In my teens, criticizing the implacable edifice of the United States felt like kicking a tank in bedroom slippers. Richard Nixon’s ‘silent majority’ was patriotic. Railing about my country’s disgraceful historical underbelly — slavery, the Native American genocide — seemed edgy.
Fast-forward, and in the west trashing your own country has become a central preoccupation of the ruling class. University administrators, corporate board members and media pundits compete with one another over who can denounce their disgusting society with more fervor. Shame, or what passes for it, is the new ostentation. America’s own President decries his country’s ‘systemic racism’. Far more than singing along with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at a football game or (God forbid) ‘Rule, Britannia’ at the Proms, joining the chorus proclaiming the odiousness of America or Britain has become downright conformist — one reason why pooping all over the land of my birth ceased long ago to be any fun.
Now self-loathing has gone mainstream, the government-commissioned April report attesting the UK is not ‘institutionally racist’ is what qualifies as genuinely edgy; its assertion that, rather, Britain should act as a model for other white-majority countries is what qualifies as genuinely brave. For sure enough, its lead author, the head of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, drew comparison to Goebbels. On Twitter, a Labour MP equated the commissioners with cross-burners in the Ku Klux Klan. On the Guardian’s front page, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence decried the report’s heretical conclusions as giving ‘racists the green light’. On Channel 4 News, a former Met police superintendent slammed the document as having ‘set back racial equality for decades’ (now, that’s one powerful pile of paper). So over-the-top, so foam-at-the-mouth, so eye-bulgingly hypertensive was the immediate response to the ‘gaslighting’ report that the exhibition was almost comical.
The lessons are clear. Nowadays, moral nuance is anathema. And defend your country at your peril. Given the vitriol they’ve faced, we shouldn’t be surprised if the report’s authors (nine out of 10 non-white) are forced into hiding. Only one conclusion would have raised no hackles: that the UK is irredeemably, irretrievably, unpardonably racist, down to the cellular level, and damned for all time. For that’s not some fringe opinion. It’s the view embraced by what we once called the ‘Establishment’, what conservatives now tag the ‘liberal elite’, and what for its membership simply qualifies as the ranks of the civilized.
Clearly, progressive posturing in both Britain and America is meant for domestic consumption. Paintballing the flag is an in-house sport. But what prevents theatrical ecstasies of national self-mortification from being merely amusing — a passing political fashion that, alas, doesn’t seem to be passing fast enough — is who else is watching the show. The Chinese Communist party may restrict its people’s internet access, but the leadership keeps tabs on the Guardian, the New York Times and Channel 4 News.
Accordingly, during the March bilateral summit in Alaska, the US secretary of state briefly expressed his ‘deep concern’ over human rights in China, only to be met with an 18-minute attack from his Chinese counterpart charging that America didn’t have a leg to stand on: ‘There are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well… The challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.’ With the help of progressive propaganda, then, the CCP establishes a moral equivalence between the imprisonment of a million Uighurs in forced-labor concentration camps, where women are subjected to compulsory sterilization, and the killing of one black citizen by a policeman currently on trial for it, and in line for a sentence of up to 40 years.
A country that allows dissent, including the derogation of the state itself, looks strong — and in this respect the control freaks of the CCP, frightened of their own people, look weak. But a country that adopts self-excoriation as its national pastime also looks weak. The Chinese are keeping attentive watch as the West denigrates its heroes, debunks its previous sources of pride, vandalizes its icons, denounces its cultural heritage, slanders its popular majorities as indelibly stained with original sin and rewrites its history to make its past appear as wicked as possible. The spectacle inspires contempt. The Chinese see the self-flagellating throes of the West as the certain bellwether of terminal decline. We’re making ourselves look pathetic. In countries and individuals both, a penchant for self-criticism is only healthy when balanced by some measure of self-belief.
I’ve no taste for the texture of Chinese nationalism — the militaristic displays, the synchronized marching, the numbing pomp, the hundreds of vacuously pretty young women dressed in red, singing bouncy songs in mincing voices. The Chinese are drilled from birth on their great country, their great people, their great leaders and their great destiny. All that patriotic indoctrination may be nauseating, but it gives the CCP an enormous popular solidarity to draw on.
The rancid rhetoric of today’s left may be playing to the peanut gallery; aside from fetishizing Palestinians, identitarians are provincial. Progressives display little interest in Myanmar, Xinjiang or Alexei Navalny’s fate in Russia. But trendy denunciation of our awful people, awful history and awful cultures doesn’t stay all in the family. It’s music to the ears of our adversaries, whose illiberal ambitions are primarily constrained by fear. Why fear a society that’s tearing itself apart for you? Alert to what looks from afar like decadence, decay and implosion, China is further emboldened to quash Hong Kong, annex the entire South China Sea and bully Australia for daring to desire more research into the origins of COVID-19.
Still, geopolitics aren’t always abstract. Toward the end of the Vietnam War, my older brother was wrestling with whether to flee to Canada before being rescued by a lucky draft number. I’d hate to see our unsuspecting wokesters face a similar dilemma when China invades Taiwan.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2021 World edition.