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A crisis may be a terrible thing to waste, but the unfortunate truth — unfortunate, that is, for those in need of a crisis — is that crises aren’t all that common. Sure, each individual life has its complexity and challenges, its microcosmic crises. But the nation as a whole chugs along pretty well, with people and businesses managing to adapt to changing circumstances, and most of us getting along without major conflict.
That’s not a convenient truth if you want to galvanize the masses, to drag them out into the street and into the polling places, where they can vent their righteous fury by electing your candidate. For that, you really do need a crisis, something that will make their blood boil.
The law no longer distinguishes between black and white. A few institutions, notably our universities, give special preferences to non-white non-Asian people, but those are the exceptions: in America, skin color does not matter, as a matter of law. We’ve had a black President, any number of high-ranking black officials, black Senators, and Congressmen, and a plethora of black stars, sports figures, entrepreneurs, writers, journalists, etc., etc. Non-white people are everywhere in our society and our government: by any reasonable measure, ours is a color-blind nation.
That’s good, and as it should be — unless, that is, the goal is to harness the outrage of offended minorities to achieve electoral success. If that is the goal, reality isn’t your friend: best to gin up some racial animosity, and try to paint a plausible picture of widespread oppression. It turns out that isn’t as hard as one might think, if a lazy and compliant press, and a lazy and unaccountable academia, give their full support to the effort. With their help, a demonstrably inclusive and tolerant country, a nation that self-consciously avoids even the appearance of discrimination, will embrace the fiction that racism remains a daily scourge. And that is all it takes to guarantee the turnout on election day.
Or consider the matter of what is euphemistically referred to as “women’s reproductive health,” because no one really likes the word “abortion.” In America, abortion is legal everywhere thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. Absent that ruling, it would still be legal almost everywhere: few states would ban it outright, and some would — as New York recently demonstrated — go out of their way to embrace its legality. Where you think America stands on the issue depends almost entirely on which questions you ask and how you phrase them. Most Americans, I think, are in favor of some degree of legal abortion; most Americans are opposed to unchecked abortion into the third trimester.
But you wouldn’t know that from the way the issue is talked about in the mainstream press and late night television. From that, you’d think that there was a crisis looming, that women were about to be returned to the dark ages when abortion was illegal and women were property. Even absent Roe v. Wade, there is no reason to believe that a woman could not legally terminate a pregnancy if she wished. But in lieu of a thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of terminating pregnancies at various stages of gestation, we get the spectacle of women in “handmaid” outfits warning us that a crushing theocracy is right around the corner. Selling that fiction, and the resentment and panic it inspires, is good for business — if your business is getting people to vote for your party.
And then there’s the matter of freedom of speech. Our Constitution guarantees everyone the right to speak and write freely, and it’s a right we should guard jealously. One would think, if one listened only to the preening, grandstanding pomposities of the mainstream media, that this freedom was created specifically for those in the journalistic field, and that it was in dire threat of being extinguished by those in power. Neither is true: the freedom to express oneself is everyone’s right, no more guaranteed to journalists than to you and me; and Americans have never been more free to express themselves, nor more capable of doing so, than we are right now.
Freedom of expression is not under assault, even if our mainstream media demonstrates on a daily basis how incompetent, dishonest, and biased it is. Even awful press is protected, and so they have nothing to fear. Criticism, legitimate and otherwise, is not restriction; no one has reduced the freedom of our news agencies to misreport and distort the news. (We haven’t even restricted the freedom of our major social media and search platforms to filter and suppress content that doesn’t agree with their own biases.)
But a non-crisis doesn’t rouse the mob, so let’s pretend that the First Amendment is as much under assault as, say, the Second. Let’s pretend that the endless stream of late night comedy routines that dutifully mock the administration are an exhibition of bravery in the face of near-certain censure — rather than lazy and unimaginative exercises in preaching to the choir. Let’s pretend that, absent any evidence and despite considerable evidence to the contrary, our most precious freedom is precariously balanced on the edge of an electoral knife, and only a vote for the right party can save it. And let’s see if voters are
dumb thoughtless enough to ignore the fact that every single comic they hear is telling them the same things — and none of them have been silenced by the powers that be.
Race, abortion, free speech. There are no crises. But convincing people that these things are in danger is necessary to a party that uses fear and grievance to maintain its hold on a gullible electorate.
The sky isn’t falling. I would think it’s a sad, desperate way to live, believing that it is.