By Victor Davis Hanson
Just as uniformity can result in both stability and stagnation, so too can diversity sometimes ensure either dynamism or bedlam.
What do all our notable fabricators—George Santos, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama—have in common?
Well, quite like the Ward ChurchilIs or Rachel Dolezals of the world, one way or another, they lied about their identities. Or they sought fraudulent ways of suggesting their ancestries were marginalized. Or they had claims on being victims on the theory their constructed personas brought career advantages.
George Santos claimed, apparently in search of a victimized status, that he was an “American Jew” and a “Latino Jew,” and a descendent of Holocaust survivors.
Joe Biden lied that he went to “shul” as well as that he grew up in a veritable Puerto Rican household and just happened to attend a black college as well as being an honorary Greek.
Elizabeth Warren ended up a laughingstock for claiming her high cheekbones were proof of her Native-American ancestry—a lie she rode all the way to being the “first” Native-American professor on the Harvard Law school faculty.
Somehow the half-white, prep-schooled Barry Soetoro, who had taken his Indonesian stepfather’s last name, rebooted in the university back to Barack Obama. The latter oddly did not catch his literary agent “misidentifying” him in a book promo as being born in Africa. And only as president, did we learn his “autobiographical” memoir was mostly a concoction.
This fixation with constructing identities is one of the great pathologies of our woke era.
When we obsess in neo-Confederate style on race, ethnicity, or religion as the defining element of who we are, and we do this to leverage political advantage, then we set off a chain-reaction of Yugoslavian- or Lebanese-style tribalism. Like nuclear proliferation, once one group goes tribal, then all others will strain to find their own deterrent tribal identity.
A Society of Lies
There are warning signs all around us of our fate to come if we do not stop this nihilism: Latino members of the Los Angeles City Council caught on a hot mic of matter-of-fact venting tribalist hatred and mocking of non-Latino tribes—blacks, gays, indigenous people, and whites. Or the Jussie Smollett farce, both the lies he concocted to promote his victimhood, and the lies the Chicago prosecutor office initially promulgated to ensure initial preferential treatment for Smollett based on his race. Read the comments posted below news stories of rampant swarming smash-and-grab, knockout game, or carjacking crimes—and be warned of the venomous and tribalist backlash to venomous tribalism.
In a world in which there are too many oppressed for the static number of oppressors, then it is perfectly logical that an Elizabeth Warren on the one hand would fabricate an advantageous identity for careerist opportunity, and a Jussie Smollett on the other hand would invent mythical white MAGA demons to ensure he was victimized and deserving of careerist reparations for his suffering.
Yet the tribal problem is not just an epidemic of false identities and fraudulent victims. Entire areas of social and political reality are now set off and exempt from rational discussion. We are currently witnessing an upsurge in black-male crime, often descending into disproportionate hate crimes perpetrated against Asians and Jews. Yet any discussion of this violence is taboo, lest one is deemed racist or illiberal.
Questioning the morality of allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports and to destroy decades of striving for equal female athletics likewise is put off-limits.
So are discussions about the epidemic of illegitimacy and the negative effects of fatherless families contributing to problems in some minority communities.
Even the national challenge of epidemic obesity is racialized, as if worries about unhealthy weight of all Americans derive somehow from mythical white “body shaming.”
So are inquiries about how the states in tough economic times are to house, feed, care, educate, and instruct 5 million entrants across the southern border, arriving en masse and illegally, all without simple background checks, knowledge of English or a high-school diploma, and in non-diverse fashion. If the first thing an immigrant does is to break U.S. law by illegally crossing the border, and the second thing is illegally residing in the United States, then it is only logical that he concludes further illegal activity will be similarly exempt. Illegal immigration is not a noble endeavor but a crime against its host.
In sum, woke tribalism inevitably turns us into fabricators and society itself becomes a liar.
The old 1970s cynical canard that racial quotas would not extend to pilot training or neurosurgery is no longer true. Some of the major airlines have announced mandatory non-white acceptance quotas for pilot training, and not predicated on competitive résumés or standardized test scores. Many universities and professional schools are considering adopting pass/fail grading on the theory that affirmative action admissions must become synonymous with guaranteed graduation.
Yet what is the alternative once one travels this pathway? Suppose the idea of quota-based admissions is declared valid and salutary. In that case, grading must likewise be recalibrated along this long chain of anti-meritocracy to continue ensuring equality of results.
Licensing boards are next. If one is admitted to universities on diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns rather than demonstrable achievement as quantifiably determined by competitive grades and test scores and other definable exceptional achievements, and one is further graduated on the assurance that grades either will not be issued or will be inflated, then the logical next step is that licensing exam standards in law or medicine must likewise be relaxed so as not to interrupt the ever-lengthening wokeist chain.
In other words, soon where one went to medical school, or what one did in medical school, or where one did his residency, or his certification by a medical board of examiners will become rather irrelevant. The point is not to recruit applicants with the most competitive records and to ensure that they all are subject to the same standard of rigorous instruction and assessment to ensure the public can have confidence in the medical profession, but to make sure that profession measures up to some artificial notions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The relationship between these metrics and health is beside the point.
We forget that what once separated the Western world from the rest was not race, climate, or natural bounty, but its gradual creation of meritocracies replacing the pre-civilizational rule of the clan, the tribe, or the race. The old inherited and stubborn obstacles remained: aristocratic privilege, class chauvinism, and plutocratic clout that warred with qualifications. They were the ancient impediments to merit whose power in the West slowly was also dethroned.
How ironic in their places, the reactionary Western world has simply created new exemptions and privileges, calibrated on premodern criteria such as race and sex that will set off chain tribal reactions as we degenerate into Hobbesian factionalism.
Anytime perceived merit, or something close to merit, was not the standard, a society either imploded or became impoverished and calcified. The racial, one-drop categories of the Old South or the Third Reich, or the colorized spectrum of the old apartheid South Africa, or the racial chauvinism of the new tribal South Africa, or the commissar system of the Soviet Union, or the religious intolerance of fundamentalist Islam, or the familial gangs and clannish tyranny of prewar Sicily ensured that all were dysfunctional societies, and often much worse than that. Opportunity was instead guaranteed, and excellence defined, by something other than demonstrable talent and achievement.
There will be no exceptions granted to the United States from these rules of history. There are many talented black women in the corporate world, private sector, and elsewhere who would have made excellent vice presidents given their race was incidental and an afterthought to their achievement and talent.
The Best We’ve Got?
But Kamala Harris is not among them. She was selected by Biden’s braggadocio not because of any past stellar record as a Bay Area prosecutor, an accomplished senator, an effective orator, or a superb presidential candidate, but because a frightened Joe Biden amid the George Floyd riots announced in advance that he would preselect his running mate exclusively on the basis of race and sex, sort of in the fashion of the white male-dominated world of the past.
Ditto Pete Buttigieg, who, in his dismal record as a rather inconsequential small city mayor and failed presidential candidate, had never evidenced aptitude for transportation issues—other than occasionally and ostentatiously riding a bike. He was never expected to seriously address problems like spiraling auto fuel prices, the bottlenecks at our harbors, the wild-west train robbing at the port of Los Angeles, the Southwest Airlines implosion, or our clogged freeways. Instead, he was appointed Transportation Secretary because of the diversity of his sexual orientation and his woke rhetoric that almost immediately surfaced in wildly out-of-pocket lectures about “racist” freeways.
Similarly, upon appointment as press secretary, we were immediately told Karine Jean-Pierre was the nation’s first black, gay press secretary rather than being asked to recognize any prior achievement that earned her such a coveted spot. Few said her appointment reflected a successful record as chief of staff for Kamala Harris’ not-one-delegate presidential campaign, or national megaphone for an ossified Moveon.org, or her stellar work as an MSNBC pundit.
What will a university like Stanford do when it admits much of its 2026 class largely on the basis of tribal considerations? It does not release who of the admitted opted not to take the now-optional SAT. It seems proud, in fact, that it has rejected in the past 70 percent of those applicants with perfect SAT scores. So why would one believe that Stanford truly deplores its past Jewish exclusionary quotas, when it easily trumps them in the present—and uses the same argument of diversity to excuse prejudice and disqualifying those who, by its own former standards, had earned admission?
Diversity is neither a strength nor a weakness. Diversity of thought can be helpful, or become chaotic as orthodoxy. Hitler’s 3.7 million soldiers who charged into Russia were especially diverse, but that fact did not make the invaders less murderous.
A multi-religious India is certainly diverse, but is not always calm or humane. Yugoslavia was diverse, and so is current-day Lebanon. Was either country a kinder, gentler, or more successful society than decidedly nondiverse Japan or Poland?
Just as uniformity can result in both stability and stagnation, so too can diversity sometimes ensure either dynamism or bedlam. In all these cases, the emphasis on tribalism is the critical determinative. If a 95 percent Asian or white country defines itself in blood-and-soil terms as did Japan of the 1930s and early 1940s and Germany between 1933 and 1945, then it becomes toxic, unlike a more natural assumption that race is incidental, not essential, even in a racially uniform society.
The same is true of diversity. Accentuate it; sharpen differences; treat individuals as part of tribal collectives—and a descent into violence and anarchy is assured. But consider tribal differences superficial, and human commonality more important than racial difference, then diversity can be enriching through voluntary contributions to the whole in terms of varieties of food, music, art, fashion, and literature. But again, envision diversity as iron-clad calibrations of identity in which the individual cedes to the collective tribe, then a tribally regressive America will be no different from the world elsewhere and our fate is assured.
So, we are headed, dangerously so, into an historically ugly, hateful, and volatile place—all the more so because we lie that it is utopian when it is pre-civilizational and reactionary.
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.