Victor Davis Hanson // Historian’s Corner
All of these ad hoc challenges share a common symptom, the steady erosion of the chief tenets of citizenship. The diminution of the middle class, the porousness of our borders, and the dangerous idea that race is incidental not essential to who we are, occur almost organically. It is as if America itself is reverting to a premodern, precivilizational region, or a territory of peasants and residents, rather than a modern, industrial nation of empowered citizens whom the free world relied upon.
Yet simultaneously, there is a more deliberate effort of elites to curb citizenship. Call them the postmodern bookends to our premodern forces of civic erosion.
The unelected bureaucrats at the state and local levels now number in the millions. Recent scandals, controversies, and incompetencies within the alphabetic soup of federal bureaucracies at the CDC, IRS, DOJ, DOD, FBI, and CIA share one common symptom. Unelected but powerful federal employees often have infringed upon the rights of citizens to be free from government surveillance, from government hounding, from government warping of their private tax information, from radical challenges to their elections, and from infringement of their constitutional protections.
Aside from the bureaucratic unelected are the systemic evolutionaries. These are supposedly the nation’s best and brightest legal minds, social activists, and elected officials. Yet they breezily talk of ending the 233-year-old Electoral College, the 180-year-old Senate filibuster, the 150-year-old nine-justice Supreme Court, and the 60-year tradition of a 50-state union—revolutionary changes predicated on the hope of a vice president breaking a 50-50 tie in the Senate.
The First Amendment is under assault by social media monopolies and on campuses. Various schools of critical theory now argue that law enforcement, arrest, and prosecution should be selectively predicated more on social, economic, and racial criteria than legal statutes. When mayors, governors, and police chiefs cannot stop the mounting epidemic of inner-city violence, they blame the Second Amendment. Yet illegal, unregistered, and often stolen handguns or edged weapons—not so-called assault weapons—account for over ninety percent of all murders.
No nation has a longer history of uniquely stable constitutional government than the US, not the ancient civilization of China, not of Russia, not of Europe. Yet economic globalization is now often conflated with envisioned global political harmonization.
Our current Secretary of State invites in an often-illiberal United Nations to audit America’s allegedly spotty current record on race and equity. International commercial accords are predicated not on symmetry but persist due to the ossified assumptions that unfair free trade was necessary to reboot a stagnant postwar world.
Global and Westernized elites at Davos currently talk of a future “Great Reset” in which nations would adopt top-down reforms of their economies, predicate their energy use on transnational norms, and adopt global guidelines on everything from corporate governance to reparatory diversity policies.
Civic education, ancient American customs, and popular shared traditions are rejected as toxic because they are not perfect. Few acknowledge that the glue that held together an otherwise chaotic, unruly and once tribal America were shared national and religious holidays, our collective respect for American icons, emblems, and traditions, and the appreciation why most immigrants head for the United States while few Americans leave for homes elsewhere.
In sum, without a popular allegiance to a viable middle class, a defined and shared space with secure borders, and a common investment in an America that transcends our particular tribes, there can be no citizenship.
Nor can citizenship survive if our elites entrust its governance and protection to the millions who are often invisible and powerful but unelected and unaudited, or if they seek to alter the Constitution or change time-tried customs and traditions for ephemeral political advantage or seek to alter the American idea of governance and its ancient traditions simply to synchronize with global trends.
Yet without viable citizenship, we know from the past that there can be no longer an America.