American Conditions

I don’t know how I overlooked this early December opinion piece in Berlingske: it’s hard to think of a headline more appropriate for this blog:

Stop the Americanization of Danish Culture, Jacob Mchangama, Berlingske.dk, 7 December

I should remind non-Danish readers that “Amerikanske tilstande” translates literally as “American conditions.” The phrase has a long pedigree as shorthand for everything about America that Danes don’t want in Denmark. Of course, what’s considered obnoxious about America varies from Dane to Dane, so context is critical when you see or hear a Dane warning against American conditions.

Most often, a headline like “Stop the Americanization of Danish Culture” is found atop articles complaining about the number of 7-Eleven and McDonalds franchises downtown, or rising gun violence, or the commercialization of everything. (In some quarters it’s even used to protest conditions that don’t exist in America but are assumed to because anything awful must have come from America.)

I chose the name of this blog firstly on the obviously mistaken assumption (or hope) that I could make it Danish enough to gain Danish readers and weave it into Danish public discourse. (I’d still like to do that, obviously, but my mixing up of Danish and English was only jarring readers, and I just don’t have the chops to write as well, or as quickly, in Danish, so it’s going to be an uphill battle.)

Secondly, I hoped I could actually make a positive contribution to Danish culture by warning Danes of the very real dangers bubbling up from the American left: identity politics, intolerance, deplatforming, cancel culture, wokeness, and the like. Those are the American Conditions—the Amerikanske Tilstande—I believe we should all do everything we can to keep out of Denmark.

Happily, Jacob Mchangama seems to feel the same. The opening line of the piece is something I could have (and may have) written myself:

I never thought I’d be one of the people that raised a finger to warn against the “Americanization” of Danish culture.

Amen.

He spends a paragraph reminding Danish readers of the American experiment that began in 1776 and has been such a powerful engine for freedom and prosperity ever since.

Hallelujah.

He then warms to his theme:

But in recent years the identity-politics splintering of American culture has also found its way to Denmark, where weak souls in search of deeper meaning have been lured by American siren songs.

Hallelujah and amen.

He talks about “the Bornholm case” from June of 2020, in which a black victim was brutally murdered by two white brothers. According to everyone who knew them, the three had been lifelong friends. Investigators therefore did not consider racism a motive in the murder and they chose not to prosecute the murder as a hate crime. Both brothers were ultimately convicted and are now serving 14-year sentences. The “anti-racist” left in Denmark, including Denmark’s own “chapter” of BLM, reacted more or less as you’d expect, and Mchangama spends a couple of paragraphs describing some of the more absurd overreactions (among them comparisons between Bornholm in 2020 and Selma, Alabama, in the 1950s).

Hallelujah and amen and pass the ammunition!

He goes on:

Unfortunately it’s not just in this anti-racist overdrive that American pathologies have found fertile soil. Among the nationaltkonservative borgerlige, Trump’s battle against elite institutions has also made inroads, resulting in a complete detachment from the world of reality.

Wait, what?

Eva Selsing was able to inform the readers of Berlingske on November 16—at a time when it was clear that Trump had lost the election but nevertheless continued with a tsunami of lies and conspiracy theories—that “there’s a democratic danger in the USA, and it’s not Trump,” but rather “the Democrats,” “Big Tech,” and “the media.”

He notes that Selsing went even crazier on Facebook, promoting all kinds of conspiracy theories, sounding, in Mchangama’s opinion “like an echo of Trump’s now former attorney Sidney Powell, who believed that everyone from communists to George Soros was behind the ‘voter fraud.'”

He notes that Selsing even stooped so low as to quote from the Epoch Times, “which is not above breathing life into QAnon conspiracy theories.”

He the points out that Kasper Støvring has also been studying the “gospel of MAGA,” raging against a “drain-worthy swamp of international conventions, courts, experts, bureaucrats, agencies, and other illegitimate entities.”

These, Mchangama believes, are talking points that seem like “a sloppy and unoriginal version of a Tucker Carlson rant and completely detached from Danish reality.”

He then wraps things up:

American identity politics are poison for the culture of trust that makes Denmark such a fantastic country. Go ahead and watch Netflix, listen to Miles Davis, and read Hemingway. But for God’s sake, drop the woke cult and the MAGA cult.

I poked around the internet to give myself some context on Mchangama’s perspective. According to one of his online bios, “Jacob Mchangama is the founder and CEO of Justitia, a think tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, and a visiting Fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where produces and narrates the podcast Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech. Mchangama has written about and commented extensively on free speech and human rights in publications including the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Wall Street Journal, Human Rights Quarterly, and Amnesty International Strategic Studies.”

So sure, he’s what you’d call “an establishment conservative.” I like the look of Justitia and from what I’ve seen (skimmed) of his other writings, I’m in agreement with Mchangama on almost all the major issues of the day: virtually all of them, in fact, except his apparent opposition to the idea that democracy is in fact endangered globally by the atrophying of our international cooperation into a feudal order of unelected busybodies empowered (and eager!) to cripple our economies and crush the vitality of our panoply of cultures by bureaucratic diktat.

That is a danger I consider real and growing. It is something he appears to consider as “detached from reality” as the idea that the little Danish island of Bornholm is today just like Selma, Alabama, was in the 1950s.

Certainly there are pro-Trump Americans who get overzealous in their support: who go up in arms over any criticism of the man and any objection to his policies, his pronouncements, or (god help us) his tweets. The “QAnon Conspiracy” has real adherents (although, as I noted in another post, studies repeatedly found that more liberals and progressives than conservatives had even heard of the conspiracy). And sure, to the extent there is a “Make America Great Again” cult, by all means let’s keep it out of Denmark. It would be pretty weird for Danes agitating to make American great again anyway.

A lot of Trumpists get a little overheated for my personal tastes, as well, but given how overheated even the establishment left gets, and how often, I’m prepared the cut a little slack for the guys on my side of this very real and very important contest. Do we have some loonies and ding-dongs and kooks? Of course. Liars, frauds, and hypocrites, too. But at this point the American left is only loonies and ding-dongs and kooks (and liars and frauds and hypocrites).

I don’t want to be too hard on Mchangama, or other conservatives like him, because I agree with them on so much that’s urgently important. But there’s a strain of conservative thought in America and borgerlig thought in Denmark that is willing to concede a great number of particulars but unwilling to face up to what they mean when they’re all piled up together.

Yes, they will concede, the establishment media are overwhelmingly leftist (which is why conservative voices are almost entirely limited to a ghetto of avowedly conservative publications and media outlets), and have become increasingly partisan since 2016.

Yes, they will concede, many of the NGOs that were established as vehicles for international cooperation have become, through innocuous mission creep and less innocuous but utterly predictable corruption, globalist partisans. Designed to reconcile international disagreements and enable compromise between nations, they have ossified and begun to style themselves as something above rather than between nations. The World Health Organization, for example, not only disgraced itself in the credulity with which it accepted and passed along the Chinese Communist Party’s lies about covid: in doing so, it cost us precious time that could have been put to good use preventing the spread the virus. The WHO lied, people died.

Yes, they will concede, identity politics is toxic, is swiftly spreading far and wide, and represents a serious threat not only to freedom of expression, but to republican principles of self-government.

Yes, they will concede, the leading artists and entertainers of the west are obviously and loudly in the thrall of the left, and are thereby increasing in the thrall of noxious identity politics.

Yes, they will even concede, the last four years have in fact revealed the existence in the American federal government of a class of bureaucrats who believe themselves to be the true arbiters of American policy.

Yes, they will concede, virtually the entire Democratic leadership of the House lied to the public about having seen “evidence of Russian collusion,” because virtually all of them acknowledged under oath, behind closed doors, that they not only hadn’t seen but weren’t even aware of the existence of any such evidence.

Yes, they will concede, Google and Twitter and Facebook and Apple and YouTube have shown an appalling willingness to “cancel” conservative people, groups, organizations, and ideas, to suppress stories and videos, without demonstrating any real interest in addressing even the most over-the-top extremism from the left. And are deliberately manipulating their platforms to benefit the left and impede the right.

Point by point, these thoughtful and polite conservatives will nod in agreement. They may wish to qualify their assent here or there for a fear of over-generalizing, but by and large they’ll agree that each of these things is not just true but even obvious. And significant.

Bundle all the points together into a single package and ask what it means, and the thoughtful and polite conservative looks away.

I understand that.

I understand the urge to suggest that this too shall pass, and that everything’ll work out in the end, and that we just have to roll up our sleeves and work harder to win on the merits of our ideas.

But there’s something downright Kafkaesque about suggesting that we need to win on the battlefield of ideas when that “battlefield” is the courtyard of a moated and heavily guarded fortress we’re barred from entering.

“I heard Trump say bad things about vets,” says someone who refuses to be identified, just weeks before the election, and the media go galloping off with their headlines and social media light up with the news.

“I have an actual hard drive belonging to Hunter Biden, and I came into its possession lawfully, and it’s full of nasty and incriminating photos and messages,” says a guy with a real name and a real business, just weeks before the election, and he’s even backed up with the testimony of a corroborating witness. The machinery of the left does its best to crush the story, to obliterate it completely; former intelligence officials with no information at all about the case insist that it’s a dirty Russian op, and the media run with the story of it being a dirty Russian op, and social media block and suppress the story and prevent it from being shared.

How we can win the war of ideas in such an environment?

I ask sincerely. I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile, I just wish that thoughtful and polite conservatives like Mchangama would be a little more thoughtful and a lot less polite. Stop trying to make your criticisms of the lunatic left (“weak souls in search of deeper meaning” was spot on) more palatable by pairing them with criticisms of the lunatic right. The right gets criticism enough from all over. If you’re going to take a stand for limited, representative, republican government; for freedom of speech and assembly and religion; for the notion that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; for free markets and fiscal responsibility; then by god make your case and advance the cause, and to hell with whatever the weirdos in the rearguard of the movement are doing. The stakes are too high to waste time trying to prove your even-handedness to people who hate you anyway.

There’s an old cartoon I remember having seen in my youth. I can’t find it online. Two gentleman in posh clothing are standing on a pier looking out at the sea: in the distance one can see someone flailing about in the water and crying out, “Au secours! Au secours!” And one of the posh gents is saying to the other, “Either he’s French or he’s a terrible snob.”

Just so.

We have a battle to win.

Excelsior!

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