A quarter of a century ago, a man named Tom Engelhardt wrote a book called The End of Victory Culture—a book that celebrated, only a bit prematurely as it now seems, the demise of America as we had known it up until the end of the Cold War a few years before. In Mr. Engelhardt’s title, the word “victory” was superfluous, since culture itself was what would be ending—though few observers outside the pages of The New Criterion could see it at the time—if and when America truly lost the will or even the inclination to triumph over her enemies. That loss of will, that claim of guilt in self-defense against those who are still willing to fight their enemies, has been seen many times since, but never more clearly than today, when prominent politicians are kneeling, in the universally recognized posture of submission, to violent mobs shattering the domestic tranquility promised by the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.
Of course the politicians are only following the lead, as they always do, of the media. In fact, it could be argued that their symbolic obeisance is really to the “narrative” which the media long ago worked out, with the help of Tom Engelhardt and others. It is an elegant bit of sophistry by which they have lately tried, with unprecedented success, to portray the riotous mobs as the victims and those they have attacked as oppressors. In this upside-down Alice in Wonderland world, none of the remaining institutions of American culture or society are deemed worthy of defending, up to and including the police and the armed forces charged with their defense. When a U.S. senator published an op-ed in our former newspaper of record calling for the Army to restore order to our streets, his article was withdrawn, he was called a fascist on the same page, and the editor who accepted it was fired.
I have sometimes been criticized for overstating my case—for example, in my book Media Madness—regarding the progressive insanity of the media and the Left, now so much further advanced than it was in the year of President Obama’s election. But I would be interested to hear my critics make the case that it is not insane, quite literally, to respond to riot and affray across the country by approving the riotous mob’s slogan to “defund the police.” This morning, The New York Times clucks: “Biden Walks a Cautious Line as He Opposes Defunding the Police”—supposedly “to balance protesters’ calls for a law enforcement overhaul while not alienating moderate voters.” How is this not a euphemistic way of saying that he is trying to generate sympathy for the goals of the insane while not alienating the non-insane? For it can’t be only “moderate voters”—if there are any left—who oppose doing away with the police. The rioters themselves, not to mention their most vocal supporters in the media, must include a fair number of those who, in their more tranquil moments, would be horrified at the idea, even if they would never be guilty of saying so.
For I think that, except in the most extreme cases, the insanity now being promoted by the media is primarily rhetorical. “Defund the police” is a mere slogan, as empty of real-world content as the “structural racism” or “fascism” that is routinely trotted out to justify it. It is just one more example of how the mob’s assault has been just as devastating to our language as it has been to the broader culture of which that language is so essential a part. Having established that “racism” or “fascism” or any other “-ism” currently out of favor can justify any counter-measures they can think of to oppose it, the rioters, or their media apologists, then proceed to the assumption that “racism” or “fascism” is anything they choose to say it is, and therefore must be opposed—with violence, if necessary.
The riots are proof that you or I or anyone else opposed to assaults on the police is just as likely to be identified with the fascist enemy as Senator Cotton was, merely for expressing a preference for order over chaos. We may at first, therefore, balk at the suggestion that the police are “racist” merely by virtue of being the police—which is the point of the mythical construct of “structural racism”—but eventually we are expected to get used to it when we run out of the rhetorical means by which a contrary view could in theory be expressed. Or so the corrupters of our language appear to be reasoning, by virtue of their purging of the vocabulary of dissent along with the Oldthinkers who once used it. As with Tom Engelhardt’s paradoxical victory over “victory culture,” the rioters’ triumph in getting politicians to promise (at least to think about) the abolition of the police is meant to be only aspirational—at least until such insanity shall have come to be so fully taken as the norm by, for example, Mr. Biden’s “moderate voters,” that it shall have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.