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Martin Gurri: When Things Fall Apart

Perverse policies and institutional rot have turned America upside down.

On October 7, Hamas, the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, slipped through the borders at Gaza and attacked Israel. The ensuing barbarities are by now well known. Young women were raped, entire families were tortured and murdered, infants were burned alive, grandmothers were carried off as human trophies to Gaza.

Yet it was the Israeli counterattack that seemed to offend the fine spirits at home and across the globe. 

Anti-Israel protests erupted across Europe and the United States, many of them blatantly antisemitic in tenor, involving threats and physical attacks on Jews. As if a curtain had been pulled back on a shameful scene, the horrors in Israel revealed the nihilism and moral perversity of the educated classes everywhere—and the crack-up of institutions, from the university to our halls of power—that once served to sustain the modern world. 

Venerable American institutions, already tottering, deeply distrusted by the public, gave every indication of having chosen this conflict as the moment to leap into the abyss. 

The news media in particular seemed intent on self-destruction. Response to the false Hamas claim that Israel had bombed a hospital, causing 500 deaths, was telling. The paragons of the news business—The New York Times, the BBC, the news agencies—swallowed and regurgitated this narrative of civilian suffering uncritically. Western journalists weren’t simply duped by Hamas. They became organs of Hamas propaganda, eager to believe Islamist gangsters with blood still fresh on their hands. Driven by sectarian fervor, they desperately needed to view the “militants” as victims and the Israelis, for all their mutilated dead, as oppressors. The New York Times accompanied its story with a photo of a bombed hospital that was not the one in question. That’s how propaganda works. 

Universities outran the media in the race to institutional irrelevance. The identity virus was first incubated in academia; a moral atrophy has reached pathological levels there. Students in the most prestigious schools seized on the killing of Jews as a reason to rage against the eternal oppressor: the Jewish state. At Harvard, a letter supported by more than 30 student organizations held “the Israeli regime responsible for all unfolding violence.” George Washington University students projected Hamas propaganda on the walls of campus buildings; one projection read “Glory to our martyrs.” The Hamas paraglider graphic adorned more than one campus flyer.

If the educated young have lost their bearings, we would do well to examine their education. The cult of victimhood is the monolithic faith of academia today. The instructor has become a quasi-religious commissar whose task is the revaluation of conventional values. The reaction of many university professors to the Hamas raid helped explain the derangement of their students. One felt “exhilarated” by the attack. Another called it “awesome” and “a stunning victory.” Some 1,400 sociologists, most of them employed in institutions of higher learning, signed a letter accusing Israel’s “apartheid regime” of “genocide.” 

Such fatuous idiocies were uttered in the expectation of applause because our universities are run by herd animals endowed with a single talent: the ability to stampede away from loud noises. The president of Harvard needed four public statements before being prodded by criticism into getting the answer right.

Meanwhile, American passivity on the world stage has yielded predictable consequences. As the U.S. has tiptoed away from crises—in post-invasion Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Crimea, North Korea, the eastern Mediterranean, the South China Sea—tyrannical regimes hostile to our interests, under the flag of disorder and misrule, have inexorably advanced.

Now, a major war in the Middle East, implicating not just Hamas but Iran and its proxies, has been added to the ongoing hostilities between Russia and Ukraine. On his return from a hastily arranged trip to Israel, President Biden, speaking from the Oval Office, sought to tag both conflicts with a grand theme that would justify the growing U.S. involvement on behalf of Ukraine and Israel. Vladimir Putin and Hamas, the president affirmed, “both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.” And the U.S., in these conflicts, was once again “the arsenal of democracy,” a World War II phrase that promoted Biden to the role of Franklin Roosevelt. 

The wars in Ukraine and Israel are indeed linked, but not in the way Biden suggested. 

Both are evidence of a world in the process of disintegration, the outcome of a generation of manic-depressive U.S. foreign policies culminating in the disastrous doctrines of the Obama-Biden years. These doctrines maintain, in brief, that American aggression is the abiding source of global instability, and American retreat, magically, will lead humanity to a “rules-based world order.” 

The bloody flight from Afghanistan can stand as an example of what happens when these notions are put in action. And even as President Biden staked his claim as defender of global democracy, he was releasing $10 billion to Iran—continuing the administration’s persistent attempt to cozy up to an anti-American, theocratic dictatorship that is the world’s main sponsor of terrorism and serves as supplier to Hamas.

In this march toward dystopia, the events that followed October 7 felt like a significant milestone. Russia and China immediately sided with Hamas. Iran threatened war if Israel advanced on Gaza. Rockets were aimed at American troops and warships stationed in the Middle East. Arab monarchs and dictators, long propped up by U.S. might, refused to meet with President Biden.

Europeans panicked over their restive Muslim populations. Emmanuel Macron of France acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself but then demanded a cease-fire. “[T]hese babies, these ladies, these old people are [being] bombed and killed,” Macron charged. He was speaking of Gaza, not of the Israeli dead. In London, as hundreds of thousands took to the streets in pro-Palestinian protests, Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused the Metropolitan Police of “double standards” favoring protesters who had harassed pro-Israel countermarchers. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak repudiated the statement; Braverman was dismissed from her job.

In the midst of this horror show, the Pentagon disclosed that China was accelerating the expansion of its nuclear arsenal and now possessed 500 warheads, far more than previously estimated. A few days later, Chinese media issued a pointed warning to the United States, asserting that this country was “inciting the risk of war on a global scale.” Only the most naive would consider this development unconnected to events in the Middle East—or to the confident perception of U.S. weakness by nations that do not wish us well.

Failed American policies are an emanation of the moral and intellectual decay currently afflicting our institutions. The youngest active generation, the Zoomers, a morbidly suicidal crowd, seem to have developed a fatal attraction to nihilism. According to one poll, a majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 believe the slaughter of Israeli civilians “can be justified.” If that is an accurate measure of generational sentiment, the future belongs to Hamas.

And while the Democratic Party has split over the war in Gaza, it can be expected, in the fullness of time, to resume a worshipful attitude toward designated victim groups. Progressive Democrats, after all, are the bishops and cardinals of the church of identity. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is really a two-word label posing as a serious organization. Anyone expecting rescue from that direction should consider the unraveling of the House of Representatives, where Republicans spent three weeks selecting a new speaker with the generic name of Mike Johnson, who was until then famous mainly among his immediate family. It should come as no surprise that the party lacks a coherent vision of America’s place in the world: Republicans talk like isolationists about the Russia-Ukraine war but become aggressive neocons over the Gaza conflict.

Meanwhile, battle-scarred Donald Trump is a heavy favorite to become the Republican presidential candidate: this would pit a septuagenarian against an octogenarian in the 2024 contest, each of whom can be expected, if he wins, to try to put the other in jail. It’s enough to make one wonder whether the Zoomers have a point.

But we shouldn’t yield to despair. 

A solid majority of Americans strongly supports Israel and feels comfortable using the word terrorist when applied to Hamas. And the course correction the country so desperately needs, if it is to happen, will be propelled not by our corrupt elites or by our broken institutions but by an impatient public. The incipient barbarism of the identitarians has been revealed to anyone with eyes to see. With luck, the tide of history may soon be ebbing from this destructive ideology. 

The American people have lost their way before and always returned to a place of decency and sanity. I am not a prophet, but I have faith that we will recover from the present psychotic episode and demand an accounting of those who led us here. The American future is always a frontier: we will face dangers because the world is a harsh and alien place, but we will also discover or reconfigure new and better-adapted arrangements for living together, at home and abroad.

There is always a reason to hope.

Martin Gurri is a former CIA analyst and the author of the book The Revolt of the Public. Read his piece “All Immigrants Are Born on the Fourth of July” and follow him on X @mgurri.

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