The Absurdities of Our Age
By: Victor Davis Hanson
May 22, 2023
A sign of a civilization in headlong decline is its embrace of absurdities. Unfortunately for the United States, we are witnessing an epidemic of nihilist nonsense. Here are a few examples:
How could a dysfunctional state like California even contemplate $800 billion in reparations?
The state currently faces a $31 billion annual deficit—and it’s climbing. Its $100 billion high-speed rail project is inert, a veritable Stonehenge of concrete monoliths without a foot of track.
California’s income tax rates are already the highest in the nation. Its sales taxes, electricity rates, and gas taxes and prices are among the steepest in the country. And for what?
Crime, homelessness, and medieval decay characterize the once-great downtowns of San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is now not safe to walk alone in any major California city after dark.
Shoplifting and smash-and-grab theft are no longer treated as crimes. The result is the mass flight of brand stores from our downtowns and inner cities, with all the accustomed cries of “racism,” even as racist public prosecutors pick and choose whether to indict the arrested based on race.
California infrastructure, once the best in the county, is now among the worst. Decaying and crowded freeways, inadequate water storage, and pot-holed streets are the new norm.
The state’s public schools are dysfunctional. Once premier public universities are spiraling headlong into decline—junking scholastic tests for admissions, using illegal racial quotas to warp admissions, and institutionalizing racialized dorms and graduation ceremonies.
Even if California enjoyed a huge surplus, even if 300,000 residents were not fleeing the state each year, even if California had a history of being a Confederate slave state, even if whites were the majority of the population, even if the black population was greater than its present 5-6 percent, it would be insane for the state to even contemplate racial reparations.
Twenty-seven percent of the state’s residents were born outside of the United States and have no American ancestors. The state is the most racially diverse in America, and one in which every group could, in theory, lodge complaints against the dead of the past. Mexican-Americans, Armenians, Asians, and the descendants of the impoverished “Okie” diaspora could all cite legacies of bias—but from whom exactly? The long dead?
For those of increasingly mixed heritage—about a quarter of the state—did their own ancestors oppress their own ancestors? Are all blacks sure that eight generations ago their individual ancestors were slaves outside of California, and therefore they have monetary grievances against those in the state whose ancestors eight generations ago might have owned slaves outside of California? And can such writs be documented?
Do we really wish to go down this path of destroying individuality and insisting that superficial appearance damns us to a collective rooted in the past?
If so, are we to tally up the half-century role of racial quotas to calibrate all the impoverished whites of the last 50 years who were discriminated against in admissions and hiring? Have there not been existing reparations from the decades-long implementations of racial preferences and exemptions—or perhaps in some $20 trillion in reparatory transferences during a half-century of Great Society entitlements?
If we are collectives and not individuals anymore, are all of us to be judged by adding up our group’s historical and current pluses and minuses?
If so, do we add or subtract reparatory charges based on group data? If one race is vastly overrepresented in hate crimes or interracial crime statistics, and other groups vastly underrepresented as perpetrators, is it the role of the state now to intervene and provide reparatory and collective “equity” from one collective for the relatives of the victims of another collective?
Are we really convinced that past institutional racial bias is all-determinative of present opportunity? If so, why do Asians nationally as a collective on average earn $20,000 a year more than non-Hispanic whites—despite past exclusionary immigration laws, forced government relocations, and zoning prohibitions? Was there some university study that postulated that the Japanese internment or early 20th century Yellow Peril exclusionary immigration statutes were irrelevant to Asian-American upward mobility?
Inequality Under the Laws
Ideology now has made a mockery of the cherished traditions of blind justice and equality under the laws. Whether you are arrested, indicted, and convicted increasingly hinges on your politics.
During the 120 days of 2020 riots, looting, arson, and assault that saw $2 billion in damage, 35-40 killed and hundreds of injured police officers, and 14,000 arrests, were there mass detentions, thousands of convictions and lengthy sentences handed out to Antifa and BLM members for the violence? After all, the insurrectionary rioters staged iconic attacks on the idea of government, whether defined as torching a police precinct or federal courthouse.
Why then were so many protestors of the January 6 demonstrations at the Capitol that saw no violent deaths at the hands of another—except a Trump supporter lethally shot for the misdemeanor of entering a broken window of the Capitol—given lengthy prison sentences?
George Floyd—a 6’4”, 223-pound black career violent felon, arrested while passing counterfeit money, serially high on dangerous drugs, resisting arrest—was choked into unconsciousness while resisting arrest by a reckless white police officer.
Floyd was canonized as an American hero, often portrayed with a halo and angelic wings.
The officer was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a combined state and federal prison sentence of over 40 years.
A white Ashli Babbitt, 5’2”, 113 pounds, a 14-year military veteran, and, like Floyd, unarmed, was lethally shot for the crime of entering a broken window in the Capitol by a black policeman.
Postmortem, her life was smeared and slandered, and her shooter canonized. Was Babbitt some sinner, Floyd a saint? The choker officer, Chauvin, a Satan, the lethal shooter cop, Byrd, godly? The petite Babbitt a mortal danger stopped only by a bullet, the huge Floyd easy to arrest with no need of force?
Why were the downtowns of Washington, D.C. and Seattle simply hijacked and expropriated by violent groups with impunity, while federal troops were forbidden to assist overtaxed local law enforcement? Was that not in stark contrast to the barbed wire, 20,000 soldiers, and barricades that marked Washington for weeks after the Capitol demonstrations?
Why was there not to be a 2020 riot congressional commission to investigate the deaths and destruction caused by groups who crossed state lines to plan and orchestrate the violence, often weaving their conspiracies with the aid of social media?
Did we not fight a Civil War to reestablish that states and locales could not ignore federal laws?
Why did 550 local and state jurisdictions, in old Confederate South Carolina style, declare with impunity that federal immigration law did not apply in their territories? Does the Left now believe in such neo-Confederate principles? Would it applaud counties that rendered federal endangered species, or handgun-control statutes null and void in their jurisdictions?
Or do we now declare some nullifications good and others bad, depending on our own politics?
How did the Biden Administration simply suspend all immigration laws to greenlight 6-7 million illegal entries across the southern border since January 2021? Did Biden not take an oath to execute our laws faithfully?
Does any president now have the right to order the executive branch not to execute entire bodies of federal law? Will the next president declare entire sections of EPA statutes inert by de facto nonenforcement to appease a particular political base?
At any time, did Joe Biden send a bill to Congress requesting that anyone can now cross U.S. borders without identification and legal sanction?
So do citizens fly into JFK or LAX from foreign countries and simply announce that they either forgot their passports or never obtained them? And as a reward for lack of an ID or legal permission, are they still allowed into the United States and given a free phone, and a free hotel room? Do we have one set of laws for citizens and another for non-citizens? And if so, why?
How can a former FBI director under oath claim amnesia or ignorance 245 times during congressional testimony, or leak a classified account of a private conversation with a president with complete impunity, as did James Comey?
How can an FBI director, as did Andrew McCabe, lie on four occasions with impunity to federal investigators? Is it now the case that FBI directors at times must lie and deceive as part of their job descriptions?
How can a former FBI director, as in the case of Robert Mueller, with all seriousness deny under oath any knowledge of Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier, whose controversies prompted his own special counsel appointment? Can citizens tell inquisitive IRS auditors that they have no memory of the deductions in question?
Why is there still an FBI after it has been confessed that it paid a foreign national, Christopher Steele, to compile dirt against a presidential candidate, and paid his source in Washington to provide Steele with false information to impugn a presidential candidate? How did the FBI manage to play a central role in the 2016 and 2020 elections in efforts to alter the result?
How can a legitimate FBI knowingly submit such information that it knew was false to a federal judge to spy on an American citizen to further a farcical plot to destroy a presidential campaign?
So what will the FBI not do? Forge documents? Offer in vain $1 million to a foreign national to verify just one fact in a fake, bought, dossier used to obtain a FISA warrant? Disappear cell phone data under subpoena?
Have high-ranking officials promise that a presidential candidate will never be elected? Infiltrate Latin-Mass Catholic Church services and school board meetings to monitor the activities of church-goers and parents in attendance?
Use armed performance-art SWAT teams to swoop into private homes to arrest suspects accused of mostly misdemeanors? Hire out social media private companies like Twitter to suppress free expression deemed by the FBI unhelpful or problematic?
Suppress information about an FBI-confiscated Hunter Biden laptop, while keeping mum as former intelligence officers lie absurdly before a national election that the computer in FBI hands was likely the work of Russian disinformationists?
Destroy the lives of any whistleblowers who expose such miscreant behavior to Congress?
The journalist/historian Paul Johnson famously once wrote that the tripartite duty of any government leadership was “to ensure external security, internal order and maintenance of an honest currency.”
We certainly do not maintain an honest currency by borrowing 130 percent of annual GDP, with a looming debt of $33 trillion, an annual $1.5 trillion-plus budget deficit, and a 2022 annualized 6.5 percent inflation rate.
But statistics mask the real problem, which is a mentality of suicidal spending passed off as juvenile “modern monetary theory.” Unlimited borrowing as a “theory” is the academic idiocy that some socialist hare-brained professors dreamed up to excuse printing money we do not have.
Both parties have run up the debt. Yet the culpability mounts as each successive president adds to the crushing debt, in fear that on his watch the medicine of restraint will be worse than the disease of insolvency.
Note how casually the federal government burns through billions of dollars. We still have no idea how many billions of dollars in arms and equipment the military shrugged away in Kabul. Who cares anyway whether the terrorist Taliban is becoming one of the largest dispensers of U.S. taxpayers’ weaponry?
Currently, Joe Biden lies that by not spending allotted money he somehow is the greatest deficit hawk in memory, as he rams through a $1.5 trillion 2023 budget deficit.
The top federal income tax rate is 37 percent. In California, to take the example of our largest state, the top state bracket is 13.3 percent. Income subject to federal payroll taxes is 15.3 percent for the self-employed—and income subject to that crushing take is a whopping $160,200.
The above taxes are well aside from capital gains taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and fuel taxes, which, along with income taxes, can easily take 50-60 percent of one’s middle-class income. Note that the government not only does not appreciate the crushing extractions but targets for auditing those who pay at that rate.
Adding insult to injury, our current White House occupant, Mr. “Ten-Percent”/ “The Big Guy” Joe Biden demagogues as “greedy”anyone who resents the wastage of federal spending after handing over half his income to the government. Yet did the Bidens report all their past foreign income and pay at that rate? Could Joe have ensured that his son first paid all he owed to the IRS before he smeared other Americans as not paying their fair shares?
A sane country would immediately reboot and update the old Simpson-Bowles reduction and simplification of taxes and spending proposals that would gradually work our way toward a balanced budget—and maybe, in a century, pay off what we have borrowed.
But we know that is impossible since we would hear ad nauseam that such fiscal integrity was racist, heartless, and cruel.
So we will keep up borrowing and printing bread-and-circus money until, like the late fourth-century polis, or late imperial Rome, there is finally no money for the upkeep of infrastructure, domestic law and order, and deterrence against foreign enemies.
Then what cannot go on, will not go on, and all the absurdities of the present will end with a bang, not a whimper.