America’s New Discontents

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Sometime in the 1960s there arose a new home-grown distrust of the United States, followed by an erosion of faith in the values of the West. Perhaps the culprit was the fiasco in Vietnam or the rise of a trendy multiculturalism that followed from it.

Our schools often insisted that all cultures were to be roughly the same. History devolved more into melodrama than tragedy. America was no longer exceptional — and thus in no position to criticize a Cuba as undemocratic or condemn the Iranian mullahs as murderously theocratic.

The enormous wealth and leisure that followed from global capitalism and democracy insulated us — creating an unreality about the sources for our privilege and naiveté about why life was so bad outside our shores.

Consequently, some utopian elites forgot the free-market origins of their own riches and why they had the freedom and leisure to be so censorious of their own culture. Maybe they were guilty over our bounty. One way of enjoying an upscale American lifestyle, while simultaneously feeling pretty terrible about it, is to castigate the history and global conduct of the United States in the abstract — without ever giving up much in the concrete.

How else could the currency speculator George Soros — whose 1992 financial manipulations almost destroyed the Bank of England and thousands of its small depositors — win praise from leftists for comparing President Bush’s conduct to Nazism? The angry architects of were neither poor nor oppressed. Nor were they bothered that their Soros millions originated from the financial losses of others. But they did reflect that the most strident anti-Americanism is largely found among our unhappy upper-middle classes.

September 11 laid bare more of this three-decade-old pathology. Islamists were hardly romantic communists. Indeed, they were about as anti-liberal as one could imagine — murderous, patriarchal, hating liberated women, persecuting homosexuals, anti-democratic to the core and intolerant of all different ideas and religions. Yet al-Qaida, along with its sympathizers, had studied America well — and thus was wise enough to cloak a fascist agenda in our own clichés of “colonialism,” ‘imperialism” and “no blood for oil.” That way such nihilists tapped into the self-doubt and anti-Americanism among many of our discontented advantaged, thus earning a pass if not praise.

That indictment is no right-wing caricature or exaggeration. University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill extolled the terrorists, libeling the dead in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.” Michael Moore applauded the beheaders and bombers of the Sunni Triangle: “Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win.”

Of course, a tenured full professor like Churchill (with no Ph.D., a fraudulent resume, a litany of plagiarism — and a six-figure salary!) would not want to live under the Taliban or al-Qaida. Nor would Michael Moore under the Baathists — if his current high life is any indication. Such virulent public anti-Americanism, however, served a psychological need to reconcile a leftist’s own life of largesse, through either cost-free disdain for what produced it or (safe) sympathy for those who hated it.

The wages of cultural relativism were not limited to such extremists. Legitimate disagreement and necessary debate about invading Iraq were quickly overwhelmed by a deeper furor that grew out of decades of this fuzzy relativism.

Ted Kennedy pronounced that Abu Ghraib “reopened under new management.” Yet, the senator must have known that a few rogue American guards were not comparable to the systematic genocide of Saddam Hussein.

John Kerry’s campaign slurred Prime Minister Ayad Allawi as a “puppet” — although he was the victim of Saddam’s Gulag and a democrat willing to risk his life for the promise of a free Iraq.

Bill Clinton also seemed fuzzy about the true nature of tyranny, and thus was clueless about murderous theocratic Iran. Recently he cooed, “Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency” — as if theocrats there allow truly popular government.

Other elites wished outright that we would fail in the Middle East. Perhaps our defeat would prove that in a postmodern world American force can only be counterproductive or destabilizing to multilateral protocols.

Thus it was not the slur of a Joe McCarthy clone, but President Clinton’s own National Security Council member Nancy Soderberg, who recently lamented on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” of George Bush’s developing success in the Middle East: “It’s scary for Democrats, I have to say. … Well, there’s still Iran and North Korea, don’t forget. There’s still hope for the rest of us. … There’s always hope that this might not work.”

“Not work”?

How sad that our most educated and sophisticated cannot fathom that an Iraqi Kurd, an Afghan woman or a Lebanese shopkeeper simply wants the same freedom and opportunity for their children that so many of the most blessed — but bitter — in America either take for granted, feel guilty about or so cynically dismiss.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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