Victor Davis Hanson
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.
The Cowards and Bullies of Cyberspace
But the rise of the internet and social media empowered Orwellian cancellation in two dangerous ways.
One was instantaneous accusation, verdict, and punishment accomplished online in a nanosecond. Up popped the Covington High School kids standing face-to-face with the pathological liar and phony activist Nathan Phillips.
A millisecond later, the Twitter lynch mob judged the teenagers—white, male, with MAGA hats, and unafraid—as victimizers, and the provocateur Phillips—the noble Native American—a victim. And that was that. The lives of the former were nearly ruined, the latter sanctified—all without any desire for facts, context, or the truth.
The faker Jussie Smollett spun a preposterous lie about being attacked by the usual white cyclopses and hydras (again, with the de rigeur MAGA hats). Smollett spun “facts” that only proved he was a racist and an inveterate liar. And then we were off to the races.
Everyone from Kamala Harris to Nancy Pelosi rushed to post first their condolences and outrage, in order to deify the faker Smollett and to demonize “them”—that is, the nonexistent “MAGA” assaulters. Lunatic condemnations arrived at electronic speed. Apologies for being a patsy, fool, a bully, and a racist never materialized.
We had learned nothing from the Duke Lacrosse hoax and so that is why we trump it now with the Duke volleyball ruse. The point in America now is not the truth, much less justice—but career and agenda-driven revenge for not quite getting the attention, the influence and the bounty that others are perceived to enjoy.
One second a news flash blared that the FBI was at Mar-a-Lago. The next moment, “presidential historian” Michael Beschloss was out of his Twitter cave, comparing Trump to the guilty Rosenbergs who were executed in the 1950s for espionage. And a breath later, former CIA director Michael Hayden, chained to his keyboard, had tweeted his approval of an envisioned judge, jury, executioner sentence for the now guilty traitor Trump. Then a day or two storing or selling “nuclear secrets” went the way of “I have here in my hand a list of 205 . . . names.”
Anonymity of the cyberworld, of course, adds to the dramatic lynchings. The cowardly posters dream up silly pictures and fake names as their IDs. And then post hourly, assured that if they lie, they smear, they fabricate there are never consequences. The Twitter or Facebook bully is not like someone known, in person or in print, defaming openly. A Samuel Johnson definition of social media might be “instant character assassination of the innocent by the anonymous without consequences.”
Masked And Isolated
There was a second accelerant to our collective cannibalism. Wokeism and the Internet predated COVID. But the decision to shut down the schools and selective businesses, to sequester hundreds of millions in their homes, to suspend human-to-human contact in everything from a child learning to read to a cancer victim getting a chemo dose—all that will finally be judged as the most deleterious public health decision in the nation’s history.
Instantaneously, and for nearly two years, we destroyed human interaction. Our elite turned an entire population into recluses—dependent on electronic screens, whether televisions or computers, for their entire contact with the outside world. The nation became utterly dependent on a helot class, who were felt to be expendable, at least in the sense they would risk infection that others would not, and thus deliver food and necessities to the housebound.
In January 2020, a man with a mask entering a bank signaled alarms; for the next two years, who could fathom him when all the entrants were wearing masks? Under the same cloak of COVID shutdowns, we went from 70 percent of the country voting on Election Day to a mere 30 percent—even as the early and mail-in ballot rejection rate dived. Worries over voter integrity under such abnormal conditions rendered one a “racist,” “election denier,” or “insurrectionist.”
George Floyd’s death, and the 120 days of destruction, arson, riot, and death that followed, along with the radical recalibration of our institutions encapsulated the entire madness. A CNN hack, without evidence, could scream on screen to the sequestrated locked in their homes that the police habitually murder the young, black, and innocent. Who cared to check Department of Justice data showing that of the 11 million people arrested a year on average, unarmed blacks were not disproportionally killed by police compared to unarmed whites?
For the housebound, soon George Floyd appeared with angelic wings and a halo on murals and posters from Washington to Kabul. All agreed that his death was preventable and due to police misconduct.
But it was deemed racist even to suggest that Floyd contributed mightily to his own predicament through ingesting fentanyl and, earlier, methamphetamines, through resisting arrest, through trying to pass counterfeit money, through a prior eight convictions, among which he had been imprisoned for a home invasion in which he put a gun to the stomach of a pregnant woman.
Do the haloed and winged stick firearms next to wombs?
In sum, the spontaneity and anonymity of hundreds of millions using social media proved frightening. So did the return of an ancient deadly totalitarian creed of forced egalitarianism, now masked with smiley-faced euphemisms and platitudes.
Add to the ample kindling the igniter of two-year quarantines in which stir-crazy millions depended upon the rumors of a corrupt media, a mob-like social media, and a weaponized government for the information about the outside world that became as distant as the moon.
And presto, you have all the requisites needed for our collective madness.
The Spoiled Affluent
But how did these pathologies take root in America so easily?
It was not because of endemic poverty and the 14-hour drudgery of hard work to live one more day on a farm. But just the opposite.
An affluent, bored, and leisured society had long decided that poverty was not an absolute but relative—to be gauged not by mass access to air conditioning, plentiful food, a car, and electronic entertainment—but to the degree all of that was not divided up proportionally. And thus, someone or something must be found culpable for the asymmetry in satisfying the appetites. Presto! Government, the media, the university, and the popular culture went after the culprits.
We went mad then because we easily could. And we could not because we were poor and oppressed, but because we were rich and bored.
What will end wokeness? The reversal of the leisure and affluence that were the bounties of 233 years of what birthed it—free-market capitalism, constitutional government, meritocracy, human rights, tolerance, and free expression.
We are already destroying meritocracy. We are reverting to tribal racial branding. We are strangling energy and food production because of green superstition.
We are unleashing the criminal upon the weak and innocent.
Destroy the bounty that produced and empowered the woke decadence, and we won’t have anything—the woke included. Wokeism is, for now, an affordable irrelevancy that rests on the wealth and lessons produced by those long dead and now much rebuked. But it won’t remain affordable.
Instead, we will learn what woke itself produces—barbarism, chaos, poverty, and civilization in reverse.
That is precisely what we are now witnessing on a Saturday night in Chicago, a day on the southern border, a sidewalk of urine and feces in Los Angeles, with strapping athletes in the pool with male genitalia breaking women’s swim records, parking your unlocked car in San Francisco, a trip to the gas pump, blackouts and brownouts in California, jogging in Memphis—all with a dash of monkeypox, FBI hooliganism, and Twitter lynching.