These Interesting Times

I am told the exhortation “May you live in interesting times” is not really an old Chinese curse. But it might as well be. If you’ve noticed a new spring in Xi Jinping’s step lately, it’s because he sees all the slots coming up roses for China. Europe’s cozying up nicely. And the ascension of his preferred candidate, Joe Biden, to the U.S. presidency has him rubbing his hands together in glee. It is, as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) noted, a dangerous eventuality. 

There’s a lot to be said about China’s rampant expansion. It seems to be the one country really to have prospered through—or maybe because of—the Wuhan Flu, a term Joe Biden doesn’t want us to use. But that’s where the virus started and it wouldn’t do to call Ebola “Ebola,” a tributary of the Congo River, and not name this impressive Chinese export after the city that’s home to the level-4 military biological research lab where it escaped or, just possibly, was pushed. 

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about were these interesting times we are living in. 

A lot has changed in just a couple of months. The Wuhan Flu, or, rather, our heavy-handed response to it, is part of that story. As I have observed on multiple occasions, the panic and hysteria over this new respiratory virus, carefully and assiduously fanned by the Big Nurse health industry, aided and abetted by politicians and bureaucrats drunk with power, should someday provide a new chapter for Charles Mackay’s classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The chief irony about the entire episode is that the petty tyrants screaming at people to wear masks—or two or three masks—and to quiver under their beds alone at home, do so while invoking “science,” as if the “science were settled” about how best to deal with this new cold virus that is highly contagious but deadly to a tiny portion of the population. And just try pointing out contrary evidence that challenges the Narrative and bang!instant cancellation

But I still digress. Joe Biden may have woken up in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue because the swamp rigged the election for him (even Time magazine admits that now), he may be in a sad state of cognitive decline, but he is surrounded by people who are panting eagerly to install the woke, politically correct oligarchy that they had to shelve in 2016 when Donald Trump unaccountably won the presidency. Hillary Clinton would have done a lot of what is being done now in Sleepy Joe’s name had she managed to do then what Biden’s handlers, with the conspicuous help of the media, social and the other sort, not to mention an increasingly woke corporate America, did this time around. We would have had the climate hysteria, the obeisance to China, the attack on the American energy industry, the erosion of America’s southern border, and various other globalist, America-last policies. 

But I wonder whether it would have all been quite so sinister. As I write, Dear Leader Biden has emitted nearly 50 executive orders. Only a few weeks into his tenure, in other words, he has demonstrated that he is prepared to rule by diktat, a mode of governance appropriate to a dictator, not the leader of a constitutional republic. 

As Julie Kelly and others have shown, his FBI is operating like the East German Stasi in the bad old days, ferreting out political dissent, encouraging friends and neighbors to disclose wrongthink, criminalizing political differences. Where will it end? The Babylon Bee, the delicious satirical web site, is having a hard time keeping up. When I heard New York Times had called on Biden to appoint a “reality czar” and in effect criminalize “misinformation”—i.e., differences of opinion—I thought at first it must be the Bee not our former paper of record. But no. 

Nor was it satire that the Justice Department had arrested a 31-year-old chap who, back in 2016, had pseudonymously mounted a pro-Trump Twitter campaign advising people to vote for Hillary by text. (Now that we have widespread mail-in voting, who knows? Maybe voting by text will be next—so long, that is, as you vote for the right—by which I mean, the leftmost—candidate.) 

Everywhere one turns, Donald Trump, the most astonishingly successful president in my lifetime, is being demonized, canceled, turned into a nonperson. He won some 74 to 75 million votes, but the swamp has pronounced a damnatio memoriae upon him and his entire circle. Some commentators have said he should be denied Secret Service protection and just this weekend Dear Leader Biden suggested that he be excluded from the intelligence briefings accorded to former presidents because of Trump’s “erratic behavior.” He might, quoth the DLB, “slip and say something.” 

The great 19th-century Russian journalist Alexander Herzen captured a lot about our situation in “Omnia Mea Mecum Porto,” an 1850 essay from his book From the Other ShoreThe most famous part of the essay was catapulted to celebrity by the novelist Martin Amis. “The death of the contemporary forms of social order ought to gladden rather than trouble the soul,” Herzen wrote. “But what is frightening is that the departing world leaves behind it not an heir, but a pregnant widow. Between the death of one and the birth of the other much water will flow by, a long night of chaos and desolation will pass.” 

I rather doubt that for anyone not part of the nomenklatura there is much to “gladden rather than trouble the soul” about what is happening now. But the idea that the passing of the old order—the order, that is to say, of a democratic republic answerable to the people and committed to the principles of individual liberty and limited government—will involve a long night and much chaos is patent for anyone with eyes to see. 

Even more prescient was Herzen’s observation about the persistence of certain old forms of social life under the new dispensation. The structures, the names are the same; their meaning has changed utterly. “At first sight,” Herzen notes, “there is much that is still normal; things run smoothly, judges judge, the churches are open, the stock exchange hums with activity, armies manoeuvre, palaces blaze with light, but the soul of life has fled, everyone is uneasy at heart, death is at our elbow, and, in reality, nothing goes well. In reality, there is no church, no army, no government, no judiciary. Everything has become the police.”

I wish he were mistaken.

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

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