It has become deeply dubious, even suspicious, to try to look at Western civilization through a half-full glass. Nevertheless, it must be asserted with full-throated enthusiasm, that liberal Western society has been mankind’s greatest achievement in the attempt to provide dignity of life to as many as possible.
Part of the West’s achievement has been an openness to remediation, improvement, atonement and change.
The price of this great experiment, this magnificent edifice, has been forbearance. Like tolerance, forbearance demands that we recognize that there are those among us who we disagree with, even unto the point of hating. Yet, we willingly channel that dislike into socially acceptable vehicles such as voting, demonstrating, letter writing, and working to support organizations that take different positions from those we despise.
The result has been an exquisite, yet delicate social fabric, one reflecting complexity and contradiction, and yet, remaining intact.
The great challenge for any liberal society is to withstand its own de-legitimization from within. Great societies have been historically far more vulnerable to internal decay and dissolution than they have been to conquest. Internal decay first creeps and seeps and then ultimately, floods.
Sad to say, much of the West is facing these seem internal challenges of dissolution. It is mindboggling for many, particularly older people schooled and steeped in the values of their society, to see speakers booed off the stage at universities, to see those who with nonconforming views harassed – verbally and physically.
The idea of defending to the death your right to say things I completely disagree with has become the anachronistic redoubt of dead white males. A society predicated, however very imperfectly, on equal opportunity for all, has now embraced equal outcomes for all, and better outcomes for those who had not previously shared fully.
The great anchor of our grand experiment, individual freedoms: of speech, of association, of religion, are all under attack. Most destructive of all is the frontal assault on free speech, for without it, all other freedoms fall as well.
Nowhere is free speech more at risk than at the very institutions which best represent free speech’s triumph, and which therefore would seem to be its natural and logical defenders: the university, and the media.
The number of lynchings of conservative speakers on US campuses has grown to the point of requiring a scorecard, and the US main stream media has long jettisoned objectivity for opinion. Beyond embracing opinion though has been the unwillingness to tolerate any opinions out of one’s ideological silo.
The recent palace revolt of younger staff at the New York Times in response to the effrontery of printing an op-ed by a US Senator, will, I fear, mark in hindsight, a very painful and enduring milestone in the dissolution of the fabric of American society.
That the publisher and senior editors could be cowed and bullied by a walkout of young staffers say worlds both about the personal courage of the paper’s leadership, as well as the world view and mindset of the future leaders of the paper.
Those who take conservative views, and most certainly those who proudly and unapologetically tout those views have been marked with the kind of vilification that has the distinct smell of physical threat.
There are those who are oblivious to the threat that they pose to the edifice of America’s liberal Western civilization. They just want to drive Donald Trump from office. Then there are those who want to use the readily popular cause of driving Trump out for the purpose of making profound structural changes in American society.
There are the not so closeted communists or socialists, and there are the not terribly subtle identity politics authoritarians. Both groups have a more pervasive agenda than electoral change; both groups are happy to use the electorally focused as their “useful idiots” to provide cover for a far more insidious goal.
Those of us deeply worried about the direction of things in America know that this is about far more than who will be the next President. For many on the Left, it is possible that they do not even care about driving Trump from office, because they believe they can advance their anti-Liberal Western agendas with a visible rallying figure in office.
In this mindset, Trump himself serves as the Reichstag Fire of contemporary America: that event (in his case, that person) which provides the excuse and the rationale for committing horrendous acts.
What happens if Biden becomes President? There will not be peace and love, but there may or may not be a clearer path to civilizational disruption. Many anti-Trumpers will assume that the cause has been won, but of course this is far from the case for the ideologically committed.
What is clear is that all Americans, spanning the entire spectrum of political affiliation, need a jarring wake up call. They need the kind of lesson given to young children who are brought to a jailhouse to see the real-world implications of shoplifting and minor crimes.
In other words, all must confront the reality that so much that is taken for granted in American society could actually disappear. Freedoms, discretions, choices not exercised or made in the politically acceptable format will be rejected. And he or she who acted so egregiously will be deemed a threat and an enemy.
Perhaps the summer of love that we are now beginning to experience will show itself to be the shape of totalitarian things to come, and will serve as an inoculation against going down a very dangerous path. If not, however, the prospects for the center holding are increasingly remote.
I fear for America, as America’s loss of vision, commitment and sense of what made it America, will be a disaster for the entire Western world.
Understanding that scary possibility might be the only thing that allows us to back away from the cliff.