In the globally connected and affluent world of the 21st century, we thankfully have evolved a long way from the elemental poverty, hunger, and ethnic, religious, and racial hatred that were mostly the norm of the world until the last century.
Yet who would know of such progress — and the great sacrifices made to achieve it — from the howls of our postmodern oppressed? In fact, the better life has become, the more victimized modern affluent Westerners seem to act.
Over ten women have come forward to charge Bob Filner, the current mayor of San Diego, with harassment — the liberal bookend to the political return in New York of former representative Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner and former governor Eliot “Client #9” Spitzer. Filner did not really deny that he has groped, grabbed, kissed, or verbally harassed lots of females; instead, he checked himself into some sort of sexual-therapy program. In the old days, Filner would have resigned in shame — suffering the stigma accorded a pervert, and terrified that an angry boyfriend or husband might surface to settle up with fisticuffs.
Now, in our more progressive, enlightened days, the mayor need not fear much of anything. His lawyers have suggested that the city of San Diego was at fault because it did not ensure that its hormonally overcharged mayor took his required dose of sexual-harassment training. Ostensibly, Filner was victimized by not having his social meds. Without them, he was soon overwhelmed by animalistic passions and Neanderthal urges. In short, Filner seeks to be as much a victim as the women he offended.
The late-19th-century industrialization that ensured a vastly better American material existence also took a terrible toll on the American landscape. Conservation movements of the mid-20th century struggled with the monumental task of cleaning up a century’s worth of polluted rivers, toxic waste, and dirty air. The battle for a cleaner environment must continue, but given its astounding successes, it now lacks the drama of past existential challenges.
If our grandparents once agitated to ensure that San Francisco Bay would not shrink in half because of landfills, or that there would still be stands of virgin redwoods along the California coast, our generation continues the heroic green struggle by bonding with a three-inch-long bait fish in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. The efforts to divert irrigation water for the poor delta smelt not only were based on fuzzy science, but took thousands of acres of prime farmland out of production — and threw thousands of struggling farmworkers out of a job. Giants used to save bald eagles; their progeny stop important projects in order to investigate the livelihood of a local species of rat or toad.
If John Muir and his followers saved Half Dome and El Capitan, his present adherents wish to blow up the dam that created the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, killing a crucial supply of drinking water, hydroelectric power, flood control, and irrigation. For decades, the historic stone bridges over the flood-prone Merced River have enhanced an idyllic Yosemite Valley. Today environmentalists want them destroyed to ensure that the river can occasionally expand into “wetlands.”
Multimillionaire rapper Jay-Z recently warned that class warfare in the streets may be looming, given the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots. But contemporary Americans are not quite John Steinbeck’s Joads. And Jay-Z is no straitlaced Eugene Debs, the ex–locomotive fireman and socialist firebrand who sought a revolution in the society of early-20th-century America.
Today, obesity, not malnutrition, is America’s epidemic. Our youth’s education is hindered by too many cell phones, not access to too few books. Misogynistic and obscene lyrics may have enriched Jay-Z, but they reflect the sort of values that lead millions to remain in poverty, rather than becoming disciplined cadres organizing for social justice.
Are we to imagine that Jay-Z and Beyoncé, in the manner of their recent promenading among the impoverished of socialist Cuba, will hit the streets to storm the American Bastille — accompanied by their retinue of hairdressers, chauffeurs, investment advisers, and bodyguards?
Much has been written about Rachel Jeantel, routinely described as the prosecution’s “star witness” in the George Zimmerman trial, almost as if she were some sort of new-generation civil-rights icon. Jeantel has been variously praised by liberals for her street smarts, and lamented by conservatives as emblematic of the tragic detours of the Great Society. Both agree that in some sense she is a victim of the social forces that for decades now have been forging an underclass.
Perhaps — but from her testimony and her post-trial interviews for hire, we learned that Ms. Jeantel was confident and savvy about using electronic media while at the same time apparently illiterate, given that she could not read “cursive.” Yet whose fault is it that she preferred to post obscenities rather than scroll over to a book? Jeantel’s worldview appears anti-liberal to the core. She admitted that her original testimony under oath was not fully accurate: Trayvon Martin, we now learn, wanted to “whoop ass” and so threw the first blow against Zimmerman. Yet Jeantel did not say that at the trial; she was quite willing to see the defendant convicted on false testimony.