Year Zero

Protesters rip apart a U.S. flag during nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd in Raleigh, N.C., May 30, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)
May 25, 0

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE E very cultural revolution starts at year zero, whether explicitly or implicitly. The French Revolution recalibrated the calendar to begin anew, and the genocidal Pol Pot declared his own Cambodian revolutionary ascension as the beginning of time.

Somewhere after May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, while in police custody, sparked demonstrations, protests, and riots. And they in turn ushered in a new revolutionary moment. Or at least we were told that — in part by Black Lives Matter, in part by Antifa, in part by terrified enablers in the corporate world, the new Democratic Party, the military, the universities, and the media.

What was uniquely different about this cultural revolution was how willing and quickly the entire progressive establishment — elected officials, celebrities, media, universities, foundations, retired military — was either on the side of the revolution or saw it as useful in aborting the Trump presidency, or was terrified it would be targeted and so wished to appease the Jacobins.

This reborn America was to end all of the old that had come before and supposedly pay penance for George Floyd’s death and, by symbolic extension, America’s inherent evil since 1619. As in all cultural revolutions, the protestors claimed at first at that they wanted only to erase supposedly reactionary elements: Confederate statues, movies such as Gone with the Wind, some hurtful cartoons, and a few cranky conservative professors and what not.

But soon such recalibration steam rolled, fueled by acquiescence, fright, and timidity. Drunk with ego and power, it moved on to attack almost anything connected with the past or present of the United States itself.

Soon statues of General Grant, and presidents including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson were either toppled or defaced. The message was that their crimes were being white and privileged — in the way that today’s white and privileged should meet a similar fate. Or, as the marchers, who tried to storm Beverly Hills, put it: “Eat the Rich.” They were met by tear gas, and not a single retired general double-downed on his outrage at law enforcement for using tear gas against civilians. Did the BLM idea of cannibalizing the billionaires include LeBron James, Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, and likely soon-to-be billionaire Barack Obama?

Name changing is always a barometer of a year-zero culture revolution that seeks to wipe out the past and, with it, anyone wedded to it. And so it was only a matter of time that the Woodrow Wilson Princeton School of Public and International Affairs was Trotskyized. Liberals cringed but kept silent, given that Wilson is still a hero for his support of the League of Nations, and his utopian efforts at Versailles, despite his characteristic progressive allegiance to pseudoscientific race-based genetics.

Rebranding

Any revolution that claims it will not tolerate commemoration of any century-old enemies must put its handwipes where its mouth is. And revolutionaries always follow the path of least resistance. So in our era, that means the mob has focused on the hollow men and women now serving as university presidents, corporate CEOs, sports-franchise owners and coaches, politicians, news anchors, and even in some cases retired high-ranking officers of the military.

It was easy wringing promises from these hierarchies to remove the trademark faces of Aunt Jemimah and Uncle Ben from popular food brands, and to win hundreds of new, costly diversity-coordinator billets, more mandatory race and gender indoctrination training, a “black” national anthem to be played at sporting events, and promises to BLM to rename military bases.

Indeed, in no time, these elites were volunteering to debase themselves. Dan Cathy, CEO of the Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant chain, urged white people to shine the shoes of blacks in the manner that the disciples had washed the feet of Jesus — and indeed Dan Cathy sort of did just that when he polished the sneakers of rapper Lecrae. Such is the new bottom line of profits in corporate America.

Yet, the culture of erasure takes some time to reach all the eddies and pools of a huge society as variegated as America. Take the new reconstruction of the Civil War. In the old days before this May, the war was considered a catastrophic nemesis due a hubristic Confederacy. Yet, given that there were only 7 to 8 percent of the nation’s households in 1860 owning slaves, it should have been possible to end slavery without harvesting nearly 700,000 Americans.

But it was not, because — according to the traditional American tragic theme — millions of non-slave-owning white poor of the Confederacy fought tenaciously, and ultimately for a plantation culture that had marginalized them. Their rationale was that their sacred soil and homes were “invaded” by “Yankees” in a war of “Northern aggression.”

Liberal Hollywood bought into this tragic notion of misguided but somewhat honorable losers who had headed westward, penniless in defeat, after the war. Most Westerns of the 1950s — John Ford’s The Searchers or George Stevens’s Shane — saw Confederate pedigrees of a losing and disreputable cause as central to the outsider’s creed of the gunfighter. These Confederate vets were dead-enders useful in ridding a fragile civilization on the frontier of its demons, but too volatile to live within it during the peaceful aftermath when gunplay was no longer needed.

The 1960s saw Southern rural folk culture as a sort of hippie alternative to the dominant wealth and suburbanism of the mainstream.

And all that is supposedly over now?

Could Ry Cooder sing “I’m a Good Old Rebel” for a movie like The Long Riders, exploring the contradictions of ex-Confederate thugs like the James boys and the Youngers?

Would anyone play the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” or even the version of it by leftist Joan Baez?

Could Ken Burns now still make The Civil War, 30 years after its original release, with a folksy Shelby Foote contextualizing the Confederate defeat as thousands of brave men dying for a tragic cause beneath them? Would a liberal Southerner like the late Jody Powell still dare to voice the words of Stonewall Jackson or Horton Foote or Jefferson Davis? In our more enlightened revolutionary times, were all these players useful idiots in the cause of racism?

Are there now three Americas? One of white guilt and penance, one of black anger and victimization, and another seething in silence as they see their 244 years of history written off as something worse than the pasts of Somalia, Peru, Iran, or Serbia.

There are now two realities — beyond two national anthems, beyond black and white dorms, black and white segregated safe spaces on campus, and beyond now segregated black and white history, language, philosophy, and science and math.

For blatantly racist diatribes dug up from the past, there is one standard of contextualization for 1619 architect Nikole Hannah-Jones and the creators of Black Lives Matter, and another that forces silly entertainers like late-night host Jimmy Kimmel to go into exile? In the new America, skin color adjudicates whether one can with impunity be openly racist — as it used to be before the civil-rights movement, whose values and methods the Left purportedly seeks to embrace and resurrect.

If so, then we know from history the script that now follows.

In the exhilaration of exercising power ruthlessly and unchecked, the cultural revolutionists soon turn on their own: poor Trump-hating Dan Abrams losing his cop reality show, the two liberal trial lawyers armed on their mansion lawn in St. Louis terrified of the mob entering their gated estate community, bewildered CHOP activists wondering where the police were once mayhem and death were among them, the inner city of Chicago or New York in the age of police drawbacks wondering how high the daily murder rate will climb once shooters fathom that there are no police, and inner-city communities furious that the ER is too crowded with shooting victims to properly treat COVID-19 arrivals.

Do we now really expect that the Wilson Center in Washington will be cancelled, the Washington Monument cut down to size, and Princeton, Yale, and Stanford renamed?

The logic of the revolution says yes, but the liberal appeasers of it are growing uneasy. They are realizing that their own elite status and referents are now in the crosshairs. And so they are on the verge of becoming Thermidors.

And what will the new icons be under our new revolutionary premises?

Will we say the old statues were bad because they were not perfect, but the new replacements are perfect despite being a tad bad in places? Will we dedicate more memorials to Martin Luther King Jr., the great advocate of the civil-rights movement, or do we focus instead on his plagiarism, his often poor treatment of women, and his reckless promiscuity? Gandhi is gone, but who replaces him, Subhas Chandra Bose? Will Princeton rename their school of diplomacy in honor of the martyred Malcom X, slain by the black nationalist Nation of Islam? Malcom may now become ubiquitous, but he said things about white people that would have made what Wilson said about black people look tame.

Puritanical cultural revolutionaries are always a minority of society. But whether they win or lose — that is, whether they end up as Bolsheviks or Jacobins — hinges on how successfully they terrify the masses into submission, and how quickly they can do that before repulsion grows over their absurd violence and silly rhetoric.

When the backlash comes, as it must when mobs destroy statues at night, loot, burn, and obliterate what Mao called the “four olds” of a culture revolution — Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas — it may not be pretty.

We can see its contours already: Asian Americans further discriminated against to allow for new university mandates jettisoning SAT scores and GPAs, while schools set new larger percentages of African-American admissions and transform their entire diversity industry into a black-advocacy enterprise; virtue-signaling and now hard-left white CEOs and college presidents and provosts asked to step down, to do their own small white-male part in yielding their prized jobs to someone more woke and less pink.

Gun sales are at record levels. I supposed the revolutionaries never investigated the original idea of a police force and the concept of the government’s legal monopoly on violence? It was not just to protect the law-abiding from the criminal, but to protect the criminal from the outraged vigilante.

Only police can stop blood feuds such as the ones we see in Chicago or like the medieval ones of Iceland’s Njáls saga, or the postbellum slaughtering of the Hatfields and McCoys. We are already seeing a counterrevolution — as the Left goes ballistic that anyone would appear on his lawn pointing a semiautomatic rifle to protect mere “brick and mortar.”

Without a functioning police force, do we really believe that the stockbroker is going to walk home in the evening in New York City without a firearm, or that the suburbanite in Minneapolis in an expansive home will not have a semiautomatic rifle, or that the couple who drives to Los Angeles with the kids to visit Disneyland will not have a 9mm automatic in their car console? The Left has energized the Second Amendment in a way the NRA never could, and for the next decade, there will be more guns in pockets, cars, and homes than at any time in history.

Do Nike, the NFL, and the NBA really believe that their fan clientele will buy into the Black Lives Matter special national anthem and BLM corporate logos on their uniforms? Publicly, perhaps their clients will say so, but at home and in private where fans have absolute control of the remotes or their Amazon accounts, probably not.

The counterrevolution will be easy to spot. Suddenly a left-wing institution will refuse to change its name. Gone with the Wind will insidiously reappear on the schedule of TBN classic movies. Statue topplers all of a sudden will be scouted out and arrested and have felonies on their record — and no one will complain.

NFL’s attendance will crater. Joe Biden will begin cataloguing both good and bad statues, and correct and incorrect name changing, and by October he will be saying, “One the one hand . . . on the other hand . . . ”

Segregation will doom this revolution. It is the worst poison in a multiracial society. Yet it is the signature issue of Black Lives Matter — everything from separate safe spaces and theme houses based on skin color in universities to specials fees and rules for non-blacks. The popular forces of integration, assimilation, and intermarriage will not be harnessed by racial-separatist czars, asking for DNA pedigrees as they sleuth for microaggressions and implicit biases.

The BLM problem is that never in history has a radical cultural revolution at its outset declared itself both race-based and yet predicated on a small minority of the population, whose strategy was to shame and debase the majority that was sympathetic to the idea of relegating race to insignificance.

If sowing the wind has been getting ugly, reaping the whirlwind will be more so.

 

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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