by Victor Davis Hanson
If wokeness should continue and “win,” by now we all know where it will end up. After all, this is not a prairie-fire, peasants-with-pitchforks, spontaneous bottom-up revolution.
The woke Left seeks a top-down erasure of America, engineered by the likes of LeBron James from his $40 million estate talking revolution to Oprah at her $90 million castle, as Mark Zuckerberg throws in $500 million here, and his colleagues $400 million there, and as the top executives of Coke, Target, and Delta Airlines believe their $17 million-a-year salaries make them experts on the crimes of non-diversity, exclusion, and inequity. Anytime revolutionaries at the outset of their enterprises seek exemption from the consequences of their own ideology, we know their plans will end badly for everyone else.
911 No Longer
As big-city prosecutors choose not to prosecute “property crimes” or “brick and mortar” arsons and thefts, or what they consider “minor” misdemeanors or “nonlethal” felonies, crime spikes. The ancient principle of human nature then reigns supreme. The criminally inclined conclude the upside of hurting the weak, killing the innocent, stealing, destroying, looting, or simply causing mayhem far outweighs the rarer downside of being arrested, convicted, incarcerated, or worse. So all deterrence is lost. A cycle of chacun pour soi prevails.
Police in response make the necessary adjustments. Consider their bleak choices. Either they:
1) Go into increasingly high crime areas and get attacked or shot in the failed effort to make an arrest or restore calm; or
2) proceed to make an arrest, but the suspect, usually with prior felony convictions, resists, bolts, or attacks, and they use force to subdue him. In some cases, they can make a decision to risk doing so lethally, if they judge, rightly or wrongly, that the arrested is a threat to their lives. As a result, they are suspended, ruined, doxxed, vilified in the media, and their families and homes are put in danger; or
3) they apprehend the suspect, make the arrest without incident, but the woke district attorneys decide the suspect was not worth the time and controversy of prosecuting or find that the police acted in a way that might be suspect or at least alienate a jury of the suspect’s peers. Therefore, the arrested is released—omnis effusus labor; or
4) they safely arrest the suspect without incident. The state successfully indicts and prosecutes the accused. And if he is found guilty, he is incarcerated to protect society and to pay for his crimes.
In these revolutionary times, I think plenty of police officers—if they still have career choices and can afford temporary financial losses—will make the necessary adjustments. So they will decide that the odds of scenarios one through three are as great or greater than number four.
Therefore they will quit, retire, or move to rural, mostly crime-free jurisdictions. Or if not, they simply will not respond promptly to 911 calls from high-crime areas, and perhaps suggest that other police, those less likely to inspire community wrath, go in their stead.
The logic of these choices results in another series of likely unfortunate consequences:
Either: Police are still dubbed racists for not responding to the cries for help of vulnerable inner-city residents and for putting greater onus on minority officers who then must take greater risks than their colleagues. I think the above is already occurring and explains in part deracinated police forces, dangerous increases in crime, and essential no-go zones of chaos in our major cities. The upscale who demanded these changes are exempt by their own security measures or ZIP codes from suffering from them.
Or: All the above become irrelevant. Our major cities revert to 1970s criminal badlands, and most people steer clear. Others cannot worry about cause and effect, because, as the trapped, they struggle to survive in the fashion of Mad Max or Robocop. In response, the government likely will propose a nationalized police force, properly trained in uniform wokeness. Or maybe some well-insulated experts will continue to insist that crime is social justice, and so hope it spreads to the suburbs in justified redistributive and compensatory fashion.
The public is now increasingly bombarded by 360-degree, 24/7 wokeness in the fashion of the Maoist Red Guard gangs. There appears little refuge from it. Not in television commercials. Not from CEOs. Not from professional sports. Not from movies or television shows. Not from Wall Street, the internet, and social media. Not from the administrative state, and not from the military. Not from the K-12 teachers, much less the professors.
It is largely the well-off professionals, the “privileged” and the rich—CEOs, news anchors, actors, star athletes, college presidents, foundation heads, corporate board retired military brass, Wall Street grandees—who usually do the woke remonstrating (or fund it) to the supposedly non-privileged but guilty un-woke.
So how does half a nation of proverbial Winston Smiths react to this revolutionary panopticon? The targeted seek escapes. They craft a mental refuge from the progressive lynch mob outside the Western jail. And half the country is also doing that already.
Does the propaganda of NPR and PBS news and editorialization cancel out their good programming of art and culture, such as they are, that is not propagandistic? Sadly, yes. People will tune both out. They’ve had one too many sermons from one too many condescending, nasal-toned grandee.
Do they put up anymore with network news? No, half the country has no idea who is currently the NBC, ABC, or CBS evening news anchor. Do they care about the New York Times or Washington Post? Nope. For a large number of Americans, being an editor at those places is not prestigious but an embarrassment. Is the nerdy Silicon Valley billionaire their model of can-do entrepreneurism? No, again. To half the country, they appear either like Charles Manson or those peach-faced adolescents who are really 40 or 50.
Movies? Tens of millions have not gone to a theater in years. Many never will again. They find watching revived 1960s comic book heroes, dressed up as narcissistic social justice warriors, boring and pathetic—a “see Spot run” primer script, a Kindergarten experience, despite the pyrotechnics and surrealism of computer-created special effects that poorly hide the lack of ideas.
Sports? Ditto. The NBA is an ancient memory. The NFL Superbowl half-time show has become politicized soft-porn and easily tuned out. The last rampart of Major League Baseball is breached. Multimillionaires too, baseball players cannot put up with three minutes of reverence, despite their $5 million-a-year salaries (about $30,000-a-game per season), for the flag and National Anthem.
Ask anyone to distinguish a Grammy from a Tony from an Emmy from an Oscar, and you encounter, “Who gives a f–k?” about these strange runes.
Does anyone but some captive students and a few faculty read the periodic communiques of terrified university deans, provosts, or presidents?
Is there a sort of Turbo-Tax formula that churns them out, “We will not tolerate systemic racism . . . ,” “We confess that our past was . . . ,” “We will immediately hire the following . . .,” “We will take steps to make amends by . . .” These are the psychodramatic versions of the 1930s-era Soviet show trials, when terrified provincial officials testified to all sorts of counterrevolutionary thought crimes in hopes of saving either themselves or their families. Do most Americans know the name of a single university president? Do they care if they don’t?
What is saving the country, for now, is not the third of Americans who have bachelor’s degrees, given the university has become a woke deductive, anti-empirical, anti-Enlightenment institution. For now, the more practical two-thirds of the population who did not graduate, and either never experienced the academic mind or got out quickly after they did, are our rear guard at Thermopylae. I concede, with the sadness of a former believer in higher education, that an entire institution has failed its pledge to the Enlightenment and we are back 2,700 years to Hesiod’s warning that with material progress comes moral regress.
An Epidemic of Cynicism
Most non-woke don’t always know which words in a given day are dangerous, so they listen more than speak. If referring to a high-crime area, the correct terminology is “an underserved” or “marginalized” area to virtue signal the fault is society’s, not any individual’s. If they hear there is an epidemic of “white” anti-Asian crimes, they assume there is not, in the sense the qualifier “white” signals “nonwhite” perpetrators. If they read the latest post that someone wants to gas whites, Auschwitz-style, or promises to avoid whites when the quarantine ends, or compares them to an infestation that destroy the human and natural world, they shrug a sort of nonchalance, “Hmmm, he must be a professor, a journalist, a lawyer or some sort of privileged elite or one of the wealthy—and all that much unhappier and angrier for it.”
The public translates the woke ethos into the vocabulary of reality—like segregation, racism, hatred, and derangement. Jaded, they decipher rather than read the news: if a suspect is not described and not pictured, they assume he is intersectional; if he is, he is not. A story appears if the victim and the victimizer fit narratives; ignored if they do not. Half the country has become like wary Poles and Hungarians circa 1956, with the D.C. bureaucracy now a politburo of sorts.
The most law-abiding of Americans now, rightly or wrongly, seem terrified of the law—the FBI of James Comey vintage, John Brennan’s legacy at the CIA, the same old IRS of Lois Lerner, the Justice Department once branded by Eric Holder, and the predictable court order of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Enlisted men fear their inquisitional officers, and why not if they listen to what they hear from the active and retired military in 2020?
So Americans, conservatives especially, fear that the once-revered FBI can become analogous to the Stasi, the once indomitable CIA after 2015 began emulating the KGB, and the federal prosecutor has become a vindictive Inspector Javert. And just when you think they are crazier for such fears, another couple is rousted out of bed by agents for supposedly being at a riot they were not at, or a federal attorney is on TV, virtue signaling how the law can be warped to go after “them.”
One-hundred million Americans fear not that they are targeted for committing a real crime, but rather accused of an even more dangerous thought crime.
In dystopian novels from Nineteen Eighty-Four to Fahrenheit 451, the dissident from the omnipotent state seeks refuge in an alternate universe. So now some Americans quietly still revere Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington—as if they are Christians reading their gospels in secret under Diocletian. They pray their neighborhood school will not be renamed. They think their school’s or corporation’s “diversity training” is not much different from what they saw in “The Manchurian Candidate,” or popular stories of “brainwashing” from North Korea. So they prep for it, and are ready to nod, smile, parrot “yes” and “of course” but have pre-programmed themselves to have the edicts and commands of the “facilitator” or “trainer” and “educator” go in one ear, pass unnoticed, and zoom out the other.
They trade private tips on how to endure the mandatory three-hour video on racism, sexism, and the potpourri of -isms. That is, how best to multitask and see whether a brief tap-in to the 10-minute screed suffices to pass the moronic multiple-choice, endless gotcha questions that follow.
When they pass by a statue of a president, a general, a donor at a university or municipal square, even if a liberator, an abolitionist, or a philanthropist, the non-woke assume the stone and bronze are doomed. If it is skipped over by this month’s mob, it won’t be by next year’s. After all, can any reader cite the case of a statue toppler, or a monument defacer who has ever been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of a felony?
So most of the beleaguered are defiant, but in silence and in refuge. They know most, when canceled, issue profuse apologies, and play the part of Gollum rather than Aragorn.
The current madness is the stuff of history as we watch it predictably unfold, until—and if—a few, a “happy few,” finally say to the mob, “no mas”, and pop this nightmarish balloon.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.