Many commentators (including yours truly) have pointed out that America is divided more now than it has been since the late 1850s and the run up to the Civil War. But as usual, I may have understated the case.
That, anyway, is what Vivek Ramaswamy would say. In a remarkable, just-published interview with Tom Klingenstein, Ramaswamy several time insists that we are not in a pre-war situation. It’s worse than that. “We are,” he insists, “absolutely in a war with the fate of the country at stake.”
Hyperbolic? I don’t think so. The war, he acknowledges, could and likely will get worse. But we can already see the troops deployed and the battle lines drawn.
On one side are those who believe in the founding ideals of America, the ideals summed up in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the center of which are the ideals of individual liberty, freedom of speech and the rule of law.
On the other side are the “woke” haters of America as traditionally defined. These are the people who seek to tear the blindfold off the statues of justice at our court houses because, they assert, impartial justice is racist. What they want is not individual liberty, but group prerogatives based on sex, race or some other badge of supposed victimhood.
Pace well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats, compromise between these two groups is not possible because the “wokerati” regards those who dissent not as people with different opinions but as heretics. And heretics — whether the issue be race, the climate, Covid, Hamas or this week’s preferred species of sexual exotica — cannot only be met with utter suppression. “You know you are in a war,” Ramaswamy notes, “when there is no middle ground, no room to compromise.” That’s where we are now.
I think it very unlikely that Ramaswamy will be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania come January 2025. But he is telling the world some hard and vital truths. I hope the political class, as well as ordinary Americans, will pay him heed. Noting the many ways the financial sector, the law and the corporate and academic worlds have been “weaponized” against traditional American values, he warns that “if we lose this war, we will have full-fledged tyranny. You see, if people are free, then there will be group differences in outcomes because often groups have different preferences and talents. The only way you can make groups equal in terms of outcome is by force.”
This was a point that James Madison made in Federalist 10 in his discussion of faction. Americans chose the path Madison outlined as the best path and sought comity in compromise and the balancing of opposing interest. Now, the “woke” agenda is pursing the course that Madison descried only to dismiss: the tyrannous path of controlling faction by obliterating difference and enforcing ideological conformity.
If you think things are not that bad, you haven’t been paying attention. Already, some people with dissenting views about immigration, say, or Covid policy or “systemic racism” have been turned into second-class citizens. They have been denied checking accounts and credit, access to the internet and have found themselves blocked from college or employment. Lawyers who work for or supported Donald Trump find themselves threatened with disbarment and indictment; they, too, are rendered unemployable.
But surely it is an exaggeration to say that America is devolving into a tyranny? Where are the gulags? Where are the secret police? For the latter, just ask Roger Stone or all the other Americans who have been subject to dawn raids by the FBI. There is a reason that that corrupt organization is now known by some as “Biden’s Gestapo.”
As for the gulags, Ramaswamy is right. “If you want to see gulags being built, you don’t have to look any further than the treatment being given by the Biden justice system to the so-called “insurrectionists” of January 6. This is the treatment being prepared for all who oppose the woke tyranny, who are already branded ‘domestic terrorists.’”
This is a remarkable interview. No one who has studied history will be surprised that the chief obstacle to dealing with the threats Ramaswamy outlines is ingrained cowardice. In one key passage, we encounter this memorable exchange between Tom Klingenstein and Ramaswamy:
TK: Are you saying you opponents are cowards?
VR: Yes. Which is why they have their heads in the sand.
TK: What exactly are they afraid of?
VR: Being called “racists.” But no one can be an effective leader in our time who is cowed by this phony charge.
The important people who run this country, joined by those who comment about public affairs, believe we are still in normal times. The ultimate admonitory message of this interview is this: “What they think they see,” Ramaswamy says, “is that we’re going through one of the ups and downs that America has gone through time and again but has always found its way through. They can’t imagine that this time she may well not.” It is Ramaswamy’s great virtue to have articulated the reasons why the future of America as a free and prosperous polity is very much up for grabs. The analysis of this “unapologetic America-first nationalist” is like an ice-cold draught of water on a sweltering summer day: rousing, clarifying, invigorating.