by Victor Davis Hanson
Are We Tottering?
Societies can sometimes implode abruptly, like the Mycenaeans from mysterious causes, the Aztecs before Cortés, or the Zulu nation in 1879 — or gradually and insidiously, such as Rome in the latter fifth century BC or Britain between 1946 and 1960.
I don’t believe America is in inevitable decline or will falter, but I am starting to see things, superficially, that I have not observed in the past.
California is bankrupt and it shows. Drive Highway 101 between, say, the general Watsonville and the Monterey Bay areas — potholes, poorly marked exits and entries, trucks in both lanes. The road is unchanged since the 1960s, but with ten times the traffic. And it is a veritable death trap on any given evening. Ditto almost all the main north-south arteries. One can travel long distances on 101, 99, and 5 where there are only two lanes, in places where there should be at least three. When I see a Caltrans road crew, I expect to see half not working, or all sorts of warning signs and orange cones that advise about non-existent work in progress.
I pass on east-west California arteries. There are really none much other than freeway 80. My favorites are 168 and 180, good highways that abruptly stop near the Sierra Crest — roads to nowhere. Over a half-million acres are not farmed because academics with tenure and publicly employed scientists have decided that a fish is a better barometer of civilization’s health than are food-producing plains.
Illegal immigration? I can drive two miles from my farm and shop with hundreds of California residents who are here illegally, do not speak English, and are entirely dependent on a government to which they can hardly feel any special allegiance or gratitude.
They (the majority of illegal aliens) identify more with a country that drove them out, and feel no special affinity with a nation that took them in, given that we, the host, rarely can define who we are or what others should do to join us. I know if I am hit again in traffic (twice is enough), the other driver (as in both cases) probably will not have a license, registration, or insurance, and may well try, again, to hoof it, if uninjured. I don’t drive on late Saturday afternoons on rural roads out here, since there are simply too many who drink and think stop signs mean to slightly yield.
Your Money Was Unfairly Obtained
More concretely, I know that in California the nation’s highest sales, income, and gas taxes somehow lead to the country’s highest deficits — and that the answer will be to raise taxes and call them “fees.” If 2,500 of the state’s better-off are fleeing per week, the solution will probably be to tax more highly the fewer who somewhat foolishly stayed behind (e.g., “at least we warned you.”)
Gorging the Beast
I think on the federal level, the Obama thinking is to “gorge the beast.” That means to spend so much money on so many things that higher taxes become inevitable. In the redistributive scheme of things, high taxation is a good thing, income being now capricious, unfair, and not entirely the property of the recipient.
I fear greatly the federal and state judiciaries. I know that special prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald hold press conferences, bankrupt their prey through drawn-out legal procedures, and then usually fail to prove much of anything against the likes of a Scooter Libby or Blago (and so settle for perjury convictions when they find contradictions in the miles of confused subpoenaed testimony).
Arizona and California plebiscites mean little. A judge or two can overturn the votes of millions. One rarely sees a left-wing ballot proposition overturned by a right-wing judge, as the former has not the votes and the latter usually objects to the procedure.
The federal government will sue those states that try to enforce Washington’s statutes, but ignore dozens of cities that undermine them. Contracts do not mean much either, not after the Chrysler reversal of its creditors. BP should pay, let’s say, 20, 30 — or, damn it, why not 40 billion dollars?
The academic elite is becoming bankrupt. And by that I mean utterly mendacious. The email disclosures about faking the global warming evidence, the BP scientific hysteria to stop drilling, the Gore saga, the nuclear power furor, the Delta smelt — no one much believes that the old rules of peer-reviewed, dispassionate scholarship apply when one can make the case that the egalitarian ends justify the tawdry means. Plagiarism depends — a progressive mistakenly cuts and pastes an email, or had lousy research assistants, or mixed up his index cards; a less hip scholar who fudges is a crook as he should be.
My favorite elite trope of the day is “Cordoba,” as in the “Cordoba Initiative.” Liberals rush to embrace the “Cordoba Initiative” as if that Islamic Lala-land, because it had a 10th-century library, was some sort of Islamic Athens. (Cf. the president’s untruthful Cairo references about a non-existent Muslim Cordoba [the Christians retook it in 1236] by the time of the Inquisition (1487) showing singular religious tolerance). Meanwhile, with a wink and a nod, the message from the brilliantly cynical Imam Rauf gets through to radical Islam that an al-Andalus, the Islamic occupation of Iberia, was a golden moment that we all can gush about. He reminds me of the guy who throws a cherry bomb into a crowd, speeds off, and watches with glee the human fireworks from his rear-review mirror. (So Rauf jets off for a month to raise money from the “liberal” gulf autocracies; the “bridge-building”, healer Rauf wants not a 3, 4, or 6 story mosque, but a 13-story “Islamic complex” to contemplate and mediate and think about the misunderstandings that drove two planes to mysteriously take down two towers. This guy read Obamism to the tee, and is going to make a lot of money and gain a lot of attention playing its adherents as the fools they are)
So is this another rant? Not quite. Why? The United States is so naturally endowed, its Constitution so aptly crafted, and a majority of its population so wedded to a meritocratic, free enterprise system, that recovery, both material and psychological is within our grasp. (We rebounded in 1866, 1941, and 2001).
A $12 trillion economy can, if it wished, pay off $12 trillion in debt rather quickly by freezing spending and cutting useless programs, while reforming Medicare and Social Security. Our military is far superior to the next ten or so armed forces combined. We can close the borders should we wish, and within a year. The schools are now so bad, that even the defenders of the therapeutic curriculum know that it teaches neither knowledge nor tolerance. The emperor now has no clothes. Millions have dropped out of the system by preferring home-schooling, charters, and private schools.
Intermarriage, assimilation, and integration are at war with the hustlers of the race industry. And I believe the latter are losing and becoming desperate. Close the borders and the grievance mongers would become fossilized, as the Mexican-American population begins to follow the Cuban model.
So the problems are solvable, given the natural and human strengths of the United States. I end with some eccentric suggestions that would have far more positive repercussions than we think.
- A flat income tax would save trillions through simplification and greater compliance.
- End academic tenure. It was designed to promote free speech, and ended up ensuring coerced uniformity of thought.
- Raise the Social Security retirement age; if we live far longer and are healthier, why draw retirement at the same old age?
- Start encouraging natural gas usage for transportation. It is a clean, abundant transportation fuel that would save us billions in decreased imported oil fees, and would increase jobs. We should build ten nuclear reactors a year, especially if we are to charge hybrid and electric cars.
- Don’t cut defense. Eighteen-year olds come out four years later better educated and disciplined by the military than most on federal loans who stretch out the undergraduate years to their mid- or late-twenties. America has never regretted being overarmed; in 1860, 1917, 1939, 1950, and 1980, it regretted greatly vast cutbacks in military preparedness.
- End affirmative action. Given intermarriage and the diversity of races and tribes, it is beginning to look like the racial codes of the Old South. Can someone tell me why the third-generation light skinned half-Mexican-American with a last name of Lopez qualifies and second-generation darker Tarsam Singh does not? An entire class of operators has mastered the system and created a level of cynicism that erodes public confidence.
- Insist on a national exit test for BA degrees. A simple test of common knowledge would do. When Johnny does not know what the Parthenon is, but thinks Harriet Tubman, not Grant and Sherman, won the Civil war, we are in deep trouble.
- Provide incentives for clean living. Those who are on federal assistance or Medicare, should receive bonuses for weight control, good blood pressure, and not smoking — either increased benefits or reduced copayments.
- Build the fence, fine employers who hire illegal aliens, and beef up security. Without an influx of illegal aliens, the pool is static, and the formidable forces of assimilation begin to work while we fight over amnesty, guest workers, remittances, and anchor babies.
- Freeze federal spending and insist on revenue neutral, pay as you go, new legislation.
PS. 11. Outlaw the use of “inappropriate”, the new weasel word for perverted, sick, or disgusting.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson