By Victor Davis Hanson
Elected governments were rare in the past. They did not appear until over four millennia after civilization first emerged in the Near East. Constitutional systems were fragile at birth. And they are on the wane today. Nation after nation seems to be devolving into autocracy. Multiethnic, multiracial consensual governments have been even more brittle and sporadic in history.
The Roman, Ottoman, and Soviet empires were multiracial. But they were not consensual. Instead, they required a degree of force to ensure calm among rival tribes and warring peoples—violence that we would find incompatible with our notions of modern democracy.
Today, India and Brazil are large multicultural and multiethnic democracies. But neither, so far, has guaranteed their citizens either prosperity or security.
So present-day multiracial America is a great experiment in the unknown. Can its various tribes, and races unite around the Constitution? Or will they inevitably revert to form and give their first loyalties to those of shared superficial racial or ethnic affinities?
Regressing to the Color of Our Skin
Until about 2008, it was generally believed America had made great strides in rendering race incidental rather than essential to our characters. We were moving away from the racial collective of our past to the individual. That was the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., who emphasized content of character over color of skin.
Barack Obama’s presidency, however, resurrected tribal identity politics. He rebooted the banal word “diversity” and made it synonymous with anyone and anything “nonwhite.” Thereby, he instantly diminished class as the true barometer in postmodern America of who was oppressed and who the oppressor.
As a result, rich Punjabi immigrants, Korean-American orthodontists, Obama himself, or Oprah Winfrey (the victim, supposedly, of being denied a look at a $38,000 crocodile skin bag) all supposedly shared some sort of oppressed solidarity by virtue of not being completely white.
Millionaires, CEOs, American presidents, and surgeons—anyone not white but in the upper classes and rich—supposedly now found group cohesion through the color of their skin, their nations of origin, or their ethnic affiliations, a more sophisticated, but also more insidiously divisive, version of Jesse Jackson’s old “rainbow coalition”.
But if the well-off mysteriously could become victims, stranger still, millions of the poor could be reinvented as white victimizers.
In this new fixation on “white rage,” “white supremacy,” and “white privilege,” a white Mark Zuckerberg, Jane Fonda, a long-haul truck-driver, or an Alabama janitor all can be jumbled together as the oppressors of the likes of Jussie Smollett, LeBron James, Sonya Sotomayor, or Elizabeth Warren—whose power, money, or influence did not negate their claims of being not fully white.
In this new American Lalaland, grandees could be the purported victims of the white privilege supposedly enjoyed by an Uber driver or a part-time grocery clerk in Provo. Both could have come of age 40 years after the inauguration of affirmative action and the Great Society, but no matter.
These absurd contradictions of the woke antiracist movement remind us that such toxic racial fixations are not sustainable. Racialism of any sort remains an accelerant of hatred and violence. In a multiracial, intermarried, and assimilated society, who is to be defined as a “marginalized person”? Who declares someone a beneficiary of “white privilege”?
That is not a rhetorical question. College admissions, hiring, and career trajectories now hinge on ignoring meritocratic data. Nor do class, background, and income matter.
Instead, it becomes critical to stake a claim to a still undefined level of nonwhiteness that pushes one over to the oppressed side of the ledger if one wants to achieve advancement, now meted out on the basis of sympathy. Once there, reparatory claims against the majority follow. And all the stops are employed, including even producing correct DNA that can brand one marginalized, when one’s appearance otherwise would fool the human eye.
Again, ask poor Elizabeth Warren.
Critical to such neo-Confederate reparatory measures in a 21st century multiracial America is the constant need to find new tormentors. And the resulting drumbeat of white demonization finally permeates every level of society. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, promise us that they will ferret out “white rage” and find “white supremacists” within their ranks.
Neither offered nor was asked to produce any concrete evidence that there are large numbers of conspiratorial whites who so self-identify or act as supremacists—at least in a way different from any other like-minded chauvinists who self-reference their own ethnic loyalties as Latino or black soldiers.
When the military lectures that the armed forces will look like America in every category of service, we know that such unworkable proportional representation will become absurd. After all, white males have died in Afghanistan and Iraq at double their percentages in the general population. Was it their race that won them such lethal privileges? Are we then to pull whites out of combat units until others are put in harm’s way to ensure “equity fatalities”?
The NBA and NFL are among the least diverse organizations in the country. But in reactionary fashion, they almost alone now in America insist on purely meritocratic athletic standards. They have little worry that activists will allege that excellent rebounding, shooting, and dribbling are merely “constructs.” They would laugh at the very notion that NBA excellence reflects “arbitrary standards ” designed to limit other racial groups’ “legitimate” claims to proportional representation.
So professional sports seem immune from the academic lynch mob that claims any organization not reflecting American diversity percentage-wise is inherently racist. Otherwise, to remedy such “disparate impact,” the NFL and NBA would need to mentor, groom, and recruit Latino quarterbacks or Asian centers.
New reparatory admissions by the nation’s most elite universities are aimed de facto at the white working- and middle-classes, especially those without alumni or legacy preferences, without donor families, and without athletic expertise. In the zero-sum elite admission arithmetic, their numbers must be reduced below their percentages in the general population to ensure what the Left used to call “overrepresentation” of entering Latino and black students.
Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever?
The use of racial preferences (i.e., “racism”) to stop racism hinges either on proving systemic racism in current America or resorting to the Aeschylean notion that the sins of the past generations must fall on present generations—even if there are few who are direct descendants of ground-zero “racist” slave owners or Jim-Crow adherents.
But are such “systemic” notions really true? Several ethnic minorities enjoy higher per capita incomes than do whites. Whites commit hate crimes at lower percentage rates than do blacks. In some categories of rare interracial crimes, blacks, for example, are far more likely to attack whites violently than vice versa. They are also disproportionately responsible for the upsurge in hate crimes committed against Asians.
White officers are not more likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than are minority officers. At least in terms of all those arrested each year; the police are not less likely to shoot disproportionately white unarmed suspects than black unarmed suspects. Until the train wreck of the Biden Administration hit us, blacks had achieved their lowest unemployment rate in U.S. history at a time of nearly zero inflation.
Most of the white community, in the fashion of the pre-Civil Rights South, is not insisting on racially segregated dorms, segregated graduation ceremonies, segregated events, and segregated campus safe spaces. But elite whites are guilty of promoting such indoctrination of students that their race is the touchstone of their entire identity.
If 2022 does not present us with a systemically racist America, how about the past? History has been reformulated to “prove” that all of America was inherently racist at its founding. But that charge must ignore that the struggle to oppose and then to end slavery was the crisis that had already split the country at the very birth of the republic.
Just 77 years after the Constitution was ratified, the issue of slavery was finally settled only after a civil war that cost 700,000 lives, and 1.5 million total casualties. One-in-20 Americans by 1865 was killed, wounded, or missing during the four-year ordeal.
To read diaries and essays of northern soldiers marching and burning through Georgia with Sherman in fall 1864 is to learn of thousands of white Midwestern farmer-soldiers who had never previously met either a black person or slave owner.
Thousands in the Army of the West had never even been outside of Michigan or Minnesota but apparently were glad to target and burn down the plantations of white slaveholders. After the army encamped in Savannah, a censorious Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in January 1865 arrived to interrogate and audit Sherman’s army of liberation to ensure that thousands of slaves freed by his army were treated equitably.
Estimates of the federal financial effort to address poverty, racism, bias, and inequality in America usually range near $20 trillion spent since the onset of the civil-rights era Great Society programs.
The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965 was passed by an almost completely white Congress and a white president. Its sponsors were rightly confident both that they would have overwhelming white support and that the law would radically reduce the white racial percentages of an American citizenry that had stayed more or less steady over the prior 177 years.
Along with an increasingly and deliberately open southern border, such new immigration policies encouraged the arrival of non-white immigrants. In abstract historical terms, rarely has a majority population by intent changed its own immigration laws and enforcement protocols to ensure that its own demographic (87 percent in 1960) logically would shrink (currently below 70 percent).
This is not to deny that post-Civil War racism was commonplace in the United States. Rather, the inherent telos of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, whether fully recognized by all the population or not, was an evolution to a racially blind society.
Those who wrote the foundational documents of America were not blinkered. They knew that they were inevitably founding a nation to which one day immigrants, who did not look like the majority population, would risk their lives to migrate.
The Trajectories of Institutionalizing Hatred
Where does the current constant fixation on racial, ethnic, and religious difference lead? To the Lebanon of the 1970s, the Latin American civil wars of the 1980s, the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda of the 1990s, or the Iraq of the 2000s?
Tribalism is like nuclear proliferation. Once groups begin separating and self-identifying by shared superficial appearances, then all will fragment by tribe if for no other reason than self-protection as they enter a bellum omnium contra omnes.
What is the result of the constant racial stereotyping of 230 million of all different lineages and classes as some single-minded, hateful undifferentiated borg called “white”? Do we remember the Yale lecture by New York psychiatrist Dr. Aruna Khilanani, who bragged, “I had fantasies of unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way, burying their [sic] body and wiping my bloody hands as I walked away relatively guiltless with a bounce in my step, like I did the world a favor?”
What comes from normalizing elite racist discourse like the following from a Damon Young, a New York Times contributor: “Whiteness is a public health crisis. It shortens life expectancies, it pollutes air, it constricts equilibrium, it devastates forests, it melts ice caps, it sparks (and funds) wars, it flattens dialects, it infests consciousnesses, and it kills people . . . .”?
Why then would we not see a mass murderer like Darrell Brooks driving his car to kill as many of the air polluters and climate change killers as possible in Waukesha? Did Brooks have a “bounce” in his step in the aftermath? Did the Black Lives Matter organizer who rushed to the scene to gush over the mass murder as the possible start of the “revolution”?
Another privileged, stuffy elite, Elie Mystal casually wrote, “I can, more or less, only deal with whiteness when I want to . . . White people haven’t improved; I’ve just been able to limit my exposure to them.” Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait painter, Kehinde Wiley described his black-on-white beheadings to the New York Times Magazine as “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing.’”
So why wouldn’t a known racist firebrand like Brooks or Frank James, the racist subway shooter, believe that he was only acting out the thoughts of elites who were bragging about either shunning non-improved whites or playing at beheading them?
The Youngs and Mystals and their counterparts in all races are the rarer foot soldiers. They act out the theories and rants of far more numerous, privileged, and elite racialists in a dysfunctional but symbiotic relationship. The former lap up and normalize elite hatred, their even more privileged brethren assume the ensuing chaos of the street will be utilitarian in leveraging more of their own privilege from those of their own exclusive class.
This reactionary and neo-Confederate return to racial stigmatization and hatred is not going to end well.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.