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The Day the Delusions Died Konstantin Kisin

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The Good Samaritan Window, Chartres Cathedral, France, thirteenth century. God warning Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. (Photo by Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)

When Hamas terrorists crossed over the border with Israel and murdered 1,400 innocent people, they destroyed families and entire communities. They also shattered long-held delusions in the West.

A friend of mine joked that she woke up on October 7 as a liberal and went to bed that evening as a 65-year-old conservative. But it wasn’t really a joke and she wasn’t the only one. What changed?

The best way to answer that question is with the help of Thomas Sowell, one of the most brilliant public intellectuals alive today. In 1987, Sowell published A Conflict of Visions. In this now-classic, he offers a simple and powerful explanation of why people disagree about politics. We disagree about politics, Sowell argues, because we disagree about human nature. We see the world through one of two competing visions, each of which tells a radically different story about human nature.

Those with “unconstrained vision” think that humans are malleable and can be perfected. They believe that social ills and evils can be overcome through collective action that encourages humans to behave better. To subscribers of this view, poverty, crime, inequality, and war are not inevitable. Rather, they are puzzles that can be solved. We need only to say the right things, enact the right policies, and spend enough money, and we will suffer these social ills no more. This worldview is the foundation of the progressive mindset.

By contrast, those who see the world through a “constrained vision” lens believe that human nature is a universal constant. No amount of social engineering can change the sober reality of human self-interest, or the fact that human empathy and social resources are necessarily scarce. People who see things this way believe that most political and social problems will never be “solved”; they can only be managed. This approach is the bedrock of the conservative worldview.

Hamas’s barbarism—and the explanations and celebrations throughout the West that followed their orgy of violence—have forced an overnight exodus from the “unconstrained” camp into the “constrained” one. 

The Reality of Woke Ideology

Many people woke up on October 7 sympathetic to parts of woke ideology and went to bed that evening questioning how they had signed on to a worldview that had nothing to say about the mass rape and murder of innocent people by terrorists.

The reaction to the attacks—from outwardly pro-Hamas protests to the mealy-mouthed statements of college presidents, celebrities, and CEOs—has exploded the comforting stories many on the center-left have told themselves about progressive identity politics. For many years, they opted for the coping mechanism of pretending that the institutional capture of universities, corporations, and media organizations by the woke mind virus was no big deal. “Sure, students shutting down events they disagree with is annoying,” they would say, “but it’s just students doing what students do.”

October 8 was a wake-up call for those who didn’t appreciate that the ideology of the campus has spread to our cities, supercharged by social media.

We woke up on October 8 to the clamor of street protests in cities across the West condemning Israel even before any major Israeli response to the attacks. We watched celebratory crowds brandish swastikas and chant “gas the Jews” at events purporting to be about the loss of Palestinian lives. We saw Black Lives Matter chapters lionize terrorists

In London, where I live, we watched the mayor deliver glib assurances that “London’s diversity is our greatest strength” in the midst of a wave of antisemitic attacks, and as Jewish schools were forced to close because of safety concerns. 

Across the West, we noticed that our representatives refused to condemn Hamas’s kidnappings, and that the legacy media was all too eager to swallow and regurgitate Hamas propaganda.

Prior to the October 7 massacre, many students, alumni, and donors with the “unconstrained vision” trusted that the university—for all its many problems—remained the West’s best environment for civil discourse. 

But then they watched university presidents who were quick to issue statements condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the killing of George Floyd fall silent, or offer the most slippery, equivocal statements carefully crafted to avoid offending anti-Israel groups. They watched an Israeli at Columbia get beaten with a stick, and heard reports about the physical intimidation of students on campuses across the country. They read about dozens of student organizations at Harvard signing a letter holding Israel “entirely responsible” for the massacre of Israelis

The events of the last week have shattered the illusion that wokeness is about protecting victims and standing up for persecuted minorities. This ideology is and has always been about the one thing many of us have told you it is about for years: power. And after the last two weeks, there can be no doubt about how these people will use any power they seize: they will seek to destroy, in any way they can, those who disagree.

This unpleasant conclusion is surprising only if you are still clinging to the unconstrained vision. But if there is any constant in human history, it is that revolutionaries always feel entitled to destroy those who stand in their way.

Just as hope about the possibility of peace with jihadists seems suicidally naive, reconciliation with citizens seized by the woke mindset seems a long way off.

Immigration

Nowhere is the shift from the unconstrained to constrained vision starkest than on immigration. 

For decades, both Europe and America basked in an “unconstrained vision” of immigration. In the U.S., the melting pot that could integrate the nineteenth-century Germans, Irish Catholics, or Japanese could surely absorb those crossing the southern border. And many of these new arrivals would do jobs Americans didn’t want to do. Europe needed immigration to deal with an aging population, with many European countries inviting people from their former colonies to fill labor shortages and skills gaps.

But over time, especially from the late 1990s onward, the unconstrained vision ran rampant through media and political elites, and immigration went from being a solution to specific problems to a moral good in its own right. (I am myself an immigrant. When I moved to Britain from Russia in 1996, net immigration into Britain ran at 55,000 people a year. Last year, net immigration stood at over 600,000 people.)

Over the past decade, more and more people in America and Europe have quietly shifted toward the “constrained” view of immigration. The Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump were early warning signs of this ongoing transformation. Today, we see New York, where nearly 60,000 newly arrived migrants are putting tremendous strain on shelters and city services like healthcare, education, and public transport. The city has already spent over $1 billion to address this crisis, and projections indicate that housing costs alone could exceed $4.3 billion by next summer. Lifelong Democrats in Manhattan tell The New York Times that “we have too many people coming in,” and that “Biden could do something more about putting our borders up a little stronger. I mean, we’re not here to take in the whole world. We can only do so much.”

Europeans have learned similar lessons from their own migrant crisis. In Britain, we spend approximately $10 million a day on hotels for people who have come here illegally. We refuse to deport foreign criminals over “human rights” concerns. Readers may recall seeing recent media reports about the small Italian island of Lampedusa, whose population quadrupled in a day as large numbers of illegal immigrants arrived. We have now learned that a man who shot two Swedish soccer fans dead in a terror attack in Brussels last week arrived there illegally via the island in 2011. The man was known to the authorities as a security risk due to his jihadi links, but when his asylum application was rejected in 2020, he was not deported. How many such people are allowed to come and stay in Europe is impossible to say, as hundreds of thousands of people make illegal crossings into Europe every year. 

But despite these shocking statistics, the issue of illegal immigration has been impossible to discuss in polite company for decades. No matter how bad the problem became, to raise concerns about it would almost always lead to accusations of bigotry and xenophobia.

What we have witnessed over the last two weeks—with enormous pro-Hamas rallies in cities like London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.—has the potential to change the immigration debate in a decisive way. It is much harder to pretend that allowing people to enter our country illegally is a moral good when you watch some of them celebrate mass murder in the streets of your capital cities.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has recently announced the intention to deport illegal immigrants “on a large scale” as his coalition hemorrhages votes to anti-immigration parties. France has banned pro-Palestine protests and warned that foreign nationals who take part will be removed from the country. Britain has also threatened to revoke the visas of foreigners who praise Hamas. Whether this represents a permanent realignment toward a more constrained view of immigration or merely a temporary blip on the path to progressive dystopia remains to be seen. 

Border Security

To express concern about border security has for many years been coded as “right-wing.” But how many people, after the horrors of October 7, believe that a secure border is anything other than the most basic test of national security?

I have just returned from a week in Los Angeles where, on recognizing my name, every single Armenian Lyft driver struck up a conversation in Russian. Once the inevitable complaints about the rising cost of living were out of the way, several shared with me their own journeys into the U.S. and those of their families. I was struck by the fact that those who came in the 1990s and 2000s had usually come legally, but more recent arrivals had made their way through Mexico. One man told me about smuggling his two brothers and 80-year-old father through the southern border: “It’s easy,” he told me.

I have no doubt he is correct: 2023 saw the highest number of illegal crossings since records began. And polling shows that the American people, who are otherwise uniquely welcoming of new arrivals, aren’t happy about it. The problem with illegal immigration isn’t just its scale; it’s that we have no idea whether the people coming are 80-year-old Armenian retirees or jihadi terrorists plotting another 9/11.

It is clearer now than ever before that borders aren’t about bigotry, they’re about security. In a sign of the times, Joe Biden is now continuing work on the border wall that Democrats spent years criticizing Donald Trump for erecting.

The West 

The reason the readjustment is necessary and, in my view, highly likely, is that proponents of the unconstrained vision have been allowed to ride roughshod over the concerns of ordinary citizens. They have used this window of opportunity to implement extraordinarily impractical and outright harmful ideas because they take the unbelievable levels of safety, plenty, and freedom we enjoy in the West for granted. The one form of privilege you will never hear them address is the first-world privilege that we all benefit from every day.

They have done this because the fundamental flaw in the unconstrained model of the world is a failure to understand Thomas Sowell’s greatest maxim: there are no solutions, only trade-offs. When you let your institutions be captured by an ideology of intolerance and illiberalism masquerading as progress, that has consequences. When you sow division at home and signal weakness abroad, that has consequences. When you debase the public’s faith in what they are told by the media and their government, that has consequences too. 

Western civilization has produced some of the most stunning scientific, technological, social, and cultural breakthroughs in human history. If you consider yourself “liberal” or even “progressive,” it must surely be clear by now that America and her allies are the only places in the world where your values are even considered values. If our civilization is allowed to collapse, it will not be replaced by a progressive utopia. It will be replaced by chaos and barbarism.

Will this waking-up moment persist? It depends, in large part, on our courage to look reality in the face. 

As Sowell explained, “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

And the truth is that we have indulged in magical thinking for too long, choosing comforting myths over harsh realities. About terrorism. About immigration. And about a host of other issues. In our hunger for progress, we have forgotten that not all change is for the better. Now the world is paying the price for that self-indulgence. Let’s hope recent events are the wake-up call we so desperately need.

Konstantin Kisin is the co-host of the podcast Triggernometry. You can read all of Konstantin’s work on his Substack.

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TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles

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Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.


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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/opinion/donald-trump-trial-prison.html

https://www.politico.com/live-updates/2024/04/18/congress/hfc-on-alert-00153097

https://www.jns.org/house-rules-committee-debates-israel-aid-package-as-house-speaker-confronts-right-flank/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-new-york-court-criminal-trial/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/jesse-watters-goes-juror-by-juror-to-sow-doubt-in-trump-hush-money-case

https://www.salon.com/2024/04/18/juror-quits-over-fear-of-being-outed-after-fox-news-host-singled-her-out/

https://www.rawstory.com/jake-laturner/#cxrecs_s

https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/18/politics/mike-johnson-speakership-rules

https://www.rawstory.com/freedom-caucus-2667810851/

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8034

https://rules.house.gov/bill/118/hr-8035

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/04/18/trump-campaign-funnels-money-to-his-businesses/73344744007/

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/mike-johnson-gaetz-motion-to-vacate-ukraine

https://www.axios.com/2024/04/18/jake-laturner-retire-house-gop-kansas

https://www.axios.com/2024/03/27/house-members-retiring-quitting-productivity

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/18/us/politics/house-israel-ukraine-aid-package-explainer.html

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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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