‘Weimar America’ Is Not Just A Slogan
Here is a quote from Yoom Nguyen, owner of the Lotus Restaurant in Minneapolis, who just witnessed a second assault on his business: “Watching looters bust down our family restaurant is so heartbreaking. Senseless, they’re doing it while laughing and smirking. Not gonna lie, I damn near shot a man tonight. He threw that fucking rock at my family photo and looked right at me. I said ‘you motherfucker …’ tears immediately rolled down my face. I just can’t no more. I’m thankful I walked away but Fuck y’all.” This is how violence metastasizes. And as I’ve watched protests devolve over the summer into a series of riots, arson expeditions, and lawless occupations of city blocks, along with disgusting and often racist profanity, I’ve begun to feel similarly. And when I watched the Democratic Convention and heard close to nothing about ending this lawlessness, I noted the silence.
I don’t think I’m the only one, as even the Democrats seem now to realize. And this massive blindspot is not hard to understand. When a political party finds itself so wedded to a new and potent ideology it cannot call out violence when it sees it, then it is walking straight into a trap. When the discourse on the left has become one in which scholars and editors and Tweeters vie with one another to up the ante on how inherently evil America has always been, redescribe it as a slaveocracy, and endorse racist books that foment the most egregious stereotypes about “whiteness”, most ordinary people, who love their country and are mostly proud of its past, will rightly balk. One of the most devastating lines in president Trump’s convention speech last night was this: “Tonight, I ask you a very simple question: How can the Democrat Party ask to lead our country when it spends so much time tearing down our country?” A cheap shot, yes. But in the current context, a political bullseye.
I mentioned in my earlier post the incident from early summer in which an email list of Democratic party data professionals had driven David Shor, an Obama administration data whiz, out of the group because of his “racist tweet” (Shor had simply linked to an academic paper showing that violent protest helps Republicans but peaceful protest helps Democrats). I brought it up as an example of this bizarre attitude many on the left have of resenting information that doesn’t confirm their preferred narrative about the protests. But until I read it just now in Andrew’s column, I had forgotten about this:
Remember the pivotal moment earlier this summer when the New York Times caved to its activist staff and fired James Bennet? It’s no accident this was over an op-ed that argued that if New York City would not stop the rioting in the streets, the feds should step in to restore order. For the far left activists who now control that paper, the imposition of order was seen not as an indispensable baseline for restoring democratic debate, but as a potential physical attack on black staffers.
It’s a good column — I’m not sure if it’s available in full to the public (I’m a paid subscriber to his substack), but if it is, then read the whole thing.
Andrew observes in it:
And let’s be frank about this and call this by its name: this is very Weimar. The center has collapsed. Armed street gangs of far right and far left are at war on the streets. Tribalism is intensifying in every nook and cranny of the culture. The establishment right and mainstream left tolerate their respective extremes because they hate each other so much.
The pattern is textbook, if you learn anything from history: an economic crisis resulting in mass unemployment; the pent-up psychological disorders a long period of lockdown can and will unleash; a failure of nerve on the part of liberals to defend the values and institutions of liberal democracy, and of conservatives to keep their own ranks free of raw demagogues and bigots. But critically: a growing sense of disorder and violence and rioting as simply the background noise; and a sense that authorities do not have the strength or the stomach to restore order. What most people want in that kind of nerve-wracking instability is a figure who will come in and stamp it out.
He’s exactly right. The term “Weimar America” has been bandied about on the Right for a few years, but now, it is less a pejorative description than a neutral one.
My book Live Not By Lies will be released a month from tomorrow. As you regular readers know, it’s about the present and coming soft totalitarianism, and how men and women of courage and integrity should prepare themselves to live under it as resisters. I started working on the book in February 2019. The publisher chose a late September release date long before the current crisis. It is our country’s unhappy fate that this book speaks directly to Weimar America, in a way that I could not have imagined as recently as a few months ago.
This is going to be old hat to you regular readers, but I want to repeat it in light of the turn the country has taken in just the past few days. In 1951, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt published The Origins Of Totalitarianism, a detailed study of why, in the twentieth century, nations had succumbed to Fascism and Communism. Though the two totalitarian systems were at opposite ideological poles, both emerged from similar social and political conditions, Arendt found – conditions that are strikingly present in America today. Among them:
Loneliness and social atomization. Totalitarian movements, said Arendt, are “mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals.”
“What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world,” she continued. “is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the ever-growing masses of our century.”
She wrote those words in the early 1950s, now considered in these Bowling Alone decades to have been a golden age of communal solidarity. This past January, before the long Covid-19 emergency, health insurer Cigna released results of a survey finding that 61 percent of Americans consider themselves to be lonely. Young Americans are far lonelier than the old: seven in ten Millennials call themselves lonely, with nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Gen Zers self-diagnosing as such.
Loss of faith in hierarchies and institutions. Loneliness is politically significant because it leaves the masses hungry for a sense of community. In a healthy society, an individual could find fellowship and common purpose through the institutions of civil society – political parties, churches, civic clubs, sports leagues, and the like.
But Americans have been dropping out of mediating institutions steadily since the 1960s. Meanwhile trust in basic institutions – political, media, religious, legal, medical, and so forth – is at dramatic lows. Young adults under 40 are the most religiously unaffiliated generation in American history, and though strongly liberal and Democratic in their political preferences, are also the least likely to embrace a political party.
In Europe of the 1920s, said Arendt, the first indication of the coming totalitarianism was the failure of established parties to attract younger members, and the willingness of the passive masses to consider radical alternatives to discredited establishment parties. Socialism is still fairly outré among Generation X and older Americans, but those who came of age after the Cold War feel much more warmly towards the radical left.
Embracing transgressiveness. In both pre-Bolshevik Russia and pre-Nazi Germany, elites reveled in acts of rebellion that made fun of traditions and standards, moral and otherwise. They immersed themselves in baseness, and called it liberation. They also took pleasure in overturning institutions and established practices for the sake of outsiders.
“The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it,” wrote Arendt. Her words apply with eerie prescience to the upheaval on today’s university campuses, within the media, and elite culture in general.
Susceptibility to propaganda and ideology. Whether out of cynicism or misplaced idealism, the willingness to surrender one’s moral responsibility to be honest for the sake of a politically useful narrative opened the door to tyranny. In pre-totalitarian nations, wrote Arendt, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.”
One considers the New York Times’s Pulitzer-winning “1619 Project,” which declares that the United States was founded for the purpose of defending slavery. Despite heavy criticism, even from historians of the left, the 1619 Project has been adapted for thousands of classrooms, and optioned by Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate studios for television and film projects.
Valuing loyalty over competence. “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first- rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intellect and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty,” wrote Arendt.
All politicians prize loyalty, but few would regard it as the most important quality in government, and even fewer would admit it. But President Donald Trump is a rule- breaker in many ways. He once said, “I value loyalty above everything else— more than brains, more than drive, and more than energy.”
Trump’s exaltation of personal loyalty over expertise is discreditable and corrupting. But how can liberals complain? Loyalty to the group or the tribe is at the core of leftist identity politics. Loyalty to an ideology over expertise is no less disturbing than loyalty to a personality. This is at the root of “cancel culture,” in which transgressors, however minor their infractions, find themselves cast into outer darkness.
Anyway, I write about these things at greater length in Live Not By Lies, as you will see. My point in bringing up Arendt here (and in that section of the book) is not to say “Trump is a proto-totalitarian figure” (though he is in some ways) or “the Social Justice Left is proto-totalitarian” (though it is in many ways). Rather, I want people to recognize that America today is in a pre-totalitarian condition. The Arendtian factors that are clearly observable in our culture and society make us vulnerable to a strongman, or to a strong party capable of restoring order.
Andrew Sullivan sees Trump positioning himself as that figure. I think this is correct, but I also think it is quite deceptive to people on the Right. All the social-justice totalitarian things I write about in Live Not By Lies are processes, institutions, and trends that have grown much worse under Trump, and he has done nothing to stop them. It is one thing to tweet your opposition to cancel culture. It is another thing to act meaningfully against it. If Trump is re-elected, I see no reason at all why this is going to go away. Don’t get me wrong — that’s not a reason to vote against Trump. But it is a warning not to think that just because you vote for Trump, that soft totalitarianism’s capture of the institutions will cease, and that its grip on American life will loosen.
True, it will undoubtedly get much worse under a Biden administration, as the SJWs march through the executive branch. That alone could be sufficient reason to vote for Trump. My point, though, is that voters should not be under the impression that the only thing standing between them and soft totalitarianism is Donald Trump. It is a dangerous mistake to believe the Cold War narrative that the state is the sole source of totalitarian power. In our situation, Big Business — that is, Woke Capitalism — is more of an enforcer of soft totalitarianism than the government. And the media and academia are as well. In Live Not By Lies, I explain how this works.
In a free-market democracy, the state is limited in what it can do to stop this stuff. If companies want to submit themselves to the ideological yoke of diversity, inclusion, and equity programs, the state cannot stop them. But here’s something Donald Trump can do, and should do, to show that his opposition to soft totalitarianism is not merely rhetorical.
Take a look at this tweetstorm by Christopher Rufo, over the outrageous Critical Race Theory training he and his sources uncovered at Sandia National Lab, a federal government facility. Excerpts:
Here’s the video:
Read it all. And if you haven’t read Rufo’s earlier investigation of the anti-white, anti-male bigotry that Sandia’s leadership is shoving down the throats of its employees, click here — and note the training materials.
Casey Peterson is a brave man. He is not willing to live by lies, and he put his career on the line to stand for truth. He is Havel’s greengrocer. He could use an ally in the White House. I hope President Trump will put a stop at once to this kind of bigotry within the federal government. Keep in mind that neither he nor any other president can control private industry’s commissariats — but the least he could do is purge this left-wing garbage from the agencies of the federal government. If he doesn’t, then when it comes to wokeness in the executive branch, what, exactly, would be the difference between a Trump presidency and a Biden one?