How Old Bad Ideas Become Wonderful

There is no end of history. Instead, civilization is a constant fight to embrace what has worked for the common good through the ages—and to reject what in the past has failed abysmally. 

Bad and bankrupt ideas, protocols, and ideologies—like McCarthyism, communism, various cults, or fascism—resurface not because of their intrinsic or lasting value or record of success, but because civilizations become less vigilant and allow human vanities, ignorance, arrogance, and evil to reassert themselves. 

Joe McCarthy Is Back

Our Tail Gunner Joe (of semi-truck driving expertise and brilliant legal training fame) in a single week smeared roughly half the country as un-American “semi-fascists.” Then in one of the creepiest speeches and background sets in American political history, Joe Biden railed that “Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans are a threat to the very soul of this country.” Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan in careful, sober, and exacting presidential tones; Joe Biden all but declared war against half his own people like a raving lunatic.

All that was missing from the rant was Biden waving to the crowd a purported list of names of prominent MAGA threats to our collective soul and screaming, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 members of the MAGA Party!”

Yet Biden never quite told us what was subversive about the “MAGA Scare” or wanting to “Make America Great Again.” It was merely a sort of conservative version of George McGovern’s call to “Come home, America.” Both slogans, like Obama’s “hope and change” banality, suggest things were either better before the present or will be better afterwards. 

Unable to acknowledge this, a more-than-usual angry, snarling, and nearly incoherent Biden screamed his McCarthyesque attack amid an eerie red-and-black lit background, punctuated by two U.S. Marines on guard in the shadows of the red glow. (Gen. Mark Milley was uncharacteristically silent about the use of military props for executive political agendas). The resulting lurid visual effect was a cross between an outtake from “Triumph of the Will” and a bad version of “Phantom of the Opera.” 

Biden barked out all sorts of fantasy enemies of the state, as he lumped 75 million people together as a collective existential threat to the soul of America. Left unsaid but understood is what Biden and the “good” other half are supposed to do with such an existential danger posed by millions of their fellow Americans. 

Are they to ferret out MAGA supporters in the manner Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised to cleanse the Pentagon of mythical white supremacists? Will Biden unleash his new battalions of IRS auditors? Will they call back Mark Zuckerberg to infuse another $419 million of dark money into the ballot counting to absorb the work of state registrars in the upcoming midterms?

Will Biden now recall FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith to alter more government documents, or hire another informant such as Clinton lackey Christopher Steele, or round up 50 more intelligence “experts” to swear that Hunter’s next lost laptop is proof of Russian-Trump collusion? 

What exactly is fitting preemptive punishment for Biden’s soul-threatening un-American enemies—solitary confinement in a D.C. jail for a year without charges? Leg irons? SWAT teams awaiting them in their driveways? Early morning raids at their houses while they are still in their underwear? Phone grabs while dining out with their wives at restaurants or in airports? 

Or will Biden and the Left be content simply to unleash another 120 days of the “good” sort of riots, arson, and protests, while reissuing the 2020 promises of now Vice President Kamala Harris, that they are “not going to stop before Election Day in November, and they’re not going to stop after Election Day.”

To preserve the soul of America, will Biden be content with just following our now progressive norms: screaming out threats to named Supreme Court justices with mobs at the court doors led by U.S. senators? Or mobs massing at the justices’ homes? 

Or will the White House continue to ignore assassins who show up in the justices’ neighborhoods? Or will it raid another home of an ex-president? Or use the FBI to retrieve family diaries, lie about embarrassing lost laptops, leverage private social media companies to censor embarrassing stories, or stalk and surveil parents at school board meetings? 

To fight such fascistic unicorns, will Biden be recreating his sidetracked government Ministry of Truth? To save democracy, will the Left once more be promising to pack the Supreme Court, junk the Electoral College and filibuster, and supersede state balloting laws? Will he bring out of retirement intelligence pundits James Clapper and John Brennan, known mostly now for lying under oath to Congress?

The Good Ol’ Racism

If we are back in McCarthy’s 1950s, how about a similar return to Jim Crow separatism, racial exceptionalism, and chauvinism? American history from 1776 to 1860 was the story of postponing but not preventing a civil war over race-based slavery. What followed was a century-long attempt to ensure that race did not thwart the newly won constitutional protections of the enfranchised black citizen. 

Then the next half-century saw an effort to provide “affirmative action” by offering advantages in hiring and admissions for groups felt to have historically suffered racial discrimination.

In the recent decade, however, we have entered new territory—or regress to old familiar landscapes—in which racial preferences and discrimination are considered reparatory and thus good. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of an integrated society in which race became incidental not essential to the individual (living in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character) has now been nullified. It is all but rendered inert. Any scholar in a sociology department of a major university who professed allegiance to King’s notion of a fully integrated and racially blind assimilated society would likely be summarily fired or ostracized. 

In place of integration, returns the old racism now cast as “anti-racism,” as if “good” racial discrimination is needed to fight “bad” discrimination. 

But the history of racism is just such special pleading about why the latest sort of new discrimination is both needed and justified and thus is no longer the old discrimination. Ask the former Yugoslavians or Rwandans. 

So now, at some colleges, dorm residents can select the race of their roommates. At “theme houses,” some races are not even allowed in the door. “Safe spaces” is the 21st-century euphemism for segregation. Special graduation ceremonies exclude students based on race. 

To push through the new racism, all logic is suspended. What did it matter that those of the lower classes born in 2005 grew up in the 40th year of affirmative action and had no knowledge, much less any memory, of Jim Crow segregation in the South? 

If in the racist “one-drop” past, some blacks desperate for a chance at equal opportunity sought to pass as “white,” so too in our full-circle, racist present, some whites desperate to find either psychic acceptance in “otherness” or more concrete racial advantages in hiring and admissions likewise seek to pass racial barriers, but now as “nonwhite.” Just ask Hilaria Baldwin, Ward Churchill, Rachel Dolezal, Shaun King, or Elizabeth Warren. 

It is apparently irrelevant that class is now increasingly divorced from race. Several “minorities,” from Asian-Americans to Arab-Americans, earn more per capita on average than the so-called “white” majority. Certainly, the Obamas, the NBA superstars, and millions of federal employees enjoy more “privilege” than low-income southern or midwestern whites.

Amid such racial chauvinism, we must ignore intermarriage and millions of children of mixed lineages, given Americans are increasingly a hybrid society in which it is impossible to identify people by superficial appearances other than by a resort to DNA badges. In the face of reality slamming into ideology, our best and brightest in academia and government seek guidance in the ridiculous “one-drop” rule of the Old South.

Cultural Marxism—Again

The new racist antiracism must continually find ubiquitous racism to justify its industry of victimization, even where it never appears. No wonder then racialists invented an entire vocabulary for such ghost racism. “Microaggression” is a word to describe the effort of detecting racism that otherwise is undetectable. “Systemic” racism means that when clear evidence of racism is missing, it is only because the entire system is inundated with it, as if we cannot see air because it is everywhere. 

Woke leftism, the most pernicious of all ideologies in the post-Civil Rights era, is simply the old bankrupt Marxist cant, now superimposed upon race. Any detectable inequality must be attributable to racial or, less commonly, sexual or gender, oppression. 

Predictably ossified racial Marxist binaries divide America into victims/oppressed and victimizers/oppressors. All ancient considerations of supposed inequality—luck, inheritance, chance, health, location, individual talent or lack of it, motivation or its absence, the work ethic or its lack of such, culture, traditions, etc.—are rendered meaningless. Instead, the all-knowing, all-powerful government in response must have the force and money to ensure not liberty and equality of opportunity, but a forced equality of result—and by any means necessary. 

“Loyalty Oaths”?

The ancient idea of cancel culture—whether tribal banishment, ostracism, scapegoating, witch-burning, blacklisting, or Trostkyization—is back in vogue, despite its antitheses to the U.S. Constitution. 

In 1950, good liberals fought “loyalty oaths” in college hiring that required one to profess loyalty to the United States and to disavow belonging to or associating with “subversive” organizations. There were plenty of snitches and sneaks—e.g., rivals for jobs—ready to rat out any professor or actor with youthful communist flirtations. 

Today, the new Left requires would-be faculty to swear loyalty not to the state but to the new deity of DEI, or to state just how much they have been so far committed to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Should an applicant confess that such sloganeering is antithetical to the King dream of America, he would never be hired, and if hired, risk being fired.

Yet such diversity oaths, vows, and statements are becoming more popular across the existing curriculum and faculty on the theory that the problem with the old McCarthyesque loyalty oaths was not the suspension of individual thought and freedom of belief, but simply that such admirably effective suppression was aimed at the Left, rather than properly as now at the Right. 

So, the message at UC Berkeley in 2022 is the same as it was in 1950, some 72 years ago: toe the line, accept orthodoxy, and ostracize the noncompliant—or else you are a DEI apostate and will suffer the consequences! 

Nullification Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Under our federal system states are guaranteed the right to make laws and to enjoy powers that are not contrary to the Constitution. In the leadup to the Civil War, “nullification,” or the idea that a state could pick and choose which federal statutes to obey or ignore along with the right to appropriate federal property within its jurisdiction, was considered insurrectionary. 

“States’ rights” were once an anathema to the Left. It rightly equated them with George Wallace’s 1963 inaugural-address promise of “Segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation tomorrow” as a racist contravention of federal laws. 

Not now. The defiant Left could just as easily boast in defiance to the federal government, “Open borders yesterday, open borders today, open borders tomorrow!” 

So, federal nullification is also back. Some 550 state and local jurisdictions have declared federal immigration law no longer applicable fully within their domains. They forbid federal immigration authorities to pick up detained illegal alien felons upon release. 

“Every Man a King”

Look at Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, or Iran or the many failed states of Latin America, Asia, and Africa and the message is clear that statism, communism, and socialism ruin societies and render them impoverished and without freedom. 

No matter. In America, radical statists in major cities are doing their best to pass rent-control legislation in Florida. Canceling hundreds of billions of student debt by executive fiat is now a serial federal agenda. Nullifying millions of private rental contracts between landlord and tenant is now in the power of the federal and state government. Each new reconciliation bill is yet another socialist success in upping taxation and redistributing wealth, while depriving the individual of freedom, both economic and political. 

A $30 trillion unsustainable national debt is no obstacle to printing trillions of new dollars. Apparently, the more money created, the more the poor are likely to have some, and the less the value of the money of those who have too much.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Get Them While They’re Young

Indoctrination, especially of the young, was always considered a tip-off of the totalitarian nature of a regime. The obvious message is that adults would never willingly accept contrary-to-nature communism or socialism—unless they had been brain-washed by it for years. 

Critical race theory never polls anywhere close to majority support. Most object to the use of race to discriminate against any group. Consequently, the Left now is using the primary schools to push it based on the idea of exposing and rooting out implied racism as a way of contextualizing asymmetries of student achievement, disciplinary action, attendance, and college trajectories. 

Drag queen shows and transgender advocacy are now permissible in schools and welcomed as “pride” days. If, in the old Left calculus, the “children” must be protected from adults who were too eager to strut their sexuality among the presexual, thus imprinting them with imagery and behavior beyond their ability to fathom, now the opposite is true. 

Kids have become just smaller adults. They are perfectly able to digest the risqué, the partially nude, the simulated sexual advance or even act—all as a part of acculturating them from early on, concerning the various sexual identity choices they soon must not only make, but apparently discuss and contemplate with groomers and sexual tour guides. 

The same paradox of championing and harming children holds true of transformative surgeries and medication unleashed upon the teen and preteen. For a century the Left has warned about profit-minded Big Pharma issuing a stream of dangerous new drugs to a naïve population, or Big Medicine allowing doctors to carve out radical and toxic new optional surgeries to enrich themselves. 

So how eerie is it that some of the big pharmaceutical companies could promote the use of regimens of powerful drug cocktails, or the medical profession would green-light disfiguring and noxious surgeries on children? Radical hormonal injections, mastectomies, castration, and genital mutilation are now decisions largely in the hands of the adolescents, occasionally without parental consent. 

A decade ago, the Democratic Left would have judged that not just unthinkable, but illiberal. For the Left, no “child” should be able to buy a .22-caliber rifle under the age of 21 or to smoke under the age of 18, but certainly is adult enough to decide to amputate her breasts or have himself castrated.

So, in matters of “gender affirmation,” none of the ancient rules apply. If a 12-year-old is convinced that he is gender dysphoric—and suddenly, in faddish-style thousands of such teens are so convinced—then we allow the medical community to inject them with drugs, the radical consequences of which are the stuff of evening televised malpractice commercials from trial lawyers.

When does a child become an adult? When he is cognizant, responsible, and mature enough to have consensual sex—or to agree to be castrated? 

We in America are regressing—now returning to the distant neanderthal past, now embracing the worst of what the 19th and 20th century had to offer. Worst of all, we create such cultural destruction and then call it progress.

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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: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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