited from having immigrants occupy what might otherwise be empty space in steerage in their trans-Atlantic voyages.

Literacy tests for immigrants were another plank in this guarded gate which attempted to limit immigration as well as to show the inferiority of undesirable newcomers to America.   Enough opposition existed to such tests, however, so that they became a political football with Congress equivocating on the issue.  President Grover Cleveland, decidedly, opposed such tests.

When it became known that Hitler and his cadres justified the Holocaust with rationales drawn from eugenics, the ardor for it cooled in the 1930’s; then outright repugnance for such ideas set in after 1945 when the horror of the Nazi death camps was revealed, shattering any lingering belief that eugenics was a shortcut to utopia.

Okrent shows how the renowned anthropologist Franz Boaz opposed the eugenics movement because he believed that environment shaped humans as opposed to their inherited, ethnic characteristics.  But Boas, as a materialist, saw humans as merely one among the myriad organisms in nature just as Darwin did.   For example, Boas arranged for six Alaskans to be brought to America where people could pay twenty-five cents apiece to see them on display.  When four of the Alaskans died, “Boas had the flesh stripped from their bones, which became part of the collection” at the American Museum of Natural History.

However, The Guarded Gate has some glaring omissions which devalue it as worthy history.  For one thing, it fails to mention the evangelical Christians who were articulate opponents of Darwin and early on saw the calamitous destination that the eugenics’ express was headed toward.  Also barely mentioned is William Jennings Bryan who was also a conspicuous critic of eugenics because he saw that Darwin’s leveling of man began the reductionism that would lead to the Final Solution.  Likewise the Catholic Church was the most prominent institutional critic of eugenics as was its celebrated convert, G.K. Chesterton, its most notable individual critic.

Nonetheless, despite the opposition to immigration, between 1880 and 1924 more than 20 million immigrants arrived in America, including four and a half million Italians and two million Jews.  America’s population was 50 million in 1880 and rose to around 106 million by 1920 making immigrants a substantial part of the population even subtracting those immigrants who returned to Europe which may have been a substantial number, accurate statistics on this being hard to come by.  And even at that, a miniscule number were denied entry for health reasons.   So the guarded gate was not as imposing it sounds.

  Alas, in his conclusion, Okrent tells of the thousands of pages written by leaders of the eugenics movement that he read in preparing his book, writings which now serve to incriminate the leaders of this inhumane program.  Okrent goes on to speculate that when future historians write about “the ant-immigrant activists of the 2010’s, there will likely be no papers to turn to – or, at least, no private papers”  because “People today , I believe, don’t want their unfiltered selves made public, even posthumously.”

          Does Okrent presume his readers to be of a lesser intellectual stock, speaking in the argot of the present discussion?  Patronizing your readers is also bad manners as Okrent certainly knows, having been an editor at The New York Times as well as at respected publishing houses and magazines. 

 All of which is to ask Okrent, if he knows the difference between “the anti-illegal immigrant movement” and “the anti-immigrant movement?”   No significant “anti-immigrant movement” exists in the United States just as no significant “white supremacist movement” exists here.  These are Democratic Party talking points used to stimulate the party’s base.

          Even at that, why would Okrent assume that those in “the anti- immigrant movement” would be ashamed of having their words revealed?  Likewise, does he consider that those in the “pro-illegal immigrant movement,” which includes all of the Democratic Party candidates as of October 2019 as well as Chamber of Commerce Republicans, would be proud to have their private talk on this topic revealed?

 Indeed, is Okrent proud of his book which can be seen as a polemic, suggesting that the eugenicists are comparable to Americans who want their border laws enforced?  Will he have given, in whatever small way, more impetus to those who support “the open borders, illegal alien movement” which will fundamentally change America if not irrevocably ruin her for our children and grandchildren?

Speaking of revealing private conversations, Slate, the online magazine, has now revealed the transcript of a meeting in which the editors of The New York Times, thwarted by the failure of Russia-gate to undo President Trump, are about to deploy their “1619 Plan” to white out the beginning of America in 1787, changing it to 1619 when the first black slaves were brought here in chains.  Of course, slavery existed in America, as it did elsewhere in the world, prior to 1619.  Nonetheless, the plan is to impute racism to the white males who founded America; therefore, white male, Donald Trump, is a racist. 

But America only became a country in 1787 not 1619.  Besides, slavery, however horrendous it is anywhere, was a regional institution in America, confined almost exclusively to the one party Democratic South though supported by the national Democratic Party.  So too The Guarded Gate seeks to indict America for embracing eugenics, whereas the movement actually was driven by a tiny minority, intellectuals, as usual, duped by progressivism’s bastardization of science in its attempt to perfect the world by ridding it of “Gregor Mendel’s recessive genes.”  

However, Okrent’s biggest omission is his failure to recognize that eugenics was a foreshadowing of the top down, junk science, profiteering initiatives which granted experts power, the dream of progressives from their beginning in the 19th century.  And this dream has not died despite the nightmare of eugenics and the Final Solution.

Consider the top down programs which continue to poison our landscape:  “sex education programs,” given the original impetus by sex-o-crat, Alfred Kinsey, the charlatan pervert; infanticide and euthanasia endorsed by governors and by intellectuals like Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton; the continuing presence of Planned Parenthood clinics in mostly black neighborhoods, a chilling reminder of the racism inherent in the selective breeding of the eugenics program, the callousness of which is revealed by the Project Veritas videos showing Planned Parenthood officials cutting deals over the sale of baby parts. 

 So also with the many social programs concocted to alleviate poverty but which destroyed, for example, black families and increased poverty by making fathers redundant; the global cooling hoax along with the mass starvation hoax of the 1970’s led by Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich; trade agreements which promised to make China fair and transparent in her trading policies and her treatment of her own people! And, of course, the latest and most egregious is the global warming/ climate change cult that threatens to destroy civilization if one is to take seriously the proposals of progressives.

 Okrent, apparently, fails to see this as the lesson of his vibrant narrative so intent is he on presenting another polemic on America the bad.  That he would be so biased or so ill-informed is disappointing. 

Certainly it is understandable that the many material improvements in the 19th century gave people hope that such progress could be applied to solving humanity’s various conundrums.  And, certainly, material improvements are often necessary to resolve such problems.  But they are not sufficient to do so.  Expertise has its place, but experience demonstrates that when the sublime Judaic-Christian doctrine that each individual is made in the image of God is ignored, then scientism and cults like eugenics flourish.  Though progressives may see this doctrine as anachronistic, if not laughable, they would not chose to live where it is ignored.  

Perhaps the best summary of the tumultuous history of immigration to America was simply and eloquently put by the late Joseph Sobran who, not incidentally, was a Catholic:

At times American Protestants were suspicious of immigrants, and though their suspicions have become notorious, they were not without reason. At any rate, the suspicions were quickly abandoned, and the immigrants were welcomed as fellow Americans. Today the immigrants are glorified and the natives disparaged, as if the immigrants were the originators, rather than the beneficiaries, of tolerance.

Read the full review here

Strategika Issue #63: Should the United States Leave the Middle East?

Learning From Failure: Formulating A New U.S. Middle East Foreign Policy

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Edward N. Luttwak in Strategika.

A commentator recently complained that President Trump does not have a “Syria strategy” and therefore awful Assad is winning. Countless Op-Ed writers before him likewise commented that President X “did not have a [insert the name of any country from Morocco to India] strategy,” and therefore awful Z was winning.

Read the full article here.

Leaving The Middle East?

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Peter R. Mansoor in Strategika.

With the exception of President George H. W. Bush, every U.S. president since the end of the Cold War has promised American retrenchment from the Middle East. They all have failed to make good on their promises.

Read the full article here.

Leaving the Middle East: The Fallacy of a False Dichotomy

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Admiral James O. Ellis Jr. in Strategika.

In classical logic, the false dichotomy, or false dilemma, is defined as an argument where only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes. False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language but can also be characterized by the omission of choices. This insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented.

Read the full article here.

Coronavirus: The California Herd

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The bluest state’s public officials have been warning for weeks that California will be overwhelmed, given federal-government unpreparedness and the purported inefficacy of the local, state, and federal governments.

California governor Gavin Newsom has assured his state that over half of the population — or, in his words, 56 percent — will soon be infected. That is, more than 25 million coronavirus cases are on the horizon, which, at the virus’s current fatality rate of 1–2 percent (the ratio of deaths to known positive cases), would mean that the state should anticipate 250,000–500,000 dead Californians in the near future. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti predicted that this week Los Angeles would be short of all sorts of medical supplies as the epidemic killed many hundreds, as is the case in New York City.

It’s been well over two months since the first certified coronavirus case in the United States, so one might expect to see early symptoms of the apocalypse recently forecast by Governor Newsom. Yet a number of California’s top doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians, and biophysicists — including Stanford’s John Ioannides, Michael Levitt, Eran Bendavid, and Jay Bhattacharya — have expressed some skepticism about the bleak models predicting that we are on the verge of a statewide or even national lethal pandemic of biblical proportions.

The skeptics may be right. As of this moment, California’s cumulative fatalities attributed to coronavirus are somewhere over 140 deaths, in a state of 40 million. That toll is a relatively confirmable numerator (though coronavirus is not always the sole cause of death), as opposed to the widely unreliable denominator of caseloads (currently about 6,300 in the state) that are judged to be only a fraction of the population that has been tested. The Iceland study, for example, suggests that half of those who are infected show no symptoms. Currently, even with fluctuating statistics, California is suffering roughly about one death to the virus for every 250,000–300,000 of its residents.

Read the full article here

Viral Prerequisites and Nationalist Lessons in Time of Plague

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

President Donald Trump has courted endless controversies for promoting nonconventional policies and entertaining contrarian views. From the outset, he oddly seemed to have believed that having navigated the jungles of the Manhattan real estate market—crooked politicians, mercurial unions, neighborhood social activists, the green lobby, leery banks, cutthroat rivals—better prepared him for the job than did a 30-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Certainly, candidate and then President Trump’s strident distrust of China was annoying to the American establishment. The Left saw China in rosy terms as the “Other” that just did things like airports, high-speed rail, and solar panels better than did America’s establishment of geriatric white male has-beens. Many on the Right saw China as a cash cow that was going to take over anyway, so why not milk it before the deluge?

In sum, conventional Washington wisdom assumed that appeasing the commercial banditry of an ascendant China, at best might ensure that its new riches led to Westernized political liberalization, and at worst might at least earn them a pat on the head from China as it insidiously assumed its fated role as global hegemon.

Read the full article here

Trump’s Strategic Foresight Is Being Put to the Test

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The ancient Greeks believed that true leadership in a crisis came down to what they called pronoia — the Greek word for “strategic foresight.”

Some statesmen, such as Pericles and Themistocles, had it. Most others, such as the often brilliant and charismatic but impulsive Alcibiades, usually did not.

“Foresight” in crisis means sizing up a nation’s assets and debits, then maximizing advantages and minimizing liabilities. The leader with foresight, especially in times of irrational despair, then charts a rational pathway to victory.

Such crisis leaders do not fall into panic and depression when the media shout “Catastrophe!” Nor do they preen when the same chorus screams “Genius!” in times of success.

The English poet Rudyard Kipling would have defined such a gift as: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” or “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same.”

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