Victor Davis Hanson
Pause for a minute to recall the recent past: Did the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff unlawfully intervene in the chain of command to reroute decisions of nuclear weapon readiness through himself? Did he really contact his Chinese Communist counterpart to promise him that China would be warned of possible U.S. aggression?
Did the lead medical authority on America’s COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, deny under oath the fact that he routed U.S. aid money, through a third party, to the ground-zero Wuhan virology lab to enhance gain-of-function viral research?
Did Attorney General Merrick Garland sic the FBI on parents complaining about critical race theory—on the concocted accusation from a school board group, in part cooked up with White House staffer help, that the parents were likely “domestic terrorists”?
Did we really spend 22 months and $40 million chasing the “Russian collusion” hoax, a myth ginned up by the left-wing media and its enablers in the FBI and CIA?
Does the public really believe our current ministry of information that the “border is closed”? Or that high gas prices are good? Or that empty shelves reflect strong demand and will result in a more mature public no longer needing to buy superfluous goods?
Or that spiraling inflation is proof of a strong economy? Or that the road to the Kabul airport was open to anyone with a U.S. passport who wished to leave? Or that the accidental U.S. drone killing of a family in Kabul was a “righteous strike”?
Or that Russians and Trump operatives created a fake lost Hunter Biden laptop, as our former intelligence officials implied on the eve of the election?
Since when did the government and the now state media issue such serial lies? When did we begin to resemble our old Cold War enemies—to the delight of our current enemies?
Commissars and Culturalists
In the ancient days of the Cold War, the United States relied on its open society, political tolerance, the Bill of Rights, and meritocracy to outproduce and out-arm both the far larger Soviet Union, and Red China.
In other words, the Soviet commissariat and ideological watchdogs of Communism were drags on Russian and Chinese research and development. Apparatchiks were not only unproductive but expensive. They even hampered the pursuit of science if they believed it challenged the monopoly of Marxist-Leninist ideology and control.
In the case of Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, Communist China destroyed entire cadres of scientific and intellectual research teams for generations by unleashing the Red Guards who applied Orwellian revolutionary litmus tests to the most productive elements of society. And they usually found them worthy of death, imprisonment, or forced nonexistence for their supposed lack of correct Maoist fervor—as proven by reading the wrong books, wearing the wrong clothes, saying the wrong slogans, or belonging to the wrong faction.
At the end of the Cold War, the crumbling Soviet Union still had a population 40 million larger than that of America, and an area over twice as large, with greater natural resources. Yet after initial disarmament and confusion in the immediate postwar era, the United States throughout the ensuing 40 years of the Cold War consistently out-produced the Soviet Union and fielded more sophisticated and high-tech weaponry, as it enjoyed a far more innovative higher-education system and corporate sector.
The same disparities held true of Red China. Beijing was never able to leverage its much larger population (some 850,000 million larger then than the United States in 1989), and similar area, to threaten America militarily, technologically, or economically. Again, rigid ideological censorship, indoctrination, and coercion spelled the doom of both Communist behemoths. In both, mediocre and politically correct lackeys rose to positions of influence, while the unorthodox, innovative, individualistic, and outspoken talents were deemed enemies of the revolution, of the people, and especially of the ruling apparat.
In contrast, the United States even welcomed countercultural and idiosyncratic capitalists—from the wacky founder of CNN Ted Turner to the unorthodox Nebraska investor Warren Buffet to the loner Steve Jobs of Apple. SAT and ACT college-entrance standardized tests were seen as meritocratic. They were envisioned as a balance to toady letters of recommendations, wealth and status, or grade inflation and distortions, and thus helped ensure talented undergraduates from all walks of life.
Whereas in the Soviet and Maoist systems, large swaths of public discourse were off-limits—curbing not just free expression but inhibiting science, history, art, literature, music, and religion—in the former United States, citizens spoke freely about anything and assumed that their talent and hard work could trump even the ideological, ethnic, racial, religious and class prejudices of the ruling classes.
The result was that postwar American universities surpassed their global hostile counterparts in almost every field of research. When lazy corporations and unions squandered their postwar global prominence, natural self-criticism and self-reflection ensured more innovative successors who quickly regained advantages over their 1980s Japanese and German economic rivals—who had been deemed for a time during the Carter era as the real winners of World War II.
Most American universities are now madly rushing to institutionalize expensive, unproductive, and dangerous commissars to warp research, restrict free speech, and monitor instruction and expression. They are euphemistically deemed diversity, equity, and inclusion administrators and human relations directors. Like French Jacobins, Russian Bolsheviks, and Chinese Maoists they justify their anti-Enlightenment and totalitarian means by their supposedly exalted ends of “equity.”
A social media lynch mob, born and bred in America, equates incorrect thought with felonious behavior. Our online American Red Guards act as judge, jury, and executioner canceling out careers and lives in the manner of a virtual online gulag—in hopes of deterring all incorrect thought and expression. Ministries of the U.S. government sic the FBI, as if it is the KGB, on incorrect expression at school board hearings. The IRS both targets and exempts the elite on the basis of ideology. The CIA and Pentagon are likewise weaponized, as attuned to the dictates of social justice ministers at home as thwarting enemies abroad.
In the culture at large, the way movies are reviewed, books are rated, and universities calibrated so often hinges on the apparent degree of wokeist adherence. As in the Soviet and Maoist systems that likewise in multifaceted ways destroyed meritocracy, so too engineers, researchers, CEOs, mavericks, innovators, writers, artists, and musicians now calibrate their own career trajectories in terms of whether they will satisfy or offend critical race theory, green, or identity politics commissars. The Communist Chinese put dunce caps on professors and political operatives deemed counterrevolutionaries; we simply dox, cancel, ostracize, and shout them down or drive them off campuses.
Note how the United States, in its woke reinvention, is doing its best to stifle creativity, free expression, and scientific and social research by applying ideological parameters and doling out political rewards and punishments for right and wrong thinking.
Does anyone really believe that Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.)—serial sexual harasser and virtual killer of thousands of elderly who were the victims of his insane policy of transferring the COVID-infected into rest homes—deserved an Emmy award for his talents?
Or was it his daily anti-Trump agitprop and race and gender virtue-signaling that delighted his Hollywood aficionados? Can a comedian still joke about anything he pleases, a professor lecture without fear of disruption, or a CEO publicly doubt critical race theory?
As we learned from the impoverishment of the Soviet Union and Maoist China, eventually the ideological pandemic results in poverty in the streets. Or in our current terms, nine months of constant woke bullying and government ideological recalibration really do result in internecine racial animus, empty shelves, sky-high gasoline and natural gas prices, stagflation, soaring debt, high labor non-participation, military mediocrity, international humiliation, and a national state of fear and paranoia.
Are our law and medical schools admitting students on the basis of their GPAs, test scores, and recommendations? Or do they assume that ideology, race, gender, and ethnicity will better serve their own ideological rather than meritocratic agendas?
Do we hire K-12 administrators on the basis of their proven records of improving student test scores, and upping graduate rates while avoiding grade inflation, or on the criteria of their own appearance and proper vocabulary of woke activism?
Do the COVID-19 public-health policies of Admiral Rachel Levine, or the administrative talents of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in solving supply-chain hold-ups, define their media coverage, or do we hear more about their sexual identification and status?
Will we soon issue “The Hero of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Revolution” medals?
The New Vladimir Warns Us
About the Old Vladimir?
Notice how both the former Soviet Union and the former Maoist Chinese are reacting to our own regressions into systems that they once embraced, but finally discarded when they resulted only in poverty, civil strife, and ultimately mass death.
Autocrat Vladimir Putin, smiling as the Cheshire Cat, recently lectured America on its bizarre regression into racial tribalism, ideological intolerance, and cultural revolutionary nihilism. Putin surreally assumed the role of the all-knowing “I warned you” truth-teller, as he compared 2021 America to his own former Soviet Union.
So, he acted delighted that such wokeism might do to the United States what Sovietism once did to his Mother Russia—creating the Orwellian conditions that can only lead to implosion—while bashing illiberal Americans as if they were the natural descendants of Bolsheviks. Indeed, Putin managed somehow both to wish us well in our headlong descent into Hell and to virtue signal his moral superiority and greater historical insight:
The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags as we say, go right ahead.
It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones—all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today.
There is nothing like an old Bolshevik grinning that ossified American wokesters are stuck circa 1920s in the old Bolshevik Russia.
Racist Chinese Love Racist Wokeism
China just about every month displays some new sort of frightening strategic weapon or boasts of yet another stratagem of destroying Taiwan. Meanwhile, at about the same pace, our defense secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, chief of naval operations, or CENTCOM generals offer another reassurance that Afghan refugees arrive in correct gender ratios and with culturally sensitive food awaiting them, or that advocates of white supremacy and white privilege are systematically being rooted out of the military, or the military is busy fighting climate change and white rage.
So, the new Communist-state capitalist Chinese naturally gloat over our wokeness. Whereas a Putin sees fundamentalist diversity, equity, inclusion religion as suicidal Bolshevism worthy of celebration, the Chinese are more adroit. They prefer not to mock but to tap into what they see as our fatal strategic disadvantages. In other words, rather than boasting that even the former Soviet Union is tired of destructive ideological wokeism, Beijing eggs it on—albeit in America.
During the COVID-19 pandemic that China likely birthed—even if accidentally—and helped to spread, the Chinese hierarchy replied to any criticism with accusations of “racism!” An accusatory China was hardly shamed that it is one of the most racist countries in the world and institutionally discriminates against non-atheists and the non-Han Chinese residing in its midst. Instead, Chinese propagandists brilliantly egg on U.S. wokeism in the surety that it is both weakening the economic, military, and political sinews of the country, and useful in deflecting its own racist, imperialist, and colonialist policies by accusing America of just those sins.
Are we supposed to treat seriously charges of racism from an accuser that has incarcerated in forced labor camps over 1 million Uighur Muslims, and yet annually sends over 300,000 of its brightest and most privileged Chinese youth to American universities where supposedly they would be targets of racist Americans?
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs either hated his former president so much or was so enthralled or terrified by his Communist Chinese military counterparts, that he called them to reassure them that the U.S. military would warn them beforehand should Trump consider any preemptive action directed at China. After that, China likely felt it had already won the propaganda war.
Beijing interprets such naïve American magnanimity as weakness to be exploited and hardly to be reciprocated in kind. It is assured that no Chinese leader would ever act so foolhardy as to send his American counterpart any such reassurance. It grows even more supercilious that while Mark Milley would rightly never warn Putin ahead of time about any supposedly lunatic move by Donald Trump, the four-star general will fall all over himself in appeasing the Chinese, who in the narrow terms of their nuclear stockpile are a small threat compared to Moscow’s nukes.
In a strange transference of domestic witch-hunting to foreign policy, the American woke detested the Russians in a way they never did the Communist Chinese. And yet by any fair measure, Trump was harder on the Russians than was any prior administration. But according to woke party lines, he was considered soft on Russia and excessively hard on China.
China, to take one example, was able to warp Hollywood enough to demand whiter actors for its huge domestic market, while Russians were the favorite tattooed, oligarchic, and orthodox villains of most Hollywood spy movies. So, stereotyping and hating Russian belligerents became patriotic while doing the same to the wealthier Chinese was racism.
Why the asymmetry in appeasing one totalitarian threat and ignoring the other? Was it the greater assets of China and thus our elites’ greater chances to get rich with them? Was it because however dictatorial and murderous the Chinese may be, they were still “the Other” and thus de facto victims of the American oppressor class?
The Cold War has been over for over 30 years. But who really won that war of ideas may be the real question of the new millennium.
After all, America is now seeking to emulate the crude modalities of the old Soviet Union and Maoist China that the now-gleeful autocratic Russians and Chinese at least realize nearly destroyed them.