Signs of Decay, Fears of Decline.
By: Victor Davis Hanson - Blade of Perseus
We can calibrate the decline in the quality of American life by comparisons to both societies of the past and contemporary civilization elsewhere. And the result is not encouraging for Americans.
I believe I may have visited 80 percent of the so-called first world countries in Europe and the Middle East, and in most of the major capitals and large cities—Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Nicosia, Paris, Prague, Rome, Warsaw, etc., as well as the first-, second-, and third-world non-European cities of Algiers, Amman, Ankara, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Kuwait City, Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Tripoli.
Over the last 40 years, I have had major surgeries in these cities, stayed in “bad areas,” lived for nearly three years abroad, and traveled to their hinterlands. I have been a journalist who visited Iraq twice during the surge of 2006–07, was in Israel during the worst of the suicide bombings, lived in Athens during the 1973 coup and 1974 war in Cyprus, and visited for two weeks Egypt just after the Yom Kippur War. I have seen firsthand the toxic work of dictators like Khadafi, the violence of the PLO, the changes in Erdogan’s Turkey, and the incompetence of socialists in Europe.
And yet, I never saw in the slums of old Cairo or in the worst environs of Brussels and Naples, or amid the poverty of 1970s rural Turkey anything like what I saw in San Francisco this year and last. The undressed on Market Street and near Union Square were routinely smoking dope, injecting drugs, defecating, urinating, and in various states of pre-civilized behavior. The homeless enclaves of Los Angeles are worse. Were these scenes being filmed for The Last of Us?
Beautiful office buildings were empty. Former stores were shuttered.
I don’t think in the dark days of the Iraq surge, I saw routine smash-and-grab or carjacking to the extent of what routinely goes on in our major cities. I wore body armor in Iraq each day and evening when on patrols with soldiers, and felt much safer than I would after hours on the weekends in Chicago, Baltimore, Memphis, or Detroit.
I was operated on for a ruptured appendix and peritonitis on a wooden table with only an ether fix in a Red Crescent clinic in Khadafi’s Libya, and yet I felt the third-world clinic care in terms of the clientele and fellow patients was less scary than what I have witnessed in ER rooms in the Central Valley of California or in Tucson or Washington, D.C.
I used to define America as hyper-civilized by the courtesy and professionalism of its drivers—not far behind those in Canada, the UK, and Australia—especially in comparison to the road madness in Rome or Athens, or Cairo.
But no longer. The daily fare of the Fresno Bee is a recitation of high-speed wrecks, car jackings, fatal DUIs, and hit-and-run smash-ups. When I drive rural roads in central California, I expect that one out of five cars coming in my direction will be drifting into my lane, either due to incompetence, unfamiliarity with U.S. traffic laws (27 percent of Californians were not born in the U.S.), intoxication or drug euphoria—or texting.
Walking in downtown or midtown New York, or in Washington, or Seattle stinks more than I remember of the corniche in Beirut or the harbor promenade in Alexandria. I am much more likely to be accosted by an obnoxious stranger, homeless person, or would-be criminal in downtown LA, San Francisco, or Portland than in Brussels or Naples—and that is saying something given the latter two disasters. I do not think in Paris or Amman people walk into stores, rob them, and walk out with impunity, with the knowledge that clerks will be fired for reporting their thefts.
When I drive in rural California and see the shacks, trailers, and compounds of 30-40 persons living in ad hoc shelters with Romex wire and water hoses attached to a small farmhouse, I conclude that this poverty is much more a third-world scene than I remember of Tunisia, Algeria, or Turkey.
Or for that matter, the countryside of northern Mexico seems less impoverished than life outside Mendota, San Joaquin, Orange Cove, or Parlier, California. I would take my chances walking at night in Kuwait City over Minneapolis and would likely find a public restroom on California’s I-5 or the 99 dirtier than its counterpart in rural Greece.
Students that I have met in rural Greece were far better educated than their age counterparts in California. Spaniards in the countryside seemed to know more about America than American teens in New York or Philadelphia.
Japanese or Kuwaiti exchange students I had in college were far better educated than most of my own CSU students. When I taught at Pepperdine, I explained to Chinese students why they rightly seemed afraid to drive alone into most areas of Los Angeles after hours.
My point? The basics of life, especially in our major cities—health care, safety, cleanliness—have reached medieval proportions.
Or to put it more accurately, there are very different Americas. A sophisticated successful suburban America maintains more or less life as unchanged from the 1970s or 1980s and remains comparable to or better than what is found in Europe.
And then there are red-state rural country sides and small towns that likewise are still civilized.
But in a third of America in parts of the suburbs surrounding the major cities and the cores of almost all our major cities, life is truly third or fourth-world. The ERs are dirty, broke, and mostly exist to attend to evening gunshot wounds and other sorts of inner-city violence.
Garbage piles up on sidewalks around stuffed cans and bins. It is hard to judge whether the smell of marijuana or feces is the stronger odor.
I lost my wallet once in Athens and it was returned in two hours. I have lost glasses, wallet, and cell phones in my hometown of Selma and usually they were never returned or within hours I had thefts show up on my credit cards.
If my car broke down on the side of a freeway, I would prefer it happened in Israel, Germany, or Portugal than in California. There are more broken appliances and wet garbage tossed along the roads of Fresno County than there are in supposedly ragtag Italy.
None of this was true just 20 years ago. When I meet a teen or 20-something person today, I assume he is poorly educated and knows almost nothing about his own country, Gettysburg, World War I, or the Supreme Court. I can be assured only that he is programmed to have the correct ideas about diversity, transgenderism, or the pathologies of his country.
Ignorance and arrogance are a fatal combination, especially when combined with a therapeutic society that has abandoned meritocracy and feels social acceptance and career advantage are found in trashing one’s own culture.
What explains this decline, a decay so rapid that it seems surreal, fantasy-like? How did slow erosion accelerate to produce an unrecognizable country, in which nothing is secure, nothing reliable, nothing predictable anymore?
Another sign of decline is the weaponization and politicization of institutions. Decadent societies indict their former leaders upon leaving offices. Those in power sic federal agencies on their opponents.
In turn, bureaucrats become agents of those in power, as if in private service—like laptop suppression, diary retrieval, performance-art raiding and arresting, or finding a presidential son’s missing gun.
The Biden family may well have pulled off the greatest pay-for-play grifting scam in presidential history, one that encompassed a decade of selling access to Vice President Biden and supposedly someday President Biden. That the entire kleptocracy will likely only be prosecuted if a Republican administration returns to power is again proof of our third-worldism.
The careers of John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Anthony Fauci, Lois Lerner, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, and Christopher Wray were weaponized. The above either lied under oath when pressed, suppressed an email trail that exposed their culpability or worked hard to discredit or destroy a political candidate they opposed, or simply stonewalled when asked under oath for accountability.
In third-world America, Matt Taibbi testifies about the abuse and politicization of federal agencies and upon return to his home finds an IRS note requesting a meeting. An Alvin Bragg finds no actionable writ of “falsifying business records” to lodge against private citizen and ex-president Trump but mysteriously does rediscover grounds for a 34-felony-count indictment on now presidential candidate Donald Trump.
When the FBI shows up at school board meeting on the prompt of the teachers’ union hierarchy, or Hillary Clinton destroys with impunity thousands of email records under court subpoena, or during the Roe versus Wade controversies, the FBI starts monitoring traditional Latin-mass Catholic services, or the U.S. military begins sponsoring drag queen shows on military bases, or the President and the Homeland Security secretary condemn as guilty border patrol agents for the fantasy crime of “whipping” illegal alien border crossings as preludes to an announced “investigation,” then we know the U.S. has gone full Brazil, Lebanon, or Congo.
There used to be far more accidents, crashes, mayhem, and chaos in the third world than in America because of an absence of meritocracy. Things break and never get repaired or were substandard to begin with.
I once took a taxi from the airport into Tripoli, Libya, one of the world’s greatest oil exporters. We hit a pothole that swallowed our small Russian car. Then matter-of-factly we both got out to lift the rear of the tiny car out. I asked the driver how such gargantuan road holes could be possible in a nation blessed with limitless oil reserves. His answer was, “We hire our first cousins.”
Translated? “We are tribal people who abhor meritocracy.” During the 1973 Greek dictatorship, my mom sent a pair of $10 Levi’s to me in Athens. They arrived at “customs” which sent me a note to pick them up. I went to the central Athens postal customs office and was told I could have them for $25!
I complained to my Greek professor at the college there. She said, “Give them $5 along with the name of our college director.” I did and the next day the customs supervisor apologized but still asked for $10, which I happily handed over.
So too with wokeness.
The old joke that affirmative action was just desserts for the mediocre politicized English or sociology department, but would never be applied to air traffic controllers, pilots, brain surgeons, or nuclear plant operators is no longer jest.
Non-meritocratic hiring now encompasses every profession. And like the Libyan taxi, we will soon see what filters down when our elite are put in positions of enormous clout and power, largely on the basis of ideological, racial, gender, or ethnic considerations.
If you doubt, remember that a non-compos mentis Biden is one more fall away from Kamala Harris, selected entirely based on her race and sex, and who seems to have a vocabulary smaller than her menu of various chuckles.
Her presidency really would prove that anyone at all can be president.
If you do not take an interest
in the affairs of your government,
then you are doomed to live under
the rule of fools.