Victor Davis Hanson
A sign of a civilization in headlong decline is its embrace of absurdities. Unfortunately for the United States, we are witnessing an epidemic of nihilist nonsense. Here are a few examples:
How could a dysfunctional state like California even contemplate $800 billion in reparations?
The state currently faces a $31 billion annual deficit—and it’s climbing. Its $100 billion high-speed rail project is inert, a veritable Stonehenge of concrete monoliths with a foot of track.
California’s income tax rates are already the highest in the nation. Its sales taxes, electricity rates, and gas taxes and prices are among the steepest in the country. And for what?
Crime, homelessness, and medieval decay characterize the once great downtowns of San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is now not safe to walk alone in any major California city after dark.
Shoplifting and smash-and-grab theft are no longer treated as crimes. The result is the mass flight of brand stores from our downtowns and inner cities, with all the accustomed cries of “racism,” even as racist public prosecutors pick and choose whether to indict the arrested on the basis of race.
California infrastructure, once the best in the county, is now among the worst. Decaying and crowded freeways, inadequate water storage, and pot-holed streets are the new norm.
The state’s public schools are dysfunctional. Once premier public universities are spiraling headlong into decline—junking scholastic tests for admissions, using illegal racial quotas to warp admissions, and institutionalizing racialized dorms and graduation ceremonies.
Even if California enjoyed a huge surplus, even if 300,000 residents were not fleeing the state each year, even if California had a history of being a Confederate slave state, even if whites were the majority of the population, even if the black population was greater than its present 5-6 percent, it would be insane for the state to even contemplate racial reparations.
Twenty-seven percent of the state’s residents were born outside of the United States, and have no American ancestors. The state is the most racially diverse in America, and one in which every group could, in theory, lodge complaints against the dead of the past. Mexican-Americans, Armenians, Asians, and the descendants of the impoverished “Okie” diaspora could all cite legacies of bias—but from whom exactly? The long dead?
For those of increasingly mixed heritage—about a quarter of the state—did their own ancestors oppress their own ancestors? Are all blacks sure that eight generations ago their individual ancestors were slaves outside of California, and therefore they have monetary grievances against those in the state whose ancestors eight generations ago might have owned slaves outside of California? And can such writs be documented?
Do we really wish to go down this path of destroying individuality and insisting that superficial appearance damns us to a collective rooted in the past?
If so, are we to tally up the half-century role of racial quotas to calibrate all the impoverished whites of the last 50 years who were discriminated against in admissions and hiring? Have there not been existing reparations from the decades-long implementations of racial preferences and exemptions—or perhaps in some $20 trillion dollars in reparatory transferences during a half-century of Great Society entitlements?
If we are collectives and not individuals anymore, are all of us to be judged by adding up our group’s historical and current pluses and minuses?
If so, do we add or subtract reparatory charges based on group data? If one race is vastly overrepresented in hate crimes or interracial crime statistics, and other groups vastly underrepresented as perpetrators, is it the role of the state now to intervene and provide reparatory and collective “equity” from one collective for the relatives of the victims of another collective?
Are we really convinced that past institutional racial bias is all-determinative of present opportunity? If so, why do Asians nationally as a collective on average earn $20,000 a year more than non-Hispanic whites—despite past exclusionary immigration laws, forced government relocations, and zoning prohibitions? Was there some university study that postulated that the Japanese-internment or early 20th century Yellow Peril exclusionary immigration statutes were irrelevant to Asian-American upward mobility?
Inequality Under the Laws
Ideology now has made a mockery of the cherished traditions of blind justice and equality under the laws. Whether you are arrested, indicted, and convicted increasingly hinges on your politics.
During the 120 days of 2020 riots, looting, arson, and assault that saw $2 billion in damage, 35-40 killed and hundreds of injured police officers, and 14,000 arrests, were there mass detentions, thousands of convictions and lengthy sentences handed out to Antifa and BLM members for the violence? After all, the insurrectionary rioters staged iconic attacks on the idea of government, whether defined as torching a police precinct or federal courthouse.
Why then were so many protestors of January 6 demonstrations at the Capitol that saw no violent deaths at the hands of another—except a Trump supporter lethally shot for the misdemeanor of entering a broken window of the Capitol—given lengthy prison sentences?
George Floyd—a 6’4”, 223 pound black career violent felon, arrested while passing counterfeit money, serially high on dangerous drugs, resisting arrest—was choked into unconsciousness while resisting arrest by a reckless white police officer.
Floyd was canonized as an American hero, often portrayed with halo and angelic wings.
The officer was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a combined state and federal prison sentence of over 40 years.
A white Ashli Babbitt, 5’2”, 113 pounds, a 14-year military veteran, and, like Floyd, unarmed, was lethally shot for the crime of entering a broken window in the Capitol by a black policeman.
Postmortem, her life was smeared and slandered, her shooter canonized. Was Babbitt some sinner, Floyd a saint? The choker officer Chauvin a Satan, the lethal shooter cop Byrd godly? The petite Babbitt a mortal danger stopped only by a bullet, the huge Floyd easy to arrest with no need of force?
Why were the downtowns of Washington, D.C. and Seattle simply hijacked and expropriated by violent groups with impunity, while federal troops were forbidden to assist overtaxed local law enforcement? Was that not in stark contrast to the barbed wire, 20,000 soldiers and barricades that marked Washington for weeks after the Capitol demonstrations?
Why was there not to be a 2020 riot congressional commission to investigate the deaths and destruction caused by groups who crossed state lines to plan and orchestrate the violence, often weaving their conspiracies with the aid of social media?
Did we not fight a Civil War to reestablish that states and locales could not ignore federal laws?
Why did 550 local and state jurisdictions, in old Confederate South Carolina style, declare with impunity that federal immigration law did not apply in their territories? Does the Left now believe in such neo-Confederate principles? Would it applaud counties that rendered federal endangered species, or handgun-control statutes null and void in their jurisdictions?
Or do we now declare some nullifications good and others bad, depending on our own politics?
How did the Biden Administration simply suspend all immigration law to greenlight 6-7 million illegal entries across the southern border since January 2021? Did Biden not take an oath to execute our laws faithfully?
Does any president now have the right to order the executive branch not to execute entire bodies of federal law? Will the next president declare entire sections of EPA statutes inert by de facto nonenforcement to appease a particular political base?
At any time, did Joe Biden send a bill to Congress requesting that anyone can now cross U.S. borders without identification and legal sanction?
So do citizens fly into JFK or LAX from foreign countries and simply announce that they either forgot their passports or never obtained them? And as a reward for lack of an ID or legal permission, are they still allowed into the United States and given a free phone, and a free hotel room? Do we have one set of laws for citizens, and another for non-citizens? And if so, why?
How can a former FBI director under oath claim amnesia or ignorance 245 times during congressional testimony, or leak a classified account of a private conversation with a president with complete impunity, as did James Comey?
How can an FBI director, as did Andrew McCabe, lie on four occasions with impunity to federal investigators? Is it now the case that FBI directors at times must lie and deceive as part of their job descriptions?
How can a former FBI director, as in the case of Robert Mueller, with all seriousness deny under oath any knowledge of Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier, whose controversies prompted his own special counsel appointment? Can citizens tell inquisitive IRS auditors that they have no memory of deductions in question?
Why is there still an FBI after it has been confessed that it paid a foreign national, Christopher Steele, to compile dirt against a presidential candidate—and paid his source in Washington to provide Steele with false information to impugn a presidential candidate? How did the FBI manage to play a central role in the 2016 and 2020 elections in efforts to alter the result?
How can a legitimate FBI knowingly submit such information that it knew was false to a federal judge to spy on an American citizen to further a farcical plot to destroy a presidential campaign?
So what will the FBI not do? Forge documents? Offer in vain $1 million to a foreign national to verify just one fact in a fake, bought dossier used to obtain a FISA warrant? Disappear cell phone data under subpoena?
Have high-ranking officials promise that a presidential candidate will never be elected? Infiltrate Latin-Mass Catholic Church services and school board meetings to monitor the activities of church-goers and parents in attendance?
Use armed performance-art SWAT teams to swoop into private homes to arrest suspects accused of mostly misdemeanors? Hire out social media private companies like Twitter to suppress free expression deemed by the FBI unhelpful or problematic?
Suppress information about an FBI-confiscated Hunter Biden laptop, while keeping mum as former intelligence officers lie absurdly before a national election that the computer in FBI hands was likely the work of Russian disinformationists?
Destroy the lives of any whistleblowers who expose such miscreant behavior to Congress?
The journalist/historian Paul Johnson famously once wrote that the tripartite duty of any government leadership was “to ensure external security, internal order and maintenance of an honest currency.”
We certainly do not maintain an honest currency by borrowing 130 percent of annual GDP, with a looming debt of $33 trillion, an annual $1.5 trillion-plus budget deficit, and a 2022 annualized 6.5 percent inflation rate.
But statistics mask the real problem, which is a mentality of suicidal spending passed off as juvenile “modern monetary theory.” Unlimited borrowing as a “theory” is the academic idiocy that some socialist hare-brained professors dreamed up to excuse printing money we do not have.
Both parties have run up the debt. Yet the culpability mounts as each successive president adds to the crushing debt, in fear that on his watch the medicine of restraint will be worse than the disease of insolvency.
Note how casually the federal government burns through billions of dollars. We still have no idea how many billions of dollars in arms and equipment the military shrugged away in Kabul. Who cares anyway whether the terrorist Taliban is becoming one of the largest dispensers of U.S. taxpayers’ weaponry?
Currently, Joe Biden lies that by not spending allotted money he somehow is the greatest deficit hawk in memory, as he rams through a $1.5 trillion 2023 budget deficit.
The top federal income tax rate is 37 percent. In California, to take the example of our largest state, the top state bracket is 13.3 percent. Income subject to federal payroll taxes is 15.3 percent for the self-employed—and income subject to that crushing take is a whopping $160,200.
The above taxes are well aside from capital gains taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and fuel taxes, which, along with income taxes, can easily take 50-60 percent of one’s middle-class income. Note that the government not only does not appreciate the crushing extractions but targets for auditing those who pay at that rate.
Adding insult to injury, our current White House occupant, Mr. “Ten-Percent”/ “The Big Guy” Joe Biden demagogues as “greedy” anyone who resents the wastage of federal spending after handing over half his income to the government. Yet did the Bidens report all their past foreign income and pay at that rate? Could Joe have ensured that his son first paid all he owed to the IRS before he smeared other Americans as not paying their fair shares
A sane country would immediately reboot and update the old Simpson-Bowles reduction and simplification of taxes and spending proposals that would gradually work our way toward a balanced budget—and maybe, in a century, pay off what we have borrowed. But we know that is impossible since we would hear ad nauseam that such fiscal integrity was racist, heartless, and cruel.
So we will keep up borrowing and printing bread-and-circus money until, like the late fourth-century polis, or late imperial Rome, there is finally no money for the upkeep of infrastructure, domestic law and order, and deterrence against foreign enemies.
Then what cannot go on, will not go on and all the absurdities of the present will end with a bang not a whimper.
37 thoughts on “The Absurdities of Our Age”
The 2nd Amendment is the only thing standing in the way. At one time my appreciation for it was largely philosophical. No longer. As the 1st Amendment continues to be eroded the future of the Republic lies in the 2nd. And don’t think the left isn’t fully aware of this.
I’d add another to the list: clear signs that a large and growing part of the citizenry is becoming unable to function effectively in society. This includes 25-50 dropouts (the “deaths of despair” group), university students who cannot cope with traditional curricula and require treatment we once reserved for infants, and the rapidly growing, so-called “gender dysphoric” group who cannot cope with any aspect of the real world. These groups are totally dependent on continued support of a shrinking group who actually work and contribute to the economy rather than simply consuming and contributing to greenhouse gas production and who are taxed, regulated, and belittled by the government while receiving little to nothing in return for themselves or their offspring but more of the same. As Herb Stein said, if something cannot continue, it will stop.
I always appreciate your enumeration of our National ills, still hoping for more solutions, given the realities of our now Balkanized, tribal and deconstructed society.
You have hit the point exactly.
This is no doubt an excellent piece by VDH, particularly the juxtaposition of George Floyd and Ashley Babbit.
But I’ve been reading excellent conservative punditry like this for 50 years – 50 years during which, despite the complete dismantling of all their positions, the left has steamrolled over America to the point we’re at now.
Politics and punditry as usual are not enough any longer.
I’ve been saying for years that the Constitution is little more than an organization chart. It long ago ceased providing any limits on the federal government. It’s just a flow chart they follow, or pretend to follow, to be allowed to do whatever they want. I’ve said this since long before covid and, of course, there’s no denying it now.
The exceptions to this were the protections of criminal defendants. Now, of course, with January 6, those no longer exist.
No Constitution means no America.
That is why I’ve been calling on conservative pundits and politicians to use the possibly sole remaining viable provision of the Constitution and focus all of their efforts and attention on bringing about an Article 5 convention for the purpose either of totally redesigning the union, or dissolving it. Difficult, sure, but it was difficult to form it. It can be done.
I worried, years ago, if this absurdity can be simply voted in, despite our Constitution, and now see that the answer is in the affirmative. It is clear that a civil war is underway, or a revolution, with our laws, morals, and our Constitution fading away to mere suggestions of yore?
The overarching question is what is going to stop it? Will the Democrats steal yet another election? Will they just intensify the Marxism, pack the Supreme Court, eschew the Constitution, install even more of a police state than we have now? Or will conservatives– and I don’t mean statist RINOs– win the election and restore sanity, integrity, and morals back into our country? If they don’t, what’s left? An armed battle to save the U.S. of A, or quietly retreating into our no-longer-funny sitcoms and iPhones and accepting neo-totalitarianism, a la, Beijing?
Define: Statist, Conservative, and Rhino.
So is electing the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, a step in the right direction to correcting these absurdities?
Do you know of a better alternative?
As always you are spot on. I so appreciate your brevity of words to make a point. To drive home the truth of a matter succinctly and yet because of the absurdities of our age it could have been a book.
Thank you for being a welcome breeze of reason to a dry and dreary populace, oh that you would be heard and heeded!
Keep writing boldly, we desperately need voices like yours to keep hope alive!
Yes, keep writing until the State deems it “hate speech”, and then contrived somehow to be constitutionally illegal.
Civilization decline and fall into obscurity is a fascinating phenomenon. It’s happened many times throughout history, we are told, and very likely future civilizations will follow the pattern too. So we should be able to study, assess, and avoid the cause. Yes, we should, but most won’t and don’t. Reading VDH’s sobering list of significant symptoms, however, generates a headache of frustration at the tyranny of irrationality, lack of logic, and voters unaware of consequence. There must be something in the water or air that causes such mass confusion for it all to come to a head at once.
Great article. So well put.
In my opinion, humans are hopelessly flawed, but our opposable thumbs and big brains have given us dominion over al the rest of creatures on earth. Our wanton slaughter of rhinos for keratin and elephants for ivory leaves me bereft of rational thought. Our downhill trajectory will not end well for any life on earth. I find it unutterably sad.
Sir, mention if you would what you would think of repealing the “Patriot Act” to pull some teeth at the FBI? and to re-instate the “Glass-Steagall” Act for fiscal responsibility and sanity in the banking and investment world and add that the “Freedom Caucus” is our last hope and that we should begin to back them in full and increase their numbers in Congress. Will you back these things publicly as providing solutions when there seems none exist? I sure would like to hear from you on these things I mentioned, and if I am wrong, I’d like to know why I am wrong. Thks, Jim
Russia, China, Iran — and others, including NGO’s — the United States certainly is not without challenges from abroad.
But as concerns Prof. Hanson’s observations above, a quick extract from world historian Arnold Toynbee (A STUDY OF HISTORY, 12 Volumes) may be corroboration:
“In demonstrating that the broken-down civilizations have not met their death from an assassin’s hand, we have found no reason to dispute the allegation that they have been the victims of violence, and in almost every instance we have been led, by the logical process of exhaustion, to return a verdict of suicide.” A STUDY OF HISTORY, Vol. 4, page 120.
What is interesting is that financial markets do not reflect what is portrayed in the above article. Treasury bond yields are not very high. The price of gold is not soaring. The U.S. dollar is not dropping sharply. The S&P 500 index is not dropping. I know financial markets do not always reflect was is coming. The movie The Big Short portrays this well. Nevertheless, this is interesting.
Babylon will fall. There is no saving it. No one else puts into perspective the reality of today quite like you do. Truly love reading your perspectives. Thank you for being a voice of reason. God bless!
The soul who sins shall die.
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father,
nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.
The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself,
and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
Each man is responsible for his own sin. No man is responsible for someone else’s sin.
Wow! Now please revive me with hope (maybe with reference to kindred voices: a doer from an island of sanity . . . a former UN ambassador or Secretary of State . . . a U.S. senator/physician . . . editors and columnists from Wall Street . . . a fast-talking fellow commentator . . . )
Look not to Hanson for comfort. Comfort comes from other regions, other parishes. Your only hope is a chance he got for you. Tonight, you will be haunted by three podcasts…
Black Africans owned black slaves in Africa.
Freed black men in America owned black slaves in America.
The American Indian owned red slaves in America,
and when new races arrived,
owned white and black slaves in America.
White Europeans owned white slaves in Europe.
Yellow Asians owned and own yellow slaves in Asia.
Black Africans own black slaves today in Africa.
Brown Central Americans own brown slaves in Central America.
Democrats perpetuate slavery in America
by keeping the southern border open.
“Democrats perpetuate slavery in America
by keeping the southern border open” (and if I may add)
and by keeping the welfare state unnecessarily bloated.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, democrat, cynically referred to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a means to get Americans of African ancestry voting democrat for the next 200 years while using a racial slur to refer to them.
Democrat legislators resisted the bill and it was only passed because of the near unanimous endorsement by Republicans.
It is thought that the passage of this act and accompanying welfare entitlements has incentivized men to not marry their partner and financially support their children. These government enabled single-parent homes have destroyed the traditional or biblical family which has led to many consequences for children who lack a father’s guidance such as can be seen in statistics regarding education, school behavior and crime.
Your best summary of the US plight to date. Wish it were not so.
Regarding what I interpret as the three main points of the article:
1) Reparations are apparently a joke, as evinced by Gov. Newsom’s response to the recommendation of $800Bn from the study that he commissioned. “I think pure reparations would be impossible to implement,” adds James Clyburn, D-South Carolina. This one is going nowhere I think, notwithstanding the lamentations of Rep. Cori Bush. D-Mo who advocates a reparations price tag of $14 trillion.
2) We are seeing daily, more and more examples of DOJ, and FBI politicization, corruption, and election engineering shenanigans, as exemplified in the Twitter Files, Congressional hearings, and Durham’s Crossfire (Russian Hoax) report. This is very worrying while the Democrats control the Senate and Oval office – unfortunately, nothing to be done there but continue to expose them until Nov. 2024.
3) IMO the worst issue might be the inflation created by the Biden administration’s reckless policies, not least of which are the monetary policies you point out, but also severely aggravated by Biden’s Left wing attacks on fossil fuels. High inflation is really an attack on the middle class, which has been under attack since Biden took office. I personally witnessed the impact in the late ’70’s and ’80’s of record inflation under Jimmy Carter’s feckless regime. As the late Yogi Berra once said: “This is Deja vu all over again”.
Great review and prediction. I’d like to pose a question. Could the US government sell some of it’s assets (ie federal land, parks & buildings) to pay down the $33 trillion debt?
Sell to whom? China? You know they would be the highest bidder.
No, if these assets were sold (to our forever regret), and even if the debt was paid down with the proceeds, it would only be a temporary respite. Politicians find it irresistible that they can pander for votes with promises of “free stuff”.
The lesson to be learned from our huge debt is not a sale of our prized assets (IMHO) but rather fiscal restraint. Think of it as an obese person that finally faces the fact that he/she is endangering their health and realizes that his/her life will be cut their life short if continued on the same path (some do finally realize this). So, they muster the strength and great discipline to get their diet under control.
In a fiscal sense, that is what we need to do!!!
Homeland theater of the absurd. Such outrageous assaults on our social conscience. Do we laugh or cry, fret or ignore all, or take up arms? All measures are meant to divide us. And they succeed.
Divide and conquer . . . a warfare technique as old as humanity. A fundamental of game theory. We are being played.
United we’ll stand. Any chance? Can we love our political/ideological enemies because they are fellow Americans? And not see them as greedy, irrational, lying, hate-filled, power-hungry bullies? How strong are we? Really. Time will tell.
“Time will tell”……..Time always tells. My fear is too much time has elapsed since 2009 . That the electorate is on life support; denied brain feeding oxygen beyond resuscitation.
The we will get the government THEY deserve, that we don”t want. Hope I am dead wrong.
Inaugural day 1/20/2009:
I’m at the home of a client who shouts : ” Hurry! We have to watch! My reply: “You’re going to rue this day, not ONE single thing to do with skin color , just policy. Write that down in the event a selective memory”
Five thousand, two hundred and thirty six days later, I’ve witnessed the slide to the most divided country anyone could imagine. A slide that left out all the hope, and focused only on change directed toward any and all past grievances. Calm replaced with chaos. History, whether artifact or fact, simply obliterated. Wrong became right, right became wrong, common sense replaced with nonsense.
I never in my life imagined my own words to be so completely prophetic. Never imagined a descent so tragically deep. The only apt word is astounding.
Brilliant piece, as usual. I am surprised you did not work in what fools we must appear to be to the Chinese as they put all the pieces in place to throttle America without firing a shot.
Very good analysis as always.
With all that’s been done in terms of educational preferment and subsidy as means of redressing the sins of the past, it seems unlikely that any monetary payout would satisfy, once and for all, this alleged grievance. It will never be enough.
We are not anywhere near bottom yet, this nationwide decline will take generations to correct. The Red Guards are still in grade school but they will be here soon-at your door.
I read your articles every day & listen to your podcasts the same. You are my guru, & I am overwhelmed by your humbleness & intelligence. I believe that the country is now saturated in wokeness, & it will take something truly catastrophic before people are driven to their senses. Common sense & morality is turned upside down. It would take over a million years of continuous counting to count the current national debt. Joe Brandon’s Build Back Better added billions to that debt, but nothing ever got built! Everything’s a distraction. Drag queen story hour in schools, racism, the on-going badgering of Donald Trump, Russia, etc. I see a total disrespect for law enforcement. The roads, with people txting & smoking marijuana, are more dangerous than ever. Target is promoting LGBTQ & transgenderism in the kid’s section. And in big cities it’s no longer safe to go out at night. The media swears that the 2020 election was legitimate, but if that’s so, we must be the dumbest nation in the history of the world to have elected this dotard as president. What I can’t understand is that Musk even admitted that he voted for him. If so, what a maroon.