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Victor Davis Hanson on Why Today's Riots Are a Threat: 'The Military Wing of an Affluent Progressive Movement'

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down next to a burning building May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis in protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down next to a burning building May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis in protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

One of the world’s foremost commentators on military history and current events, Victor Davis Hanson, says the riots and protests of the 1960s & ‘70s and those of today have all been products of the Left, but this time the protests are more dangerous to the future of the country. He explained why he's come to that conclusion during a Heritage Foundation webinar recently.

He opened up by saying, “The 1960s as I lived through them as a young teen were similar in the social protests that we see today. It was primarily, like today, a phenomenon of young people out in the street. It began as a one-issue protest; in that case, Vietnam – not the death of George Floyd and racial relations vis-à-vis the police of the United States. But, like today, it blossomed out in cultural revolutionary style."

“So in the ‘60s, everything was questioned, whether it was wearing wire-rimmed glasses or Levis or hippies or your hair or movies or profanity. And by the same token, we can see that this movement now incorporates everything from advocacy for illegal immigration to transgenderism to movies and representations."  

“So they’re cultural revolutionary movements sort of like the Jacobin moment in the French Revolution or Mao’s Cultural Revolution or what happened in Russia in 1917 and beyond. And ostensibly, they’re angry also at the status quo, ‘The Establishment.’ I don’t know if that’s intrinsic about youthful, cultural revolutions."  

After Months of Lockdown & Quarantining, the Protests Were a Spontaneous Busting Out

“But a little bit differently here is that there’ve been force multipliers: COVID-19, the induced recession, the first national quarantine. This put people in their rooms, their studios, or wherever they were…basement…for 90 days or so.  And so there was an exuberance that was unleashed in a more spontaneous quick fashion. Whereas, the ‘60s grew slowly in intensity."

“But there are a lot of differences. And the first thing that I noticed is that in the past – these being movements of the Left – the Democratic establishment in the cities, whether we liked them or not, whatever they were, they were relics of the old Democratic Party, and they wanted law and order so that it didn’t impair both their ability to govern and the image of the Democratic Party."

Unprecedented to See Those in Charge Appease the Violent Revolutionaries

Hanson continued, “We’ve never seen, in contrast, anything quite like these Blue State mayors, attorney generals, governors – whether it’s Mayor Ted Wheeler in Oregon or Lori Lightfoot in Chicago or Mr. Garcetti in Los Angeles – seem to sympathize or contextualize or appease the violence. I know this is an election year, and maybe people see it useful for a political agenda. But that’s new: that the political hierarchy, the people in power, seem to be on the side of the cultural revolutionaries, even though they’re sometimes less than explicit in their support."

“Another big difference is: you remember back in the ‘60s, the protestors railed about the corporate world: IT&T, the Rockefeller banks, the Rothschilds, all of these trusts? It’s almost like we were back in the 1890s."

This Time Big Business Is Siding with Those Destroying Local Business

“Today if we looked at the Fortune 500 and the so-called billionaire wealth – both in corporations and in individuals – I think we would pretty much surmise that most of them are Left-wing and they’ve been very active in support – the Tom Steyers' of the world."

“And the foundations and corporate world this time, and perhaps Wall Street and Silicon Valley as well, seem to be sympathetic and therefore they’re not targets of this cultural revolution to the same degree. Whether this is just simple opportunism or realpolitik or they don’t want to be attacked, I don’t know."

Sports & Hollywood All In for the Revolution

“There’s another difference, too. There are a lot more cultural levers in our society that are enhancing this protest. In the past, if athletes wanted to raise a fist or they questioned the relevance of sports that was not dealing with politics, they were isolated."  

“We’ve never seen something where most of the team members of the NFL or the NBA are actively engaged in protest, and even the owners themselves, even when their own internal polling and data show that that’s not a wise business decision."

"In other words, professional sports like Hollywood and entertainment are now part of this cultural revolution and enhancing it."

Monopolies on How People See Riot Information

“We live now in the era of the internet search and social media.  And the power not just of $4 trillion in market capitalization of Google or Facebook or Apple or Amazon; they’re not only decidedly Left-wing and decidedly sympathetic with those out in the streets, but they have monopolies on how we see that information and we have access to it."

“So if there’s a particular type of violence in the street – a policeman being attacked or an innocent bystander – they can calibrate a Google search or they can censor a YouTube display or they can go into social media and have an arbitrary, asymmetrical method of censorship that favors the protestors at the expense of those who feel it’s getting very dangerous."

The Rioters Are Just the Military Wing of a Huge Movement

“So to sum up: it’s a youthful protest, it’s a cultural revolution that we’re witnessing. It’s not yet, believe it or not, in the intensity and breadth and longevity of the 1960s. But what makes it more dangerous, I think, is that it has far more cultural influence – Big Money, Wall Street, corporations, Silicon Valley, professional sports, the media, Hollywood, celebrities, foundations – than anyone ever imagined in the 1960s."

“The 1960s people said ‘they all are the enemy and we’re out in the streets alone.’ And now what we’re seeing and hearing and what we’re realizing is the people out on the street are simply the military wing of a huge and very affluent and powerful Progressive movement."

20% of the Country Can Take Control When They Have Such Cultural Heft

“And we haven’t yet as conservatives and traditionalists discovered a way to counteract that. Because we keep relying on the idea that most Americans are appalled at the violence and appalled at many of the agendas, and we think majority rules in this country."  

“But we don’t quite realize that 20 percent, 30 percent of the country can get an agenda fulfilled if they have the cultural heft and influence of the sort that we see now."

It’s Now a Neo-Socialist Party

“The Left has become much more intense in their partisanship. It’s really a Progressive, neo-Socialist party. It’s not the old Democratic Party.  And while there are outlets of dissident voices in the media, it’s grown at a geometric rate – the Left has – and we’ve grown at an arithmetic rate."

“They’ve taken both the media and the message and the youth have mastered it, so it’s a force multiplier that we haven’t really come to terms with."

Unprecedented: Military Calling for a Coup Over Policy Differences

“One final note: we mentioned all these things that are different. One that we haven’t talked about is the military, especially retired military. That old image in the ‘60s was that they had sunglasses and epaulets and were dangerous to freedom."

“We’ve never in my lifetime or even my reading of history had an entire cadre of distinguished four-star admirals and generals who’ve said things like…calling the commander-in-chief ‘Mussolini’ or saying that he should be removed from office, as one did in the New York Times op-ed, ‘sooner rather than later.’ Or another person saying that ‘he’s a danger to the republic.’ Or another person comparing his strategies to the Nazis who opposed us on D-Day."

“And a leading scholar in foreign policy within 10 days of the inauguration saying that there were four ways to get rid of this president:

One was waiting till the election; not possible.  
One: removing him by the 25th Amendment; not possible.   
One: impeaching him, not really possible.  
But the fourth: a military coup – ‘something to be discussed.’

“And now we have something that some people have called ‘coup porn.’  I think Byron York coined that term.  And we saw that with the Bob Woodward recent memoir where active military officers and retired military officers and people working in the Administration talked about interventions. And that the intervention was simply a disagreement over policy that had been exaggerated and transmogrified into some type of constitutional abuse that would require a military intervention."

Comfortable with Military Intervention if Election’s Contested

“This isn’t my view or paranoia or ‘Seven Days in May’ type of conspiracy theory.  Because Joe Biden himself picked up on it when the four former Joint Chiefs mentioned that about the possible use of federal troops. And he said ‘you know, I feel really good now because if this election is contested, these guys are the type who would come in and remove him from office'."

“And when we heard about this wargaming recently that had a lot of Never Trumpers and liberals involved, and actually imagining how you would remove a president from office through extra-constitutional means -- we saw nothing like that in the ‘60s.”

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