In a flash, it’s been blown away, revealing the barbarism beneath. The seeds of destruction were planted long ago.
N ine months ago, New York was a thriving, though poorly governed, metropolis. It was coasting on the more or less good governance of its prior two mayors and on its ancestral role as the global nexus of finance and capital.
The city is now something out of a postmodern apocalyptic movie, reeling from the effects of a neutron bomb. Ditto in varying degrees Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco — the anti-broken-windows metropolises of America. Walking in San Francisco today reminds me of visiting Old Cairo in 1973, although the latter lacked the needles and feces of the former.
At the present increasing rate of police defunding, homeless encampments, the emptying of jails and prisons, the green-lighting of rioting and vandalism, the flight of the wealthy, the revolutionary change to Skype/Zoom tele-working, and the exodus of upper-middle-class liberal families to safe houses in the New York and New England countryside, once beautiful New York City is in danger of becoming the nation’s aneurysm. That is, after the “recovery,” it and other blue cities may be seen as permanent weak veins and arteries prone to sudden fatal hemorrhaging that could implode at any moment, and thus may become metaphorically tied off, as the country reroutes around them.
In the old days of 2019, tolerant Americans more or less accepted that finely crafted statues of sometimes less than inspiring and formerly illustrious (to some) heroes were part of our history. For example, integral to California’s rich historical culture were its missions, acknowledged by Father Serra’s numerous eponymous streets and statues. No one in his right mind believed that renaming a mall named Serra at Stanford University would help mitigate the weekend murder rate in Chicago or the endemic poverty of illegal aliens in my own neighborhood.
The same allowance for imperfection by present standards was made for Robert E. Lee, a capable though not brilliant strategist, and by the standards of his time and space considered a good man who fought for a terrible cause. His name and likeliness were reminders to Americans of the tragedy of the Civil War that saw 700,000 Americans die in the struggle to end slavery. Focusing on inner-city gun violence or abortion or integrating the public schools with the scions of the white upper class might do far more for racial relations than toppling more bronze horses and riders. But that is the point: Focus on the irrelevant misdemeanor as therapy for ignoring the existential felony.
But that idea of live and let live with the past is ancient history now — and hundreds of decapitated and defaced statues ago. A mindless mob, appeased and enabled by a terrified establishment, has systematically and with impunity been destroying as many of the referents of American history as it can. The fools of the bipartisan elite at first believed the iconoclasm was selective, rational, and measured. It was not. The point was never to fixate on the sins of the ancient slaveholder, or the European discoverer of America, or the author of Don Quixote.
Nor was the point to topple the bad in order to commission the better to take its place. (After all, for these statue-topplers, what icon might be substituted, given the array of their progressive heroes such as Wilsonian racists, mass-murdering Maoists, thugs masquerading as revolutionaries such as Che, or liberal icons like the eugenicist Margaret Sanger, or even the interment-signer FDR?)
The point instead was to destroy and deface most all images of America, from Frederick Douglass and Ulysses S. Grant to Lincoln and World War II heroes such as Churchill. The strategy of the Left was that if they could easily wage war on the bronze and stone of the past without repercussions, then as fear and terror mounted, they could turn to the flesh-and-blood enemies of the people in the present. Anyone who with impunity burns books — including the Bible — vandalizes memorials, defaces public buildings, or topples statues at night eventually gets around to trying out such violence on real people of the present. Portland is a good example, as the spoiled of the middle class seek each night to ignite a police station to roast the officers barricaded inside. Another is Chicago, where looters target high-end boutiques mouthing slogans of social justice.
Once upon a time, trying to torch a federal courthouse would earn years in prison. And simply taking over a large chunk of a downtown to re-create Lord of the Flies was unthinkable. Not now. Today you can go to jail for reopening a gym that requires masks, social distancing, and constant cleansing with antiseptics. But you will not go to jail if you assemble en masse to riot, unmasked, armored with makeshift padding, umbrellas, and helmets, and you’re free to shout and spray in the faces of officers and fellow looters and rioters alike.
Yet this is the hard phase, the Jacobin moment of the Revolution. And we have not seen the full extent of the ongoing counterrevolution that will thin out the violent in the streets and in some ways fall more heavily on those who have empowered it. There will be a counterrevolution because without one there is not much of America left. And about 250 million people liked the America prior to March 1 and finally, in extremis, won’t so easily give it up. Washington and Lincoln, after all, do not just belong to some unhinged Antifa thug mad at America because he is mostly mad at himself. To almost every Jacobin tactic, from defunding the police to violent attacks on federal property, the people are opposed. And they make no apologies for their past or present.
What will the counterrevolutionary entail in areas beyond politics? I wager that the NBA, the NFL, and perhaps even major-league baseball will soon have a come-to-Jesus moment. Either they will continue with the kneeling, the left-wing sloganeering, the mock-heroic logos, and the finger-pointing at their audiences, and thus slowly grow shriller and more irrelevant as Americans refuse to subsidize insults to their persons and country — or they will quietly return to the pre-Kaepernick world (as the NFL, for example, had in 2019) when politics was seen as bad business in a business, for-profit sport.
If the virus, lockdown, recession, and street violence have taught us anything, it’s that Americans don’t need LeBron James offering another pro-Chinese banality, another Kaepernick ad that hails his “courage,” or another appeasing quarterback fresh out of a North-Korean-like reeducation camp, apologizing for his now incorrect honoring of the flag.
The universities told us that they could charge $80,000 a year for the “campus experience,” that piling up $200,000 in debt for a B.A. degree was a wise investment, and that such campus intellectuals and progressives needed to pay no attention to the Bill of Rights. Fine. But all such nonsense was predicated on the belief that their brands were worth the cost, and the experience on campus was both unique and precious.
In the past year, the curtain pulled away and the con was exposed. You can stay home and tele-learn without stepping foot on a campus — a poor substitute for live teaching, but not so poor a substitute given the cost, the debt, and the indoctrination. The advantage of a Princeton or Stanford degree is now exposed not as proof of a superior education, but simply the purchase of a cattle brand to separate one’s future career from the herd — not much different from having Michael Jordan’s name on an otherwise pedestrian pair of tennis shoes.
At some point the public will want the federal government to turn over the student-loan-guaranteeing business to the universities, which will then cut costs. Endowments of such politicized and warped institutions will soon be taxed. And America will let go of the idea that a 21st-century B.A. degree has anything to do with knowledge, inductive thinking, and learning. After all, somebody “educated” those privileged, prolonged adolescents whom we see nightly in the streets, the environmentalists who leave trash and flotsam and jetsam as their trail, the woke who shout in the face of black police and arrogantly appoint themselves the anarchist brains of BLM, the compassionate who try to burn down, blind, attack the elderly, and destroy anything they cannot themselves create.
Polls show that Americans by overwhelming numbers now believe that the media are hopelessly biased. NBC and other networks and cable outlets are laying off employees. The no-holds-barred arenas of the Internet and social media are replacing newspapers and televised news as sources of public information — not because they are more accurate or less biased, but because consumers can access their bias and inaccuracy at far cheaper prices. Woke journalists have bragged that they no longer need to be anachronistically disinterested in the age of Trump. So why pay a marquee reporter $200,000 when you can get a comparable flack to write the same stuff online for a tenth of the price?
The Sixties generation is going out as it came in: gross, loud, and cowardly, destroying the very institutions for others that it so selfishly consumed for its own benefit. If we wish to know why America’s veneer of civilization was so thin, and this year so easily scraped away, revealing barbarism beneath, look to a generation’s architects in the university, the media, sports, corporations, and politics who long ago seeded their cultural IEDs and are now giddy they are at last going off, though terrified that the ensuing blasts are reverberating ever closer to home.