The economy is bad. There's rioting in London. Terrorists want to kill us. But a cadre of pundits undermines the seriousness of these problems by wailing about catastrophe.
As London riots, every civilized person on the planet is eager for an end to the mayhem and violence, but am I alone in thinking that the reaction from certain quarters is a tad overwrought?
Victor Davis Hanson, oblivious to majority opinion, thinks we've lost the capacity for upset. "Such urban violence was of course a constant in 19th and 20th century Europe and America," he writes, "but now it is deeply embedded within modern sociology and no longer seen quite as criminality." Says talk radio host Mark Levin: "We can see this society transforming in front of our eyes... the Western World is in decline." John Derbyshire goes even farther, arguing that Great Britain is irrevocably lost. "Why does the British government not do its duty? Because it is the government of a modern Western nation, sunk like the rest of us in trembling, whimpering guilt over class and race," he writes. "I treasure my faint, fading recollections of Britain when she was still, for a few years longer, a nation. Today Britain is merely a place, a bazaar. Let it burn!"
You've heard of hawks and doves. These are Chicken Little Conservatives. Every week, as headlines filter in from around the globe, they take the most disturbing as an occasion to strut around with ruffled feathers and cluck that the sky is falling. Writer Mark Steyn has established himself at the top of the pecking order. In 2002, he published a book of collected essays about the new war against Islamist terrorism. As Western Civilization made significant gains against that foe, Steyn was at work on America Alone, his 2008 tome that argued "America is the only hope against Islamic Terrorism." His thesis turned partly on demographics: Due to a lack of civilizational confidence, he argued, Europeans weren't having enough kids to keep their societies going.
Apparently, the lack of civilizational confidence was catching, because Steyn's latest book, published this month, is titled After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. In three years, he's given up on the West's "only hope" and now argues that "America's decline will be a wrenching affair marked by violence and possibly secession." Imagine that: The right's favorite columnist no longer believes in American exceptionalism! It's bedtime reading to kill the birth rate for good.
Steyn is hardly the only conservative suffering a crisis of civilizational confidence. Another strain is less concerned by demography than the notion that a tiny minority of Muslims are going to take over America and impose Sharia law on its people. Former federal prosecutor and National Review contributor Andy McCarthy insists that radical Muslims are even now allied with American leftists led by President Obama in their grand jihad against the U.S. (Fighting terrorism is part of the stealth plan!) Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy, has criticized figures including Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Gen. David Petraeus as unduly submissive to Sharia. Gaffney also helped to inspire bills in multiple states to ban Sharia, despite the utter implausibility of any jurisdiction imposing it.
For talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, Sharia is at most a secondary concern: There's nothing to fear but President Obama himself. Back in 2009, he told Sean Hannity, "If Al Qaeda wants to demolish the America we know and love, they'd better hurry because Obama is beating them to it." It's a theme to which he returned on this week's program. "A lot of people don't want to think that the country has as a president somebody who so abhors the way the country was founded and so abhors capitalism that his objective is to destroy it," he said. "Let me ask you this. If somebody was really trying to destroy this economy, what would they do differently? Keep in mind now, if you're president, and your objective is to destroy the economy, you have to do it on the sly."
Earlier this year, when Glenn Beck, whose fear-mongering has filled many chalk boards, began fretting about unrest in Egypt, he found himself rebuked by Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard. "When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society," Kristol wrote. "He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s."
The same thing can be said for all the Chicken Little Conservatives. Reduced to profiting off ideologically friendly audiences willing to forgive lack of rigor in the assertions of a fellow traveler, they brand themselves as Cassandras, but spend a lot more time flattering those who agree with them than trying to persuade anyone who doesn't.
In so doing, they marginalize themselves:
And even when they tackle a subject worth addressing -- terrorism really is a threat, Islamists really are our enemy, rioting really is destructive of civil society, multiculturalism actually has threatened free speech, European society does suffer serious pathologies -- their effect is too often akin to the boy who cried wolf, so established is their reputation for making up all sorts of outlandish stuff. It's a particular shame with Steyn, who is capable of sound analysis when he aims higher than pandering to Dittoheads. In interview after interview, however, conservatives who don't believe for a second that we're doomed treat his doomsday prophecies with passive credulity.
None of this is to minimize the challenges of our era, or to presume that relative peace and prosperity are our due. One needn't be cavalier about the perils we face, or silent about alarming trends in Europe, or sanguine about America's alarming fiscal situation, to maintain some perspective. Civilization is fragile. It is every generation's job to preserve it. But America is in a far better position than it was in 1776 or 1812 or 1860 or 1941 or 1962 (to pick a particularly dicey moment during the Cold War). And Europe, for all the talk of its dire situation, is on course for a 2014 that's much preferable to its 1914, or its 1939, or its 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980.
As ever, dark clouds ring the horizon.
But this is no time for mourning in America.
Of course, maybe I'm wrong. I can't predict the future, and I'd hate to leave you, dear reader, unprepared for upheavals to come. As a hedge, I sought to find out, "How are the would-be Cassandras preparing?" With the president bent on intentionally destroying the American economy, Rush Limbaugh has launched a new small business. (He's selling Paul-Revere-themed iced tea).
And en route to "Armageddon," with London so far gone it ought to burn, and a grand jihad afoot, how are Mark Steyn, Victor Davis Hanson, John Derbyshire and Andy McCarthy preparing for the end of Western Civilization as we know it? Come November 12, they're all packing their bags and leaving America together ... for an eight day luxury cruise around the Caribbean.