The Fateful Day Arrives
Well, I just returned from voting. Got up early to get to the polls when they opened at six a.m. Arrived a bit late — 6:20 — and there was already a long line. This was good, because it gave me more time to pray about what I was going to do about the presidency. Voting for Biden, which I had considered earlier this fall, was out. For me, it was between the American Solidarity Party candidate, and Donald Trump. I had settled on the AS line, but a number of you wrote to me to make the case for why I should vote Trump anyway, even though I can hardly stand the man. I took you all seriously. I took the words my college-age son, who supports Biden, said seriously about the danger of a Trump vote. I also took this seriously:
In his 1974 essay “Live Not By Lies,” Solzhenitsyn said a truthful man “will not vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.” I am taking that principle into the voting booth with me on Election Day. https://t.co/kkIRsiGDmh
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) November 3, 2020
I was literally praying to God for guidance up until I entered the booth. I took a photograph of the voting machine, with my presidential vote on it, so I would have a record. But I also decided that I was not going to reveal my vote to anybody, not even my wife. I don’t want to put up with the abuse by people who are mad I didn’t vote for Trump, or from people who are mad that I did. This entire campaign has been so unpleasant that I don’t want to extend the misery of it by inviting contempt from both pro-and-anti-Trump strangers, and pro-and-anti-Trump people I love. I will say that I have never thought harder and prayed more over any vote I’ve ever cast. However you voted, reader, you are still my friend, because my love and my loyalty do not depend on your political views and acts.
The next president will be either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. I have no faith at all that the next four years will be good, no matter which one is elected. This country is in a bad way. I expect the malign totalitarian trends I write about in Live Not By Lies to continue, no matter what. If Trump goes back in, Woke Capitalism, universities, and all the institutions will double down on enforcing their ideology; we can hope that an activist Trump Justice Department will fight them at every turn. If Biden goes in, that will simply move the entire power of the executive branch behind Wokeness. Either way, the next four years are going to bring a hell of a fight to the lives and institutions of religious and social conservatives. Today’s vote, however it turns out, will solve nothing from this point of view. It only marks a new and worsening stage of the crisis.
The English political philosopher John Gray has an important book review essay in New Statesman, about the disconnection between America and reality. Gray is more or less a conservative, and NS is a magazine of the Left. It’s an important read for everyone. Excerpts:
The unmasking of the bourgeois belief in objective reality has been so fully accomplished in America that any meaningful struggle against reality has become absurd.” Anyone reading this might think it a criticism of America. The lack of a sense of reality is a dangerous weakness in any country. Before the revolutions of 1917, Tsarist Russia was ruled by a class oblivious to existential threats within its own society. An atmosphere of unreality surrounded the rise of Nazism in Germany – a deadly threat that Britain and other countries failed to perceive until it was almost too late.
For the Portuguese former diplomat Bruno Maçães, however, the decoupling of American culture from the objective world is a portent of great things to come. Finally shedding its European inheritance, America is creating a truly new world, “a new, indigenous American society, separate from modern Western civilisation, rooted in new feelings and thoughts”. The result, Maçães suggests, is that American politics has become a reality show. The country of Roosevelt and Eisenhower was one in which, however lofty the aspiration, there was always a sense that reality could prove refractory. The new America is built on the premise that the world can be transformed by reimagining it. Liberals and wokeists, conservatives and Trumpists are at one in treating media confabulations as more real than any facts that may lie beyond them.
Maçães welcomes this situation, since it shows that American history has finally begun. As he puts it at the end of this refreshingly bold and deeply thought-stirring book, “For America the age of nation-building is over. The age of world-building has begun.”
One of the problems of Maçães’s account is that it does not clearly distinguish between different ways in which human consciousness can be detached from the real world. For those who construct it, a fiction is not an illusion but a tool for shaping the perceptions of others. A virtual world is not a fantasy, which may be personal and private, but an alternate reality that is necessarily collective. Lying behind these conceptual slippages are deeper ambiguities. Are virtual worlds deliberately manufactured, or do they emerge – like myths in past times – from the depths of a common form of life? Might not a society produce radically antagonistic virtual worlds? American society is polarised between a view in which the country is a flawed but basically benign experiment and a vision in which it has been irredeemably racist from its foundation. Will one of these virtual worlds triumph in the up-coming presidential election? Or will the division in America persist regardless of who wins?
Under what conditions do virtual worlds disintegrate? Some – such as the one Karl Rove inhabited – are self-destroying and essentially ephemeral. Others – such as the Trumpian view that the virulence of coronavirus has been nefariously exaggerated – may suffer a shock from reality, only to subsequently grow stronger in the minds of tens of millions of conspiracy theorists.
People of the Right, like me, focus almost entirely on Wokeness, because we see it as the greatest threat to the nation. Wokeness is based on an old left-wing ideal: that reality is socially constructed, and that all men are essentially blank slates. Therefore, any inequality of outcome between them can only be because of an unjust distortion that can be straightened out by government action. The Soviet Union and its empire was built on that lie. Reality eventually caught up with the Soviets, but not before incalculable destruction was wrought upon nations and peoples. It’s going to happen here too. The mania for this Woke vision has even taken over the armed forces. Here’s an op-ed by Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, head of US Air Force recruiting. Excerpts:
The tragic death of George Floyd and recent events have fueled widespread protests and a renewed call for racial equality nationwide. Amid this, our country has been compelled to reflect on issues that are often uncomfortable, and leaders have been driven to examine their organizations in ways like never before. The Air Force, in many ways, is no different. But as a war-fighting organization we cannot afford to squander this moment, because our future — and national security — depends on it.
Pursuing equality means we must be sure that we are attracting the most capable members of our society, from all races and walks of life, as we prepare for the next fight. This fighting force should be highly capable while reflecting the diversity of the country we serve.
Before I even took command of my service’s recruiting efforts this spring, Air Force leadership made it clear to me that improving diversity would be on the top of my to-do list. And recent national events only serve as an accelerant as we take aim and tackle this vexing issue.
Pentagon leaders didn’t need to explain the why, although Gen. David Goldfein, our former chief of staff, did that in calling diversity “a war-fighting imperative.” It’s been clear for some time that our progress in better reflecting the society we serve has been too slow.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the first African-American to lead any branch of the military, has called on us to accelerate change or risk losing ground to Russia and China, both of which are integrating potential game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic flight. We need both the best technologies and the best people to win. Improving our diversity falls squarely in Brown’s mandate.
You see the bullshit here, I take it. It goes on:
To be clear, the Air and Space Forces are not setting quotas based on race or gender. We will, however, focus intensely and concentrate our efforts in traditionally underserved communities. It wouldn’t be legal or productive to hold recruiters accountable for bringing in a certain number of recruits from various demographic groups. But if we see that we’re not hitting recruiting targets that mirror the qualified population in those categories, we will adjust to concentrate on areas where we can get a more representative balance in our applicant pool. To use a fishing analogy, recruiters must not only cast a wide net but ensure we are spending time in the right fishing holes.
And by measuring those targets, we’ll employ the old management axiom that what gets measured gets done. And we’ll get it done.
While we are meeting or exceeding nearly all demographic targets in our enlisted ranks, inside our cockpits is where we have the greatest disparities and opportunities for improvement. In all, 86 percent of our aviators are white males. Less than 3 percent of our fighter pilots are females.
Whatever, General. If the US risks losing ground to Russia and China, then it seems to me that the armed forces don’t have the luxury of worrying about the phony “problem” that nearly 90 percent of its pilots are white males. Why does the sex of a fighter pilot matter? Shouldn’t we only be concerned that we are recruiting and training the most capable fighter pilots, regardless of sex and ethnicity? The kind of people who care about this stuff remind me of the people who say that cops ought to be shooting only to wing attackers — this, because they want the real world to be arranged in ways that allay their anxieties.
Why is diversity “a war-fighting imperative”? It’s not. This is another instance of American elites talking themselves into believing that they can create reality. The NBA doesn’t believe that diversity is a “sports-playing imperative.” The NBA, woke as it is, understands that the point of professional sports teams is to win games. Its coaches don’t care about the color of their teams’ athletes. They just want to win, and spend their resources recruiting the most skilled players money can buy. What does it say about a country in which the leadership of professional sports leagues are more realistic about the world we live in, and what it takes to accomplish their mission, than the leaders of the armed forces?
Anyway, that’s what the Left cares about, and not just the Left, but the leadership elites across the institutions of society. But on the Right, we have the QAnon cult, which really is more like a new religion than anything else. I am not remotely as concerned about Q as I am about Woke, because however popular Q might be, it has made no inroads with the ruling elites (Trump flirts with it, but that’s about it). The most troubling thing about Q, though, is how willing its followers are to believe things that are weirdly detached from reality, and how impossible it is to reason with them about any of it (I have tried). In this, they are like the zealous apostles of Wokeness, who cannot accept any dissent from their ideological program, or even imagine that they might be wrong.
As readers of my book Live Not By Lies will have seen, Hannah Arendt said this kind of thing is a sign of decadence that can lead to totalitarianism. Excerpt:
They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
Why are people so willing to believe demonstrable lies? The desperation alienated people have for a story that helps them make sense of their lives and tells them what to do explains it. For a man desperate to believe, totalitarian ideology is more precious than life itself.
“He may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched,” Arendt wrote. Indeed, the files of the 1930s Stalinist show trials are full of false confessions by devout communists who were prepared to die rather than admit that communism was a lie.
Totalitarianism’s most dedicated servants are often idealists, at least at first. Margolius Kovály testifies that she and her husband embraced communism at first precisely because it was so idealistic. It gave those who had walked out of hell a vision of paradise in which they could believe.
More, from Arendt’s The Origins Of Totalitarianism:
Totalitarian propaganda thrives on this escape from reality into fiction, from coincidence into consistency.
The chief disability of totalitarian propaganda is that it cannot fulfill this longing of the masses for a completely consistent, comprehensible, and predictable world without seriously conflicting with common sense. … [W]hile it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence. The masses’ escape from reality is a verdict against the world in which they are forced to live and in which they cannot exist, since coincidence has become its supreme master and human beings need the constant transformation fo chaotic and accidental conditions into a man-made pattern of relative consistency. The revolt of the masses against “realism,” common sense, and all “the plausibilities of the world” (Burke) was the result of their atomization, of their loss of social status along with which they lost the whole sector of communal relationships in whose framework common sense makes sense. In the interdependence of the arbitrary and the planned, the accidental and the necessary, could no longer operate. Totalitarian propaganda can outrageously insult common sense only where common sense has lost its validity.Before the alternative of facing the anarchic growth and total arbitrariness of decay or bowing down before the most rigid, fantastically fictitious consistency of an ideology, the masses probably will always choose the latter and be ready to pay for it with individual sacrifices — and this not because they are stupid or wicked, but because in the general disaster this escape grants them a minimum of self-respect.
Look at this, from one of the US’s top researchers in youth psychology:
Here’s the complete chart, cut off in that tweet:
What explains it? Twenge said the only plausible reason is the 2007 advent of smart phones and the subsequent rise of social media.
The radical Great Awokening among those who came of age post-2007 is likely the result of the radically alienating effect of that technology, and how it replaces contact with the real world with a curated simulacra mediated by TikTok, Instagram, and the rest.
Point is, we are a people increasingly groomed to accept the unacceptable, because we are disconnected from reality. This is manifesting in our politics, and will continue to do so. When you are rich and powerful you can afford your delusions (think of Karl Rove’s saying in 2004 that the US creates its own reality) for a time, but eventually, gravity asserts itself.
So, where do I find hope? Our priest said exactly one line about the election in his Sunday homily: “Put not your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3). My hope is in my God, who remains sovereign no matter what follies and passions rule us. I find hope in knowing that whatever happens to us, as long as we align ourselves with Him, and with His righteousness, we will prevail. To lose, and to suffer — even to suffer death — is to win if we suffer for the sake of His Kingdom. I really do believe that. It is therefore imperative that Christians remember what the Bible teaches us: that worldly success does not necessarily mean anything in the Kingdom of God. Yes, I expect that believers will suffer, and suffer greatly, in the years to come; this is coming whether Trump wins, or Biden. This is realism. This is why I believe these words, which I wrote in Live Not By Lies, after talking to men and women of the Soviet bloc who endured persecution without breaking:
To recognize the value in suffering is to rediscover a core teaching of historical Christianity, and to see clearly the pilgrim path walked by every generation of Christians since the Twelve Apostles. There is nothing more important than this when building up Christian resistance to the coming totalitarianism. It is also to declare oneself a kind of savage in today’s culture—even within the culture of the church. It requires standing foursquare against much of popular Christianity, which has become a shallow self-help cult whose chief aim is not cultivating discipleship but rooting out personal anxieties. But to refuse to see suffering as a means of sanctification is to surrender, in Huxley’s withering phrase, to “Christianity without tears.”
How are we supposed to judge the right approach to suffering though? Unfortunately, there is no clear formula. As Father Kirill Kaleda says, we ought not to go out looking for it. Even Christ, in Gethsemane, prayed that the cup of suffering might be taken from him if it be God’s will. The virtue of prudence is critical, in part to help us discern the difference between reasoning and rationalizing. All of us prefer the cup to pass, but if our moment comes, then we have to be ready to make a costly stand.
We will not know how to behave when that time arrives if we have not prepared ourselves to accept pain and loss for the sake of God’s kingdom. Most of us in the West don’t yet have opportunities to suffer for the faith like Christians under communism did, but we have their stories to guide us, as well as the accounts of Christian martyrdom worldwide throughout the ages. Familiarize yourself with their stories, and teach them to your children. These stories are near the core of the lived Christian experience, and form an essential part of Christian cultural memory. Learn them, so you will know when and how to live them.
God cannot will evil, though as he showed in his Passion, he can permit suffering for some greater good. Judging accurately whether or not he is calling us to share in his Passion in a particular instance requires having faith that our suffering will have purpose, though that purpose may not be clear to us at the time. When he went to prison as a layman, George Calciu was moved to deep conversion by the witness of priests who were his fellow inmates. When he returned to prison later in life, Calciu was a priest and led other inmates to Christ as he had been led decades earlier. Ogorodnikov’s ministry, he is confident, led condemned men to paradise. Krčméry’s laid the groundwork for the underground church. Solzhenitsyn emerged from the grinding misery of the gulag as a fearless man of God whose prophetic witness to the world helped bring down an evil empire.
When we act—either to embrace suffering on our own or to share in the suffering of others—we have to let it change us, as it changed these confessors of the communist yoke. It could make us bitter, angry, and vengeful, or it could serve as a refiner’s fire, as it did with Solzhenitsyn, Calciu, Krčméry, Ogorodnikov, and so many others, purifying our love of God and tortured humanity.
No Christian has the power to avoid suffering entirely. It is the human condition. What we do control is how we act in the face of it. Will we run from it and betray our Lord? Or will we accept it as a severe mercy? The choices we will make when put to the ultimate test depend on the choices we make today, in a time of peace. This is what Father Tomislav Kolaković understood when he arrived in Czechoslovakia and set about preparing the church for the coming persecution. This is why when the secret police came for Silvester Krčméry, he knew how to carry that cross like a true Christian.
Even as I prepare for bad times, that is the source of my hope. It’s not optimism — it’s hope. Whatever happens today at the polls, that will remain the source of my hope, not the capabilities and promises of princes and sons of men. Not in Trump. Not in Biden. Only in Jesus Christ. Might sound hokey to you, but that’s all I have.
How about you? How are you feeling today about the future of America?
UPDATE: Yes, this:
There's an entire class of American public intellectual whose brains are simply broken.
Yes, it's self-inflicted. Nothing actually happened to them beyond staring at pixels too long. But it's also reflective of where society is headed when all of life is mediated. https://t.co/v9zsC0NfDw
— Antonio García Martínez (@antoniogm) November 3, 2020