Tonight, we sit down with classicist and historian Victor Davis Hanson to discuss the rise of critical social justice and woke ideology, growing limits on freedom of speech, and his take on the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
“It’s like a public-shaming like the Communist Party used to make people wear dunce caps,” Hanson says.
This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Mr. Hanson, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Mr. Hanson: Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: This is an unprecedented situation: two impeachments of a president or attempted impeachments of a president. Through your lens of a historian or looking at American politics, tell me what’s happening here. Is there a historical precedent for this?
Mr. Hanson: No, we’ve never impeached a president twice. And actually, this is the third time that formal impeachment proceedings were initiated. The first one in 2017 failed. The second one in 2019, of course, succeeded. But we’ve never done it three times. We’ve never done it two times. We’ve never done it against a president who’s no longer in office. We’ve never done it without a Chief Justice sitting, as the Constitution provides. So that’s new.
The way to look at it is—one; it’s sort of a mercenary effort to make sure Donald Trump can’t run again for office because the Constitution says that a person who’s successfully impeached is ineligible for higher office. That’s one. Two, is to discredit his supporters, the MAGA agenda and say that he’s synonymous with violence, sedition, insurrection, and the capital rally of January 6.
Three, is to get our mind off what’s going on. We have just a record number of executive orders of the most radical kind. We have radical appointments at the DOJ, the State Department, the National Security Agency, and the National Security Council. So that’s another thing about this distraction.
Then most importantly, from a bipartisan point of view, think of all the time that we’re spending on this Trump obsession, trying to destroy Donald Trump’s political corpse. I mean, we’re $28 trillion in debt right now. We’re going to be at $30 trillion. No one’s talking about balancing the budget. Nobody’s talking about reducing the debt.
On the horizon eventually, after the boom of the lockdown ending—and I think Biden will get credit for that Trump economic reform—we are going to see either inflation, stagflation, or a loss of economic productivity, and that’s coming. We’re not talking about that. California just lost $10 billion in overpayments or fraudulent payments to COVID. recipients. Nobody knows why or how that happened. Nobody’s talking about that.
But most seriously, is the drag on the economy, on the culture, on the society of this woke mandate. And by that, I mean, one of the reasons the United States outpaced the Islamic world or the communist world or the fascist world was we had a creativity and a spontaneity of expression and ideas.
But when you burden that with: you can do heart research, but only in a way to glorify Allah or you can’t make a lighthouse in Istanbul in the 19th century if it’s too powerful, because it will take away respect for the supreme deity. In the Soviet Union, you can talk about land tenure in the ancient world when you’re doing research, but only in the context of the class struggle in the modern world. When I read a book about the Messenians or Sparta from the 1930s in Germany, from 1933 to 1939, even the most brilliant scholarship is worthless because it always has something [with a message] like “And of course, the Spartans understood early on the value of racial categorization and hierarchy and what was inferior and what wasn’t.”
So what we’re doing with these workshops, these indoctrinations, these qualifiers, these paranoid deterrents that we’re using is that we’re slowing down everything. This generation is going to be looked back in retrospect as a failed generation that contributed nothing because it was burdened with this ideological bridle. I’m really worried—we’re right in the middle of it with the time and resources that we spend on wokeness, in K through 12, in universities, in corporations, or in sports.
I was watching the Super Bowl commercials yesterday, and they all have an ideological intent. They’re trying to put particular classes or races or people deliberately to protect them in a way that doesn’t represent the demography necessarily in the United States. Maybe it’s noble in purpose, but that’s what we’re doing everywhere.
It’s ironic because what hurt America for much of its history was that we didn’t allow our African Americans to contribute their talents. Now what we’re doing is we’re going back to that idea of racial categorization. So if you have a brilliant future neurophysicist who happens to be Asian, and he needs to get to Harvard or MIT, he’s not going to get in. Things like that are very worrisome.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, there are so many things you just mentioned that I want to build upon a little further. Before we do that, I want to talk a bit about the nomenclature of impeachment, I guess you’d call it. People have heard that former President Trump has been impeached twice. However, he has not been convicted. What’s the distinction here?
Mr. Hanson: Yes, it’s important. The terms are so loosely conflated that I think it confuses people. Impeachment is the indictment process, like a federal prosecutor or state local district attorney. So when you impeach a president, you only need 51% of the vote of the house, and it’s much easier to do than to convict a president.
Once those impeachment indictments are established, the speaker takes them over and hands them to the Senate, and then that becomes the trial, like a modern trial. That requires a two thirds majority, 66 Senators, to convict a president, something we’ve never done. And we’re not going to do it. We didn’t do it in January of 2020, and we’re not going to do it in February of 2021.
That’s known in advance, so that tells you that this is performance art. It’s not a serious attempt to either remove Donald Trump during his tenure or to ban him from office in his retirement. It’s like a public shaming, like the Communist Party used to make people wear dunce caps. That’s what it’s intended for.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually a very interesting point. One of the founders of the Epoch Times and I were having a discussion about this. She actually as a child through the Cultural Revolution was relocated to the countryside to do work and saw a lot of these shamings. She remembers that time, and she said to me pretty specifically that what we’re seeing in this vein of wearing this dunce cap or something similar is actually very much akin to what she saw then.
Mr. Hanson: It is, and so are the public confessionals. Somebody is fired from the New York Times for a crime, a thought crime 30 years ago or indiscreet expressions, and they have to have this effusive apology: “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was ignorant. I wasn’t properly advised. I didn’t have the training that I have now. I want to apologize to marginalized people.” The vocabulary is even reminiscent of the Soviet or Chinese system. We’re saying these same words—privilege. Now we have a new one—honor and privilege. We come up with sloganeering.
One of the most dangerous [phrases] that appeared in the last six weeks from the left and the left wing media is, “It’s not about free speech. It’s about free reach.” They said, “We’re not trying to cancel people’s first amendment rights by barring them from Facebook or Twitter, or from universities. We’re just saying that you don’t have an inherent constitutional right to use a platform that you don’t own.” Okay.
But that’s entirely antithetical to the whole civil rights movement. I can remember in 1964, in California, there was something called the Fair Housing movement, and what it said was, if you own an apartment building or a house or you’re the head of a community or residential homeowners association, you can’t tell an African American or an Armenian American or an Asian American, “Sorry, you can buy a house anywhere you want. The fact that we control 99 percent of the houses in town is your problem, not ours. You just go out and find a house, but you’re not gonna have a house with us.”
That was rejected by the Supreme Court, that idea. The idea that you can bar somebody from a private but a public quasi-shared entity, and then expect them to go out on Twitter or on social media, when you block that alternative. That’s the argument that the left is using, which was once a racist, reactionary trope.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, we recently saw this coordinated, what some people have described as a takedown—I think that’s a fair assertion—of the Parler social network, across multiple big tech companies. So we’re talking about an unprecedented moment. This was an unprecedented exercise of power, ostensibly to limit freedom of speech. What’s your take on this?
Mr. Hanson: Remember the context of the cancellation of Parler, the ostracism of it, so it wouldn’t have access to apps and platforms to be disseminated. It came in the Jacobin taking care of business after the election. During the election cycle but after the election, that decision was formulated and then reified. So it was part and parcel of saying to Donald Trump: you’re not going to be on Facebook or Twitter anymore. We’re going to make sure that you’re not going to have access to an alternative like Parler.
So it was a “night of the long knives,” in the sense that it was Facebook and Google and Twitter and Apple, all of them in various ways, conspiring to rob Donald Trump, as public enemy number one, of having an avenue to disseminate his ideas. But what was unprecedented, they made sure that he would not have another means of refuge in their genre. In other words, they control 90 percent of the Google search— 90 percent of our internet searches are done by Google. Twitter and Facebook have about 65 to 70 percent of the international market.
But they said we don’t want you to participate in what we can’t control, so we’re going to control that too. The irony is that at some point, they understand that half the country is not on board with them, roughly. There’s a lot of them, and they have competitors. But there are very little competitors for Parler. So if it were to get back up, and there are indications it’s going to be back up this week, it would have for a while what Fox News used to have—a monopoly on the right. It grew spectacularly.
And so I would imagine that they don’t really understand what they’re seeding. They’re seeding half the country to one entity, and that entity is determined to take advantage of that. I could foresee a situation in which you might have not just the 20 million. It’s grown from 1 million probably to 20 million in this week, to 40 million, to 80 million. They don’t have any idea what they’re doing.
They’re creating two systems of information access, a conservative and a liberal one. They’ve done that with cable television. And cable television, remember, in part was a reaction to the monopoly they had on the network news and Public Television. When they try to control all of these levers, there are reactions. People don’t watch the NBA. I think their audience is 43 percent of the size that it used to be. Super Bowl viewership is down. Hollywood movies are down. So people make the necessary adjustments.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, what do you think about this apparent obsession with controlling the information? That’s really what you’re describing here.
Mr. Hanson: You know, in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” and in George Orwell there is a common theme. Orwell summed it up explicitly. “Who controls the past controls the future,” and “Who controls the present controls the past.” By maintaining that monopoly on information dissemination, they can work people, along with academia and K through 12.
By that I mean, if you and I had this conversation two years ago, we wouldn’t know what “1619” was. Our children are going to be coming home from school and lecturing us that we’re racist for not acknowledging that 1619 was a more important date than 1776. That was absurd. But these things are geometric, they’re not arithmetic [exponential, not linear].
So we’re going to see changes that are snowballing, and that is going to make 1619 look pretty minor in comparison. Remember, we were told that they just wanted to go after Confederate generals. They did not want to go after Frederick Douglass or Abe Lincoln. They just wanted to change the name at Stanford University of Father Serra. They did not want to go into San Francisco and rename 44 schools and use Wikipedia as their basis of information. That’s where we are, and that happens.
The Bolsheviks did that, Mao did that, the Jacobins, and then they reach a critical mass and there’s a pushback. That’s very critical to watch—how the pushback formulates and what’s the reaction to it. I wish I could tell you that the pushback is successful. Obviously, it was not in 1917 to 1922. It was not from 1946 to 1949 in China. It wasn’t successful for 18 months during the reign of terror [in France].
But often it is, and there is a pushback. If we can have a pushback, and people according to their station can speak out against it, we can stop it, because it has no intellectual foundation to it. There’s no rational, logical, exegesis that explains why a school should not be named after Abe Lincoln, or why you would tear down a statue of Miguel Cervantes.
This is Orwellian, what’s happening, so we have to push back, all of us. We can’t ask people that are high school teachers without tenure or part time workers or people who are in a police force to be outspoken, but those of us in the media or in academia that have some institutional protection, at least for now, I think have a duty to exercise their first amendment rights.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, speaking of Orwellian, you just recently published this op-ed titled, “Our Animal Farm,”—probably my favorite book as a kid. There’s this whole kind of process in the book—for those that have read it, hopefully a lot of people—there is this progression from the initial ideological beginnings of a movement to what’s ostensibly raw power. You actually show this beginning to happen here, and I found this very disturbing.
Mr. Hanson: “Animal Farm,” remember was an allegory written in 1945 by George Orwell that made animals on a farm talk as if they were human. They rebelled against a so-called capitalist, exploitive, farmer Jones. They take it over and have a commune. It starts out really well, then you start to see the Trotskyite divisions with Lenin, and then Stalin comes in. At the end of the novel, the pigs are walking on two feet, they’re drinking, they’re playing cards, and the farm has a bigger mess than it was under farmer Jones.
Orwell’s point is that these totalitarian revolutions on the part of the left are not really consistent with equality of opportunity or helping the poor. They are means to obtain power, and therefore they are full of contradictions. What happens is that people who question them along the way, or feel that the purity of the revolution is endangered get extinguished as counter-revolutionaries.
So today on a campus, if you are a wishy-washy liberal, and you say, “Wait a minute, the 60s were about the Free Speech Movement, and Mario Savio. It wasn’t about calling somebody a hate speaker.” That person will be destroyed, and destroyed more often and more severely even than a conservative. We saw Barry Weiss at the New York Times, or editors fired at the Washington Post, or Hollywood actors who used to be liberal who are deplatformed. You have to weed out all counter revolutionaries, as they call them.
Ultimately, it’s almost there at its apex today. Because if you ask yourself some 60s questions, “Do you support the First Amendment?” Obviously, if you have microaggressions, safe spaces, deplatforming speakers: no. The 60’s second institution, “Are you skeptical of the powers of the surveillance state, the FBI, the CIA, the whole Pentagon Papers-Daniel Ellsberg cause?” “No, we love John Brennan. We love what they did with the Steele dossier. We love the surveillance of Carter Page. We think the Russian hoax still exists.”
They told us in the 60s that they were conspiracy theorists. They believed in precious bodily fluids or who lost China and these were all conspiracies with the John Birch Society. But now you like the conspiracies that Trump colluded with the Russians or that he somehow planned the Capitol takeover. So the left engages in conspiracy theories.
So all of the idealism that they told us that we had to embrace in the 60s has gone by the wayside, and now they are what they used to protest against, with one qualifier—they’re much cruder and more venomous than the opponents that they took on in the 60s.
There was a coarseness of society. And so now, it’s not just, “You engage in hate speech, and therefore you don’t have first amendment rights,” but you are a blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank. So they picked up that 60s coarseness and crudity, and they’ve embedded it or glued it onto this new intolerance.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, you’re saying that people should stand up and speak out. There’s probably no other way to respond to these things, perhaps because of exactly what you just described, this crude attack on anybody who does. There’s this strong disincentive structure to make sure people don’t respond. I’m sure a lot of people out there really don’t want to say anything. I find myself not saying certain things, often because I just want to keep the peace.
Mr. Hanson: Absolutely. I think it was in November, the Stanford Daily and the Faculty Senate did a series of attacks on me, and they said that I was engaging in conspiracy theories. And therefore, I was responsible for the type of things that were happening, violence supposedly. So in my response, I said, “Can you please quantify that? Tell me exactly what I said.”
I got a lot of criticism for the right, that suggested that they should not go beyond the lawsuits that failed, and they should accept the electors. Not necessarily because I didn’t think there were improprieties and 100 million mail-in or early voting ballots, but I didn’t see the practicality, when you had two Senate seats in Georgia.
That’s irrelevant. What my point was, they go after you, and then they make you want to think, “I better move a little bit to the left or to moderate.” But if you start to do that, it’s never enough. They interpret that weakness not as magnanimity, and they won’t reciprocate, but as weakness to be exploited, and then they’ll push, push, push. That’s how the mind of the leftist works. They understand that and there are no consequences.
So notice how that the news cycle has changed slightly. We heard now for three weeks that Donald Trump was this ogre, that he was an insurrectionist, he was a seditionist, he used words like “fight on,” and he caused people, from a position of power to do violent acts. All of the pleading in the world didn’t help. Liz Cheney’s effort to condemn Trump, more so than she would ever condemn AOC, or any of these other people.
Okay. What finally got their attention? When they announced that they’re going to play a series of videos where Maxine Waters or Kamala Harris or Chuck Schumer engage in the very type of insurrectionary, or what they call incendiary, speech that Donald Trump does. What will get their attention when they go across the aisle and say, “This Republican cannot be on this minority [committee,] for the first time in the history of the house, we’re not going to allow you to pick your own committee assignments.”?
The only thing that will stop that—I hate to say it, human nature being what it is—is for the Republicans to say to them, “We’re going to take power in 24 months, and the first thing we’re going to do is strip AOC and Representative Omar of their committee assignments, because they have a long history of anti-Semitism.” And if they do that, they will be left alone. If they don’t do that, then they’re going to be like the Kerensky movement or something, or they’re going to be like Danton in the French Revolution.
They think that these people will listen to logic, but they’re in a period of hysteria and frenzy, not unlike the Salem witch trials, and they’re not coherent. The only thing they understand is reciprocity.
If the Republicans would say, “Tomorrow, we’re going to take the House, that’s our goal. And when we’re in the House, we’re going to select a special prosecutor. We’re going to demand one, at least from the Congress. And we’re going to look into the whole Biden family’s dealings with China and whether Hunter Biden still is some way involved with the Chinese Communist government. And we’re going to look at the tax returns of Joe Biden to see if there was any truth to the email that he was the “big guy” with 10 percent, and got money that he did not report. And we’re going to have this special prosecutor, and we want to warn you in advance that we’re going to file articles of impeachment if we find something against you.”
I think it would be a very different world. We would have all the liberal commentators say, “Oh my God, look what’s happened. We’re a third world. We’re back and forth. Can’t we have unity?” But they would listen. What we have now is Joe Biden saying, “The elections over. We have to come together. We have to have unity. Oh, but by the way, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are like [Joseph] Goebbels, and they’re Nazis.” Or “By the way, Maxine Waters says Donald Trump should be charged with murder.” Or “By the way, Antifa is only an idea,” according to Joe Biden.
Or we’re going to watch a touchy feely fuzzy commercial from Bruce Springsteen the other day during the Super Bowl. And it’s all about him driving—this New Jersey, urban creator, who’s a multi, multi-millionaire—it’s good old Bruce, ring in his ear, t-shirt, riding a Jeep, bringing the interior of America back. Let’s bring it back. Okay, fine. But this is the same guy who said he was going to move to Australia because he was ashamed to be an American, and Donald Trump was a nightmare and did all he could, according to his huge megaphone, to create disunity.
So that’s how the left works. Tacitus had it right when he had a British tribal chieftain, who said of the Romans’ effort to bring peace, “You create a desert and you call it peace.” Well, they create chaos and hatred, and they call it unity. I don’t think people should accept that.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, what you’re making me think of here as you’re discussing this is there’s been this increasing talk of enacting some domestic terror laws to deal with, ostensibly what was revealed after January 6, white supremacy, with these sorts of things. There’s a lot of concern, I’ve had a number of people speak to me that these rules could be applied very broadly. Frankly, could it be anybody who was a Trump supporter that would be included in this designation? It’s unclear; it’s unknown, and everything you’ve been describing to me right now makes me wonder.
Mr. Hanson: That was the intent. The intent was, as we saw from engaging the help of Bank of America, without the knowledge of its own clients, customers, to go through and examine their charge card, Visa cards, to see who was in Washington at what time, where were they, what did they buy. So we’re not just going after the rioters in the Capitol, we’re going after people who also attended the rally, and by extension, Trump supporters in general.
The LA Times published a very interesting op-ed a few days ago, and it’s from a woman who says, I had to leave New York, very liberal, and I went to a conservative rural community, i.e. de facto insidiously and maybe indirectly admitting that a red state area is more conducive to her safety than would be New York right now, a kind of an escape-from-New-York admission.
But then she says, in this big snowstorm, my neighbor came and without even asking in very gracious fashion, he cleaned my driveway, but he’s a Trumper. So I’m not going to thank him, and I’m under no obligation, and neither are any of you who read this, to think you have to be nice because Trump people owe you something. So when these people are obviously trying to win our thanks, our gratitude, they’re trying so hard to be normalized, or what the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, said “deprogram,” we’re not going to accept it. It’s going to be an eternal war against these people. They have to pay penance in the medieval fashion.
Again, you can’t reason with these people. You have to stop them and remind them that the Democratic Party was a liberal party and it had certain norms, and that’s why I wrote this article about “Animal Farm.” Remember what they just told us. They told us that—when the St. John’s Episcopal Church was burned this summer, not entirely but set on fire, and then Antifa and BLM mobs were yelling that they wanted to break the fence and get into the White House ground. Donald Trump was evacuated, I guess to a basement.
Donald Trump then came out later and said, if the left wing mayor of Washington will not keep the order, I might have to use federal troops. The retired military came out. It was amazing. They said he was Nazi-like, he was Mussolini. The former joint chiefs, four of them, came out and said, we’re not going to do this. I guess they have power.
Joe Biden said, that’s great, these guys can help me remove Trump from office one day when I beat him. Where did that transformation end? Now the military is wonderful. Joe Biden is president; 30,000 troops are in Washington; 20,000 are still there; there’s barbed wire; the person who’s responsible for law and order in Washington, de facto, is a U.S. Army general. There’s more people in camouflage today than U.S. troops in war zones anywhere in the world combined.
And yet, what does the left say? Oh, this is wonderful. This isn’t the military of George Patton, Curtis LeMay, and all those right wingers we made fun of in seven days in May. This is a People’s Liberation Army. Just by the snap of the fingers, we can get transgenderism in the military, we can get women in combat games—it’s wonderful. They are at the point of the spear of social change because they can do it by fiat. We love them now that they’re woke.
What do the retired generals do, and the military in general? They say, I’m thinking about this very carefully. Why fight it? All the left did was try to defund the Pentagon and call us “warmongers,” but you know what? Now that we’re part of them, it’s like Orwell, you wake up and you’re part of this, or a science fiction movie where you say it feels good to be part of the Borg [from the Star Trek television series] or I’m a pod person now, [from the 1956 film,] Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They think, if I want to be in Northrop or I want to be in Lockheed and I’m left-wing general, I retire and I go right into the revolving door, Elizabeth Warren’s not going to go after me anymore. Wait, this is wonderful.
So this is part of the insidious, nightmarish phenomenon of wokism, that all of these people are coming out of the woodwork, and they’re telling us that they’re woke now, and therefore, they’re able to make a lot of money because they bought woke insurance, career woke insurance. If another general comes out and says, I am shocked that there’s a Confederate general on my base, or I feel so terrible that I was stationed at Fort Hood and never mentioned that John Bell Hood was a racist, it’s gonna blow my head.
I’m thinking, well as a historian, I wrote stuff like that, and I’m not the one that’s at John Bell Hood base, and I didn’t walk by Wade Hampton [III] statue—that’s your problem. And so don’t go and indict all of America for allowing you to be indifferent to a Confederate general.
But that’s where we are; they do it for their career. And why do they do it? Because we’re talking about an elite that’s heavily invested in American capitalism and the perks of what an elite education, or elite billet, or elite career can provide. Now, in a very cynical fashion, and I think it is cynical, they’re talking about ideological wokeness and that they’re on the ramparts along with BLM and Antifa in spirit.
Mr. Jekielek: For a lot of people that are watching this full-on emergence of woke or what’s also called critical social justice culture, so many people have said this to me [that] they see a double standard. It’s also been described as an asymmetry in approach, and you’ve described some of these earlier. Tell me a bit about this.
Mr. Hanson: When we say that words matter, or hate speech can ruin people, or like we just witnessed a New York successful writer who is now being punished because of something he said 30 years ago. Okay, that is a standard and we’re going to live by it, but it’s not a standard. Again, if you buy insurance, you can protect yourself from wokeness. What do I mean? I mean, if you’re Alec Baldwin and you call somebody a … homosexual slur, or you’re Miley Cyrus’s little sister, Noah Cyrus, and you use the n-word [at Candace Owen in 2020] and you’re horribly racist, you’re not going to lose your career. … If you were Joy Behar and you wear blackface, you’re okay. If the governor of Virginia, you’re okay.
Okay in the sense, not that [it’s] morally right, but you’re going to be protected in a cocoon of progressive thought and appearance and persona. That means that word, that act, was not a window into their soul that revealed this racist, or homophobic, or xenophobe, or whatever. But if you don’t have that insurance, you don’t have that protective armor, then one word will destroy you.
You can see it with Donald Trump. So we’re applying a standard to Donald Trump that if he says fight on or go to the Capitol peacefully and patriotically, I don’t think he should have said that but he [did], then that is one thing.
But if you go to the Supreme Court while it’s in session and you address two justices by name, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, and you say to them, “You won’t know what hit you, and you’re going to reap the whirlwind,” and you say that to an enraged mob of pro-abortion protesters that in the past—during the Kavanaugh [hearing], people actually got into the Capitol, and also tried to get in and beat on the doors, that’s okay because Chuck Schumer, that’s just good old Chuck, he doesn’t really mean it. He actually explained it. He said, I grew up in a tough area of … Brooklyn, that’s how we talk.
If Donald Trump said, I grew up in Queens, that’s how we talk—that’s not going to fly. We all deal with that, we all understand that, so what does that do? That creates a pressure upon all of us. We have a little devil on our shoulder and an angel on one side, and the devil says, hey, you’re getting older, you’re tired, why don’t you just do a public confessional, maybe write something for the never Trump group or say that you understand it, or just condemn Trump a couple of times more.
I won’t mention names but you can see that a lot of moderate or conservatives are fixated on Donald Trump, so they look at him and they score some points, but they never look at the left that used to be their traditional opponent. The reason they don’t is that they’re worried and they’re scared, and they want a left-wing person to say, Writer Z or Professor X actually is a reasonable person, they acted pretty normal, so let’s just bypass them.
I live in a pretty rough neighborhood out here in rural California. I had a swimming pool, and the inspector said, you can’t have a swimming pool without a wall, so I built a big wall around it. A sheriff came by when I was building it myself and he stopped by. He didn’t see the pool on the other side. I was finishing it up. He said, this is a really smart idea. I said, Why? He said, you’ve created deterrence, so when the thief or the robber comes by and they see that they can’t just walk into your front door, they’d have to actually climb over, they’re going to go on to the next person and attack the more vulnerable. Good idea.
So that’s what woke insurance is. It says to the person, I want to admit that Donald Trump is an ogre, and I did vote for him and I’ll never do that again—and these people are starting to drive me crazy. I was thinking the other day that we all live in a systemic, or a systematic—whatever term they use—racist society. Then the idea is when the woke people come, they say, he’s already protected himself now. He’s okay. We’re going to go on to the other person.
And then the odd thing is, there’s also another type of insurance or deterrence, and that’s the extreme person that says, don’t screw with me. If you go after me, I’m never going to apologize, and I’m going to be your worst nightmare. I’ve noticed there’s been a few on the right [who] have basically taken that position, and I kind of admire them. They don’t go after Rush Limbaugh very much. His attitude is, I got my audience and I’m going to speak the truth, and go ahead and go after me, but you’re going to regret it because I have a platform.
So the result is that the conservative American has a choice between if he has the resources or he’s in a position to be that way: defiance—come and get me, I don’t care, and you’re going to regret it. Or they can acquiesce and say, I’m sorry, I am guilty of thought crimes, I will behave. A few apologize, but that’s not the majority of people. The majority of people are both vulnerable and they have pride, that they believe in their convictions, and those are who are mostly going to suffer from this period of what our version of the Salem witch trials.
Mr. Jekielek: I think most people out there, at least, again, from the people that I’ve been speaking with, they see some big problems looming or existing as we speak, but they’re not ready to take the first position you just described and they’re certainly not ready to take the second position you described, so they basically stay quiet. But then I’ve seen this argued in multiple pieces I’ve read recently, that’s precisely the problem.
Mr. Hanson: I think one way of looking at it is this woke movement is like a cancer cell, and without resistance from chemotherapy or an immune system, it gorges itself, and it goes into cells, and it takes them over, and it gets larger. The tumor gets larger and larger, and unless it’s stopped, there’s no logic to cancer that says, you’ve taken my arm or my lung, it’s enough now, just stay there, I can live with you if you just stay inert. The tumor’s 150 millimeters in diameter. Please don’t go to 200 [millimeters] and I’ll be fine. No, the tumor says, I like what I’m doing.
Woke left reminds me of that fable. I don’t think it’s an Aesop, but it’s a Russian fable, I think, where the frog takes a scorpion across the river who would otherwise drown. He gets across to the other side; the scorpion kills him, and the frog before he dies, said, “Why did you sting me?” He said, “Because I’m a scorpion, that’s what scorpions do.” That’s what the hardcore left does. It destroys people’s careers, so you can’t say, please stop. They’re not going to stop. They get notoriety, they get power, they feel that their careers—
How many thousands of diversity coordinators have we hired in the last six months? Thousands of them. How many memos have we all had that says your mandatory diversity training, we now extend it from two to three or four hours? How many times have we had memos? Think of the resources that are invested in the people who are profiting from that. It’s incredible.
Who’s losing from it? How many great scientists engage in cancer research or engineers trying to find a clean alternate source of energy are worried now [about] what they say, whether their research can be interpreted in such a way? What is the racial gender classification of their research staff, whether in their past, they ever made fun of a transgendered restroom? That’s what’s where we are now, and it’s going to take a toll on our productivity and our quality of life.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, a little bit earlier, you were describing, basically, these scenarios where establishment type people take the position of buying woke insurance and so forth. I don’t think this is necessarily one to one, but this reminded me of this recent Time magazine article that you referenced briefly in that recent “Animal Farm” op-ed of yours.
I’m just going to read something that I pulled from here: … “There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.”
Mr. Hanson: Think of the title, what the title was, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” That was what the left campaign about—Daniel Ellsberg was an exposé of this shadow government in the Pentagon that created falsifications and distractions to justify the Vietnam War. And then there was a real history that he tried to uncover. They’re now embracing what they used to oppose.
Notice their egos. It’s not enough that they can just leave it alone and say, I hope nobody finds out about this, because business, social media, the corporate world, the media, the left, we all colluded to preempt a Trump reelection. Sometimes, it would manifest itself like Mark Zuckerberg and his wife preselecting, which is illegal for a private entity, to give money to a public precinct to get out the vote, and do it on ideological basis and not across the board—but that’s what they did—or to get a team of lawyers to sue in court so that a liberal judge cherry pick a liberal judge so that they would unconstitutionally modify or massage the law that the Constitution says only the state legislature can move unless overridden by the Congress.
So that’s what they did, and they should just shut up about it, but now they’ve admitted because they think they’ve won, there are no repercussions. They want everybody to think how brilliant they were, sort of like the Steele dossier. First time I picked up the Steele dossier, I said to myself, I know a little bit. I know that Michael Cohen’s wife is Ukrainian and not Russian. I know that her father-in-law is not a big real estate developer in Moscow. I know that there’s no Soviet embassy-consulate in Miami. I wasn’t a very smart guy. And you could look at this with the scare capitals and the dossier—
But they couldn’t just leave it alone. They were circulating in the State Department, the DOJ, Bruce Ohr, they had to release it to Yahoo News, and they had to let Mother Jones know about it. As soon as they do that, then you can examine it. So now, they’ve shown us that they are conspiracists, and they do collude, and they do break the wall, and they’re happy about it. They’re basically saying, “What are you going to do about it?”
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting reading this piece. There have been all these different reactions. But one way you could read it is, this was an incredible political effort bringing together all sorts of groups, from all sorts of walks of life, a brilliant political strategy.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. It was just what we had talked about earlier that in this long march through our institutions, professional sports, woke Hollywood, woke entertainment, woke late night comedy, woke publishing, woke media, woke cable news, woke foundations—where is there an avenue for a conservative to say, “I’m the publisher, or the editor-in-chief at Scriveners, or I’m a Clint Eastwood-Mel Gibson type of figure in Hollywood?” It’s not possible anymore.
What I took away from it was the defiance, the glee. It’s almost as if, “What are you going to do about it?” I live in a pretty rough neighborhood and I went to the public schools. It reminded me of a childhood story where there was this kind of thuggish 12-year-old, and he stole things from people, and he’d beat people up. One day, I got tired of him, and I went over to him. He was very big, and he’s from a criminal family.
I said to him, “Wow, that’s Wayne’s binder, you have.” He said, “Yeah, it is” And I said, “Wow, you knocked over Santini and knocked him and kicked him in the head. I saw you do it.” He said, “Yeah, I did.” And I said, “And then you called Mrs. Smith, our teacher’s aide, you called her a [expletive] right to her face.” He said, “I’m happy to.”
And then he interrupted me and said, “And what are you going to do about it? Just what are you going to do about it?” I said, “Well, I’m going to go talk to the principal.” He said, “Oh, you’re a little ratter. I’m going to get you, and I’m going to get your family, your brother. My family has been in prison, we’re going to come after you. So now what are you going to do about it?” I ended up getting a fight with him, because that was the only way to get out of it. I thought, “Wow. If I don’t get in a fight—”
So it was a knockdown, drag out brawl, and it taught me something—that you can’t deal with these people. We kept saying this. These people are now telling us, “We took all the levers of influence and power in the United States, and we tried to destroy a presidency and a presidential re-election. And we’re proud of it. We tried to do it in 2016 with a Steele dossier and we failed, but we learned. If you remember in that article, this thing went way back. There were people who were saying in 2017, and they’re always characterized as prescient, brilliant, far-seeing, all knowing. These people understood what we’re going to have to do in 2020.
So it was a long ago plan, because they didn’t want another nightmare where they’re crying on cable news, as Donald Trump wins Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. So it’s very scary. It’s tragic that this country is at this place right now, because it didn’t have to be this way. They could have said Donald Trump represented a loss constituency that bi-coastal globalized culture had ignored in a very amoral fashion, and that was an understandable pushback.
But the way to beat Donald Trump is to appeal to his voters in the way that the Democratic Party used to do and win them back. They didn’t do that. They didn’t do that because they wanted open borders, and they’re tribalists that believe in identity politics. They don’t care about people of the working class anymore. They feel that their money and their power and their titles and their degrees have allowed them to be an unquestioned elite, platonic guardians that we don’t dare question.
Mr. Jekielek: This makes me think back to these calls for unity in the country. You mentioned that they might be disingenuous, or that unity means, “It’s my way.” There’s a lot of people out there, I suspect, who want genuine unity, and it’s probably something that’s required to have a country be successful and prosper in the ways that you’ve been describing in this interview. How is this going to happen exactly?
Mr. Hanson: I don’t want unity in the sense of joining the hard left, but I do want civility and tolerance. So what’s going to happen? I’ll give you an example. Here we are in February. I think that by August—just to take an arbitrary time, I’m not a medical doctor, I’m not trying to suggest anything—we’re going to get up to about 30 million people who have had the virus, to take this [estimation.] Probably another three or four times that were asymptomatic, or had the virus and knew it, but didn’t get tested. So let’s just take a number of 100 to 125 million who have antibodies.
Another 50 or 60 million are below the age of 15, and the vast majority of them are not going to be symptomatic, or they might even not get the virus. Then we’re up to about 20 to 30 million vaccinated; we’re probably going to get to 50, 60, or 70. At some point, we’re getting close to 55 to 60 percent that have some defense to the virus. When we get up a few points more, then I think society is going to return.
When society returns, there’s going to be an enormous pent-up demand, enormous. People want to travel; they want to get on an airplane; they want to have a party; they want to buy a steak; they want to buy a new car; they want to buy an apartment; whatever. And Joe Biden, through nothing of his own achievement, is going to be the beneficiary of one of the biggest wartime-1945 booms you’ve ever seen. I think it’ll be short lived, based on funny money and $30 trillion in debt.
Nonetheless, I will write that Donald Trump should be given credit for tax reform, energy development, and all the things that made a spectacular economy in 2019, so spectacular that it weathered the COVID lockdowns. But I’m not going to say that I hope for a recession in the way that Bill Maher said, or people on the left said. I want this economic [prosperity]. I want it because I can see people in the lower middle classes, and I saw what happened to them in 2019. For the first time they were given dignity, and employers competed for their labor, rather than them begging an employer. I want that to happen again.
So that’s unity, but I don’t want to accept with that unity this leftist dogma. By that I mean it’s totalitarian, it’s anti-Bill of Rights, it’s intolerant, and it destroys people’s lives. That’s what I want to reject. I don’t want to hate the people who advocate that agenda. But I want to professionally, politely, and civilly stop them from achieving their agenda, because I know what it is. It’s nihilistic. It always is nihilistic. And it’s not about helping people. It’s about helping a particular elite, an ideological, intolerant elite.
Mr. Jekielek: The media, Victor, have proven to be an incredibly powerful and potent force. Let’s call it the corporate media or the legacy media or what some people call the mainstream media and all of this, as you just described.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, I have, but that wasn’t unforeseen. Remember right when Donald Trump was elected, [here’s what happened] in a very shocking manner reminiscent of the Time article and its hubris. I’ll take two or three examples. Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times said: this is the age where there is no such thing as a disinterested journalist. We have to think away what we learned in journalism school. Donald Trump is such an existential threat, we have to be advocates. Jorge Ramos at Univision said: I reject the idea that I have to report the facts. This is about ideological right-wing dangers. Christiane Amanpour said: I’m not going to report the facts, because he’s a threat to the world.
They were all ignorant, or they were willfully blind or they were disingenuous. That argument, of course, has always been the totalitarian argument, that the peril of the minute, of the present is such that I can’t be fair and disinterested. So they warned us what was happening in the first three months. The Shorenstein Center, a media watchdog at Harvard, very left-wing, said 93 percent of all coverage was anti-Trump.
So it became an advocacy. The walls are closing in on Trump. There’s another bombshell disclosure. Remember what they were? They were computer pings from the Trump Tower that were communicating with a server, with a Russian. Don Jr. got in a meeting and he colluded with a Russian. Christopher Steele’s urination is accurate. James Comey is going to spill the beans and blow Trump out of the water. Michael Cohen is going to confess to such crimes that Donald Trump will be completely—that was what it was. And that was all media generated, because they feel that they’re advocates now.
To sum up, if there is a message—I don’t like using “what history teaches us”—but if there is a message throughout history, it is don’t destroy the institutions that protect you in times of crisis when you have power, not because you’re a good person, but because you’ll be on the other end. Thucydides says that in connection with a very famous revolutionary incident at the island of Corfu, what was then known as Korkyra. He says when people destroy the institutions, they never believe that they’re going to be in need of them, and then they get surprised that they’re wanting [them.]
So what I’m getting at is, there will be a day when the Republicans or conservatives will take back power. There will be a day when the Democrats, if they get rid of the filibuster, will regret it. If they pack the court, they will regret it. If they get rid of the Electoral College, they will regret it. If they deny the ability of a party to pick their own committee assignments in the House, they will regret it. They will regret the promiscuous use of a special prosecutor. They will regret serial impeachment. They will regret impeaching people who are no longer in office—all of those institutions they have destroyed.
When the opposite party takes back, they will surmise, as we discussed earlier, that you have to teach somebody that when you destroy these institutions, the only way you’re going to learn how to restore them is you have to suffer the consequences. I think that’s what we’re looking at for the next two or three years.
Because I don’t know any way else to appeal to the better angels of their nature. I wish I could. I’m not calling for disunity or acrimony. I’m trying to appeal to the better angels of their nature, and I don’t know how to do it. Because you can write things every week saying, “Please don’t get rid of the filibuster. Please don’t take people off committee assignments. Yes, the argument against Marjorie Greene can be applied to AOC or Maxine Waters. Let’s have symmetry.” It’s not working.
And so people react to resistance. And I think that’s what Republicans are fighting in the Liz Cheney controversy. It wasn’t so ideological or strategic. People were just trying to say to Liz Cheney, “You may have a really good point. Donald Trump probably shouldn’t have had a rally on January 6, but he didn’t cause an insurrection. He didn’t cause a sedition. That was pre-planned; it was going on. But what you’re doing, Liz, is you are selectively attacking Donald Trump for language that you will not as a conservative spot, identify, and critique on the left. So you’re more hyper critical of your own ideological partners than you are of the left that’s destroying them. So at least make that argument within a larger context.”
That’s what this fight’s about on the right. The never-Trumpers say, “Well, Donald Trump is uncouth.” Okay, he’s uncouth. Now, is the left uncouth, more or less? Or is Donald Trump’s position more dangerous to America than the left? You have to bring all of these considerations, rather than just virtue signal your superior morality for the moment. That’s what I think the argument is about.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, any final thoughts before we finish up?
Mr. Hanson: I think people realize that there are moments in history where previously sane societies go insane. We had this in 1860, when all of a sudden the differences between a slave-owning south and a union north were adjudicated through the Missouri Compromise earlier, or the Great Compromise. There were mechanisms to avoid killing 700,000. There were ideas about buying slaves and then freeing them. And all of that was lost because of radicals, mostly in the south. They made up all these ideas. There were crazy times in the 1930s during the Depression.
I came of age as a teenager in the 1960s, where it was very violent. I can remember sitting in UC Santa Cruz when a bunch of people with long hair in 1971, barged into our history class, overturned chairs and said, “We’re not going to do this.” And three or four of us rural guys said, “If you touch us, and you touch our professor, we’re going to get in a fistfight.” We physically fought them and got them out. I remember, a very distinguished art historian, a wonderful man from Oxford, was lecturing on Gainsborough, and they broke in, 1971, UC Santa Cruz, and said, “Who are you to say that this is art?” They had scribblings and all kinds of ugly things. “This is just as valid as yours.”
So these periods of lunacy have happened before. They’ve always ended because people finally got sick of it. We have to realize that we’re now in a period of collective insanity. Everybody, regardless of our political ideologies have to step forward and say, “We’re not going to pick on the weak, the vulnerable.” These are bullies. People are coming out of the woodwork who have no talent. They’re failures in their own career, and they’re opportunists.
This is what happened during the McCarthy period. Some of the worst actors in Hollywood went after some of the best talent on ideological grounds. Even though in that case, there were communists in Hollywood, but the point I’m getting at is, when you’re in a revolutionary situation, certain predictable currents can be identified. I find where I work, and where I write, and the people that comment, is that we’re in a situation in which power, influence, career is masked by ideological purity.
When you want to know who comes after you, and who tries to destroy you, it’s usually somebody who wants your job, or somebody who feels that you are too successful or feels that you’re too proud. It’s just the whole logic of the East German Stasi or the Soviet informer. If you go back and read the history of the Soviet Union, it was opportunists and mediocrities that took over under the guise of purifying the state from ideological enemies. We’ve got to be very cynical about these people. Career, the desire to be known, influence, money, sought by previously undistinguished people explains a lot of it. Not all, but a lot.
Mr. Jekielek: Mr. Hanson, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Hanson: Thank you for having me.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.