by Bruce Bawer
Once upon a time, there was a president called Ronald Reagan – a model of decency and probity, at once great and self-effacing, who, above all, was truly in love with America and saw it as his sacred mission to preserve and strengthen American freedom. During his eight-year tenure, he revitalized the U.S. economy, snapped us out of what his disastrous predecessor had referred to as “our malaise,” and helped bring down the Soviet Union.
Then he walked off into the sunset. And for the next seven presidential terms, we had to make do with mediocrity and self-dealing. Both parties were dominated by crime families – sorry, I mean political dynasties. The Bushes were uninspiring. The Clintons were pure slime.
The 1960s had introduced a toxic counterculture rooted in reflexive oikophobia. It had grown apace ever since. The Bushes did nothing to resist it; Clinton himself was very much a part of it. In a famous speech at the 1992 Republican convention, Pat Buchanan warned that America was in a “culture war” – a “war for the soul of America.”
He was right. But he identified the primary enemy as gays. In fact, the culture war had nothing to do with gays. It was about, among other things, professors who praised Marx and kids who wore Che t-shirts. After 9/11, it was also about people who, not knowing a thing about Islam, whitewashed it and claimed that America had deserved the jihadist attacks.
Buchanan’s speech was a great gift to the counterculturists: it enabled them to paint the GOP as a party not of freedom but of bigotry. He wasn’t alone. There were plenty of Republican politicians who, instead of being clear about the nature of the culture war, lazily played the anti-gay card.
Meanwhile the real enemy within grew, all but unopposed.
Then along came Barack Obama. He was the enemy within. His memoir Dreams from My Father suggested that he had far more affection for Kenya and Indonesia than for America. His mentor, Jeremiah Wright, was a virulent America-hater.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama posed as a healer of America’s oldest wounds. He turned out to be a divider. Soon after taking office, he ran off to Cairo to tell pretty lies about Islam.
In the years that followed, the enemy within cemented its control over large swathes of academia, big business, and the news media. Poisonous academic notions about group identity, victimhood, oppression, and white supremacy went mainstream.
And instead of using his unique position as America’s first black president to resist all this, Obama encouraged it.
A Hero Rides In – On an Escalator
All seemed lost. Then Donald Trump came down that shiny escalator, introducing a campaign with a simple slogan: “America First.”
At first his candidacy looked like a stunt. But his performance in the primaries opened our eyes. For the first time since Reagan, we saw a worthwhile alternative to cowardly careerist politicians with no convictions and no cojones – pols who were, at worst, aggressively pushing a divisive, anti-American agenda and, at best, quietly overseeing America’s managed decline.
Media commentators, themselves products of the post-1960s counterculture, pronounced Trump a buffoon and a vulgarian; millions of Americans, however, looked at him and saw a potential savior – a real warrior who shared their love of America and who, it seemed, might just win the culture war.
Like Reagan, Trump actually seemed to care about ordinary Americans. The Bushes and Clintons had gotten rich as “public servants”; Trump, a billionaire, stood only to lose money by throwing his hat in the ring.
A longtime New York fixture, he was famous for hiring smart people regardless of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. He supported same-sex marriage long before Obama or Hillary Clinton did. During the campaign, unlike GOP candidates before him, he never came close to gay-bashing. Yet the Left portrayed him as a bigot, and veteran GOP bigshots accused him, hilariously, of having sullied a party that had once oozed dignity and class.
Meanwhile, Obama, Clinton, and Biden conspired to destroy the Trump campaign and then the Trump presidency with lies about nefarious foreign ties. In fact, it was Hillary and Biden, all along, who had the nefarious foreign ties.
The four years that followed Trump’s inauguration were crowded with triumphs, domestic and foreign, of the sort that no president in our lifetimes—not even Reagan—had dreamed of achieving. And every day, the media, in lockstep, deep-sixed those triumphs while bashing Trump.
Quite simply, over the course of the Trump years, what had once been the counterculture, became the dominant culture, and went mad. Word went out that everything was racist; that there are dozens of genders and that you are whatever sex you say you are; and that police departments should be defunded. The death of a previously obscure Minneapolis thug led to months of destructive riots all over the country, and even abroad.
The culture war had finally come to a head. In George Floyd, the former counterculture had found its unworthy martyr. In Trump, law-abiding Americans had found their hero. And the enemies within had shed their mainstream masks and were doing everything they could to bring the president down.
A Lone Hero
During his presidency, Trump has seemed almost to be acting alone, with members of his own administration and party lined up against him. Except in the final days of Richard Nixon’s presidency, when have we ever seen a president so alone? When in recent American history, except during the New York mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani, had so positive a turnaround been so obviously attributable to a single individual?
Yes, the idea of a country being saved by a single “great man” can be dangerous. In the last century, it led to the dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and several others. But facts are facts: Trump, today, is America’s essential man. Though surrounded by enemies in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and all over Washington, he’s enjoyed an unprecedented level of public support.
Never – and this assertion seems unarguable – have so many Americans loved their president so much, or trusted him so implicitly, or been so certain of his genuine concern for their welfare. Watching Trump rallies on TV, I’ve often found myself thinking: if only Adams or Jefferson or Franklin could see this!
Because this wasn’t by any means a Communist-style cult of personality, with people feeling scared not to cheer. This was the real thing – a good thing – a democratically elected leader being applauded by ordinary citizens from every imaginable kind of background for keeping his promises and for serving his people.
Uniformly, the counterculture-bred “journalists” who “reported” on these peaceful patriotic events depicted the participants as scum. Then, toward the end of Trump’s term, cities around America erupted in violent riots by members of what once would have been called the counterculture, and the same “journalists” depicted those participants as heroes.
Finally, the ultimate culture war atrocity: a manifestly stolen election.
The theft was breathtaking in the insane lust for power, and the contempt for opponents, that made it possible. It was stunning in its brazenness. Which made sense: for decades, as it had advanced apace – in what has been called “the long march through the institutions” – the counterculture had grown used to easy conquests. It apparently hadn’t expected much in the way of resistance this time, either.
The whole scenario is quite clear. They’re just like schoolyard bullies. Because Trump supporters are honest, good-mannered, and peaceable, they take us for wimps.
And alas, some old-line Republican members of Congress, who at this point are perhaps all that’s standing between us and a Biden presidency, are wimps – prepared to roll over to maintain a factitious peace.
The majority of our Supreme Court justices – who, against all logic, denied that Texas has standing to challenge the presidential vote in another state – are wimps, too.
But we can’t let their passivity prevail. We need to make it clear that, peaceable though we are, we’re not wimps – and we’re not suckers. In this climactic battle of our decades-long culture war, we need to win – or be prepared to lose in ways beyond imagining.
– – –
Bruce Bawer is the author of While Europe Slept, Surrender, and The Victims’ Revolution. His novel The Alhambra was published in 2017.