“Writers like Koenig would be wise to recognize that when it comes to the intense, tribalistic, and bad-faith rhetoric (and actions) that have contributed to American decline, there are at least two sides to the story.”
n his January 12th Merion West essay “What Ails Us?,” Thomas Koenig warns Americans that their republic is not only in decline but on the verge of collapse. In trying to diagnose what ails the United States, Koenig uses Joseph F. Johnston, Jr.’s recently published book The Decline of Nations as a vessel and seeks to identify the root causes of the anomie and alienation that are so prevalent in the United States. Johnston and Koenig both invoke Rome and Great Britain, two once-great societies gone down. In doing so, they discuss the decline of each state’s aristocracy as an integral part of the overall social collapse. They, then, extrapolate this to suggest that something similar is happening in the United States.
Appearing to borrow an idea from a 2018 New York Times opinion piece by Ross Douthat, Koenig displays a nostalgia for the rule of the WASPs, the elite group that dominated American culture and politics for most of its history. However, in seeming to suggest a return to this sort of elite rule as a remedy to our current problems, Koenig appears ignorant to the actual realities on the ground. What we are seeing right now in the United States is a rebellion against everything that the WASPs stood for. Perhaps Koenig and Douthat should attend the next Black Lives Matter protest and pitch the idea of noblesse oblige, the return to Camelot, and the restoration of the WASPs to their former glory to the protestors who prefer to suggest that white people should “give up” their homes. Perhaps only then will they realize the naiveté of this preposterous idea.
Next, Koenig resorts to the predictable and unimaginative view that all roads to the United States’ demise lead to former President Donald Trump, conspiracy theorizing on the Right, and populist nationalism. Nowhere to be found in Koenig’s diagnosis is the Left’s complicity in our arrival at the current state of affairs. There is no mention of left-leaning news organizations that seek to create news rather than report it or the increasing (and downright eliminationist) calls to ostracize those who have supported President Trump.
This is not the time for quasi-conservatism, dime-store philosophies, or pollyannaish proclamations.
Koenig asserts that the elites that have replaced the WASPs do not engender the same sort of acceptance and trust on the part of the wider public that the WASPs did. Does that really surprise anyone who has been remotely paying attention to what Democratic Party elites have been proposing as of late? The latest incarnation of the Democratic Party no longer understands—more accurately, no longer cares about—the concerns of countless working Americans, many of whom voted twice for President Trump for this reason.
Look no further than the first two nights of the 2020 Democratic primary debate, in which America received a masterclass in political pandering from the candidates, replete with atrocious attempts at speaking Spanish. Then, when a debate moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they supported government-funded, free healthcare for illegal immigrants, every single Democrat enthusiastically supported the idea of making American citizens pay for the healthcare of foreigners who felt free to break American immigration laws. Is it any wonder Americans’ trust in these political figures has declined?
I agree with Koenig that we are in a perilous time in America today, and something must be done. Koenig’s piece is filled with sweeping statements and feel-good-isms but is sparse on solutions. This is not the time for quasi-conservatism, dime-store philosophies, or pollyannaish proclamations. So, in order to begin restoring some of the trust that today’s elites have rightfully hemorrhaged, perhaps we can start with a few specific points. One, censorship and deplatforming must stop. Two, both sides need to put an end to extremist rhetoric and subtle threats of violence and stop pretending these exist only on the other side. Three, we must reject utopian social engineering experiments that—no matter how ridiculous—continue to go largely unchallenged.
There has been a lot of vapid talk from Democrats about coming together and healing the “soul of the nation.” Last night, MSNBC’s Joy Reid called President Trump “a rotten person.” Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker has said, “We need more than deplatforming.” It appears that winning the 2020 election was not sufficient for Democrats; the utter emasculation and hampering of all of President Trump’s 74.2 million voters is now being demanded. Writers like Koenig would be wise to recognize that when it comes to the intense, tribalistic, and bad-faith rhetoric (and actions) that have contributed to American decline, there are at least two sides to the story.
Tony D. Senatore graduated from Columbia University in 2017, at the age of 55. He is also a bassist and musician and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.