Coming Into Focus
For a long time now, I have watched with consternation and confusion as just about every pillar of the foundation of my belief in the civil society into which I was born and which I grew to appreciate and respect has been attacked, undermined, minimized, misrepresented or ignored. The consistency, continuity and near universality of these attacks – some overt, most subtle and insidious – suggested to me some organized effort or purpose, but the scale and pervasiveness of what I was witnessing, I thought, would be well beyond the imagining of even the most creative conspiracy theorist.
And yet day after day, year after year, I would see or hear something that did not make sense, that did not fit with my understanding of the facts or the nature of the organization or principle being attacked. The height (or depth) of this effort involved attacks on our national Constitution, the literal cornerstone of our American way of life, the protector of our individual liberties and the authorizer – and limiter – of our national government. Incredibly, these attacks came not from foreign sources but from our own social and political leaders, including many who had personally sworn an oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Initially, I kept these concerns to myself. More recently, I have found that expressing them carries risk. Somehow, we as a nation have allowed the development of a “woke” mindset and “cancel” culture that attacks and beats down any views or expression of opinion that do not conform strictly to the fluid and evolving beliefs and prescriptions of the then-current “politically correct” social orthodoxy.
How in the world did we get to this place? I think I now have a clue.
I recently read David Horowitz’s 2018 book “Dark Agenda.” It is a compelling – and disturbing – analysis of the concerted attack on two of the pillars I personally care deeply about: organized religion (Christianity in particular) and the Constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. His thesis is that religion – the belief in a transcendent authority – is the most powerful obstacle to those wishing to transform American society along the lines of a secular, socialist ideology. He makes the case that those advocating this change do not seek to effect it through evolutionary means (i.e., following the existing rules for change) but rather to force it through other (i.e., revolutionary) action. It is a sobering account, but illuminating in a number of important ways.
In 1867, Karl Marx published the first volume of “Das Kapital” in which he laid out his theories on capitalism and the interrelationship between capital (the owning class) and labor (the working class). In Marx’s view, all profit results from the “exploitation of labor” and thus capitalism is founded on the interaction between the “oppressor” (owners) and “oppressed” (workers) classes. Ultimately, in his words, the “capitalist class becomes unfit to rule, because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery.” This then results in the collapse of the capitalistic system, leaving the working class holding all economic and political power. Thus was born the concept of class warfare and the categorization of just about everyone into the categories of oppressor (the “haves”) and oppressed (the “have nots”). Note that those terms are intentionally value-laden: the oppressed are inherently considered “good,” as a result the diametrically opposed oppressors must therefore be considered “bad,” and the good class has a moral obligation to oppose and defeat the bad class by any and all means, without consideration of cost.
Today, we see the echoes of Marx’s thinking everywhere, often used as means or justification in the pursuit of agendas by those seeking power, as opposed to progress. We see it most particularly in the statements and actions of those looking to divide us further as a nation, to pit one group against another. As Saul Alinsky, the “father” of community organizers, wrote in his book “Rules for Radicals,” “In the beginning the organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems.” What could possibly be the reason for creating problems and discord? Alinsky provides the answer: to sow confusion and doubt in the mind of the people and make fertile the ground for revolution. He writes, “Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future.” That future, presumably, would be socialistic.
This perspective helps me to make some sense of recent events and developments: the rise of individual and group “victimhood;” hate speech; revisionist history (particularly on the topic of our nation’s founding); demonization of wealth and the wealthy; balkanization of our citizenry into self-identified and exclusionary ethnic, racial and religious groups; lack of tolerance of competing viewpoints; the concepts of “white privilege” and “systemic racism;” the anger in our political discourse; the proclivity to take offense at just about anything; the breakdown in governmental processes and rejection of compromise as a tool to “getting things done;” the appalling failure of local political leaders to protect their constituents from harm by lawbreakers; and the deeply destructive tactic of personalization and ad hominem attacks on those holding or expressing divergent views.
This last element is classic Alinsky: his 13th and final rule reads, “’Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’ Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.” What a cynical viewpoint, and yet we see evidence of its influence and use every day in attacks on the people – including historical figures – positions, institutions and principles that I have looked to as the basis for my belief in the underlying goodness and reasonableness of our American society. I am left to wonder, are we being set up for some “transformational” change that would be, at least to my mind, unwelcome? And if so, how might we know?
We used to pride ourselves in saying that our nation was one ruled by laws and not by men. Recently, we’ve witnessed the rule of law break down spectacularly in some of our largest cities, with violent mobs running unrestrained, often without consequences. I’d say that’s a pretty good sign. However, as troubling as that is, I actually think that there is a larger, more dangerous “mob” in constant action that needs to be considered: the media, both mass and social.
George Orwell’s book “1984” was prophetic in its warnings about the dangers of succumbing to group think, enforced by Thought Police in his dystopian world “fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism and propaganda.” I believe that Orwell would see parallels to his work in the way in which our traditional media currently operates, by substituting opinion for news and twisting editorial content to fit particular political viewpoints and agendas. I believe he would recognize it as propaganda, and would be saddened to know that his warnings were not heeded and his predictions had come true.
But neither Orwell nor Alinsky could have foreseen the creation of the internet and its rise in influence to a level greater than traditional media. If they had, Alinsky would have been elated and Orwell likely would have been terrified. Whereas traditional media always had the potential to veer into propaganda (one could argue that it has now done so), it historically remained self-governed; internet-based “social” media, on the other hand, is essentially unregulated and ungoverned. It thus has the potential to act in a mob-like manner, editing and censoring information, influencing opinion and punishing users who stray from its unconstrained vision of truth and acceptable behavior. Ironically, the tool which could support the freest of all speech has become a potential threat to freedom of speech, the Thought Police of today, enforcing the dictates of political correctness.
So, what are we to do about all this?
First, don’t lose hope; to be informed and forewarned is to be forearmed. Read Horowitz’s book (he has actually written a number of them touching on this topic). Consider what you are hearing and experiencing with an open mind, making your own conclusions about what seems right and what seems wrong, what may be incomplete or biased, or just plain crazy. Speak up if you are willing (but be prepared to endure social opprobrium if your views are considered out of the mainstream).
Second, I believe we all need to heed the early 19th century warning of Joseph de Maistre: “Toute nation a le government qu'elle mérite” (Every nation gets the government it deserves). If we are comfortable with the status quo, then there is nothing to do. If not, then there potentially is much to do. “We the people” are our nation, and our Constitution gives us the right to choose our leaders and the direction in which we wish to be led. If so inclined, we have an opportunity early November to exercise that right.
An audio recording of this article can be accessed at