Only a few years after 9/11, I visited an old industrial facility that had been restored to operating condition. One of the machines there is an attrition mill, which consists of two steel disks, rotating at high speed in opposite directions and crushing the substance to be milled between them. It struck me then that America…indeed, western civilization as a whole…is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one rotating disk being the Islamic Terrorist enemy and the other disk representing certain tendencies within our own societies…most notably, the focus on group identities, the growing hostility toward free speech, and the sharp decline of civilizational-self confidence. The combination of the upper and lower disks of the metaphorical Attrition Mill is far more dangerous than either by itself would be.
It is now increasingly clear how much the ‘woke’ American Left has in common, at a deep level, with movements such as the Taliban–the suppression of free expression, the insistence that all aspects of life be subjected to an over-arcing ideological or religious framework, the hostility toward history and historical objects (remember the Bamiyan Buddhas?).
I have seen numerous articles and blog posts from people who are generally Left or “liberal”, who now express concern about the excesses of the Left and who blame these excesses on a reaction to Trump. This is nonsense. For anyone who has been paying attention, the increasing irrationality, illiberalism (‘illiberalism’ in the older sense of the word ‘liberal’), and outright hysteria of the American Left has been clear for a long time before Trump ever came on the political scene.
Within days of the collapse of the Towers, the true face of the modern American Left made itself fully visible. “Progressive” demonstrators brought out the stilt-walkers, the Uncle Sam costumes, and the giant puppets of George Bush. They carried signs accusing America of planning “genocide” against the people of Afghanistan. Professors and journalists preached about the sins of Western civilization, asserting that we had brought it all on ourselves. A well-known writer wrote of her unease when her daughter chose to buy and display an American flag. Some universities and K-12 schools banned the display of American flags in dormitories, claiming that such display was “provocative.” There were preemptive scoldings of Americans for the ‘Islamophobia’ that we were expected to demonstrate toward Muslim neighbors.
Attitudes such as those outlined above are no longer a niche thing; they have gone pretty much completely mainstream. And we have a President the bizarreness of whose thought processes are illuminated by his proposal, immediately after 9/11 to send a check for $200 million to Iran with no strings attached.
And, while in 2001 the only serious external threat we needed to be concerned about was Islamic terrorism, today we need as well to be concerned about the pressures from China. And, here again, there are behavior patterns internal to America that mirror their reactions to the external threat from the terrorists…see for example my 2018 post, So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention? Just the other day, I saw a story about an American high school in Colorado which applied for some students to attend a meeting of a United Nations group (the Commission on the Status of Women). The UN committee that accredits such groups emailed the school and said there was a problem: the school’s website used ‘incorrect’ terminology for Taiwan. The committee suggested modifying it to “Taiwan, Province of China.” The school gave in to the request.
China has cited ‘improper’ Taiwan terminology to stall applications from at least six other groups, including the World Bicycle Industry Association and a French nature society called the Association of 3 Hedgehogs. The tentacles of the Chinese regime now extent to all locations in the world and to activities of all kinds. More here.
I can’t come up with a good visual metaphor for the three-way threat that now threatens America’s continuance as a free and independent society, but that threat is very real.
There are a few signs of hope. As noted above, some publications that have been aligned with the Establishment Left are now starting to push back somewhat against aggressive ‘wokeism’. The catastrophe of the Afghan withdrawal has educated some people, especially college-age people, about the fact that America is not the worst nation and the source of all evil in the world; that, indeed, hideous things can be perpetrated by people who are not Americans and also who are not considered White. The supply-chain chaos of the past year and a half has educated many businesses about the dangers of excessive dependency on China.
And, somewhat remarkably, since 9/11 there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks remotely comparable to that one in scale. Though how long this situation will persist, given the Taliban’s newly-established full control of Afghanistan, is an open question.
Things are not hopeless, but the hour is late and the situation is very serious.