What revolution?

Published February 1, 2024

The New Criterion

Over the Christmas holidays, a time when one quite often meets people whom one hasn’t seen for a while, I mentioned to two friends that I was working on a book for young people about what life was like before the revolution—a subject on which today’s schools and universities will have taught them little, and that little mostly erroneous. One of these friends said in reply, “What revolution?” The other assumed I was talking about the First American Revolution, the one in the eighteenth century, and was therefore writing about the Colonial period.

Readers of The New Criterion will know what revolution I was talking about (see “Revolutionism redux” in The New Criterion of September, October, and November 2019), though its manifestations in the impeachment fervor of 2019 were then only the latest signs of a process that began in the 1960s and achieved critical mass with the election of President Obama and his project for “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” But when the history of the Second American Revolution is written—if any history that is not mere propaganda is ever allowed to be written—the importance of the radicalized media in keeping this slow-motion revolution-by-stealth out of the public view for so long should be given due credit.

Not that the smell of old-fashioned black powder from the first revolution has not been in the air from time to time during these years. When she finally pulled the trigger on the first Trump impeachment, Nancy Pelosi was pleased to compare herself and her Democratic caucus to the leaders of the First American Revolution, casting Mr. Trump in the role of George III. Now President Biden has sought to assume the mantle of George Washington by choosing Valley Forge—the scene of one of the most famous episodes of the 1776 revolution—as the location, and the third anniversary of the January 6 “insurrection” to launch his presidential campaign.

About this, the great Julie Kelly, scourge of J6 jurisprudence, has written:

After years of comparing Jan 6 to 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Oklahoma City bombing, Biden will again desecrate hallowed ground and the graves of the victims—roughly 2,000 soldiers died over a six-month period at the Valley Forge encampment—to [characterize] the largely peaceful protest at the Capitol as a pivotal event in American history. Fighting Trump and his supporters, the stunt apparently is supposed to demonstrate, is just like living in subhuman conditions, fighting starvation, hypothermia, and deadly diseases to prevail over the British crown. (Ironically, Biden moved up the speech from Saturday to Friday amid bad weather forecasts.)

At Valley Forge, the president renewed his oft-repeated characterization of his predecessor as an existential threat to American democracy, which might have seemed a bit excessive even if predicated of old King George himself. But they say that the best defense is a good offense, and while “maga extremists” are busy being outraged by the comparison, Mr. Biden and his media and deep-state allies are doing more than enough to demonstrate to those with eyes to see that, if there is any threat to American democracy, it comes from them—most recently by seeking to have the former president banned from appearing on the ballot in this year’s presidential primaries, and perhaps the general election as well.

Even over the last year, during which Mr. Trump—fresh from his trial in absentia by the stacked revolutionary tribunal of the J6 committee and now less like George III than the Lin Biao of the current cultural revolution—has been subjected to multiple politically motivated prosecutions on a whole series of confected criminal and civil charges, the great mass of politically aware Americans have seemed to regard it all as political business as usual. Establishment Republicans carry on discussing whether, in their fantasy world, Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis has the better chance of taking down Mr. Trump. Meanwhile, ordinary Republican voters not of or aspiring to the ruling class seem, at this writing, to have taken the Trump prosecutions as their cue to rally round the inevitable nominee.

These voters must have noticed at least a faint resemblance in the revolution’s methods—unprecedented in America—to the kind of “justice” meted out to the losers of Russia’s or China’s revolutions, or the victims of Third World coups d’état. As I write at the beginning of the year, it has just been revealed that the much-hated ex-communist dictator Vladimir Putin has exiled his chief political opponent to what remains of the Soviet-era Gulag, while Jimmy Lai, the pro-democracy leader in Hong Kong, has gone on trial for sedition before a Chinese Communist Party–dominated tribunal. But no one in the mainstream media that I know of has yet broken ranks with the Left and noted a similar totalitarian tendency in the Trump prosecutions—not to mention the rulings of (so far) two states that, as a supposed insurrectionist, the former president is ineligible to appear on their presidential ballots.

This blindness must be owing to more than just “bias.” So accustomed have we become over the last half century to the media’s scandal culture, with its division of the political world into bad people and good people—a division lately assimilated to the Marxist one of oppresor and oppressed—that the prosecution and even the hoped-for imprisonment of national political leaders, if they are counted among the bad people, seems to most of the public not to be all that much of a break with the American past.

This thought, or something like it, came to me when I read a headline in The Wall Street Journal in December purporting to elucidate “The Tragedy of Rudy Giuliani.” According to the Journal’s editorial board, Mr. Giuliani is “the latest to be brought low for having peddled Trump’s false election claims.” In fact, Mr. Giuliani has been “brought low” not by “Trump’s false election claims,” even if we suppose they were provably false, but by a judiciary and a Department of Justice utterly corrupted by political partisanship.

I felt on reading the Journal headline rather as I did back in 2018 when Chief Justice John Roberts rebuked President Trump for complaining about adverse treatment from an Obama-appointed judge, saying,

We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.

I can understand why the chief justice felt he had to say something like that, as he had done two years earlier, before the Trump era, when he said, “We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans.” But I can’t help wondering how he could have dared to say something in public that was by then so obviously untrue.

Since then it has become even more obviously untrue. It has also become obvious that there are Democratic jurisdictions with overwhelmingly Democratic jury pools, one of which has just handed down a ruinous and absurd $148 million judgment against Mr. Giuliani for “defamatory” remarks he made about a couple of Georgia election officials—a judgment that the highly respected and reputedly conservative editorial board of the Journal now considers, apparently, to be entirely consistent with American justice.

“What revolution?” asks The Wall Street Journal, in effect.

Consider also David Lewis Schaefer, writing for the conservative London Daily Telegraph (whose former proprietor, Lord Black of Crossharbour, has also been a victim of partisan American justice). Professor Schaefer’s view is that “America’s Mayor has fallen completely from grace. But his misfortune is his own doing.” I don’t know Professor Schaefer, who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, but his list of publications suggests a decidedly conservative bent. I can only suppose that the professoriat, like the media, now finds it so natural to take on the role of moralizers-in-chief, the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong by virtue of their membership in good standing of the ruling class, that even those among them who might otherwise be sympathetic to a man like Mr. Giuliani—or Mr. Trump—who is beset on all sides by enemies determined to destroy him, cannot resist scolding him. In the words of the late Jimmy Buffet, it’s his own damn fault.

Such appalling self-righteousness, presumably learned from the media, must prevent intelligent conservatives from seeing that the enemies of such men hate them not for anything they have done or not done—though they may have done blameworthy things—but for who they are and what they believe and who their friends and supporters are. What happens to them could happen to any of us, should we be so unfortunate as to fall into the power of enemies who hate us. But that is not how journalists (or, it seems, professors) think. Their motto is no smoke without fire—and their business is always, always to stoke the imagined fire. This is something they couldn’t do if they ever allowed themselves to believe that they were anything less than entirely shielded, through their own superior virtue, from any similar treatment themselves.

Some such thinking, at any rate, together with the merely wishful kind, must lie behind the belief of decent people, like my friends mentioned in the first paragraph, that America remains what America has always been and still is, according to President Biden: the land of the free and the home of the brave, a beacon of democracy and justice for all—if only democracy can be allowed to exclude as an option the most popular alternative to the aspiring one-party rule of the incumbent.

Over at The American Mind, Adam Ellwanger asks the most pertinent question about what he describes as the “numerous psychological manipulations” of the Biden administration and its media apologists:

If you’re reading this, you probably see through their tricks. But that hasn’t deterred our authorities from waving their magic wands. Why not? Typically, when the audience exposes a trick as mere sleight of hand, the performer stops trying to convince them of the lie. The administration’s persistence presents an interesting question: how do they see themselves? When they try to convince us that reality is something other than what it is, are they acting as magicians or illusionists? More simply: Does the administration expect us to believe that they have actually changed something about the world through a deliberate act of power? Or are their claims disingenuous—a means to induce a popular misperception so that the public sees reality inaccurately?

I think that this is a distinction without a difference. Actually, the promise of their revolutionary ideology to put them on “the right side of history”—and, therefore, make them immune to error—can only be fulfilled with the help of the most extraordinary imaginative contortions. Of these, they can never allow themselves to be more than about half-aware, and usually much less than half, as they use such contortions to evade realities that are apparent to anyone not ideology-bound. Yet even those who do not share the ideology can hardly bring themselves to believe the evidence of their senses that such “manipulations” are being practiced upon them.

Of course there are plenty of people of the Left and in the media who are fully aware of what they are doing and of what they are doing it for. But probably most of the media, like most of the masses, reject the idea that they are in the midst of a revolution because they just don’t see it. Maybe those media personalities who spend their lives telling the rest of us what politicians really mean by what they say—and there is no doubt that this interpretive bent of the media’s is priced in to what the politicians say when they say it—prefer to assume that the promised fundamental transformation of the Obama years must have meant something other than what it now obviously does mean.

Two years ago, the brilliant young author who writes under the name N. S. Lyons wrote a near-eight-thousand-word piece titled “No, the Revolution Isn’t Over,” citing numerous premature obituaries of “wokeness” by mostly right-leaning authors and publications. These epitaphs have continued to appear since Lyons wrote, but his powerful arguments disputing this death, I’m sorry to say, have lost none of their force during the intervening years. Every day continues to take us further away from the world that those of us who are over sixty remember from our youth. That is unlikely to change, whatever happens in this year’s presidential election.

“Even if the anti-woke were prepared to launch their own long march through the institutions,” wrote Mr. Lyons on his Substack, The Upheaval,

the cohort from which they would currently need to recruit their talent is the same one that’s been busy tearing things down and chanting “the Revolution will not uphold the Constitution!” Of Generation Z Americans (those born after 1996) 51 percent report that America is “inextricably linked to white supremacy,” 52 percent support racial reparations, 60 percent believe systemic racism is “widespread” in general society, and 64 percent say “rioting and looting is justified to some degree” by the need to address systemic racism “by whatever means necessary.” 51 percent believe the “gender binary” is “outdated,” and up to 40 percent self-identify as lgbtq+ (although Gallup separately finds only about 16 percent do, compared to 2 percent of Baby Boomers). Fifty-nine percent support expanding non-binary gender options. Forty-one percent support censorship of “ hate speech,” 66 percent support shouting down speakers they consider offensive, and 23 percent support using violence to silence such speakers. Sixty-one percent have positive views of socialism, and 70 percent think “government should do more to solve problems.” Sorry conservatives, but that’s the sixty-seven-million-strong cohort who will fill the pipeline of employees, leaders, educators, and voters for the next two decades or so, even if Gen Alpha (those born after 2010) were all to become rampant little reactionaries tomorrow.

The greatest success of this American revolution, therefore, isn’t even that its slowness and stealth have concealed its very existence from so many men and women of good will. It’s that it has left the youngest generation of hopeful revolutionaries with no memory of a prerevolutionary past with which to compare the brave new world so long under construction by their teachers and mentors.

I think that I shall have a hard time selling my counterrevolutionary oeuvre, mentioned earlier, if the next generation believes, as the current one appears to, that America has not undergone a second revolution at all and remains what it has always been—either (officially) a beacon of freedom and democracy or (unofficially) a racial and sexual nightmare from which we all continue to strive to wake up. Either way, there is nothing in the past to cling to for support against the shifting tectonic plates of a political reality that we prefer not to notice. The most I and others like me can hope for is a change in the public attitude toward the past as (at best) an irrelevancy and a return to one belief, in particular, characteristic of that past: that it is possible to learn something from it.

Mr. Bowman is well known for his writing on honor, including his book, Honor: A History and “Whatever Happened to Honor,” originally delivered as one of the prestigious Bradley Lectures at the American Enterprise Institute in 2002, and republished (under the title “The Lost Sense of Honor”) in The Public Interest.

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