Victor Davis Hanson: America — Compared to What?





[Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

...It starts at home. The so-called cultural elite — professors, those in the arts, the foundations, the establishment media, the Kerry-Edwards-Gore-Kennedy type, multimillionaire liberal politicos, the inherited Big Money, the doyens of the race industry — are now disconnected from material reality. Most have not a clue how hard it is to pump oil out of the ground, grow food, or build a bridge; all such largess is taken as givens, and produced by a money-grubbing distant “they” who like this sort of icky, retrograde work. (Had a young Barack Obama put away the Panama hat and the federal money for a summer, he could have apprenticed on an oil rig or picked peaches and learned something.)

The result is that millions of elites have the capital, the leisure, and the inclination to think utopia is within their grasp; that the blueprint of the Upper East Side, Palo Alto, Cambridge, Malibu, or Carmel can be extended throughout the world — if only there were just enough far-sighted caring people like themselves with clean fingernails, an exalted sense of self, and children at Amherst or Brown.

So they hold the U.S. up to a standard that indicts us as bad since we cannot possibly be perfect. And like medieval churchmen who crossed themselves on the way to sodomy, lucre, and graft, so too toss-off lines damning a Bush or Cheney or Halliburton are the new sorts of ritual entre necessary to join a faculty or work at a foundation or get hired at a newsroom....

Unlike the professor or correspondent who makes his money by often going abroad and so wants to be liked by the envious (that makes cappuccino time far easier), the farmer, welder, and clerk don’t much care, at least in comparison to financing the boat, getting a rug, or ensuring that at least one kid somehow makes it through college. Do you wish to get a Frenchman, Greek, Mexican or Iranian angry? (I know, I’ve done it.) Then simply in the midst of his normal dressing down of America, meekly reply, “Well, er, I don’t think Americans much like your country either.” Anguish, shock, real hurt all follow — as in “How could you be so cruel to say that?”

In other words, imagine a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house-type neighborhood in a so-so location. Suddenly this new mega-salesman moves in (1776-2010 is new). He tears down about four tract houses, and plops down in their place a faux-Florentine palazzo McMansion, as crass as it is comfortable. It towers over the rest and is full of glitzy appliances, with a five-care garage and pool, fake columns and domes — the whole bit. Then the proud new owner walks nightly down the neighborhood sidewalk with his white tennis shoes and a baseball cap, and smiling with his hand out-stretched, blaring out now and then to strangers — in sincere and heartfelt fashion as the nice guy he is — “How are you fellows doing? Real nice to meet you. Call me if I can help at all.”

I doubt the impressed neighborhood crowd would say, “Thanks so much. Please show me how you made such money to buy such an impressive house.” More likely at night, local youths would throw trash on the lawn, and spray graffiti on his stone wall — while during the day their parents would finagle how to marry at least one of them off to the rich salesman’s pom-pom daughters.

That’s sort of America — and the world. End of story.


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