He was my boyhood friend. He lived across the street from me until we moved when I was eight and my life changed forever. I spent many days in his house and yard, saw movies in his basement at his birthday parties and climbed the tree in his yard in my favorite yellow shirt. I know he was my best boyhood friend because in kindergarten, when my mother brought a cake to class well in advance of my birthday so I could be celebrated at school, I gave him the one extra piece that remained after the teacher had cut and distributed the cake.
We still stay in touch, though he has long ago moved away from the city of our births and many years later I followed him west and south. We phone each other on our birthdays to catch up. It was his birthday recently, so I phoned to wish him well and find out how he was growing old. He told me he had expected to read something by me on my website, given the turmoil that had been going on in America. I told him I did not see what I could add that I had not written before, but since he asked maybe I would. It is depressing to be right about some things. But when the world turns bleak and stupid one can summon surprising wellsprings of freedom. So here goes, my birthday gift to an old even keeled and intelligent friend.
I presumed he wanted me to comment on the riot at the Capitol, what the Democrats and their allies called an insurrection, making a mockery of that word as they did of so many others. No concerted effort I could discern to storm the Pentagon, take over the tv stations, put the President in chains. Only a man with a wolf’s head putting his feet up on Speaker Pelosi’s desk, whom Marie Antoinette would have known how to dispatch. Trotsky would have laughed. The Democrats screamed treason at Trump and voted to impeach once again, even if he were out of office. He incited a riot, they claimed. True, he did work up the crowd, egged them on to march down the road to Congress and voice their displeasure at the election results. As usual with Trump, he talked out of the side of his mouth, careful not to say anything that could be held against him while suggesting even his Vice-President engage in behavior he himself was not man enough to undertake. But that was Trump’s personal failing, and the reason why he lost the election. Not Covid, not even the many last minute unwarranted rule changes in battleground states that left room for massive fraud difficult to prove, but his consistent failure to explain to the American people what his policies were all about. Sure, he had his slogans: America first, bigger better and beautiful, the ever recurring tremendous and greatest in history, but never a sustained and thoughtful exposition of what was at stake in foreign or domestic policy. In short, President Trump could not explain his own policies because he lacked both the vocabulary and the temperament to do so; and so he failed to bring along the whole swath of independents who pardoned him his personal failings and gave him a chance the first time around. Of course, the media and the entire Washington elites were against him; but he egged them on from the get-go, from his first outlandish claims about the size of his inauguration audience. Things only went downhill from there. The media got on their high horse and pummeled him mercilessly; there was no lie or half-truth they would not embrace to echo the insane hatred of the educated elites who could not abide him or the deplorables whom their candidate in the 2016 election unashamedly chastised. And now that he is gone from the scene we are left to sift through the debris to make sense of what transpired the past four years in America.
Some will say it is too early to tell, though already we are seeing the fruits of what predated his rise and what Trump tried to stop, if only by instinct. For Trump did understand that something was wrong with the country, with its elites with whom he had hobnobbed for years, and with the cultural shift they had been seeking to impose on America for decades. That was what the Obama Presidency was about, after all, epitomized by President Barack (and Michelle) Obama’s avowed aim to transform America, endorsed by the vast echo chamber of the educated elites who had embraced this goal for decades. It was the goal clearly enunciated by Reverend Wright for the twenty years the Obamas attended his church and approved by the left-wing professors in the social sciences and humanities for the past fifty years. It was the toxic mixture of Black Power, Nation of Islam, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, SDS, The Frankfurt School, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Fanon, feminist discourse, queer theory, the list is endless and would fill pages. The thrust of this world view is that nothing has changed in the past five hundred years. Society is still rife with domination and oppression. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. But since everything happens beneath the velvet glove of consumer capitalism, pizza and Macdonald’s, the NBA and MLB, the victims become willing participants in their own oppression, whose liberation is now the task of the intellectuals. Armed with their professorships, they have trained generations of students in this gobbledygook and sent them forth to staff the outposts of cultural storytelling in Hollywood, Netflix, think tanks, news outlets, cable tv, big Tech, internet platforms, even on the playing fields of competitive sports. The upshot has been a disaster: cancel culture run rampant, governmental incompetence across the western world exemplified particularly in the failed management of the Covid pandemic, the failure of free societies to stand up to tyrannical regimes and call them out for what they are. Trump was the lightning rod that brought this historical development into focus, but he neither caused nor resolved it. He was only the first signal that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Whether we manage to rid ourselves of the rot remains to be seen. But first we have to understand the mindset that fuels it, rather than focus on the cast of characters who dumbly play their parts in this farce.
Let it be clearly said. Those who argue that modern society, of which America is the leading embodiment, is a society that is systemically unequal, racist, sexist and globally imperialist are wrong. Factually wrong. Scientifically wrong. Theoretically wrong. Modern society is functionally differentiated. Each area of institutional life is independent of all the others, because each operates according to different rules, focusing on different resources that circulate widely: money in economic life, power in the political arena, athletic prowess in the sports field, love in amorous adventures, the list goes on and on. Difference rules supreme, but difference does not lead to exclusion. On the contrary, for the first time in human history differences are embraced and included, which is what makes life in modern society so complex. It is also the basis of our freedom, which depends not on the goodwill of those at the top, but on the separation of powers which governs the various spheres of social life: law, politics, economics, art, science, love, religion. How many times must one repeat this basic fact and insist it is not doubletalk, but real? This is how modern society really works, which is why racism is not compatible with it. This is why you see black and lesbian couples on TV ads. This is why members of hitherto discriminated against minorities rise to the top. This is why America did not implode in the 1960s. America is a democracy, and only democracies have the capacity to reform themselves. Trump’s opponents castigated him as a fascist; but they are the real fascists, who now clamp down on free speech whenever and wherever they can. They have barricaded the seats of power, banned people from the internet, forced companies to abandon states and fire people whose opinions they disapprove of. They call riots insurrections. They denounce white supremacy as a major threat when it is a small backwater of prejudice. They denounce systemic racism when it no longer exists. And they have mismanaged the Covid pandemic because while they studied ideology at college they paid no attention to statistics, leading them to adopt policies that were both ineffectual and harmful to millions of people for years to come. One example: every epidemiological and virological study based on random testing has shown the rate of Covid infection to be ten to fifty times higher than the ones regularly bandied about by experts, politicians and news anchors. Which is good news, because it means the mortality and severe illness rates are much lower than asserted. It also means the surges invoked to justify lockdowns are simply part and parcel of the virus’ working its way through the population. No need to make everyone afraid and ruin everyone’s life when the intelligent allocation of resources to deal with the pandemic is feasible, especially now that vaccines are available thanks to you know who’s foresight in developing Warp Speed. Yes, good old Donald J. Trump, the man the cultivated and virtuous classes love to hate.
Of course, the people who claim that systemic racism and climate change are the existential crises and challenges of our time are the same people who have no idea what to do about China’s or Iran’s murderous policies at home and abroad, no clue about how to tamp down the cultural conflicts that threaten to tear us apart. Instead, they will tax and regulate us to death in order to solve non-existent problems, ban Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss from libraries, and mobilize children to denounce their parents for telling off-color political jokes. Totalitarianism from below is what awaits us if our current elites have their way, and the only time they will wake up will be when they too are carted off to the concentration camps which the enemies of democracy are only too happy to use. But by then we will all have suffered so much we will not shed a tear for their fall.
My friend will read this and think, no doubt, that I exaggerate. I only wish it were so. I only wish I have not lived so long to see where our generation has led us, the one that kicked over the traces in the sixties so confident we were ushering in a brave new world of liberty and equality. We never realized that we were only vectors for what society had in store for us, never realized that liberty and equality were the program of modern society, nor that liberty and equality brought not utopia, but more and newer problems. What are they, he will ask? Problems like managing risk, accepting responsibility for bad decisions, learning to be selective, which goes for both governments and individuals. But these problems require both intelligence and humility, the ability to take the long view when everyone knows that in the long run, as Keynes once quipped, we are all dead. That’s why we had the Bible, the Hebrew Bible, whose first words my childhood friend and I learned in the same kindergarten where we ate my birthday cake. But our secular elites today pride themselves on the fact they never read the Bible. They also never read the Koran, which does not stop them from prattling nonsense about Islam being a religion of peace while they abandon Israel to her murderous enemies, enemies whom they finance in the hope of enticing them to a peace they reject over and over. None of this surprises me anymore, for I have learned in the course of my too long life that people’s take on Israel is a perfect litmus test for their take on the rest of the conundrums that face us. There are few situations in the modern world where right and wrong are so clearly discernible as is the situation of Israel when it comes to her mortal existence and the claims to which history, law and morality entitle her. But people’s failure to see it is a perfect indicator of their failure to understand their own societies. In that sense, Israel truly is the canary in the coal mine of the modern world. The only comfort I take is that Israel’s faithless friends are also the faithless friends of the liberty we once cherished, and which some of us still do. That so many of these faithless friends are Jews only shows how blind our generation has become to the rot that engulfs us. Happy birthday, mon cher Edouard.
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