Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In a recent monologue on HBO’s Real Time, host Bill Maher called Americans a “silly people” for allowing themselves to be mired in culture war struggles, such as the politically correct cancelling of children’s books, while our superpower competition China is laser-focused on political, economic, and military dominance.
“You’re not going to win the battle for the 21st century if you are a silly people. And Americans are a silly people,” Maher asserted. He then referenced the latest “cancel culture” controversy – the woke mob’s targeting of children’s author Dr. Seuss over purported racism in his books: “Do you know who doesn’t care that there’s a stereotype of a Chinese man in a Dr. Seuss book? China. All 1.4 billion of them couldn’t give a crouching tiger flying fuck because they’re not a silly people. If anything, they are as serious as a prison fight.”
Maher pointed out that China has “built 500 entire cities from scratch, moved the majority of their huge population from poverty to the middle class, and mostly cornered the market in 5G and pharmaceuticals” in two generations. Meanwhile in America, “half the country is having a never-ending woke competition deciding whether Mr. Potato Head has a dick and the other half believes we have to stop the lizard people because they’re eating babies. We are a silly people,” he continued.
“Do you think China’s doing that, letting political correctness get in the way of nurturing their best and brightest?” Maher added. “Do you think Chinese colleges are offering courses in ‘The Philosophy of Star Trek, ‘The Sociology of Seinfeld,’ and ‘Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse’? Those are real and so is China. And they are eating our lunch. And believe me, in an hour, they’ll be hungry again.”
Maher’s prescient lecture came just before the Chinese delegation ate their American counterparts for lunch at last week’s U.S.-China meeting in Alaska, telling Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his face that China does not view America as operating “from a position of strength.” With a new American President so decrepit he is shielded from the public by his handlers; with our southern border collapsing under tsunami of illegal aliens; and with Americans at each other’s throats in a not-so-Cold Civil War, China’s not wrong about that.
Unlike his fellow political propagandists on late-night TV, Maher occasionally comes down on the right side of an issue, and this is one of them. Ascendant China is hell-bent on world domination and makes no apology for it. America, meanwhile, is suffering from decades of accelerated, corrosive, Marxist subversion that has saddled us with a power-lusting leftist regime, aided and abetted by an unofficial state news media; a school system that has jettisoned rigorous education in favor of identity politics indoctrination; a woke corporate culture showering hundreds of millions of dollars on support for Critical Race training and on the communist revolutionaries of Black Lives Matter; an obscenely decadent entertainment industry (itself in thrall to Chinese influence) that peddles anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, anti-capitalism, and anti-white racism; and a politicized military establishment prioritizing “gender equity” over warrior readiness.
In short, America (and the Western world more generally), once the most prosperous and powerful civilization in history, is no longer operating “from a position of strength.” It is, in fact, bleeding out from self-inflicted wounds, and our enemies foreign and domestic smell the blood in the water. Gatestone Institute Distinguished Senior Fellow Gordon Chang believes Chinese leader Xi Jinping is confident in provoking a civilizational war between East and West, because he feels “America is in terminal decline.” Indeed, the Chinese state media are already openly celebrating the Alaska confrontation as a decisive victory in that conflict.
Bill Maher’s critique doesn’t delve nearly far enough, however. Our problem is not truly silliness, although it is difficult to take seriously a nation that elevates strippers and their pornographic doggerel to the highest level of artistry. The problem is “civilizational fatigue,” the concept that at some point a grand world power – e.g. ancient Rome, 19th-century England, America under a desiccated Joe Biden – peaks and then implodes (“gradually and then suddenly,” as a Hemingway character once put it when asked how he went bankrupt). The empire succumbs to lassitude, corruption, and moral decadence, undone by its very prosperity and success. Having conquered the world, the fire in its belly that powered it to the top cools to ash. It can no longer muster the civilizational conviction and warrior spirit necessary to keep the barbarians at the gates from swarming the battlements.
In our case, the barbarians – i.e., the forces of anti-civilization – have been inside the gates for over half a century, making their Long March through the institutions. We allowed their Marxist poison and their postmodern anti-rationality to seep throughout our schools and universities, and their false but seductive narratives to be promoted in our news and entertainment programs, until they secured the culture and corrupted the political landscape as well – so successfully that we elected, twice, a President who denied American exceptionalism, explicitly declared his agenda to “fundamentally transform” the country, and inspired his followers to believe, “Yes, we can.”
Meanwhile, the cultural corrosion continued, as insidious, cancerous concepts like “whiteness,” “Critical Race Theory,” and “gender fluidity” began metastasizing at light-speed throughout every institution in America, inculcated in schoolchildren as young as kindergartners.
Finally, those of us who love our heritage, our Constitution, and our country rallied behind a President who called on us to Make America Great Again. But it was too little, too late. The barbarians, who had long since infiltrated and taken control of all the cultural structures of society, launched a furious, violent resistance against the President, against his supporters, against democracy, against history, against truth itself. They seized political control and began the systematic marginalization of America’s defenders as white supremacists (regardless of color) and domestic terrorists.
And now we find ourselves where the barbarians wanted us all along: at the end of empire.
Is civilizational decline inevitable? If history is any measure, then yes. Only the kingdom of God lasts forever. The question before us now, though, is this: is America’s decline reversible?
The answer is unequivocally yes. Even in Donald Trump’s brief White House tenure we saw America gathering momentum toward greatness again after eight years of Barack Obama diminishing our leading role on the world stage. We can do it again.
But it will take a courageous commitment from every American patriot on every level: personal, local, national, even international. We must recognize that the flame of American exceptionalism is in danger of being snuffed out, that our God-given rights are being threatened; and once gone, we will have no leverage with which to throw off the totalitarianism that will fill the void.
If Americans (and the rest of the West) hope to restore our former glory, we must begin by ceasing to be, as Bill Maher labeled us, a nation of silly people. We must be as serious as our enemies. We must reignite the fierce, uncompromising, give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death passion for independence that drove our Founding Fathers and George Washington’s ragtag army to persevere against an occupying power. We must ruthlessly reject the evil ideologies that have subverted us, and begin re-instilling our Judeo-Christian values, our love of country, our devotion to Constitutional rights, and our zeal for liberty in the next generation.
This will be an uphill battle. We will face violent leftist resistance, even more than we witnessed in 2020. But 74 million Trump voters make a formidable army. Can we make America great again? Yes, we can.
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Illustration: Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire: Destruction”