Where Are the New Heroes of the Revolution?

Since late May, the United States has been convulsed by a cultural revolution unlike any seen in its recent history. Statues have been toppled, often without any logic or consistent grievance. Institutions have been renamed, again without coherent consistency.

Christian iconography has been a common target. Television shows have been taken off the air; particular corporations boycotted; professional sports recalibrated into social activist spectacles. 

If there is any common denominator to this madness, it is apparently that the past was toxic, and erasing it in the present will make for a more just and united future.

For example, because of the glorification of the imperialist and spoiler of native paradise Christopher Columbus, his statue in Chicago must be removed nocturnally by the order of the mayor—in order to restore peace of mind, social justice, and calm. That act of iconoclasm will rectify things in the present, and thus there will not be another 500 annual homicides in Chicago.

But once names are replaced and commemoration destroyed, what exactly follows the erased?

Anarchy Is the Replacement

Mao and Stalin had their pictures put up everywhere—while making the prior czars and the warlords amateurs in the arithmetic of genocide. The revolutionary Castro Brothers and Muammar Gaddafi turned the streets of Havana and Tripoli into Disney-like ads for their persons. So did Saddam Hussein—as thousands were rounded up and murdered.

Will the founders of Black Lives Matter demand such statues for themselves?

In truth, the iconoclasts and revolutionaries are guided by an informal set of chaotic rules that ensures their movement must remain anarchical and nihilist. They cannot really replace what they have destroyed—at least according to their own ad hoc rules of political correctness. And after over two months of constant protests, we know what those protocols are. 

One, we do not judge famous people by weighing their bad and good deeds. One sin—with or without confession—condemns you to politically incorrect Hell. One bad characteristic—especially supposed racism—cancels whatever good one otherwise accomplished.

Liberals idolize President Woodrow Wilson for his progressive politics and one-world utopian foreign policy. But because Wilson was also by our standards an inveterate racist, he is now canceled.

Global pacifist Mahatma Gandhi is also out, because in his earlier incarnation as a South African barrister he said and wrote things that now are deemed racist. George Washington may have been unique in terms of his superior morality and achievements, especially in comparison with other slave-holders. But as a slave-holder, his virtue does not matter; and so Washington is relegated to the toxic column, lumped together with any otherwise criminal-minded person who also owned slaves. 

Two, the revolutionaries are morally censorious but selective in their outrage. They despise Christopher Columbus but are more than happy to live in a Westernized America. They do not eschew it for other indigenous areas that are less contaminated by supposedly toxic Western capitalism and constitutional government. They claim they despise the corporate state, but can’t leave home without their corporate mass-produced smartphones. The selfie, not the clenched fist, is the new emblem of the revolution. 

Three, there are no statutes of limitations. One insensitive remark in one’s youth, one errant and regrettable deed in the past, will be ferreted out by the social media and internet lynch mob to cancel present lives and livelihoods. The #MeToo movement reached back to then high-schooler Brett Kavanaugh’s late teens to claim falsely that he was a sexual assaulter in efforts to stop a conservative trending Supreme Court. Such is the new standard.

These informal rules explain perhaps why when statues go down, none go back up.

No Heroes Are Good Heroes

Destroy Robert E. Lee and replace him with whom exactly? John Brown, abolitionist hero—or, in his past, tit-for-tat Kansas murderer?

Mao Zedong, Communist heartthrob and greatest genocidal killer in history?

Get rid of Columbus to put on a pedestal Martin Luther King, Jr.? Not according to present revolutionary standards: the great civil rights leader’s great good is canceled by his plagiarism, his callous womanizing, and, according to a recent biographer, his serial demeaning of women. 

Maybe we could replace statues with more progressive heroes like Franklin D. Roosevelt? 

Not so fast. He green-lighted the amoral and forced internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese resident aliens during World War II. He voiced anti-Semitic tropes and did little to allow Jews to reach America as a sanctuary. Against that and under the new rules, what does the New Deal or leading the United States in World War II against fascism matter?

Perhaps we should look to more contemporary new heroes that could replace now toppled statues of old Stonewall Jackson the racist or the late 18th-century Father Junipero Serra the severe Catholic disciplinarian? Why not someone of the squad, like Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)? 

Aside from the fact that so far young Omar has had few if any legislative accomplishments, her rhetoric and personal life, by the rules of the revolutionary council, would also cancel her. She has tweeted and uttered statements that are clearly anti-Semitic. There is some evidence, so far not rebutted, that she married her own brother to skirt U.S. immigration law. And she is currently under investigation for campaign finance and income tax irregularities. Not the stuff of a crusading hero. 

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger? She’s fading fast, given her eugenics-inspired racism. The icon of the Sierra Club, John Muir, might as well have been an armed robber, given he said things now deemed racist that cancel out his other pathbreaking work as the father of Sierra Nevada mountain preservation. 

Safe Zones for Cosplay Revolutionaries

How about finding a place free of the world of Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, Edison, Bell, the Wright Brothers, and all those old toxic white males?

There are plenty of safe zones in the world where the “system” operates on more pre-Columbian assumptions and has over time cleansed itself from much of past Western racism, colonialism, and imperialism—to the point that such places can now brag of being non-Western.

Southern and rural Mexico might be an ideal place for protestors to emigrate. There are few toxic white people there. Indigenous pre-Columbian customs and language still survive, and it is nominally under the jurisdiction of an often anti-American Mexican government. 

Ditto the mountains of Peru. Cuba has restructured itself as the antitheses of the West and could be an ideal home with accessible healthcare for the Antifa youth of Seattle and Portland. 

The strange reluctance to flee from a hated system, while enjoying its affluence and leisure to attack the source, suggests that most protestors, alas, are Western to the core. They apparently secretly know why they have the freedom, the money, the time, the health, and the security—all dividends of America—to cosplay as Che Guevara without having to delve into the mud and humidity of the Bolivian jungle.

Then we come to the revolutionaries themselves and their insistence that any past racist or illiberal utterance condemns one to the cancel-culture guillotine.

How about the godhead of the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones? Nope—a quarter-century ago, according to the revolution’s own rules, she remains still guilty for expressing youthful and vile racism. As a college student, she stereotyped an entire race as murderous, prone to rape, theft, and innately savage in their role as “bloodsuckers.”

Maybe ascendant progressive pathbreaker Joy Reid of MSNBC is worthy of a pedestal in place of the now toppled Miguel de Cervantes or Frederick Douglass?

Nope. She has a now decade-old history of unhinged homophobic and gay-bashing rants, and she compounded her sins by lying that she never wrote them. Perhaps then we can rename the Woodrow Wilson School either the Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Jeremiah Wright school of diplomacy? All, unfortunately, have a long history of anti-Semitic slurs. 

No One Measures Up

The truth is that there are few progressive icons past or present: Margaret Sanger, John Muir, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, LBJ, Joe Biden, Louis Farrakhan—the list is endless—who by the rules of the revolution would not be canceled out. 

How about we at least consider the legendary founder of the revered Southern Poverty Law Center, Morris Dees? Again nope. No statue or named university wing there either. Dees once worked for the racist George Wallace. And the now dethroned Dees seems to have run his center like a cultish Synanon, in the sense that the money-making enterprise made him quite wealthy, and according to some of this own employees was a hotbed of “mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism.” The anti-racist SPLC racist?

The iconic center of the Civil Rights movement might be the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Washington Mall. Alas, it just took down a display that by any standard was utterly vile and racist. It claimed “whites” (that is all 240 million apparently herd-like whites) typically demand toxic values like being on time, the Protestant work ethic and good grammar—as if millions of blacks do not find such values key to their success, without considering them “white” at all, but innate to their own history and values.

No statues are going up, because there can be no heroes by the revolution’s own 360-degree rules. No leaders emerge, because the moment they do—“warlord” (and capitalist landlord) Raz Simone, “trained Marxist” and BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, or iconic moneyman for the revolution George Soros—they would be found guilty of the same crimes of having a past that is often quite less than honorable.

The Unspoken Hypocrisy and Arbitrariness of the Revolution

So what in the end has kept the revolution going? An unspoken hypocrisy or rather an arbitrary red line.

Some people must be above revolutionary law and deserve exemption from violating the values of tolerance and diversity that they espouse. So LeBron James cannot be anti-Semitic even though his past tweets and statements might suggest just that. Tara Reade has to be a liar to dare to accuse Joe Biden of a long-ago rather creepy, violent, and ugly sexual assault. Joy Reid, to continue her good work, simply has to make up an imaginary hacker who magically put all those ugly homophobic remarks into her own social media accounts.

Cultural revolutions are suicidal, nihilistic, and incoherent. Those who survive such cannibalism do so by arbitrarily exempting their leaders from their own rules of mandated purity, anti-Western cant, and no statute of limitations. Otherwise, in truth, Che becomes a middle-class spoiled brat homicidal thug, Mao’s China would still be a country of genocide and starving peasants pounding out non-Western pot-iron in their ovens, and Colin Kaepernick would be erased from the Nike brand for once smearing another NFL player with the N-word.

If there is any coherent message in this otherwise incoherent summer, it is that a few thousand wannabees have launched a revolution with the full expectation that their own careers in the universities, media, sports, and politics will be thereby enhanced—and enhanced in the most remuneratively Western and capitalist fashion possible.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

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, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: Ankur Dholakia/AFP via Getty Images

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