Intellectual historians sometimes refer to the “climate of opinion” as a means of marking one historical era from another. On a more granular level, folks speak of the so-called “Overton window” as the range of acceptable opinion at a given moment in time. (This latter concept takes its name from Joseph Overton, who wrote a series of papers on the concept almost a decade ago.)
Swim too far outside the mainstream, and you become an outcast, crank or conspiracy theorist.
The fact is that at any given moment in time some ideas are accorded the status of facts, or accepted premises on which on which a convincing argument can be built. Of course, folks who don’t accept the premises will likely never be convinced by the conclusions of such arguments. There are conflicts about premises, about ideals on which to build argument, that are so fundamental that the conflicts can tear a society apart.
Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire thinks we are living in a such time. His recent book, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps, has skyrocketed to bestseller status. His claim is simple and persuasive: There are two contrasting views of American history and of our future.
To the left are the “disintegrationists,” those who view our history as a clash of group identities and regard the Constitution and founding documents as little more than a lie. America, he argues, looks to this group like little more than a cruel hoax. The nation was built on white privilege; dismantling that privilege based on broad claims of “intersectional” identity requires tearing down existing institutional and cultural norms, and reimagining our history.
Thus, America’s founding is not 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, or 1789, when the U.S. Constitution became the law of the land. No, our founding was in 1619, when the first slave was imported to these shores. We must reimagine our history through this prism of oppression if we are to gain a proper understanding of our past, a true read on the arc of our history, and a worthy goal toward which we should aspire. No less a paper than The New York Times has signed on this project, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its 1619 Project, an effort to give voice to the “oppressed.”
Cancel culture and the woke imperative are also a product of disintegrationism. Our institutions reflect “systemic racism” and the necrotic embrace of white male privilege. A black man is shot resisting arrest? Systemic racism revealed again. You are never a neutral in these new group Identitarian battles. You are either anti-racist or a racist, never a neutral. If you don’t own your privilege you are damned. You can’t be right if you are white.
It is a tedious and specious form of nonsense, this effort to rewrite the nation’s history through the view of a black lens, and this imperative to recast every transaction through the prism of racial grievance. Shapiro is taking aim at it.
He counters by offering a bold embrace of simple truths; Government springs from the consent of the governed; our history reflects the steady advance toward the perfection of ideals unique to this nation at the time of the founding; a limited view of government as a mere tool used by individuals possessing inalienable rights, individuals free to express their opinions, beliefs and dreams. Shapiro’s a classic conservative: Our history reflects a people still struggling to achieve the ideals it declared at its founding, He has nothing but scorn for those who would rework the basics of our history, culture and institutions for the sake of their idiosyncratic views of social justice.
I like Shaprio’s focus, and I share his contempt for the new Identitarians. Indeed, Shapiro is going so far as to declare war on what he refers to as the “legacy media,” what others refer to as the “mainstream media.” His daily podcast and news service, Daily Wire, is moving from Los Angeles, California to Nashville, Tennessee. He’s hiring new writers, columnists and reporters to provide an alternative. He wants to replace The New York Times.
It’s a tall order. I’m not sure he’s up to the task. Yes, the New York Times has lost its way – I can no longer read it: a paper that stirs racial resentment by referring, as though it were a fact unworthy of questioning, to the civil unrest after George Floyd’s death as a “racial reckoning” looks less like the Old Grey Lady of journalism than the Bossy Black Broad hustling on the street corner. I no longer read the Times.
I’m not buying the narrative about white privilege, what I owe to others on account of their and my accidents of birth, and I won’t call the sight of property in flames a “mostly peaceful protest.” I suspect many of the 70-plus million voters who cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2020 felt the same. We’re not racists, despite the narrative peddled by the Times and others. Insisting on this ridiculous claim amplifies and creates new divisions.
So I am rooting for Shapiro and the Daily Wire, even as I root for Parler, MeWe, and other sites refusing to be cancelled by a self-serving and too precious view of our history and times. I look forward to the elections in 2022 and 2024, and a reckoning of a different sort. Democrats lost significant ground in 2020 not because of the racism of their opponents, but because of a widespread and healthy revulsion over the new politics of racial entitlement.
Consider this year's vote to amend the Constitution in California to permit affirmative action, a move seen by many as a predicate to creation of race-based reparations payments: It was defeated by a wide margin, with Latinos, Asians and Caucasian voters opposing the measure. There’s hope in a diverse people seeking to become one; there is discord in diversity becoming an end in itself, with folks seeking the entitlements that come of “victimhood.” America has long been a land of opportunity; it becomes a place of racial opportunism only if we permit it to do so.
Let’s be real. The moral arc of American history is long. Slavery has been abolished, Jim Crow abandoned, federal civil rights legislation is now decades old. Short of stopping the clock, turning the world upside down and making the 13 percent of the population who are African-Americans kings and queens for a decade, the race card has played itself out.
It’s time for all of us to pick up our beds and walk. As for me, I’ll be walking on over to the Daily Wire to check it out. You should, too.