Politics & Policy

The Passing of the Old Order

And its beneficiaries aren’t going quietly.

American reality has been turned upside down in just 20 years.

Americans no longer count on their news to be filtered and shaped by the Associated Press or the New York Times. Nor do millions have it read to them in the evening by CBS, ABC, or NBC anchorpersons — not with the Internet, cable news, and talk radio. Matt Drudge’s website, The Drudge Report, reaches far more Americans than does CBS anchor Katie Couric.

The old notion that America’s most successful citizens are turned out by prestigious four-year universities — the more private and Ivy League, the better — overseen by disinterested professors is also nearing an end. Private for-profit trade schools and online colleges are certifying millions in particular skills.

Meanwhile, the high jobless rate among recent college graduates, who are burdened by thousands of dollars in student loans, is starting to resemble the Freddie Mac– and Fannie Mae–spawned financial bubble of 2008, in which millions of indebted and unemployed borrowers could not pay back exorbitant federally insured home loans. For parents to keep borrowing $200,000 to certify their children with high-prestige degrees that don’t necessarily lead to good jobs seems about as wise as buying a sprawling house that one can’t afford. James Cameron, Bill Gates, Sean Hannity, Tom Hanks, Steve Jobs, Rush Limbaugh, Tiger Woods, and Mark Zuckerberg have all made good livings without earning B.A.s.

Therapeutic college curricula and hyphenated “studies” courses have not made graduates better read or more skilled in math and science. For many employers, the rigor of the new B.A. is scarcely equivalent to that of the old high-school diploma. The global-warming “crisis” has reminded Americans that careerist Ph.D.s can be just as likely to fudge evidence and distort research as political lobbyists. The old blanket respect for academia and academics is eroding.

After the Greek financial fraud and collapse, the European Union identity crisis, and the insolvency in California, there will be no more new defined-benefit retirement programs. A shrinking and debt-ridden youth cohort cannot and will not continue to subsidize an expanding and more affluent retired generation. Soon, 65 will be the new 50. We are going to see lots more seniors working well into their 70s.

Few believe that Detroit’s problem is too few unionized autoworkers or that the SEIU has resulted in better public service and efficiency from government employees. One cannot point to a government conspiracy or an ignorant public to explain why union membership has now fallen to 12 percent of the American workforce.

The welfare-entitlement state is likewise a relic. Only a few political dinosaurs are calling for more spending, more entitlements, and more taxes. Fairly or not, most Europeans and Americans accept that the limits of redistribution have been reached. President Obama’s talk of “spreading the wealth” and “fat-cat” bankers has not done much to lower $1.3 trillion deficits and 9.4 percent unemployment. So he has dropped the high-tax, more-benefits, class-warfare rhetoric in favor of writing articles in the Wall Street Journal assuring business of less regulation and more government help.

Race relations are being redefined as never before. Interracial marriage, integration, and immigration have made the old rubrics — “white,” “black,” “brown” — obsolete. Rigid, half-century-old affirmative-action programs have not caught up with everyday reality. Their overseers are likewise ossified, now that millions in an interracial America do not fit into their precise racial slots, and being white — to the degree that it can be easily defined — is not synonymous with innate privilege. The notion that Tiger Woods’s children need an admissions or employment edge over natives of Appalachia or immigrants from India is surreal.

Abroad, things are just as upside down. Russia is no longer the avatar of global Communism but the world’s largest cutthroat oil producer. China’s cultural revolution is now about making tons of money and driving luxury cars. The European Union has been reduced to pointing fingers and standing in line to beg Germany for cash — a far cry from its advertised 21st-century utopian brotherhood. Our old neighbor Mexico is now a near-failed narco-state, bearing a greater resemblance to Afghanistan than to its brother nations in North America.

In response to this topsy-turvy world, the traditional media, tenured professors, well-paid public employees, rigid ethnic and racial lobbies, unions, organized retirees, open-borders advocates, and entrenched politicians all are understandably claiming that we live in an uncivil age.

We well may, but we also are seeing the waning of an old established order. And the resulting furor suggests that the old beneficiaries are not going quietly into that good night.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

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