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America is hanging by a thread. A great liquidation is underway, with many of the structures that support American society..or, in some cases, any viable society…being kicked away, sold off piecemeal, or just wantonly destroyed. I’m talking about physical structures, legal structures, and social structures.
I do not think it is too late to turn this trend around, but the situation is very serious, and I’m going to ask you to gaze into the abyss with me before I discuss some reasons for hope.
–Significant parts of America’s energy infrastructure are being destroyed or targeted for destruction. For example, the Indian Point nuclear plant, serving NYC, was closed in April, despite the fact that this closure will likely create grid instability–and will certainly result in the zero-emissions power it had previously produced being generated instead by sources that do generate emissions. (Yet at the same time, NYC is banning the use of natural gas in new buildings–which will further increase the demand for electricity!) The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, the largest source of electricity in California, is also scheduled for closure in 2025. The cost of Diablo Canyon was $14.5B in present-day dollars, and I estimate that this represents at least 50,000 person-years of labor. Something like 1200 working lifetimes, being wantonly trashed. Only a society that is very rich (for now)–disrespectful of its past accomplishments–and uncaring about the future would act in this way.
And these examples represent only a small portion of the assaults being conducted on America’s energy infrastructure. Peaker plants which ensure continued output under tough conditions, are being closed, with much hand-waving about how ‘demand management’ will solve any problems. Oil and gas production is being squeezed. Pipeline construction is being suppressed, at the same time Putin is given the US green light for a Russia-Germany pipeline. Energy is being transformed from an American asset into an American vulnerability.
–Billions of dollars of American military equipment were abandoned in Afghanistan and are now in the hands of the Taliban. If we use a conservative estimate of $40 billion, that represents at least 400,000 person-years of human labor, thrown away. But that’s not the worst of it, of course: much of that equipment will now be used against us or our allies. There are already reports of formerly-American weapons on their way to Iran.
The effect of the horribly-executed Afghanistan withdrawal on our credibility as an alliance partner will be devastating. While many foreign policy types expressed worry about what expecting Germany to pay a larger % of the NATO bill would do to our alliances, any imagined impact of that was trivial compared with the impact of the current debacle. The negative effect on American military recruiting, also, will be considerable, as discussed by several commenters at this blog. Overall, America’s actual and perceived power position in the world has been greatly reduced over the past few months.
–American manufacturing has been negatively impacted by numerous policy choices and social factors, and America is no longer the world’s factory: that role now falls to China. We have become extremely dependent on China and other countries for many products and components of products–as we found out during last year’s Covid crisis when we were subject to threats that we would ‘burn in the fire of Covid’ if China should choose to deny us critical pharmaceuticals and ingredients thereof. We have become highly dependent on other countries for electronics manufacturing, especially microchips: a single Taiwanese company, TSMC, acts as the ‘foundry’ for a whole range of chips produced to the designs of many different American companies. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could be devastating to our industry, and such a takeover appears considerably more likely than it did a couple of months ago.
Manufacturing was, for a couple of decades, considered by the approved-expert classes to be an increasingly-unimportant industry, populated only by those with inferior and uncreative minds. There is some recognition growing lately that this field may actually matter. But American politicians generally have so little comprehension of how the economy actually works that it is hard to believe that any remedies that they propose will be efficacious ones. As example #1, I give you Joseph Biden: a man who asserted that anyone who can mine coal can ‘learn to code,’ and who apparently believes that manually shoveling coal into furnaces is an actual substantial occupation in America today. Biden also said, referring to China: “They’re not competition for us.” This was in mid-2019!
America has given up much of its potential in manufacturing. and the consequences are severe for national security and for millions of people.
–And, speaking of China: The United States has increasingly adopted a submissive position regarding that country. Major corporations are bending over backward to avoid offending the leadership of that country…see my post here for some examples. Universities, too, have become increasingly dependent on Chinese students and money. At MIT, a board member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research raised concerns about whether a certain research collaboration with China was appropriate on national security grounds…other board members took offense, and even said that any serious inquiry into the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party would be “racist.” She was told to ‘stick to science’ and not to mention China again.
The situation is unpleasantly like what Churchill observed in the Britain of the late 1930s, where he wrote of “the unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their goodwill or pleasure”…A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (quote from William Manchester, The Last Lion)
At the same time that the Biden administration is pushing for total electrification of transportation, they seem to have little concern about the fact that the US is far from self-sufficient in the minerals required for electrification technologies–and Biden’s son Hunter has been involved in a deal to give China a strengthened position in the supply of cobalt, a key material needed for battery production. We are being positioned for a return to the kind of extreme energy dependence on other nations that for years gave the OPEC nations so much power and hence contributed to Middle East instability.
America’s relative strength vis-a-vis China is under threat not only as measured by traditional military, economic, and geopolitical factors, but in terms of the influence of the CCP on American internal politics and affairs.
–Media, academia, and increasingly business, indeed the majority of institutions in our society…are being taken over by an obsession with race and ethnicities. People are not seen as individuals, but rather as members of ‘communities’, which term now refers to demographic categories. Those who dare deviate from the political and social views assigned to members of their groups are denounced; see for example the attacks on the new Virginia Lt Governor Winsome Sears.
According to this 2018 survey, favorable race relations in the US peaked in 2009, with 66% of people rating them ‘good’…falling to only 26% assigning a ‘good’ evaluation in 2018. A more recent Gallup poll shows that favorable views of race relations have fallen sharply over the past several years.
America’s colleges have been particularly race-obsessed: see for example some college reading lists, with their assumption that “diversity is defined by race or gender.” The link in the last sentence is from 2017…the obsession has clearly gotten much worse since then.
And it has gone way beyond colleges. “I’m so exhausted with being reduced to my race,” a girl at Grace Church School, an upscale private school in Manhattan said. “The first step of antiracism is to racialize every single dimension of my identity.” Kindergarten students at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx are taught to identify their skin color by mixing paint colors. The lower school chief in an email last year instructed parents to avoid talk of colorblindness and “acknowledge racial differences.” These cases are only one example of a much wider phenomenon.
If this sort of thing continues, then at best…at best…America becomes something like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about which historian AJP Taylor wrote:
The appointment of every school teacher, of every railway porter, of every hospital doctor, of every tax-collector, was a signal for national struggle. Besides, private industry looked to the state for aid from tariffs and subsidies; these, in every country, produce ‘log-rolling,’ and nationalism offered an added lever with which to shift the logs. German industries demanded state aid to preserve their privileged position; Czech industries demanded state aid to redress the inequalities of the past. The first generation of national rivals had been the products of universities and fought for appointment at the highest professional level: their disputes concerned only a few hundred state jobs. The generation which followed them was the result of universal elementary education and fought for the trivial state employment which existed in every village; hence the more popular national conflicts at the turn of the century.
A creaky and dysfunctional society like Austria-Hungary is the best outcome for America if the race obsession continues on its current path…it is possible, even likely, that the actual outcome will be something much darker. Categorizing people by groups and defining them by the single dimension of membership in such groups is very, very dangerous. I’m reminded of something Ralph Peters wrote:
Man loves, men hate. While individual men and women can sustain feelings of love over a lifetime toward a parent or through decades toward a spouse, no significant group in human history has sustained an emotion that could honestly be characterized as love. Groups hate. And they hate well…Love is an introspective emotion, while hate is easily extroverted…We refuse to believe that the “civilized” peoples of the Balkans could slaughter each other over an event that occurred over six hundred years ago. But they do. Hatred does not need a reason, only an excuse.
Excuses for inter-group resentment are now being manufactured at high speed…on an assembly line, so to speak. Really want to go there?
–A high percentage of America’s public schools…and even some ‘elite’ private schools…are failing to meaningfully educate their students. In Baltimore, not a single graduate of the public school system reached minimal competency in math. I have spoken with a carpenter who said recently-hired people can’t read a ruler because they don’t understand fractions, and a machinist who expressed a similar finding regarding micrometer-reading and decimals. And even among those who achieve numeracy and literacy, how many have learned anything at all about science and technology? How many can read and understand a document of any length and complexity, like say the US Constitution? How many have a reasonable understanding of history, or are familiar with the great literature of the past? How many have the furnishings of the mind that would have been expected of a high-school-educated person a couple of decades ago?
The Biden administration is apparently again attempting to establish racial quotas for school discipline. Imagine trying to actually run a school under such regulations–“Well, this kid threw a bottle at a teacher, but we’ve over the discipline-incident maximum goal for his ethnic group this month, so we’d better just let it go.” The outcome will surely be in many cases a very chaotic school environment making things hopeless for those kids who do want to learn.
And at the same time that so many schools are failing to effectively teach actual knowledge and skills, some of them are focused on promoting extremely bizarre content, as with this California program in which students are expected to clap and chant to the Aztec god Tezkatlipoka.
All too many of our schools are failing to educate, while engaging in political indoctrination instead. The overweening power of the teacher’s unions stands as an especially hideous example of the principal-agent problem.
–The whole idea of free speech is under sustained assault, to a degree never seen before in the United States. Speech and writing that someone doesn’t like are regularly referred to as ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful.’ According to a 2020 survey, almost 2/3 of Americans are afraid of sharing their political views. And with some reason, it seems: among ‘liberals’ and ‘strong liberals’, 44% to 50% would support firing a business executive who had privately donated to the Trump campaign. Among ‘conservatives and ‘strong conservatives’, a lower but nontrivial number…22% to 36%…would support firing an executive who donated to Biden.
See my post The Multi-Front Attack on Free Speech.
Dissident speech is particularly under attack when it involves any disagreement with the more extreme forms of ‘trans’ ideology. Abigail Shrier wrote a book suggesting that the trend for female>>male transitioning among young girls has something to do with social pressure, a concept that should be no surprise to anyone who has ever known any teenagers, or ever been a teenager. She has been denounced viciously and has received a very large number of death threats.
Even scientific research is subject to ‘cancellation’ on political grounds. See this appalling story about a mathematical study in support of one of Darwin’s hypotheses, which was withdrawn after being already accepted for publication, on grounds of Wrongthink.
Not only are people defriending those who deviate from approved opinions…in some cases, they are demanding that other people defriend their ideological enemies. And the turning-in of Wrongthinkers to the ‘authorities’, whoever those authorities might be, is all too often encouraged and too often actually done…see this story about a son who reported his own mother for ‘racism’, that ‘racism, consisting of her have posted a quote from Martin Luther King.
When free speech is lost, the feedback system of society is destroyed–and very bad things tend to happen.
–Far from protesting threats to freedom of speech and the post, much of the media sees itself as the source of approved opinion and the rightful choosers of the country’s leadership. For example, this former New York Times reporter says that the newspaper held her article about the Kenosha riots until after the election. And the refusal of most of the media to report anything about the Hunter Biden laptop story…going so far, in the case of social media, as to suppress any mention of that story…is now well known.
The arrogance of these organizations is remarkable. Jeffrey Zucker, the head of AT&T subsidiary CNN, asserted “You cannot be elected President of the United States without CNN.” (See my post Should AT&T Select the President of the United States?.) Yet there is not much in the way of actual knowledge or judgment to support that arrogance. Obama advisor Ben Rhodes remarked, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
The major media is increasingly not focused on reporting what actually happened, or even what will likely happen, but on controlling the ‘narrative’, which they see as driving how people think (and vote). Many of them see themselves as being like the Prince-Electors of Medieval Europe, a small group of nobles who were the exclusive choosers of who the next Emperor would be.
–The very concept of the United States of America…its value and indeed its very physical existence…is under assault. President Biden, in clear violation of his oath of office, is refusing to enforce the immigration laws, resulting in a flood of illegal immigrants in numbers sure to be socially disruptive and economically harmful to people in many fields…and, given the almost complete lack of screening, sure to include many dangerous criminals and carriers of Covid and other diseases. This completely irresponsible behavior is also further empowering the gangs which have been so harmful to Mexico and increasing their foothold on this side of the border.
Even worse are the attacks on the very idea that there might be anything good in America’s history and culture. The ‘1619 Project’, which holds that the American Revolution was driven by the leadership’s desire to maintain slavery, is quite mainstream, having been sponsored initially by the New York Times. Despite the fact that most credible historians have rejected its thesis, this project continues to be taken seriously and is apparently being taught as factual history in many schools.
The narrative that ‘America’ is at best irrelevant…or more likely, a repository of world-historical levels of unique evil…is being pushed hard.
And it’s not only America as a nation that is under attack–it is the cultural achievements of the West over the past hundreds of years. To the ‘woke’, it seems that nothing matters, nothing is of value except power struggles…usually but not always race-based power struggles. Science, art, music–all are viewed as nothing but theaters in which the endless power struggle unfolds itself. ‘Educators’, especially, seem to be too often lacking in the emotions of intellectual curiosity and aesthetic enjoyment, and to project these deficiencies onto their students, and to eagerly frame ever subject as a group-against-group power struggle.
Last October, the Art Institute of Chicago fired its (unpaid) docents, on grounds of their lack of ethnic diversity (most of them were older white women). Doesn’t matter how much you know about art or how much you love it; what matters is your role as a pawn in the power struggle! And read about what has happened at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of NYC, a museum that was dedicated to the experiences of the Irish, Jewish, German, and Italian immigrants who had lived in that area. Not anymore.
Every aspect of our culture’s accomplishments since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment is under attack…the UK’s clownish Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, went so far as to call the steam engine, the enabler of the Industrial Revolution, a ‘doomsday machine’. Indeed, the very concept of excellence, in any field, is considered as subject to cancellation…read about what happened when a professor wanted to introduce a Great Books program at his university.
Wide swaths of destruction–of academic fields, of practical professions, of friendships, of relationships between the sexes–are being cut and cleared by the never-ending politicization and obsession with power.
I could go on…I could talk, for example, about the increasingly out-of-control crime in major cities, enabled largely by leftist prosecutors who have arrogated to themselves the function of legislators, as well as by the hostility toward police which has become a hallmark of accepted opinion–and the ongoing marauding of Union Pacific freight trains, which is the kind of thing you expect to see in a Third World country which is also a failed state…or the inflation of the currency and the almost-uncontrolled growth of debt…but I’ll stop here and switch to talking about what happens next.
Is there any hope?
Yes, I think there is. The very breadth of the assault on America, on civilization, and on sanity itself is likely to make people pause and say, hey, wait a minute here. Seeing how rapidly and malignantly all the above trends are playing out will have the same effect. Someone might have supported some of these things to some less-extreme level…perhaps they had had bad personal experiences with police, or heard from credible friends about such experiences, and believe that better training and management is necessary, for example–without having even intended that dangerous felons be turned loose to prey on the general population. Someone might have wanted to ensure that those who are genuinely uncomfortable with the sex they were born in were treated fairly, without having intended that their impressionable teenage kids be pressured to have irrevocable surgery at a ridiculously young age. Company executives who have felt it necessary for their companies to come across as ‘woke’ if they are to be able to recruit millennials and younger as customers or employees…may do some rethinking when they are unable to run their factories because energy prices have gotten so high, or forced to close dozens of their stores due to out-of-control crime.
The arrogance of the Dems with respect to what is taught in the public schools proved their undoing in the recent Virginia gubernatorial election. Across the country, the at-home schooling driven by the Covid lockdowns had given many parents their first true glimpse of what is really being taught in the schools, and a lot of them don’t like it.
The Democrat coalition is showing signs of fracturing. Nonwhite voters do not necessarily like the ‘woke’ posturings that are largely driven by well-off and highly-educated white people. A lot of people, including lifelong Dem voters, are tired of the arrogance of the teachers’ unions and of the arbitrary and high-handed way that schools have dealt with the Covid situation.
Numerous individuals have written about their personal turns away from leftist ideology. See for instance this piece by Liel Liebovitz. (“When I saw the left give up everything I believe in, I changed politically. You can, too”) Also Angie Schmitt’s piece in The Atlantic. I’m sure there are a lot more who are moving in that direction but aren’t quite there yet, or who are there but haven’t written about it.
The worship of degree-based credentialism is starting to be questioned…too many people have seen the worthlessness of the degrees that they went into debt to get, too many have seen idiotic policies adopted by highly credentialed people, (In 1969, Peter Drucker wrote: “It is highly probable that the next great wave of popular criticism, indignation, and revolt in the United States will be provoked by the arrogance of the learned.” I would substitute credentialed for learned, but with that change, I think we’re now beginning to see what Drucker predicted.) Many companies are reducing their emphasis on Degrees in hiring, and the FAA has recently stopped requiring college degrees for candidates for air traffic controller jobs. At lower levels of education, a lot of people are noticing the widespread failure of the public schools. And the education establishment–both in higher ed and in the K-12 schools and their largely-controlling unions–is a keystone of the ‘woke’ movement in general and the Democrat Party in particular.
Time to improve the situation is not unlimited, though…see John Ellis in the WSJ: Can politics get better when higher education keeps getting worse?
So, I believe that there is indeed hope, but it’s not going to be easy. And 2022 will be critical.
(An earlier version of this post appeared at Chicago Boyz a couple of weeks ago; extensive comment thread)Published in