The American Soviet

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The security forces of Bashar Assad — a thug whom Hillary Clinton deemed a “reformer,” and with whom Barack Obama was determined to restore diplomatic relations — are slaughtering hundreds in the streets of Syria’s major cities. I know that the Turkish government will express no outrage. It will not help to sponsor a flotilla of private ships to sail into the port of Latakia to protest the government-sponsored barbarity. European “human rights” activists will not fly into any Arab city to board a freighter, Gaza-style, that would bring humanitarian assistance by sea to those being blown apart by the Assad regime. I know that.

Recently, Palestinian teenagers, in service to a Palestinian terrorist organization, massacred — in the literal sense of the word — the Fogel family of Israel, a savagery replete with the throat-slitting of toddlers and infants. The Palestinian police authority — U.S. trained and equipped — just shot down Jewish worshippers at Jacob’s Tomb. This comes amid the Palestinian Authority’s commemoration of the 2002 Passover Massacre of 30 Israeli civilians, apparently a national moment of honorific reflection on the West Bank. Yet I know that no one in Europe and few in America will protest to the Palestinian Authority, which the West subsidizes, that it seems to commemorate butchery in its midst.

This week President Obama ordered Predator drone attacks against Libya, as NATO and American forces began re-targeting the Qaddafi clan personally. I know that there will be no outcry that the U.S. is a party to targeted assassinations of a foreign leader and his family, an act once deemed illegal for an American administration. I also note that the use of Predator assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan has increased fourfold since January 2009, and that we have blown up five times more suspects in the last 27 months than we did in the prior 96 months. I know that the UN and the Arab League are both praised by the Obama administration for authorizing us to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and ignored by the administration when we must go far beyond a no-fly zone to end the Qaddafi regime, which we seek to destroy even as we declare that is not our aim. And I know there will be no outcry from the American Left over a third Middle East war against an Arab Muslim oil-exporting nation (even though this one posed no threat to the security of the United States), over the complete bypassing of the US Congress in launching that war, or over the efforts to blow up a foreign leader and all in his vicinity. I know that.

The past week a sensationalized video of a transgendered female in extremis went viral on the blogosphere. Two young African-American women beat her senseless at a McDonald’s restaurant. The African-American staff is shown in the clip as mostly passive bystanders to the brutality. Yet I know this nationally viewed abhorrence is not a teachable moment about much of anything. Unlike the Professor Gates mix-up, this public spectacle will not be used by the president to warn us about the wages of incivility or the need for a new racial tolerance and understanding. Nor will there be, among the homosexual community, much of a national Matthew Shepard moment seeking to present the public beating as a symbol of a wider hatred of the sexually ambiguous among us. There is about as much chance of a Hollywood movie about the incident as there is of a sequel to Rendition. At best, we are to accept such violence as inevitable, as the powerless sometimes thrash out against the more privileged classes and races; at worst, these are the tragic wages of prior oppression that must be contextualized and constructed in the proper narrative of the centuries.

So what are we to make of the past week’s news?

We are living in another Soviet, a 21st-century sort in which we nod to official pieties and mouth politically correct banalities while in our private lives, for our safety, well-being — and sanity — we conduct ourselves according to altogether different premises. In the Soviet Union, the anonymous masses turned out to hear boilerplate praise for socialist comradeship, while those of them who were lucky enough to have a car took off the windshield wipers when they parked it — accepting both that their utopian state could not supply affordable replacement auto parts and that their comrades would steal almost anything they could from other suffering subjects.

In our version of the Soviet, we know that Israel is supposed to be culpable and that we are asked to praise the “aspirations” of the Palestinians, but if we were to go to the Middle East we most certainly would not stay in Gaza or the West Bank or visit unescorted a Christian shrine. We would wish to dine with people like the Fogels, but not their killers or the people who ordered them to kill. We are also to understand that the Arab and Turkish worlds abhor Israeli violence, and so we nod our assent; but privately we know that the issue is really Jews, not savagery per se, and that an Arab dictator can murder 1,000 Arabs with less worry about Western condemnation than an Israeli soldier can shoot one Arab on the West Bank in self-defense. Publicly we accept that tiny Israel, a country of 7 million, is an overdog, the foreign-policy equivalent of the demonized “them” here in America, the people who make over $200,000 a year — too successful, too Western, too unquestioning of their culture. Privately, we sort of admire Israel’s courage and understand that anti-Semitism, oil, fear of terrorism, and demographic calculus construct Arabs as sympathetic victims and Israelis as neo-colonialists.

We say that we are worried about the legality and morality of Predator strikes, Middle East wars, preventive detention, tribunals, Guantanamo, renditions, and the like. But we really aren’t. Privately we accept that these are merely tags that we pin on an evil Texas-drawling George Bush, the scapegoat on whom we placed all our collective angst and cheap moralizing. We accept either that these measures keep us safe and so should continue, or that to maintain consistent criticism against them would endanger the agenda and career of Barack Obama, the manifestation of all our postmodern pretensions.

In our daily lives we avoid places like a McDonald’s restaurant in a so-so neighborhood, as we avoid direct association in the nocturnal hours with certain members of the supposed underclass, who appear not merely capable of violence but capable of violence without any remorse. Yes, we avoid all that privately as much as publicly we deny that we do. We accept that a Professor Gates breaking into his own home and being mistakenly arrested as a burglar is as timely a reflection of the pathology of a racist America as a transgendered woman being beaten to a pulp is symbolic of not much of anything other than being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Whatever — stuff happens.

In the American Soviet, we publicly praise Obamacare as we seek desperately and privately to obtain an exemption from it. Our politicians talk loftily of the need to pay our fair share of taxes, as the secretary of the Treasury, the secretary of labor, the attorney general, and the then head of the House Ways and Means Committee seek to delay or avoid entirely paying their family’s tax obligations. In terms of modern sin — from plagiarism to sexual harassment — we accept publicly that they are the most serious of transgressions, while privately we know that they are only sort of the most serious, since the particular circumstances, the profile of the offender, the real intent of the transgressor — all that and more can reconstruct a felony into a minor lapse, a premeditation into an accident, a crime into a tragedy with all of us as victims.

In the American Soviet, only two questions remain. Do these double lives of ours make a sort of sense: Is it that the official utopian rhetoric about love among the masses offers psychological compensation for our private self-interested skepticism about the nature of man? Or is the daily lie a modern Western rather than an enduring human phenomenon — our 21st-century leisure and affluence infecting us with intellectual and moral boredom, in which we long ago outsourced our collective morality to our bureaucratic overseers as we busied ourselves with far more enjoyable private indulgences?

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

Share This