The Alarm Bells are Ringing for American Citizenship

The Dying Citizen by Victor Davis Hanson

Basic Books, October 2021

Victor Davis Hanson, the classics scholar and military historian, has written or co-authored two dozen books and many hundreds of articles. His latest book, The Dying Citizen, is a powerful and carefully developed argument for preserving American citizenship, a unique patrimony now under attack in many ways from many sources, and from all appearances, a  losing battle.

Hanson provides a history of the concept of citizenship dating back to the Greeks and Romans and makes clear how rare the American experience has been in creating a modern citizenry with both rights and responsibilities. Hanson’s book was mostly written from 2018 through early 2020 and contains a final chapter that updates the impact of the calamitous last year on the citizenship issue, dominated by the coronavirus, racial unrest, and a bitterly fought presidential election. Hanson argues that the Trump presidency pushed back against the forces diminishing American citizenship with some modest success from 2017 to 2019, but the events of the past year led to a reversal of those gains, and the prospect of greater threats than existed before.

Hanson’s book contains six primary chapters, each addressing a specific threat to American citizenship, as it was understood in our founding documents, and expanded through political participation for women and races and ethnicities different from the original predominant majority culture.

The first chapter, “Peasants,” maintains that for a people to be self-governing, they must be economically autonomous. In essence, they need to avoid dependency on either the “private wealthy or the state.”  A healthy middle class enables economic self-reliance and autonomy. Politicians from both parties are always claiming they are fighting for the middle class, but if they have been doing this, they have been failing on their promises, as evidenced by a hollowing out of much of America as its industrial and manufacturing base faltered, and major parts moved overseas and the failure to replace the lost opportunities with “good jobs with good wages.”  

Without a sustainable and thriving middle class, society becomes divided between “modern masters and peasants.” In this circumstance, government assumes a responsibility to subsidize the poor to dampen any possibility of revolution and exempt the wealthy, who respond by enriching and empowering the governing classes. The current attempt by Democrats in Congress to pass a massive “human infrastructure” bill is part of developing a cradle-to-grave dependency for much of the citizenry (and non-citizens as well) on government welfare programs.

Chapter 2, “Residents,” argues for privileging citizens over non-citizens (residents). Citizens live within “delineated and established borders.” Citizens share values, and they assimilate and integrate into what becomes a national character. But today, many argue for a borderless world and opening America to the world’s 8 billion people. They ask, “Why should those fortunate enough to have been born here, or been legally allowed to enter under various quotas or other limits, be privileged above those others who would also benefit from living here rather than where they are now living and  fleeing?”

The collapse of the American southern border under the current Biden administration was not an accident, but a plan. It fits an ideology that more people moving here, from wherever they may have come, is better for America since it makes us look more like the rest of the world going forward. Naturally, there is a political dimension to this ideology, since it assumes that when the new residents become citizens at some point, they will align with the political party favoring mass immigration and open borders.

Hanson argues that people will naturally want to move to a country with political rights, a Bill of Rights,  economic opportunity, and a generous welfare system to tide them over in the short term or forever.  Immigrants don’t see America in the critical fashion of many of its current citizens, but as better than the places they left, but will they accept the responsibility of citizenship, as well as its bounty?

Chapter 3, “Tribes,” argues for American citizenship, not tribal identification -- whether racial, ethnic, religious, or a former nationality. Regrettably, America is on a different course in this area, and the exit velocity away from Hanson’s ideal is accelerating.  In pretty much every sphere of American society, we have moved away from individualism and rewarding achievement and accomplishment to counting participation rates by group shares, striving towards some ideal of equalizing results in every aspect of modern life. 

Rather than encouraging citizens to compete for society’s rewards, we are moving to having them distributed based on race or group size. Immigration plays a role in this since it is part of a strategy for some to reduce one group’s size and share and power. In addition, our modern-day overseers feel free to tarnish all those who came before who failed to achieve the perfection of racial and ethnic distribution -- equity as it is now called. Why study American history when the country has been so flawed? If everyone sees themselves first as members of a group, rather than citizens of a country, then Hanson argues, a constitutional republic cannot exist. ,

Chapter 4, “Unelected” describes how an unelected, appointed, and permanent and rapidly growing federal bureaucracy has become the political power center of America. New rules issued by myriad federal agencies dwarf the output of Congress, even with the mammoth omnibus spending bills written by lobbyists and congressional staff and unread by the representatives who vote to make them laws.

Congress members are first and foremost concerned with their future electoral prospects. The bureaucrats survive changes in administration and party control of the White House or Congress. Bureaucrats are the experts who believe they know better than the masses what is good for them, but they also are always on guard to prevent any elected newcomer who seems to operate outside the established lines observed by most elected officials from both parties.  Donald Trump was a threat since he did not come to office pledging allegiance to the established unelected power structure and various federal intelligence agencies took it upon themselves to destroy his Presidency from the start with the crafting of a Russia collusion narrative, which was nonsense.

Chapter 5, ”Evolutionaries,” documents those who think our founding documents, and constitutional framework, with its balance of enumerated powers, federalism, and individual rights, has outlived its usefulness.  They say that a modern constitution is required, which at its heart is majoritarian in all ways -- 50% plus 1 shall determine the direction of the country. This is playing out as enormous programs of social change and redistribution are on the agenda for a single party to use tiny majorities in Congress to get its way.

But it is not enough, to have a single budget reconciliation bill passed each fiscal year. The left would prefer the Senate to become like the House: shares by population, rather than 2 per state, though this would require an amendment to the Constitution, not possible under current party shares. So, the workaround is to add new states, each with 2 Democrats in places like DC and Puerto Rico.  

They want the Electoral College eliminated, also not likely to happen by constitutional amendment, so instead, by a compact among various states to vote for electors of the winning national popular vote ticket. The filibuster should no longer restrain majorities with less than 60 votes and must be tossed into the dustbin of history. Democrats are frighteningly close to being able to do that now, and with a few Senate pickups in 2022, won’t be blocked by a Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema.

New justices need to be appointed to the Supreme Court since it has a conservative majority, and the progressives are always in the planned new order to dominate every decision-making body. New voting rules are to be established at the federal level, bypassing a long history of state control of this process.

The Biden administration is ignoring court orders on evictions, and immigration policy. At the city and state level, governments have made rules which defy federal authority, such as Democrats’ creation of sanctuary cities, and other cities that will not observe federal gun laws.  So much for the rule of law.

Perhaps a mandatory reading of the Federalist Papers should be part of every Congress member’s first week in office so that those who want to eliminate or change a process that has worked quite well for over 230 years would begin to understand the reasoning behind the choices which were made in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention, even if that makes progressive shifts more difficult.

Chapter 6, “Globalists,” describes the attempt by those who have reached the pinnacle of power and wealth to move the country and its citizens towards an international or global membership, rather than something as narrow as national citizenship. The world needs to come together (by private jets to Davos) to talk about saving the planet from climate catastrophe and plastic bags.  New rules which benefit those who trade and sell across the planet will trump protections for workers and individual nations, and as a result, jobs and entire industries can move from one country to another, many to China. The globalists are certain of course that their preferred political and social currency of unrestrained democracy, and liberal tolerance, are what people around the world want.

Hanson’s final chapter, “Epilogue,” details how the Trump administration pushed back against the destruction of the middle class, open borders, the bureaucracy (the “deep state”), and the effort to privilege racial and ethnic groups over individuals. Concern for an economic class rather than a racial or ethnic group turned out to have appeal to members of these groups when their economic condition improved as the economy responded to tax cuts, deregulation, and pushback against Chinese trade practices. President Trump appeared to have a good chance for a second term, as 2020 began with record low unemployment rates for members of various minority groups and strong national economic growth.

Covid 19 quickly changed that scenario. Large sections of the economy were shut down. Governors applied stringent lockdowns on vast sectors of their state economies. In-person school ended, preventing family members from working if their jobs were still available. People were frightened with mixed and rapidly changing, advice from the “health professionals.”

States changed their voting rules, often in ways that violated their own established state policies and constitutions, making the election process less secure. Many Americans also came face to face with the fact that many drugs, facemasks, respirators, and other basic medical supplies were not produced in America, but in China or other lower-wage locations. Our managing through the pandemic required their provision of goods until any replacement manufacturing could begin again here.

Americans, the once rugged individualists of old, seemed often to want to cuddle up under their warm state governors’ blankets and follow all the rules since they knew best. Those who spoke up or challenged the orthodoxy were silenced or lost their jobs. This included election news, with major social networking companies and cloud computing hosts prohibiting viewpoints or news stories that threatened the approved party line and could endanger the Democratic ticket before the November election. This development has become much more of a problem under the Biden administration. “Following the science” became following the determinations of political players, who made political decisions more than scientific ones.

If citizens lose their freedom of speech, if the press becomes a politically compliant advocate for one party, if jobs are at risk based on vaccination status (anything to lift sagging poll numbers), and if election rules can be changed overnight and not by those who are given the legal power to do so, then we are at a crisis point in the country, and citizens will have lost their authority and ability to select the government that is supposed to serve them. 

Hanson‘s subtitle reads: “How Progressive elites, tribalism and globalization are destroying the idea of America.” American citizens will preserve their Republic or they will lose it. There are lots of countries, but only one America.

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