10 Steps to Save America

10 Steps to Save America

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

Most Americans know something has gone terribly wrong—and very abruptly—with the United States. They are certain that our wounds are almost all self-inflicted. The current pathologies are not a result of a natural disaster, an exhaustion of natural resources, plagues, or an existential war.

Crushing national debt and annual deficits, spiraling food and fuel costs amid “normal” seven-percent-plus annual inflation, bread-and-circuses entitlements, a nonexistent border, a resurgence of racial tribalism, pandemic violent criminality, and humiliation abroad—all these pathologies are easily cited as symptoms of a sick patient. Our crises are not as the Left maintains—a nine-person Supreme Court, the Electoral College, or the filibuster—all distractions from existential problems the Left largely created.

So, what are the therapies and prognoses for America?

In the spirit of constructive rather than blanket criticism, here is a partial, 10-point plan of national recovery.

Cut the Debt

Americans’ national debt is now $31 trillion. That is about 123 percent of current GDP. The liabilities are unsustainable. We run annual deficits of $1.6 trillion. These financial obligations will eventually ensure that rising interest rates to service the debt crowd out essential spending for national defense and the general welfare.

Or in extremis, in the not too distant future, the government will be forced to default on what it owes the “rich” bondholders and foreign debt holders. Or the government will be forced to confiscate private wealth, as for example occasional crazy suggestions to nationalize and absorb 401(k)k retirement plans into the soon-to-be-insolvent Social Security system. Or the state will simply print millions of dollars to pay off obligations, Weimar-style.

In addict style, the more we come to realize that our binging habit cannot go on, the less we can practice self-restraint. And the more it is the case that those who receive government redistributions outnumber those who pay the majority of federal income taxes, the less hope there remains to avoid insolvency.

In 2010 then-President Barack Obama appointed a bipartisan “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.” More commonly  remembered as the Simpson-Bowles commission, after chairmen Senators Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Erskine Bowles (D-N.C.), it included private citizens and elected officials.

The commission recommended radical tax simplifications and some cuts—along with reductions in tax deductions and credits, an increase in the gas tax, restraints on entitlement spending, and various spending caps.

Obama and Congress ultimately rejected the recommendations and the commission’s blueprint died. But had it succeeded, the current debt would have long been frozen at the 2014 level of $17 trillion—with annual reductions ensuring that this coming year 2023 the debt would have plunged to $10 trillion and then disappeared in another decade.

Something like Simpson-Bowles could still stop the madness and avoid the natural corrective on the horizon of financial collapse. Note that federal tax revenue has increased almost every year since 2010. Sometimes it grows by nearly a half-trillion dollars per annum, even as we sink deeper in debt. Our crisis, then, is one of spending what we do not have rather than one of declining revenue.

Secure the Border

We no longer have a southern border. There have been 5 million illegal border crossings just since Joe Biden took office. He intentionally destroyed immigration law for cheap political advantage. Nearly 50 million current American residents were not born in the United States. Well over 20 million—and perhaps 30 million—are illegal aliens. Old melting-pot efforts at assimilation and integration eroded into the salad-bowl metaphor that has just become tribalism—even as intermarriage is at an all-time high.

The Left brags that “demography is destiny” as it cheers the changes in the electorate aimed at ensuring its political dominance. And simultaneously, it smears conservatives who agree with its triumphalism as “great replacement theory” conspiracists.

Yet we finally found a solution in 2019-2020. Had we continued replacing rickety border fencing with an effective wall and then completed it along the entire border, had we stopped catch-and-release, had we continued demanding that refugee status be obtained before entry, had we forced Mexico and Central American governments to stop exporting human capital and subjected them to taxes on more than $60 billion in annual remittances (along with trade penalties) for their complicity with the situation at the border, had we continued to deport those who entered illegally, had we returned to assimilation and integration on the theory any who entered America did so because they wanted to become Americans, then a desired legal, meritocratic, and diverse immigration policy might easily have assimilated and absorbed perhaps 200,000 skilled and legal immigrants per year.

Again, we had the outlines of a solution and then simply destroyed it for liberal political agendas and cheap corporate labor.

Tap Natural Resources

Similarly, by 2020, the United States enjoyed inexpensive fuel. It was all but independent in gas and oil. It had become the world largest combined gas and oil producer. That status radically curtailed the need for optional military engagements in the Middle East. It gave America enormous clout against hostile oil exporters like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. And such independence helped reduce vast trade deficits.

Again, the Biden Administration simply exploded the idea of fossil-fuel independence as a gradual transition to sustainable energy. So simply doing the opposite of its policies would correct the pathology almost immediately: Issue more federal gas and oil leases, approve the Keystone and Constitution pipelines, reopen the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and build nuclear power plants. The present course of high-priced and scarce gasoline and oil is eroding the middle class, spiking inflation, widening class divisions, and reducing American autonomy abroad.

Oppose Discrimination

Never has the United States seen more evidence of progress in racial relations, and never has such progress given way to more tribalism. If we do not return to a Martin Luther King, Jr. “content of our character” policy—one that views race as incidental rather than essential to who we are—then our future is a sectarian one with echoes of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Iraq.

Affirmative action was never envisioned as permanent quotas and race-based reverse-discrimination. Yet after over a half-century it has ballooned under the idea of “diversity” to invent a victim class of nearly a third of the nation, absurdly and loosely defined—in an age of commonplace intermarriage—as “non-white.”

Help for the underprivileged should be race-neutral and entirely based on class and income, given numerous ethnicities exceed the so-called white medium income. The labyrinth of racial categories grows unfathomable. The identity politics mess logically results, on the one hand, with rank iconic frauds like Elizabeth Warren, Ward Churchill, and Rachel Dolezal, and, the other hand, with well-off poseur victims in the manner of a Meghan Markle, Colin Kaepernick, or Jussie Smollett.

Substitution of racial criteria for merit, rather than aiding the poor of all races, is creating a commissar-like drag on the economy, spiking racial and ethnic tensions, and ensuring that every group will eventually, for its survival, go tribal on the basis of the same logic that applies to nuclear proliferation. Again, the remedy? Just enforce civil rights statutes that prohibit racial discrimination and consider the Pavlovian shriek of “racism!” as the revealing projection of racists.

Disrupt and Reform Higher Education

Our universities are failing to produce competent graduates essential to a meritocratic nation engaged in fierce global competition. Increasingly, students are politicized, largely ignorant, indebted, bitter, and unable to ensure American preeminence in basic science, technology, engineering, and math.

Yet the solutions are again simple: get the government out of the student-loan business that ensures escalating tuition hikes greater than the rate of inflation. Eliminate faculty tenure and replace it with five-year contracts that require demonstrable achievement. Subject large endowments to taxation on their interest income to curb their wasted spending. Allow public schools to hire either those with school of education credentials or one-year master’s degrees that focused solely on academic study. Require standardized exit tests, in the fashion of erstwhile SAT and ACT entry tests, for the certification of the bachelor’s degree. Force universities to follow the Bill of Rights on campus, regarding due process and freedom of expression.

These are not radical suggestions. Yet the likely fierce faculty opposition to them is proof that the Left envisions higher education as it views Silicon Valley—another private monopoly that helps to maintain political power in lieu of popular support.

Revive the Armed Forces

Our military is in dire straits. It is overcommitted, under-resourced, and without any geo-political strategy other than ad hoc responses without defined objectives. It has become politically weaponized and, inevitably, unable to meet recruitment goals. The Pentagon remains obsessed with exorbitantly priced weapons that cannot be produced in sufficient numbers in an age of hostile swarms of cheap, mass-produced drones and thousands of batteries of ground-to-air and shore-to-ship missiles.

Constant profiling, racial, and gender quotas and obsessions over proportional representation and disparate impact increasingly apply to training, education, and promotion—to everything except worries over the disproportionate profile of those killed in battle. The Pentagon has become adept in publishing racial data on every aspect of military service to emphasize disparity and bias—except concerning the combat dead.

To address the changes, retiring high-ranking officers should refrain from board memberships on contracting corporations for at least five years upon leaving the military. The uniform code of military justice must be strictly enforced, including article 88 which prohibits retired officers from attacking in personal terms high-ranking elected officials, and in particular their commander-in-chief.

Woke training is destroying morale and battlefield efficacy. The military must return to a race and gender neutral stance that does not erode meritocratic standards to fit political agendas. We should never again witness a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff virtue signaling to Congress and the nation his intention to understand “white rage” in the ranks, without supplying any confirmatory evidence or data for his apparent allegation of systemic racism in the ranks—particularly not while the greatest U.S. defeat and humiliation in a half-century was unfolding on the horizon in Kabul. Any high-ranking military officer who informs his Chinese counterpart of his own psychiatric diagnosis that his commander-in-chief is unhinged and thus U.S. strategic intentions will first be relayed to Beijing should be summarily dismissed.

Fix Voting 

Elections are a mess. The greatest political revolution in our election history has been the change—accelerated under the cover of COVID and the George Floyd riots—in many key estates from a 20-30 percent “absentee ballot” vote to 70-80 percent early/mail-in balloting. In a mere four years we have all but destroyed Election Day voting and Election Night final tabulations as we had known them for decades.

All discussions of voter IDs, fraud, and charges and countercharges of election denialism are irrelevant if there is no real mechanism to validate the authenticity of mail-in ballots that have incomplete or false addresses, names, and signatures, or do not match registration rolls. Third-party ballot harvesting and ballot curing should be outlawed at the federal level, and we should return to the requirement of requesting absentee ballots rather than automatically sending them out. Otherwise, no future election will again win the confidence of a majority of Americans. And without trust in balloting, consensual government becomes nonexistent.

Drain the Swamp 

Americans distrust the “swamp,” administrative state, or deep state. Call what you will, the Washington nexus of bureaucracies, media, and lobbyists has created a huge, unelected permanent army of auditors, regulators, investigators, and punishers, all mostly exempt from audit and accountability and without fear of their elected overseers.

The easiest solution is to break up concentrations of power. Transfer out of Washington, in this age of zoom and telecommunications, major cabinet departments like Health and Human Services, Energy, or Agriculture into the hinterland. Restore the idea that lying to Congress, feigning amnesia, or pleading ignorance under oath to Congress or federal investigators or in depositions is a prosecutable felony with jail time.

Had we restored equality under the law, then an Andrew McCabe, James Clapper, and John Brennan would not have dared lie under oath. And a Robert Mueller, James Comey, Anthony Fauci, or Jack Dorsey might have not so easily believed they simply could plead memory loss or mislead in a fashion that no American would dare to do with the IRS.

Being forced to tell the truth would be a powerful deterrent against bureaucratic overreach.

Finally, ossified centralized agencies like the FBI need to be broken up and their bureaus redistributed through the cabinet-level departments to avoid past pathologies resulting from a concentration of power.

Upend the Welfare State

The number of those receiving federal and state subsidies is beginning to match the number of those who subsidize them. “No one wants to work anymore” is now a common public lament. Inflation and recession may come and go, but workers are now scarce whether we are in boom or bust times. Labor non-participation remains at an all-time high. Soon only 60 percent of the available labor force will be working. Trillion-dollar COVID subsidies have accelerated the idea that Americans need not work full-time to maintain a living.

We can easily return to the “workfare” championed by a triangulating Bill Clinton in the 1990s that demanded healthy and able recipients to be gainfully employed upon receipt of state and federal cash. In the context of the homeless, we need to return to pre-Reagan norms of institutionalizing the mentally ill and creating hospitals and safe spaces away from American downtowns to house those who either cannot or will not take care of themselves. Defecating, urinating, injecting, and fornicating on city-streets are not victimless crimes, but assaults on civilized life as we once knew it.

Restore Norms 

Fact is, few public norms are left. Rather than the current therapeutic obsessions that seek to divide Americans into binaries of oppressors and the oppressed, we are in desperate need of civic education in K-12 that acquaints all children and teens with American institutions, key events like Gettysburg or D-Day, and familiarity with the Constitution and the duties of the citizen. We will get nowhere basing our understanding of the world on psychodramas and therapeutics.

Neither journalists nor elites understand, much less appreciate, the First Amendment, and in ignorance despises the Second.

Like it or not, the nuclear family remains the bulwark of the American nation, which will not survive if current fertility rates of below 1.7 children per woman continue to diminish and age the population. The government must incentivize childbearing and child raising.

Without clear punishment for violent crimes, deterrence is lost, and the innocent become victims of the exempt criminal class. Critical race theory, critical legal theory, and critical criminology theory are euphemisms for unleashing lawbreakers upon the vulnerable. We are in a strange cycle in which we deliberately do not enforce gun laws in our cities and then when murder reaches near historic proportions we blame unenforced guns laws rather than the criminals who are exempt in using deadly weapons as the cause.

These are just a few of the many ways that the United States could stop the present madness—which, after all, was entirely self-created.


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38 thoughts on “10 Steps to Save America”

  1. Right on target and brilliant.
    But on thing is ignored. You are not addressing a rational group of humans. You are speaking to a mindless herd. This country is post OBAMA and your message is not what resonates with the left.
    These problems will not be resolved by well meaning people acting for the common good.
    It may take hard men forcibly imposing their will on foolish people traveling a path to self destruction.

    1. I think the last sentence of this comment is where the rub of the matter lies. The Founders were a diverse group, and there were many “hidden Founders” (such as Roger Sherman)who served on countless committees and lack-luster posts that contributed more to the nuts and bolts of our system than the big names. This Motley Crue bequeathed to us a mixed legacy that shows up time and again. Washington and Adams wanted an almost Monarchical central government. Jefferson wanted a populist spoils system. Hamilton wanted an industrial powerhouse backed by a strong central government guiding monetary policy. The Squirearchy of the tidewater wanted a republic of gentlemen farmers while the Slavelords of the Deep South wanted slavery on an industrial scale like their Jamaican forebears had enjoyed. The Yanks freed their slaves directly after the constitution was ratified. Adams may have thought the doctrine of the Trinity was laughable, but was Puritan in his morals, while Jefferson and Franklin were all for effing anything that moved. Those tensions are precisely what are playing out in this current moment.

  2. Such a clear and common sense approach to solving America’s existential problems. Luckily, long covid has not diminished your intellect. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy a complete recovery soon.

  3. Professor Hanson, I respectfully request you consider running for President in 2024. Please, Professor, give this request serious consideration. We desperately need someone with the intellectual capacity and curiosity of Thomas Jefferson, who is a 5th generation farmer, and vastly experienced and knowledgeable in world history and in the history and formation of America, and its rapidly evolving need to create a more perfect union. Your previous 10 step plan for fixing America could easily be turned into your first 100 days policy directive. The only thing missing from your 10 step course correction plan is the person to deliver and lead it. You are that person.
    Respectfully, John Maguire

  4. Insightful, succinct, and prescient. Despite our National angst, indolence, self-absorption, and an inability to move out of paralysis work against any of these ideas being implemented. Sad.

  5. Nothing will be achieved to mitigate this intractable disastrous path of misery currently being pursued by the political transgressors in Washington.
    Robert Penn Warren was precise when he stated: “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud.”

  6. A sound, sensible plan for recovery. Unfortunately, the real problem as demonstrated by recent elections is the fact that a majority of the electorate either believes or is sympathetic to the leftist/globalist message. The “Long March Through The Institutions” succeeded long ago and is ongoing. It remains to be seen if there is enough leadership left to counter what is a planned, orchestrated endeavor to radically change the world as we know it. It is imperative that each of us must use whatever means we possess to fight this. As a former Marine I know one thing for sure: we must never give up.

  7. Number one on the list should be Drain the Swamp. Without completing this onerous task none of the other objectives can be accomplished. . As we saw during Trump’s term in office, they can make life hellish for those committed to taking on the Deep State. Government has gotten too big, too partisan, and too lucrative to dismantle easily. With the recent revelations about the JFK assassination, I doubt this undertaking would be doable without a violent revolution. And does anyone really want to go there?

  8. Brilliantly written!

    I would love to see this adopted by the Republican Party as the party platform as we move to the 2024 election cycle. It provides a clear and concise picture of the mess the Biden Administration and the Democratic Party has made of this country and what needs to be done to turn it around.

  9. Here is the winning platform for the 2024 presidential campaign!
    Professor Hanson is an AMERICAN treasure!
    Hope you have a Healthy. Happy and Prosperous 2023!

  10. Another outstanding column from Prof. Hanson but I would like to make a slight correction that maybe isn’t so slight. The welfare reform of the 1990s was not championed by Bill Clinton. It was championed by Newt Gingrich. President Clinton vetoed welfare reform at least three times until he eventually signed it into law right before the 1996 election out of political expediency. I would hardly call that “championing.” Prof. Hanson and others have made this error numerous times in the past and I would just like to correct the record.

  11. James Ray Cottrell

    Dr. Hanson:

    An excellent list of suggestions based on a trenchant analysis of societal experience. All these potential solutions are anathema to our current political class. However, keep talking and maybe someone will listen. You certainly inspire us as your avid readers!

  12. Hi Victor – I usually agree your views and recommendations, but found this one confusing “The government must incentivize childbearing and child raising.” Not sure what form this might take, and have developed a strong skepticism of government’s ability to deliver results. Perhaps you can share your thoughts on how this might be achieved.

    1. Tax and work incentives ought do the trick as far as government goes. Media creation stressing family life versus the stupidities rampant in single bachelor life. And Religion is a huge factor in incentivizing family life.

  13. You summary of our problems and their sources are accurate as well as possible remedies that you propose.
    The only subject not covered was our need for God to intervene and assist us with the implementation of the remedies.
    Well stated as you always do.

  14. Immigration built America. But immigration WITHOUT assimilation is invasion. The Visigoths demonstrated that reality to the Western Roman Empire, which King Roderic later himself experienced in 711. Those who wish to extinguish the United States must work hard to PREVENT ASSIMILATION, which is actually difficult given the ease of modern digital communication and ubiquity of the culture (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, i.e. Bollywood vs. Hollywood, etc.). The secret to stopping assimilation (hiding in plain sight) is: prevent communication by cancellation and censorship; and denigrate the vilify the culture to the point that no sane person would want to assimilate into such a hateful, racist, and all the other “ists” and “isms” that the cultural marxists promote. Thank you for providing 10 very clear and practical suggestions. Allow me to suggest one more. I wish former president Trump would recall and practice the “11th Commandment” as revealed by Ronald Reagan – NEVER SPEAK ILL OF A FELLOW REPUBLICAN. We don’t need a replay of 2015 with 17 major candidates. Certainly the primary process strengthens the system, but Trump doesn’t have to prove what he can do, just state was he did and emphasis what he can do again.

  15. Victor Davis Hanson is exactly spot-on. Every single issue he raises has been well thought through, and these measures need to be implemented immediately.

    Americans are upset, scared, and belittled by the Elite ruling class, and if there was one more issue that needed to be added, I would say TERM LIMITS are a must. Incumbents are almost impossible to remove from office, and they very clearly don’t represent the voters in their districts.

    It is no longer acceptable to have people who hate the country in positions of power.

    The last ten years have been a travesty, and the people in positions of power need to remember they are not LEADERS, but are supposed to represent the voters.

    1. Term Limits! Yes! How don’t more people mention this? If someone stay in a powerful position too long then there are no fresh ideas. The position becomes then personal, like they are the only ones that are right. they become too powerful and can harm any new ideas that come through. But how do we get term limits? Does anyone in power want this? Lifetime politicians and their families become very rich once in power. Who would give that up?

  16. Well said Dr Hanson!
    Although I agree with just about everything you stated, our political process is no longer equipped to make the appropriate changes at the federal level. I believe the only answer is to change the structure at the federal level and that is through Constitutional Amendments. Congress will not propose the needed amendments so it is time for the states to invoke Article V of the constitution to address an overreaching federal government. As the Founders predicted, there would come a day when the country would be in this position. A total of 19 of the needed 34 states have already approved an Article V resolution for calling a Convention of States to propose amendments in the categories of 1) Impose Term Limits 2) Impose Fiscal Restraints 3) Limit the Power & Jurisdiction of the Federal Government.

    1. Wasting time pursuing this simplistic idea would make matters worse, not better. See my articles in The Federalist: Why Is The Right Betting The Constitution On An Article V Convention? https://thefederalist.com/2022/02/16/why-is-the-right-betting-the-constitution-on-an-article-v-convention/

      and If Conservatives Can’t Get good Laws, How Can They Run a Con-Con? https://thefederalist.com/2022/03/08/if-conservatives-cant-get-good-laws-how-can-they-run-an-article-v-convention/

  17. “All our current crises are ‘not going to waste’” say Democrats at the DNC, the current Administration and within our Congress proclaim. “It’s all following script,” they gleefully declare.

    Unless we expose and reveal the deep, dark true motives of the Democrats any program as brilliant as Dr. Hanson’s will fail. “Politics is perception” said Bill Clinton. And there was born the current Democrat Propaganda Machine. It must be forcibly and convincingly countered to persuade an overwhelming majority of Americans of how valuable being an American truly is.


    Obviously to follow Victor’s game plan conservatives must gain control of Congress and the Presidency. The suggestion of invoking Article V is logical, but the country’s survival prognosis is on code blue.and IMO mastery of mail in voting is required to save the patient, and that will take a no huddle offense.

    1. yes it is. These well articulated solutions by Victor, a brilliant man, will never be implemented without removing 95% of the members in Congress ; without that as a prerequisite 1st step, these ideas are a pipe dream. A handful of members in Congress and maybe 5% of the candidates we will see in 2024 would agree to any of this because it makes Congress accountable in their duty to serve America. Start too with the donor class, and somehow make them powerless, and perhaps some optimism would emerge…with our without the fraudulent voting systems we suffer from today.

  19. All ten changes are crucial for survival of America as envisioned by thoughtful citizens. But how? Doesn’t it all depend on a complete rebuild of at least the Legislative and Executive branches of US government? What are the steps in the critical path to a revitalized America with the 10 corrections in place?

    Wouldn’t that first require a complete rebuild of the federal electoral processes, to ensure high quality people in office who make America success their #1 priority and collaborate for high-quality, consensus solutions (i.e. not for their own perpetual reelections and financial largess). The solutions suggested by the Institute of Political Innovation come to mind (open primaries, final-five elections, ranked choice or approval voting methods,…). Or….? Is there an existing VDH paper proposing such a US rebuild?

  20. Suggestion. Read the lead editorial and all of the letters to the editor in your local paper today. Compare the quality of thought (and writing ability) with Prof. Hanson’s column and the replies from his readers.

    There is yet some intellectual yeast remaining in American culture.

  21. thebaron@enter.net

    Fixing the problems goes deeper than the suggestions Professor Hanson lists here. The failures are failures of human nature.
    When Ben Franklin said in reply to Mrs. Powel, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it,” he alluded to the pitfalls of our nature. The founders designed a republic for a virtuous people, but too many of us no longer live according to the virtues they expected a virtuous people to practice. They pictured a society of mature citizens, adults.

    Too many of us no longer believe in personal responsibility or hard work. Too many of us expect the government to do for us, to erase the consequences of any poor decisions we might make.

    Too many of us are overgrown children, who expect the government to be our parents and take responsibility off our shoulders.

    Being an adult is hard. It’s human nature to want to live a life free of responsibility, to let someone else worry about it.

    And Leftism/Progressivism encourages that behavior.

    Unless we can convince enough of our fellow citizens to grow up, we may have passed the point where we can fix these problems. We may have lost our position in the world forever.

    1. Yes. I think you summed up the majority of people living in America. We have indeed passed the point of being able to fix these problems.

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