'How We Got Here': The Transformation of America
Earlier this month, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Twitter that he would “transform” America if he were elected. “We’re going to beat Donald Trump. And when we do, we won’t just rebuild this nation -- we’ll transform it.”
That’s good news if you don’t like America. According to the dictionary, to “transform” is to “make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance or character” of something. It is to reshape, or as the current phrase goes on the left, “to reinvent” -- as the Democrats have promised to “reinvent public safety” by defunding police forces, by encouraging looters, by eliminating cash bail that ensures criminal defendants show up for trial, and by prosecuting people who use their Second Amendment right to bear arms to protect their lives, their families and their livelihood.
When you hear that Biden wants to “transform” America, and then you hear that he is leading President Trump by 10 or 15 percentage points in the polls, you have to fear that perhaps America is already transformed, that it is no longer the sweet land of liberty, that it is no longer the same land where our fathers died, that the dear freedom we once took for granted has been replaced by the cheap freedom of “nothing left to lose.”
But if we as a nation no longer respect the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, in the articles of the Constitution, in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans who put honor and country first, then we must ask -- those of us who still have a moral compass and are looking for the direction home -- “How did we get here?”
It’s no accident that Biden’s promise to transform America echoed the words of the man he served as vice president. The week before Barack Obama was elected president, he told a crowd in Missouri, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” After his election, he endeavored to fulfill that promise, most overtly by co-opting the nation’s health care system, one-fifth of the U.S. economy, and putting it under the auspices of the federal government with the Affordable Care Act.
But let’s not blame Obama and absolve ourselves of all responsibility. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in our star politicians, but in ourselves. Ben Franklin said that the Founding Fathers had given the nation a republic “if you can keep it.” Well, we’ve done a rather poor job of keeping it. The descent into the madness on our streets and in our courthouses and in our legislatures today did not just start with Barack Obama, and as we now see clearly it will not just stop with Donald Trump.
For well over 100 years, the nation has toyed with socialism like a fifth-grader experimenting with cigarettes. What harm could it do, right? But before you know it, your fifth-grader is all grown up and struggling to breathe or is starting another round of chemotherapy. Actions have consequences, and so does looking the other way.
In my new book, “How We Got Here,” I look at some of the roots of the radical ideology that is now threatening to destroy our country. It is no accident that the subtitle is “The Left’s Assault on the Constitution,” because it is that document which restrained the socialist impulse for many years and yet is now proving dangerously susceptible to court-ordered subversion.
In retrospect, I submit that our faith in the Constitution was perhaps ill-placed. We forgot the warning of John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
That quote is well-known to conservatives, if not sufficiently honored, but the rest of President Adams’ letter to the Massachusetts Militia in 1798 is little remembered. That’s unfortunate, because it sounds the alarm on our current crisis quite presciently:
“[S]hould the People of America, once become capable of that deep … simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Sound familiar? It should. Black Lives Matter and its allies on the left have adopted the “language of justice” while indeed “practicing iniquity” in the form of arson and shootings and “rioting in rapine and insolence.” Though the word is out of fashion, rapine seems an apt description of the state of our city streets since the end of May. It is defined as the “violent seizure of someone’s property.” How else do you describe what happened in Minneapolis and Atlanta and Seattle and is still happening in Portland, Ore.?
Adams warned that “this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World” should these conditions come to pass, and we do not have to guess if he was right. We are living it. We know full well that the instincts of “avarice, ambition and revenge” can indeed “break the strongest cords of the Constitution.” Witness what happened to the St. Louis attorney who defended his home with a weapon when he was threatened by an unlawful assembly. No one protected him, no one answered his call for police, and within a week his gun was seized and he was threatened with prosecution for a “hate crime.” So much for the Second Amendment.
“We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion,” said Adams. “We the People” have no way to contend with a government that is unbridled by morality and religion. That, ladies and gentleman, is the point we have reached, so discovering “how we got here” may be only an academic exercise. Nonetheless, if we are going to have any chance to restore morality to government -- and power to the Constitution -- we must do the hard work of finding out what went wrong. After that, we shall see if there is any hope.
Let’s start with the loss of morality. This is the north star of behavior, the bellwether of decency, the certainty of right and wrong. Morality is what C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man” called the Tao — “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” In other words, it was that force which existed independent of man but embedded in him that impelled our Founders to describe certain inalienable rights as “self-evident.” The Tao was not created by religion, but rather was the reason why religions existed. It is what our Founders called Natural Law.
So what went wrong? In a word, education. In two words, “progressive education.” For the first hundred years or so of our nation’s history, education served its usual purpose of reinforcing social norms, teaching values and passing on the heritage and traditions that bind us together. All of that began to change in the 1880s, thanks in large part to one man — John Dewey, the godfather of progressive education, who insisted on teaching children what they want to learn instead of what they should learn. Essentially, what the progressive education movement wanted to accomplish — and did accomplish by the 1960s — was to jettison traditional values and replace them with transient values (those which each generation or even each student adopted individually). This meant that society was no longer tethered to the Tao. Morality had become relative. Education had switched from being a method of reinforcing social conventions and standards to uprooting them.
Time magazine in 1958 put it this way:
“In a kind of country-club existentialism, Dewey and his boys genially contended that the traditional ends of education, like God, virtue and the idea of ‘culture,’ were all highly debatable and hence not worth debating. In their place: enter life adjustment. The Deweyites thus transformed conditioning techniques into ends in themselves. ... Within the schools, discipline gave way to increasingly dubious group persuasion. ‘With teen-agers,’ one high school principal said proudly, ‘there is nothing more powerful than the approval or disapproval of the group. When the majority conforms, the others will go along.’ It would not easily occur to the modern educationists that such blind fostering of group pressure is a travesty of free democracy.”
Dewey’s system of education emphasized students doing what feels good rather than learning what is good for them. Progressive education does not believe in moral, religious or cultural absolutes, but rather teaches students that they have the right to reject any system of belief, any principles, and values that they find to be “restrictive” or that make them “uncomfortable.” In essence, Dewey said to question everything and respect nothing. That model did permanent damage to the family, to the church, and to the country. Progressive education does not believe in moral, religious or cultural absolutes and makes every individual the master of his own moral universe. It also means that nothing can be taken for granted, nothing is certain, and the concept of right and wrong is malleable.
Which brings us -- in this truncated history -- to the 1960s. The social revolution of that decade was the illegitimate child of progressive education and the affluent society. Thanks to the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, my own generation was able to smoke weed, skip class, and raise Cain — all while on the family allowance. Somehow along the way, these products of indulgence decided that America didn’t live up to their high standards of social justice. They rejected the principles of rugged individualism and free enterprise and substituted their socialist fantasies. The Vietnam War gave them the perfect foil to foment civil unrest and to enlist most of their generation into a war on “the establishment,” which meant a war on law and order, a war on religion, a war on the nuclear family, and a war on authority in general. These were the godchildren of John Dewey: Question everything, respect nothing.
One mastermind of the ’60s revolution was Bill Ayers, who was first a progressive educator, then a bomb-throwing revolutionary in the Weather Underground, and then a fugitive from justice. It was while he was hiding from the FBI for the entire decade of the 1970s that Ayers realized that violent revolution could not topple the government unless it was first rotted from within. In “Prairie Fire” and other radical writings, Ayers described how young people, minorities and women could be turned against the system, and most importantly how revolutionaries who wore suits and ties could infiltrate boardrooms, political parties, the military, the courts and other institutions of society in order to bring about change from within.
When you see how many millions of dollars that corporate America has voluntarily given to the communist front organization known as Black Lives Matter, you can gauge just how successful Ayers was in his strategy. When you see that the Democratic Party is led by communists and socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you can thank Bill Ayers. When you see military generals publicly condemning the commander-in-chief for his efforts to ensure public safety, you know that Bill Ayers has come close to victory. When you watch our courts chip away at our freedoms, you can bet that Bill Ayers thinks he has won. And maybe he has.
A recurring theme in “How We Got Here” is that the Constitution no longer means what it says it means, but rather what any five Supreme Court justices say it means. These justices have a remarkable knack for discovering new powers for the government hidden in nooks and crannies of the document that somehow were missed previously. Under such a scenario, the Constitution becomes a tool for social engineering rather than a protection against government excess, as was originally intended.
It too is all part of the plan. After all, judges are lawyers, and lawyers are graduated from law schools, and the top law-school students come from the top Ivy League and radical-left colleges, and most radical college students come from public schools, and public schools are to progressivism what politics is to the swamp. You can thank John Dewey, and you can thank Bill Ayers, who after he returned to public view, became an influential educator of educators at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In “Prairie Fire,” Ayers outlined how the revolution would transform America. Yes, violence would play a role. Yes, bankrupting the system by increasing dependence on government would play a role. Yes, spurring foreign wars to spread America’s military too thin would play a role. Yes, encouraging division among the races would be part of it, as would weakening the influence of religion on the masses, but if you wanted to win the revolution, Ayers made it perfectly clear how to begin: “The real question is: Who will control the schools?”
How did we get here? The answer by now should be obvious.