Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
When I put out my flag for Memorial Day, I noticed how faded it was. At a time when we honor those who died defending our country and its freedom, this year my faded flag seems a portent of the dangers that lie ahead for our exceptional nation.
Nations decline the way one of Hemingway’s characters went broke: slowly, then all at once. In just four months, the Biden administration’s policy proposals, executive orders, and “woke” rhetoric suggest that we will continue to draw ever closer to that moment of “all at once.”
Many signs of decline have been evident for decades, punctuated by brief moments of revival. The Sixties and Seventies were a low point in our national morale, a time when the “best lacked all conviction, and the worst were filled with passionate intensity.” The protests over the war in Vietnam, the riots and terrorist bombings, the specious Watergate scandal, the oil crisis, economic stagflation, and the general assault on traditional virtue, faith, and morality––the Nietzschean “revaluation of all values”–– culminated in the presidency of Jimmy Carter with its rhetoric of doubt and retreat evident in his inaugural address. There he mourned the nation’s “recent mistakes,” counseled us not “to dwell on remembered glory,” asserted our country’s “recognized limits,” and preached that it “could only do its best.” He reprised these defeatist sentiments later in the “crisis of confidence” speech.
But Carter’s one term of failures––particularly his feeble and appeasing response to the Iranian Revolution, the violent occupation of our embassy in Tehran, and the taking hostage of its staff–– was followed by Ronald Reagan and his “morning in America” confidence and optimism. Reagan revitalized the economy, and his actions signaled to the world and our Soviet rival that the “crisis of confidence” was over, and America had recovered its nerve. He brought moral clarity to the Cold War by rejecting détente and coexistence, and stated instead, “We win, they lose.” A few years after he left office, the Soviet Union was relegated to the “dustbin of history” the Soviets had predicted for the democratic West.
In the Roaring Nineties that followed, however, the anti-American left was still tramping on its “long march through the institutions.” Many of today’s toxic ideas like “cancel culture” and “systemic racism” were incubated during those years in the universities, whence they infected public schools, entertainment, and the Democrat Party. More immediately dangerous, the extravagant optimism of the “end of history,” the triumph of liberal democracy over Soviet communism, reinforced the idea of a “New World Order,” the transnational, multilateral “rules-based international order” that presumably would transcend the parochial, and dangerous, interests and passions of diverse sovereign nation-states.
And rather than awaking from those globalist slumbers after the attacks of 9/11, the Bush Jr. administration coupled its punitive attacks on the Taliban and Saddam Hussein with a naïve nation-building project in which we are still mired, caught between the dangers of leaving and those of staying. We hadn’t learned the lessons of the 90s, when the Islamic reformation––the traditionalist Muslims’ repudiation of infidel institutions and values––culminated in al Qaeda’s series of terrorist attacks on our interests and citizens. That gruesome sign that history was very much alive and kicking could not shake the foreign policy establishment from its stale globalist paradigm that assumed all the world’s diverse peoples only wanted to become like the West, whose seeming decadence, weakness, and godlessness could be seen across the globe on satellite television.
At home, the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other efforts to interdict terrorists and smash their organizations, super-charged the anti-American Left. Protests and rhetoric redolent of the Sixties filled the evening news. The wars in the Middle East, the Left preached, were all about controlling oil reserves, propping up the “apartheid,” “neo-colonialist,” “settler state” of Israel, and enriching weapons manufacturers and private armies, the offenses typical of what one Nation writer after 9/11 called the “world’s leading rogue state.” The seeming patriotic revival that followed the murders on 9/11 quickly faded, and the presidential primaries displayed a Democrat Party that featured at its convention Michael Moore’s duplicitous, anti-American pseudo-documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, with Moore given a seat of honor next to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, while some of the Democrat Congressional leadership also enjoyed the show.
Of course, the two terms of Barack Obama were explicitly about “fundamentally transforming America” from its traditional morals and mores and its Constitutional government into a “woke” Leviathan. Identity politics grew more illiberal, and racial divisions worsened. Big government expanded, and tax-and-spend redistributionist policies slowed the recovery from the 2008 recession. America was deemed no more “exceptional” than any other nation, except for its supposed historical sins. Foreign policy comprised ceding our sovereignty to foreign nations and globalist institutions, and “leading from behind,” while Carter-like self-loathing filled Obama’s “apology tour” abroad. And worst of all, he signed the Iran nuclear deal, giving a genocidal thug-state a glide-path to nuclear weapons, as well as billions in cash and sanctions-relief to finance the mullahs’ adventurism abroad and their genocidal, anti-Semitic proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.
Then the wheel turned, and Donald Trump galvanized a seething, populist anger at what the Left and its Democrat fellow-travelers had wrought. His blunt, brash rhetoric smashed the bipartisan political guild, exposing its hypocrisies and careerism hidden by their election-year promises. His simple message––Make America Great Again––electrified the working class and non-cognitive elite masses whom the Republican Party frequently ignored or patronized. He restored American prestige abroad, left the Iran deal, stood stoutly by Israel in word and deed, withdrew from the New World Order dog-and-pony-show Paris Climate Accords, and scolded our NATO allies for being rich nations that refused to spend money on their own defense. His success could be measure by the hysterical, irrational vitriol, and lies broadcast 24/7/365 by the Dems’ stooges in the media and the Vichy Republican Never-Trumpers.
We might have been forgiven for thinking that Donald Trump, standing athwart the declining arc of history and yelling “Hell no!”, had restored like Reagan our national health and vigor. But we shouldn’t assume that the wheel will turn again, that disgusted, angry Americans will rise up as they did in 1980, 2000, 2009 (the Tea Party), and 2016.
We can’t because the Leftist Long March through the institutions has achieved its aim and spread its toxins more widely throughout the body politic. All it took was a pandemic from China, and the killing of a black man resisting arrest in Minneapolis, to stop Trump’s booming economy, and weaponize, literally, the Dems’ presidential campaign with five months of rioting, burning, looting, vandalism, and killing. Seizing the moment, the juvenile anarchists of Antifa, and the savvy grifters of Black Lives Matter intimidated and bullied spineless institutions like sports, entertainment, corporate boards, finance, city governments, mayors, governors, and public schools into buying into the essentially anti-American doctrines of “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “white guilt.” The Democrat progressives and their legions, locked-down and masked with fear, or addled by Trump-hatred, bought into this propaganda.
As a result, helped by the disruptions of the pandemic and riots, probable electoral fraud, and a lackey media, Joe Biden, a cognitively challenged mediocrity who never really campaigned for the job, was selected president. And in just four months, he has instituted and proposed radical policies that will further erode our civil society, endanger our national security, strengthen our peer rivals, encourage our so-called allies to do business with Iran and Russia, hearten the mullahs in their global mischief, and unleash the “woke” flying monkeys to “cancel” our Constitutional rights. Throw in the trillions of fiat dollars that will bankrupt the country, and you have the perfect recipe for hastening America’s decline.
I can buy a new flag. But stopping this accelerating decline will take a massive moral effort. Vichy Republicans––like the 15 Senators who unsuccessfully voted with the Dems to end the filibuster of their partisan Inquisition disguised as a bipartisan “commission”––need to be called out and challenged when they run for reelection. Stop all talk of “bipartisanship” and “comity,” and stop “negotiating.” Like Goldfinger, the progressives don’t want Republicans to talk, they want them to die. The Senate should not confirm any appointments, starting with the rabid anti-gun-nut who is nominated to run the ATF, and who can’t even define the weapon he wants to ban.
Decline, the cliché goes, is not a destiny but a choice. The time we celebrate those who fought and died for our freedom should also be the time for choosing the “last best hope of earth” that “we shall nobly save, or meanly lose.”