Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Change – It’s Blowing In The Wind”
October 24, 2016
“Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind;
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
Bob Dylan (1941-)
“Blowin’ in the Wind” 1962
2016 Nobel Prize winner for literature
Whether Donald Trump wins or loses in November, one thing seems certain – change is in the air. There are many reasons for this: Wars in the Middle East have forced millions to flee their homelands. Globalization, technology, and the creative destruction they have brought has caused tens of thousands to lose their jobs. Change can be both good and bad, but change is inevitable. It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who allegedly said that “change is the only constant in life.” There is no time when change is not present, but there are distinct times when it is pivotal. At the risk of sounding like the boy who cried wolf, I believe this is one of those times.
Other factors are also at work. Government has become larger, less accountable and less representative. (In 1800, 32 Senators and 105 Representatives represented 5.3 million people. Today, 535 Congressional members of Congress represent 320 million people.) Have we become too large for representative government? I hope not and I don’t believe we have. The Executive branch – via multiple agencies run by unaccountable bureaucrats – has increased its power over the purse. Corruption has become rampant, suggesting term limits for Congress may be one answer. The Supreme Court has become politicized, as ideologies have replaced adherence to the Constitution, at least from the perspective of those making appointments. The absence of a military draft has rendered less meaningful universal concepts of public service, self-sacrifice and patriotism. Universities have become sanctuaries where students are provided “safe places” to protect them from “uncomfortable” words and phrases. School choice is denied to all but the wealthy. Political correctness has become the God before whom we genuflect. We apologize for past sins rather than celebrate the benefits democracy and free-markets have wrought.
Globally, liberalism and capitalism are under attack, as are institutions that have defined Western civilization for years – family; values; religious organizations; community groups; the free flow of ideas in colleges and universities. Our public schools no longer teach discipline, mutual respect and the virtues of citizenship. White Americans are told to acknowledge their “privilege” and are condemned for deeds done by previous generations, in very different times. We are pompously instructed by “our betters” to allow into the country, without proper vetting, those who would destroy the culture that permitted our society to blossom. Political elites live segregated lives, in gated communities, with children in exclusive schools. They live lives unaffected from the consequences of their policies. As Admiral Boom warns Bert in “Mary Poppins,” “heavy weather brewing there!”
Amidst this turbulence, we should be careful for what we wish. We should recognize how Western thought has served as ballast to our nation states, and we should understand the unchanging nature of moral values. In his 1993 book The Moral Sense, James Q. Wilson noted that it was in the West, and only in the West, that freedom for all men became a fundamental moral principle. It didn’t happen all at once, and it didn’t spread evenly. But the West is where it began. He wrote: “The kind of culture that can maintain reasonable human commitments takes centuries to create, but only a few generations to destroy.” We now see freedom slipping away bit-by-bit, as the state strengthens its hand, using the tax code to benefit special interests and federal agencies to promote favored businesses. We see odd bedfellows working together – academia, mainstream media, Hollywood, elitist politicians, union and business leaders, and bankers who freely migrate between Wall Street and K Street – to maintain power and generate personal wealth.
The possibility that their comfortable place could be disrupted by the election of Donald Trump, terrifies these elites. Mainstream media has decided that impartiality in reporting news is less important than denying Trump the election. Universities claim to be bastions for the free exchange of ideas, yet are overwhelmingly liberal, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans twelve to one. We see civil rights leaders whose self-interest supersedes any concern for those they purport to represent.
But things are changing, and with it a backlash, in which the cure may be worse than the disease. In 1995, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, in which he made the case that Americans were no longer the energetic joiners they had been in the 1950s – that they had become detached from civic life and deprived of person-to-person social networks. In Coming Apart (2012), Charles Murray described the economic divide and moral decline of white Americans, contrasting the poor, white neighborhood of Fishtown in Philadelphia to the fictional upscale town of Belmont. In Hillbilly Elegy (2016), J.D. Vance tells his story of growing up in the small, rust-belt town of Middletown, Ohio in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He writes of poor, white people who have developed mistrust of government institutions, those who now form the base of Donald Trump’s supporters. These are Hillary’s “deplorables” and “unredeemables.” Politicians have segregated the electorate into easily identifiable groups, but have left out white middleclass and poor, men and women who once held private sector union jobs – jobs that have been shipped offshore. They see liberal politicians cater to blacks, Hispanics, gays and transgenders, yet ignore what was once the backbone of the American workforce. They see Washington require the Catholic Church provide contraception to female employees, yet the same government discourage Catholic schools from offering school choice to middle class and low-income families. They see a President unwilling to call Islamic terrorists by name. They live in a country they no longer understand.
Across the globe, men and women have begun to stand up against elites who control government, unions, banks and large businesses. People have grown weary of the lies, the corruption and the self-dealing. A few years ago we saw the spontaneous rise of the Tea Party, which reflected a simmering discontent with the establishment. We see African-American moms clamor to get their children into union-free Charter schools, knowing that a good education is fundamental to future success; and then watch NAACP leaders endorse teachers’ unions that have done so much to suppress school choice. Demographics play a role. High birthrates in wealthy countries reflect optimism. Yet, birthrates are declining in the West, indicating pessimism and magnifying future entitlements, with too few workers paying for too many retirees. In Europe and the U.S., people see higher Muslim birthrates and rebel against liberal, unthinking immigration policies, which portend a cultural shift in the decades and generations ahead – a change that will cause societies to be less liberal, less equitable than the Christian-Judeo ones we have known.
Brexit in England was manifestation of this unrest, as was the Republican nomination of Donald Trump in the United States. (In contrast, the coronation of Hillary Clinton by Democrats, despite her lies and corruption, evidenced a desire to maintain the status quo.) No matter who wins or loses in November, these events suggest an irreversible force moving across the West – a blowing in the wind – that is questioning the assumed wisdom of elites who have led us to this angry and dissonant place.