The American-born U.K. novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver, now in her 60s, grew up when it was fun and edgy to diss the United States.
Now that everybody’s doing it (from the President on down), the pastime of decrying America’s sins has lost some of its zing. Shriver assesses the situation in a must-read piece in the Spectator:
In my teens, rubbishing the implacable edifice of the United States felt like kicking a tank in trainers. Richard Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ was patriotic. Railing about my country’s disgraceful historical underbelly — slavery, the Native American genocide — seemed edgy.
Fast-forward, and in the West trashing your own country has become a central preoccupation of the ruling class. University administrators, corporate board members and media pundits compete with one another over who can denounce their disgusting society with more fervour. Shame, or what passes for it, is the new ostentation.
America’s own President decries his country’s ‘systemic racism’. Far more than singing along with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at a football game or (God forbid) ‘Rule Britannia’ at the Proms, joining the chorus proclaiming the odiousness of America or Britain has become downright conformist — one reason why pooping all over the land of my birth ceased long ago to be any fun.
What is edgy these days, Shriver explains, is a new report from the U.K.’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that found that the U.K. is not systematically racist. Instead of the expected systemic racism, the report found that the U.K. has become an open country, with many minorities experiencing successes. Some of the problems for ethnic minorities that are less flourishing can be traced, the report concluded, to the breakdown of families. The commissioners themselves seemed to be surprised that they had not found crippling racism in the U.K. They noted:
It has been quite a journey of discovery. As we met with people in round table discussions, in our versions of the ‘Moral Maze’ and listened to people from all sections of society, we were taken by the distinctions being drawn between causes that were external to the individual and those that could be influenced by the actions of the individual himself or herself. As our investigations proceeded, we increasingly felt that an unexplored approach to closing disparity gaps was to examine the extent individuals and their communities could help themselves through their own agency, rather than wait for invisible external forces to assemble to do the job.
Well, you just can’t say things like that nowadays. The report’s authors (nine out of ten black) drew vicious denunciations from respectable media. The Guardian, for example, featured on its front page the mother of a murdered child, who accused them of giving a “green light” to racists. Their findings do just the opposite, but, as Shriver observes, we do not live in a very morally nuanced world just now.
In 2008, when Joe Biden was Vice President, he told a crowd in Danville, VA, that included black Americans, that Republican nominee Mitt Romney would “put you all back in chains.” It was stomach turning and blotted out with one vicious phrase the progress our country has made in racial matters. But then Joe was a Vice President on the hustings, functioning in the role of the President’s attack dog.
Presidents, we could console ourselves, would not talk that way. It is beneath the dignity of the office. But President Biden does talk that way. Often. President Biden has famously called the Georgia voter law, which seeks to make voter fraud more difficult by requiring a voter ID, “the new Jim Crow” and with his words justified boycotts by MLB and other enterprises that will harm Georgia (in the case of MLB’s transferring the All-Star game to lily white Denver, Atlanta’s minority-owned businesses will be hardest hit). Instead of trying to make a case against voter IDs (which most Americans support), the President is calling Americans racist.
Georgians, like other Southerners, may find the President’s remarks especially painful because they know that, though we may yet have a way to go, we have made great progress. How odd that an American President refuses to recognize this. Resorting to racial smears, President Biden has helped poison the well of U.S. politics, and the economic outcome for the state that gave him two crucial Senate seats could well be disastrous.
But it is not just in the U.S. that this poisonous atmosphere is duly noted and seen as a boon. Let’s go back to Lionel Shriver, who observes that it is having an effect around the globe:
Clearly, progressive posturing in both Britain and America is meant for domestic consumption. Paintballing the flag is an in-house sport. But what prevents theatrical ecstasies of national self-mortification from being merely amusing — a passing political fashion that, alas, doesn’t seem to be passing fast enough — is who else is watching the show. The Chinese Communist party may restrict its people’s internet access, but the leadership keeps tabs on the Guardian, the New York Times and Channel 4 News.
Accordingly, during the bilateral summit in Alaska last month, the US Secretary of State briefly expressed his ‘deep concern’ over human rights in China, only to be met with an 18-minute attack from his Chinese counterpart charging that America didn’t have a leg to stand on: ‘There are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well… The challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.’ With the help of progressive propaganda, then, the CCP establishes a moral equivalence between the imprisonment of a million Uighurs in forced-labour concentration camps, where women are subjected to compulsory sterilisation, and the killing of one black citizen by a policeman currently on trial for it, and in line for a sentence of up to 40 years.
A country that allows dissent, including the derogation of the state itself, looks strong — and in this respect the control freaks of the CCP, frightened of their own people, look weak. But a country that adopts self-excoriation as its national pastime also looks weak. The Chinese are keeping attentive watch as the West denigrates its heroes, debunks its previous sources of pride, vandalises its icons, denounces its cultural heritage, slanders its popular majorities as indelibly stained with original sin and rewrites its history to make its past appear as wicked as possible. The spectacle inspires contempt.
She concludes that this kind of contempt can bear results:
Mind, geopolitics aren’t always abstract. Towards the end of the Vietnam War, my older brother was wrestling with whether to flee to Canada before being rescued by a lucky draft number. I’d hate to see our unsuspecting wokesters face a similar dilemma when China invades Taiwan.
Read Shriver’s entire piece.