Episode 87: The Existential Threats Facing Our Republic

Michael Schaus

Free to Offend Episode 87 | Guest: Victor Davis Hanson  

From “woke” ideology to modern monetary policy and “critical legal theory,” there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the future of our republic.

Victor Davis Hanson will be the keynote speaker at Nevada Policy’s Spirit of Las Vegas Benefit Dinner on Oct. 24and he joined the program ahead of his visit to share his thoughts on the cultural trends threatening the future of freedom and prosperity in America.

Read the Transcript

Victor Davis Hanson: I saw them when they were 18 at UC Santa Cruz. I saw them when they were 22 at Stanford University. I saw them in the universities and they’re not a nice group of happy campers. They’re a very dangerous group of people.

Michael Schaus: This is Free to Offend. I’m your host, Michael Schaus. October 24th, definitely put it on your calendar. October 24th at the Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada Policy is going to have our big benefit dinner, which is always a fun time and exciting.

If you’re able to go there, it’s great because you get to mingle with a bunch of folks, and we always have really interesting guests. I’m very excited about this year’s guest because it’s going to be historian Victor Davis Hanson. And this is somebody that you’ve probably read plenty of his works because they show up everywhere. You’ve probably seen him on various interviews, whether that be Fox News or National Review or really anywhere on the internet if you’re looking for modern news because he always brings a really great perspective to the conversation.

I’m very happy to be able to have him here on the podcast ahead of the dinner to kind of tease a little bit of some of what he’s got going on in his head right now. So, Victor, first and foremost, thank you for joining the program and we’re really looking forward to seeing you in October.

Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you for having me.

Michael Schaus: You know, there’s so much that I could talk to you about. There’s so much that we could just start diving in. It’s kind of difficult to narrow it down. So, I figure why not start with kind of the big question? And the big question is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Actually, I touched on it in my recent column for the Nevada Independent, and it’s this idea of, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about where we are as a nation right now? When you look around, politics is a mess. We’ve got inflation. We’ve got all these cultural changes happening in America right now.

It seems like there’s a lot of easy reasons to be pessimistic. How do you view it right now? Are you relatively optimistic or pessimistic about the American experiment, so to speak?

Victor Davis Hanson: I’m optimistic in the long term, but I’m very pessimistic in the short term. And the only reason I’m optimistic is that it’s sort of an existential question whether the republic is going to continue.

And by that, I mean, it can’t continue at the present state. It’s not sustainable. And I can define not sustainable in a variety of ways. So, I have to hope that the Americans will wake up and see we have no choice but to change almost everything we’re doing. And part of it were long-term, long-term debt we’re at $32 trillion. If you look at high school scores or grades or SAT, it’s all downhill. If you look at crime, it’s up.

I could go on with that, but when you look at short term, part of it is that we had the COVID terror. We had this disastrous national quarantine we’ve never had before. I don’t think we still know the role of that on all of these problems.

We had the George Floyd riots, and then we had this just insane weaponization of the federal government, and I mean, DOJ, FBI, CIA. So, these are sort of manifestations of these long-term problems. The seeds were there, but they’ve really, unfortunately, borne fruit the last three or four years.

Michael Schaus: I’m not a historian, obviously, but I love studying history and I definitely consider myself a student of history. Something I was thinking about a lot this last week as I was writing about it, is there are other moments in American history that I can find where we had tremendous disruption. I think like the post-Civil War, for example, there was cultural disruption. There was obviously economic disruption. The Industrial Revolution had a huge impact on everything that was going on.

And in those times, it seems like the republic gets into kind of a precarious situation where you’ve got so many things going on culturally, economically, and politically all at once, that it seems to me it would be very easy for us to kind of go the wrong way on some of these big issues.

You brought up, for example, the national debt. I honestly don’t see really a happy ending to that. We’ve got $30 trillion and no sign of slowing down that debt. Where does that leave the rest of us? Everybody that’s just trying to pay our mortgage or pay for grocery bills.

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, it’s not sustainable. I’ve used that word earlier, but there are traditional historical remedies to that level of debt and GDP when you get over 100 percent of annual GDP and debt. And we know what they are, from antiquity to the present in other countries.

What do they do when they have a debt like that? They either inflate the currency so it’s near worthlessness to pay. Germany did that, as you know, in the 1920s and early 30s. Or the government expropriates private capital. And people on the left have already talked about that, for example, saying that your private 401k can be transferred into credits in the Social Security system. So, if you have $100,000, maybe you get 10 years of Social Security as they grab that.

Or you can renounce the debt, and you can, we’ve seen that with the Chrysler creditors in 2009, where Barack Obama reversed the order, and some of those bondholders never got their money back. And we can see that.

So, there’s three remedies and they’re going to have to pick one unless they have something like the Simpson-Bowles Plan 20 years ago. I went back and looked at it not long ago. That was a creation actually of Barack Obama. He appointed that committee. They came back to him and said, “We’ve got about $8 trillion in debt, we’re getting up to 10. Here’s the problem. We can simplify the tax code, spur productivity, and we can pretty much pay off the debt by about 2030.”

If we had followed that, we would have been down to about $7 or 8 trillion. And we would have paid it off in 5 years. So, there’s a way out of it, but in the political atmosphere in which we have to deal with, it’s very hard to see how that would be politically feasible.

Because you can see what would happen if you said, we’re going to raise the retirement age, or we’re going to raise the tax rate on Social Security, or we’re going to cut back on Medicare, or we’re going to close the border. We cannot no longer afford to have 50 million people in the United States who are not U.S. citizens and were not born here. We just can’t afford it.

All of that would earn the usual sobriquets: racists, homophobe, all of that vocabulary. And I don’t think we have leaders that are up to that, who would say, ” You know what, I’m going to do what’s necessary to save the nation and I don’t care what you say about me.”

Michael Schaus: You know, what’s interesting to me is, obviously you’re pointing out some of the political incentives that stand in the way. People don’t want to go out there and say, hey, let’s fix Social Security because the only way you can really fix it is going to be painful for some folks.

Yet, in addition to the political incentives, which at least I can wrap my brain around, something that really kind of scares me is there’s a culture out there, especially in academia that’s talking about new monetary theories where debt doesn’t even matter. And that’s almost scarier to me because that’s kind of a part of the cultural disruption that we see now, not just in terms of the debts. Once upon a time, for example, in this country, at least, we pretty much all agreed socialism’s bad. We might agree with bigger safety nets, but nobody really wanted to be called a socialist. And yet today, culturally, obviously, there’s a lot of people out there who are happy to call themselves socialists.

There are a lot of people out there who are happy to say that the national debt doesn’t matter. There are even people out there who say in order to combat racism, you need to basically look at people’s race and judge them according to the color of their skin.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah.

Michael Schaus: That’s a cultural trend that kind of scares me because I’m obviously focused most on policy, but it’s really hard to push forward good policy when you’ve got all that going on in the background and people aren’t wanting to pay attention to policy.

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, when you have these revolutionary movements, and that’s what we’re in, whether it’s the Jacobins and the French Revolution or the Bolsheviks in 1917 or the National Socialists in the early 30s, they’re all ideologically divorced from reality. And when you look at these revolutions, I guess we would call them the critical theories.

You mentioned modern monetary theory, and that is really what allowed Joe Biden to borrow $6 trillion the last two and a half years. And basically, we had negative interest rates because the inflation rate was higher. We had free money in other words, and that didn’t work very well.

And unfortunately, people don’t think that modern monetary theory is over with. They feel that money is a construct that rich people create for the persecution of the poor. That’s the theory component on all of this. The critical legal theory says that the reason that you and I don’t steal candy bars is that we don’t need to steal candy bars, so we made laws to hurt people who do have to steal candy bars.

But in our major cities, Oakland and Chicago in particular, the district attorneys or the prosecutors or the state attorneys are telling people the victimizer is not the victimizer, he’s the victim, and that if he murders or rapes or assaults, it’s, it’s the culmination of long-term isms and ologies that he’s suffered. And the victim better get with it.

Maybe if you get hit over the head in the knockout game or somebody bashes in your car, then that will make you socially aware or woke to your culpability in creating the climate on which the victim.

And then we have critical legal theory, as I mentioned earlier. It’s the basis for this, that the laws have no connection with the natural world, that there is no natural taboo against stealing or lying or killing. These are all constructs based on race and class.

Critical racial theory is very interesting because this is the first time since, really, the Jim Crow era, where mainstream people have said racial purity or racial essence is pretty much the touchstone by which you judge people.

And by that, I mean, I work at a university where we have racially segregated graduation ceremonies. We have racially segregated dorms. We have racially segregated safe spaces. At other universities in California, you can pick the race of your roommate in advance. None of that would have been allowable on the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

So, we have sort of surrendered the liberal tradition and we’re ideologically propelling ourselves to a needless future. It’s not going to work. We know that. We know that when one group goes tribal, then every other group for their own protection… It’s like nuclear proliferation. If you go nuclear, the next person will go nuclear.

And we’re already starting to see that, that other groups, Latinos, Asians, even whites are saying, you know what, if this is the new game, for my own protection I’m going to identify in a very pre-civilizational manner, by my tribe. Civilization’s great achievement was it ended tribalism and made people have affinities toward the state rather than how they look. And that’s ending.

And the same thing with crime. Millions of people just won’t go to San Francisco or Los Angeles or Chicago. Millions of people just say, I’m not going to watch an NBA game or an NFL game. I’m not going to watch the Emmys. I’m not going to watch the Tonys, the Grammys. I’m not going to shop at Target. I’m not going to buy Bud Light.

So that’s the very beginning of a massive, as I see it, counter revolution, where people so far have dealt with these radical changes of three sexes and racial segregation and all these critical theories by saying, I’m going to move to Tennessee or I’m going to go out into a red state or I’m just going to stay in my compound and work through Zoom.

But that dropout monastery of the mind I think is transmogrified into a more active now. They’re saying, “Wait a minute. They don’t own Harvard University. Good people made that university. They don’t own the Grammys. They don’t own Target.” And they’re starting to reassert themselves. And I think that’s optimistic.

That’s why I said I had some optimism that people are saying if you drop out or you just move, it’s going to get worse. And when they wake up, to use their term, woke, and they fight back, they’re learning something. They have 51 percent of the people. You look at all the polls of Joe Biden right now, he’s at 41 percent. You look at the border, 70 percent of people are furious about it. The economy, 55 percent don’t like it. Energy policy, 60 percent don’t like it. Racial segregation, here in California of all places, we rejected that in a recent proposition.

So, I think the left is kind of saying to itself, our ideological agenda has no adherence, therefore we’re going to advance it by non-democratic means. That is defined as we’re going to read Google searches so you what you think you’re searching is not the result you’re going to get. We’re going to warp social media. We’re going to control the means of information: the New York Times, PBS, NPR, you name it.

We’re going to control the corporate boardroom. We’re going to control entertainment, professional sports, K-12, academia, foundations, they control it all. But they haven’t yet controlled the majority of people, and so they say, you know what, we either have to change the way that we look at borders.

And of course, if you say what I’m saying, they’re going to say you believe in the Great Replacement Theory, but all I’m doing is mimicking their own nomenclature, and that means books that are written by the left with titles like Demography is Destiny or the New Democratic Majority.

They flip California blue, they flip Nevada blue, they flip New Mexico blue, Colorado blue. That’s their plan, as I said, we have 50 million people. California has 27 percent of the population who’s not born in the United States. So, they either have to change the demography or they have to change the process.

Conservatives never look at the process. They say, the Warren Court is gone, so we want 15 judges. We want them packed. We’re in the majority now in the Senate. We want to get rid of the Senate filibuster. The blue wall fell in 2016, junked the Electoral College. The Senate’s too close, bring in two more states with four senators.

We don’t like the results of voting, so instead of having 30 people vote absentee, we want 70 percent not voting on election day. And I think it’s going to take conservatives a while to realize that they are revolutionaries, and all revolutionaries on the left really start with the premise that nobody wants their agenda.

So, they either have to change the system or the process or something or control the institutions of communication. And that’s pretty much what they’re doing. And I think if people would wake up and they’d say, you know, not this pig, I’m not going to do it anymore, there’d be a 51 percent majority to stop it, but we’re not quite there yet.

Michael Schaus: Yeah, and I actually feel like that’s part of what gives me optimism because I look at the way that the left is operating, the way that they try to change the rules when things don’t work out their way. Their assault on freedom of speech, for example, is a big one that always gets me riled up.

And the reason why I think that’s all happening is because they know that most people don’t agree with them. If you want a real kind of down to earth example, I always look at Nevada, where we’ve got 70 percent of voters claim that they want school choice or they want some form of educational freedom. And yet we have virtually none in this state because the folks in charge, in this case, the Democrat Party, have been resistant to even mild attempts to reform.

And while that’s very frustrating for conservatives or libertarians or people who love free markets, it should also be encouraging because it means on the cultural side, we still have kind of the upper hand. We still have the majority of folks that don’t like critical race theory. They don’t like this idea of $30 trillion in debt. And the missing component, I think, is mobilizing them to actually move that mentality into policy.

Victor Davis Hanson: They have to have good leadership, and they haven’t had that yet. And the Republican Party I think since the demise of Lee Atwater wanted to win nobly rather than lose ugly. When you nominate a Bob Dole or John McCain or Mitt Romney, you’re not going to win because you’re going to lose the white working class, for example.

The funny thing is that the Democrats are kind of on a precipice. They have to be very careful because they have been so racist and they’re deplorable, clinger, irredeemable chunks, semi-fascist, ultra-mega pejoratives, they really turned off the old base of the Democratic Party, the white working class. They don’t have it anymore.

And they’ve counted on upping the race tribal card so much so that they needed 90 percent of the black vote, 70 percent of the Latino vote. But one of the strange things about Donald Trump, for all of his faults, he created a more class than race consciousness. And there’s a foundation there for Republicans to say, we’re not the party of Mitt Romney on the golf course. We are the middle class that the Democrats used to claim they were. And we want to appeal to Latino and black voters. And ask yourself, do you really want partial birth abortion? Do you really want transgender males competing, biological males competing women’s sports? And you really want open borders and having 8 million people come in just 20 months. If you do, vote for them.

You can start to see the glimmering of that in California, where, on certain issues, the Hispanic Latino population, which is 45 percent of the electorate, is starting to push back, especially on gas prices, transgender question, and crime. whether they will continue to do that, we’ll see.

But it’s something that I think the Democratic Party says to themselves, we’re losing the minority vote, and yet we have to mandate the end of the combustion engine. We have to have abortion on demand. We have to have transgenderism. We have to have repertory admissions. We have to have this racial tribalism. So, we’re going to double down on that’s all we can do.

Michael Schaus: I think that to a certain extent, a lot of the progressive left or whatever you want to call it, (we used to say the liberal left, but I hate using the word liberal to explain these people) still believe that they’ve got the youth vote, for example, in the bag.

To a certain extent, they’re right. I mean, the younger generations definitely do have a far more favorable view of things like socialism. They tend to buy into the critical race theory, or at least the premise of it far more than some of the older generations. And that might be the area where pessimism or some pessimism is, is warranted.

I guess I have kind of a two-part question for you. On the one hand, why do you think that is? But the other thing that I like to think about, and I try to be optimistic here, I think that the younger generations want to be some of the most individualistic folks that this world has ever seen. They like the idea of individualism.

I think that there’s an opportunity there for the kind of free markets, conservative, libertarian movement, whatever it is, to speak to them and to speak to that kind of nature that they have there. But I’m not sure. I mean, why do you think they are the way they are and are they redeemable?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, to answer your second question first, all younger generations, you know, are rebellious. And so, what is the orthodoxy today? It’s not conservatism. It’s in the schools, K through 12, it’s left-wing orthodoxy. It’s kind of Stalinist.

Michael Schaus: I actually think. Oh, sorry to interrupt you, but I actually think it was Nick Cave, the rock and roll artist who said, if I was doing my big work today and I wanted to be as revolutionary as possible, he said, I’d go to church and get a job.

Victor Davis Hanson: So, they’re rebelling, they tend to want to rebel against that. And I think I can see it when I teach young people. They do want to rebel and that’s good. But the problem is that when you have students that don’t have any background, and I mean that literally, in language and grammar, foreign languages and philosophy in a classical sense, but there are dash studies, leisure studies, peace studies, crime studies, black studies, women’s studies, with their deductive courses.

They’re not very well educated. And I mean that in two senses. They don’t know what the inductive method is. So, you get them in a class, and they think that if you open up them to all sorts of different views and let them come to an inductive conclusion, that’s racist, or that’s hate speech, or that’s disinformation.

And the second thing is, besides not having the inductive method instilled, they don’t have any reference. So, if you say to a young person, not too long ago, Pericles or Ulysses S. Grant or an ionic column, they have no idea what you’re talking about. None.

And I’m not saying that as just an old person, as an old fogey, because my generation knew those things in college, and they knew those things in high school, and the generation ahead of me that was in college knew that. And my left-wing professors, and they were all left wing that I had at Stanford and UC Santa Cruz, knew that.

So, these students have been deprived of their heritage, their legacy, and they’ve been indoctrinated. The result is, unfortunately, they have combinations of the two worst attributes. They’re arrogant and they’re ignorant.

There has to be a way to appeal to them in terms of their self-interest, to say to them, “We didn’t do this to you. We didn’t deprive you of an education. We didn’t tell you were brilliant when you weren’t. We didn’t lie to you. But you’re looking at a society in which you’re going to have trouble buying a home, affording fuel and having two or three children and having a nuclear family.”

And that’s important historically. Forget about whether your morality is against or for it. I’m just saying historically. And maybe you can persuade them that they got a raw deal from their supposed benefactors. Empirically, you can tell them that because they have.

And they’re very pampered, but it’s a very strange kind of pampering. They’re very sensitive to criticism, they’re very thin skinned, they’re very opinionated, but they’re very vulnerable because they’re very ignorant, they’re very naive, and they don’t know how this leftist revolution has really targeted them in a negative fashion. And it’s really tragic.

When I go to these big cities and speak and I see all these younger people in cafes and, you know, on Uber and I just bump into them, they’re not very happy people. They have big student loans, and they have prolonged adolescence during their late twenties and thirties and forties. They are not married. They don’t have children and they’re angry about it. They don’t own homes.

All the traditional catalysts for conservatism and traditionalism. They’re pretty well known in history. Do you own a home? Are you married? Do you have children? These are things that take attention away from yourself and give you responsibility for others. You have to fix your roof. You have to fix the heater. You’ve got to fix the foundation for your family. You have to worry about your wife’s health. You’ve got to worry about your children’s education. They don’t have any of that.

I’m generalizing, but a large minority of them have none of that, and they’re very self-referential. And it’s really sad to see people speak of themselves in such laudatory fashion on such little evidence.

Or they say this term I’ve noticed, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” as if they’re surprised that anybody would rebuke them or call them to account.

Michael Schaus: On all of that, something jumps out to me because I was talking to a group maybe six months ago or so. They were younger people, millennials and younger. I am right on the cusp of Gen X and millennial. Somebody came up to me afterwards and they said that they grew up knowing what they wanted in life, but nobody helped explain how to get it. That stuck with me because I feel like if there was a disservice done to the younger generations, that’s the way that we didn’t really explain to them that things like marriage and two parent household and what have you are kind of the key to success.

You can’t go out there, get a big expensive degree, find a nice job and just expect all of your life to come together. There’s a whole lot more to life than just that. And we kind of miss that, I think.

Victor Davis Hanson: I do think that. I mean, when I was 10 years old, my grandfather said the world was divided into two, those who receive interest and those who pay it, and you have to choose whether you’re going to get interest or pay it.

I was on a plane not too long ago, talking to a young person in their 30s, and it was like a talking to a child. I really felt bad. He was asking me a question about his student loans. This year, he was still getting loans. I said, “Just take the courses and look at how much you’re borrowing and then compute the interest. And then see how many hours you’re in class. And then divide up what you’re paying per minute.”

He started to do this, and he said, “Oh, my God, it’s hundreds of dollars.” And I said, “Yes, it is. And then ask who’s benefiting from that. And when you ask him a series of questions, like if your university had to back your loan or to issue your loan, do you think that they would encourage you to graduate in four rather than 10 years, or to take maybe a full load, or to have courses that would…”

And he said, Well, they don’t do that. And I just said to him, what would happen if you went as an 18-year-old and somebody said, these are the 30 majors that you’ve indicated. Given our studies, this is the payback time for the student loan of each major. We don’t want you to be entirely, you know, mercantile, but you should understand if you major like I did in classics, it might be a little bit riskier to take out loans.

It wasn’t that nobody had told him that; he’d never heard of the concept at all. He asked the first question. He said, “Do you think that the Republicans are going to forgive loans?” I said, I doubt it. He said, “Well, Joe Biden is.” I said, “I don’t think he can do it. He has to get it through the Congress.” “Really?”

So, when you start talking to them, you just hit a brick wall. They don’t know what a loan is. They don’t know what compounded interest is. They don’t know what the Congress is. They don’t know what the White House and the presidents abilities or directives fiat versus congressional approval. They don’t know that.

And not that we always had an education. In the 19th century, we had an ignorant population that didn’t have mandatory school, but they had other things in their life, such as religion, community, a nuclear family, a father, a grandfather. And when they did get a K through six education, I think you could argue… I’m living in the same house that my great-great-grandmother lived in, who built it in 1870. When I look at their McGuffey readers that I can see on the shelf, from the early 20th century, I can tell you that they are at a reading level of a high school senior and they’re designed for sixth graders, sixth form.

That all sounds pessimistic and doom and gloom, but I’d rather be that way with a tragic view than this therapeutic lie. We’re living in a kind of an empire of lies and we don’t we don’t want to talk about it. We can get out of it because we got out of the Great Depression. We got out of the 60s cultural revolution. We got out of World War II.

There are avenues of relief and recalibration and salvation, but it’s getting harder in this technologically biased world. And government is so big and so powerful, and the tech companies are so big, and the means of information are so controlled.

The Democratic Party, it has ceased to exist. It’s now a party of the very, very, very wealthy and the subsidized poor and government workers and that’s it.

When I go to campus, I have an apartment that I stay during the week, and it’s about a half a mile from the Bankman-Fried residence. To think that those parents were very liberal law professors. And now we know we’re at the trough of Sam Bankman-Fried’s greatest monetary Ponzi scheme in American history, and yet they did it all for the liberal cause they claim, even though they were buying themselves Persian rugs and the Caribbean.

That was really a metaphor for the new left. It is a very bi-coastal, elite, privilege class that’s never subject to the consequences of their own ideology. It’s really a pernicious group of people, and they’re in control of our institutions.

I kind of went to school with them, so I have a kind of a personal insight. I saw them when they were 18 at UC Santa Cruz. I saw them when they were 22 at Stanford University. I saw them in the universities. And they’re not a nice group of happy campers. They’re a very dangerous group of people.

Michael Schaus: Yeah. I mean, it is very clear that there are serious structural challenges. Everything from bias in the media and social media to, as you point out, this kind of cultural elite that has been taken over by some of these ideologies. So, it’s definitely going to be a tough road.

I still remain, as you do, Victor, relatively optimistic on the long term. And part of that’s because you have to. The other part of it, though, is because what we see going on the left right now, we see their attacks on free speech, we see their attacks on the freedom of information, and that tells me that it looks very reminiscent of the old guard doing everything they can trying to remain gripped to their power.

They are like panicking. It shows that you’ve got that elite just kind of panicking, wanting to hold on to what they previously had.

Victor Davis Hanson, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us here on the program.

Again, October 24th, 2023, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, the big benefit dinner for Nevada Policy. Do not miss it. Tickets are already on sale if you go to NevadaPolicy.org and you click on the events tab, you will see it right there.

October 24th. Put it in your calendar. Get some tickets. And come and join us. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Victor Davis Hanson is going to be the keynote speaker. He’s always got insightful ways of looking at things and you’re not going to want to miss that evening.

Again, NevadaPolicy.org and you can get your tickets right there. Thank you so much for listening today. This has been Free to Offend.

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 Free to Offend:
A podcast that radically defends free speech by regularly practicing it.

Produced by Nevada Policy Research Institute,
featuring Nevada Policy’s Michael Schaus.