by Victor Davis Hanson
Riotous, rogue Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol on January 6 were properly and widely condemned by conservatives. They were somewhat reminiscent of the mobs of fanatic leftists and union members that a decade ago stormed the Wisconsin state capitol at Madison, or the unpunished hundreds of rioters who created havoc on Washington, D.C. streets during the Trump 2016 inauguration. We expect the Capitol stormers will be punished, and not in the lax fashion of the latter two groups that were not.
Within a few days, the talking points were finalized that all of Donald Trump’s supporters deserved blame for the violence. That riot, the Trump defeat, and the loss of the Senate have greenlighted left-wing talk of “deprogramming,” “de-Baathification,” “re-educating,” and “reprogramming” half the country to ensure they think correctly and act properly from now on – the exact methodology of such brain rinsing apparently to be announced later.
So we are beginning a great reprogramming of America. The construction of Trump and all of his supporters as abettors, terrorists, seditionists, and traitors is certainly proving useful. After the Capitol conundrum, we have seen over the past two weeks a coordinated and synchronized effort by Amazon, Twitter, and Google to destroy Parler, a small conservative-friendly rival to their social media and internet monopolies. More of such humanitarian taking care of business will follow – all as preemption for the most leftwing agenda in a half-century now rolling out.
Silicon Valley’s continued use of social activism to mask 19th-century robber-baron monopolization of its markets remains diabolically brilliant. After all, those who have rings in their noses, and wear tie-dye and flip-flops cannot have anything in common with either John D. Rockefeller, Jay Fisk, or Big Brother, right?
Don’t we remember how hipster Apple idealists once fought stodgy Microsoft? Or how liberal techies at Microsoft earlier took on dour, big blue, coat-and-tie IBM and “print” media? Surely, good Harvard drop-out tech revolutionaries cannot possibly have become bad, trillion-dollar corporate cartels?
Serious Big Brother was never coming to America kicking and screaming in a suit and in a mile-long tie, but rather eagerly welcomed in with jeans and sneakers without socks. The First Amendment could always survive a crude, inebriated Joe McCarthy, but not so easily a social justice ex-barista, doing vanity selfies about diversity, egged on by the “progressive” media, while saving the planet, and “reining” in a hurtful, racist media.
Constitutional nihilists do not put up leaders with garish comb-overs and orange tans. Better to unconstitutionally use the FBI to surveil your enemies, catalog the communications of the press, and weaponize the IRS, when led by a “constitutional law professor” and an icon of the marginalized.
In other words, the visuals were the same old, same old we had seen during the violent 2017 Inauguration Day protests in Washington, the rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore, in New York during the final stages of the Occupy Wall Street take over, and the WTO violence over two decades ago in Seattle – with one major exception. This time the authorities saw far more election-year political advantage in defending the violence than in suppressing it, and so made the necessary adjustments, at least until Election Day.
The mayors of the targeted cities like Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis contextualized and supported the mayhem (“block party” and “summer of love”). They cared little for the thousands of lives that were wrecked by the destruction.
Joe Biden excused Antifa as a mere “idea” (a presidential ante facto impeachable offense?) – largely because millions of his supporters condoned or explained away the violence, and they said so publicly. The New York Times architect of the “1619 Project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones boasted at the height of the unrest, “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.” She’s lucky none of the oppressed took her literally or seriously enough to storm the New York Times. One wonders what is the further utility of BLM and Antifa after the Biden election, and whether erstwhile dead-ender “protestors” may now be recategorized as “rioters” given the suddenly bad optics.
Kamala Harris recklessly warned America that the protests, which were increasingly turning more violent, would and should continue. And that sentiment is precisely why Harris helped to bail out arrested street activists instead of raising funds for injured police.
We are to forget all that because destroying the downtowns of major cities (mere “brick and mortar”) was then accepted tit-for-tat social justice. It was certainly not sedition, insurrection, and treason to try to torch a federal courthouse or incinerate police precincts with all their occupants inside. Slinging around an illegal “assault weapon,” if you were Seattle rapper Raz Simone, was almost cool and neat, even if four people were shot, and two killed in his “autonomous zone.”
When the violence spread to the nation’s capital, a church near the White House was torched. Mobs threatened to enter the White House grounds. When the president raised the issue of employing federal troops in extremis, he was declared a near insurrectionary himself.
Dozens of retired generals and admirals virtue signaled that Trump’s mention of federal troops was tantamount to plotting a coup. But we are to forget all that now because there were recently 30,000 troops in Washington – as if Jubal Early had risen from the dead with a Confederate Army.
No retired or active general has warned us of a dangerous militarization of the nation’s capital that has no parallel since the Civil War. Were there so many troops in Washington because we learned our lessons from exempting the violence and rioting that we saw during the 2017 Inauguration when over 200 people were indicted for, and then excused from, felony rioting charges after hundreds of businesses were looted, vandalized, and destroyed?
Are deprogrammed Americans asked to forget that all leaders should not suggest that violent resistance to the law is acceptable?
When Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) railed at the doors of the Supreme Court amid a throng of furious pro-abortion protestors, called out the judges in session by name, and threatened and warned them that they were to reap a whirlwind and that they would have no idea of what might soon “hit” them, he later shrugged that he was speaking Brooklynese, the sort of rough patois he grew up with – as opposed, we must suppose, to Donald Trump’s Queens rough talk? Is Schumer to lead the Senate trial of Trump because he has the most congressional experience in threatening public officials while revving up a mob?
What are we to do when everyone from Senator Jon Tester (D-Mt.) to Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J) to then-Vice President Joe Biden warned us that the only way to deal with Trump was either to get in his face or punch him or physically assault him? After deprogramming, are we to shout that Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ignited violence, but Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) wisely turned down the temperature?
For over a year, mobs and rioters have destroyed or defaced thousands of American monuments, and not just those of Confederate generals. We have witnessed attacks on everything from the Lincoln Memorial to statues of Frederick Douglass and Miguel de Cervantes.
In fear, officials have removed iconic statues such as those of Theodore Roosevelt and Christopher Columbus. And in a manner worthy of Soviet Trotskyization, names and references have been wiped out from the collective American memory with no consistency or logic, with no vote of a city council, much less by public referenda.
The Wilson Center at Princeton is now history; the Wilson Center at the Smithsonian is not—at least so far in this round of collective madness. Father Junipero Serra is no longer worthy of a small Stanford University named mall, even as Stanford itself is named after a 19th-century railroad tycoon who wrote racist diatribes, but without the compensating vows of penury of the now-banned priest. The logic of the Left? Canceling a long-dead Franciscan priest is not quite the same as changing the prestigious brand name on a ticket-to-success diploma.
The only consistent logic in this massive hysterical iconoclasm is that names or statues that can easily be virtue-signaled away are canceled; and those in a strictly cost-to-benefit analysis that cannot, are not. So we offer sacrificial lambs to the mob to save more profitable or important pigs.
The Waters of Lethe
We are asked to be washed in the waters of obliviousness to forget that for four years the American public was subject to the greatest political hoax and scandal in American history.
Candidate Hillary Clinton hired a foreign national, disguised by the firewalls of the DNC, Perkins-Coie, and Fusion GPS, to compile dirt on rival candidate Donald Trump. Then her minions used her lifelong government contacts to seed the made-up file by Christopher Steele among the highest echelons of the Obama Administration, the Justice Department, FBI, and CIA – with absolute impunity.
We are asked to forget that the FBI deliberately doctored court evidence to greenlight unlawful surveillance, and lost or destroyed evidence and even the phone records of rogue FBI agents.
We are asked to forget that it is illegal for a foreign national like Christopher Steele to work for an American presidential candidate, much less to use his work to seek the destruction of a president-elect’s transition and presidency.
We are asked to forget that good old Joe Biden has a long history of racial insensitivity, to such a degree his current vice president once denounced him for befriending segregationists in the Senate and opposing bussing. In the spirit of unity, we are asked to forget that Biden’s “Corn Pop” stories were racist to the core, that his “put y’all back in chains” trope was rank racial condescension, that his remarks about “clean” blacks and donut shop owners were racist, and that his more recent slurs directed at black interviewers such as “Are you a junkie?” and “you ain’t black” were racist.
We are now treated to Hollywood calls for unity. And that is all fine and good. But we are to forget that these ecumenicists for four years have boasted, in word and video, of beating the president up, of burning him alive, of decapitating him, of blowing him up, of shooting him, of torturing his children, of stabbing him. So that was then, this is now, the new age of unity and love?
We are to forget that even daring to voice worry about the sanctity of the 2020 election is in itself seditionary. We are to be deprogrammed to wipe away all memory that for years members of Congress and democratic grandees – including former president Jimmy Carter – described Trump as an illegitimately elected president. We are to forget that Hillary Clinton said repeatedly that she was robbed of her actual “victory,” and advised Joe Biden “never” to concede if he lost.
We are to forget that the Left sued to nullify the 2016 election on grounds that voting machines were fraudulent. Hollywood stars ran commercials urging the electors to become insurrectionaries and to undermine their constitutional mandates.
We are to forget how for years Stacey Abrams was feted by elected officials as the “real” governor of Georgia, as she insisted that she had been “cheated” out of her real victory. We are to forget that Democrats once warned that massive mail-in and early-voting might be subject to fraud. And let us be reprogrammed to forget too how Democrats sued and harangued to undermine the existing voting protocols passed by state legislatures, so that 100 million votes might be cast before Election Day.
We are to forget because calling for symmetry and standards is now “Whataboutism,” the new charge of relativism from the relativist Left that for decades has said that prior injustice justifies present injustice. In sum, the deprogramming Left seeks to wash all memory away. In the cosmic quest for equity, justice, and diversity, there can be no fake absolute standards. For the Left, the moral ends are simply too exalted to worry about the means of obtaining them. Violence for equity is nonviolence. Rioting, arson, and looting in the service of justice is justice for the marginalized.
Before we are all reprogrammed, remember for a bit longer that the reset of memory and truth is not just a political agenda, but a holistic effort to redefine our past, present, and future, to change not just what we think but how we think – or do not think.
This desire to wash all memory away was the secret, after all, to Joe Biden’s virtual candidacy. The implicit promise was always just to vote for nothingness and then all the acrimony, all the rioting, all the fires and looting, all the media craziness, all the cancel culture, all the Twitter wars, all the hysteria would simply vanish with the disappearance of our Emmanuel Goldstein – and a new, undefined but far better world would take its place. And then at last you too could forget the past, and thereby come to love what you’ve become in the present.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.