The propensity to divide and the administration’s governing philosophy, however, are not incidental features. They are deeply intertwined. Statism, which the president has repeatedly extolled as his approach to governance and his vision for America, holds the collective as the primary unit of consideration in politics and the state as the means of achieving that good by abrogating the rights of that pesky obstacle to total control, the individual. In its most extreme forms, such as under the Soviet Union, communist China, modern North Korea, and Cuba, it begins by instructing members of society to view themselves not as individuals but as members of classes—the “proletariat” and the “capitalists”—then pits them against one another until society truly is divided into two parts: the state, in all of its dictatorial power, and everyone else. In other forms of statism, one finds similar fractures between different groups along social, economic, racial, ethnic, or other lines. The variations are plentiful, the pattern unceasing: statism requires conflict between social groups because, more fundamentally, it requires sacrifice. Who will be sacrificed to whom is a question of socialist political quibbling, but that sacrifice is required is undeniable. It is true at the greatest extents of statist doctrine and practice, but it is also true in the nascent stages of statism where every redistributive and arbitrary policy measure is meant to benefit some at the expense of others.
The Obama administration, so it says, is the administration for the working and middle classes against the purported abuses of the wealthy. To be sure, it has been seen cavorting more with billionaires and boards of directors than with average Americans, but so we are told. It claims to be the administration for women, taking on the causes of equal pay and attempting to require all employers to provide birth control against religious objections. Meanwhile, ObamaCare is set to adversely affect working women at least as much as the rest of the population. It has continued to sell itself as the administration for racial and ethnic minorities, stirring racial conflicts (which have become far more frequent during its two terms) into national causes and deepening divides in Florida and Ferguson, Missouri, to make loyal voters of angry citizens. It has persistently set one demographic against another in American society, making villains of one to play hero to another. In fact, perhaps the only demographic to which the administration has yet to appeal is Americans, as a whole, united. It has fed on the pain and mistrust of economically hard times and made a comfortable place for itself in the cracks of our culture. The result is an America far more divided than it was when President Obama took office.
Ayn Rand described this process magnificently in her lecture, “A Nation’s Unity”, and illustrated it extensively in her novel Atlas Shrugged. She demonstrated that as government takes it upon itself to begin redistributing wealth and privileges from some groups to others, it is the numerical and political strength of one’s group and not any objective moral standard that rules the day. Society coalesces into warring mobs, seeing all other mobs as threats to its own safety. As each faction grows in political strength, it consumes the identities of its members who are soon viewed not as individuals representing their own beliefs but the slavish dependents of a system. Dissidents are treated with the most virulent hatred (see: the left’s derision of conservative women and racial minorities).
The first victim, sadly, is the man who spurns such factionalism and seeks to remain independent. He is quickly swallowed up in the current of political pressures on every issue. Meanwhile, the number of issues that take on a political character multiply. Matters of his daily life that were once seen as inane and uncontroversial suddenly become hotly contested points of cultural warfare. In his every personal and business decision, he must take greater care that his behaviors, however innocuous and well meant, cannot be perceived as some slight against any social group. The hiring and firing practices of his business, its payroll, and what he does with his own paycheck are suddenly treated as matters of growing interest to the nation as a whole. He must make the additional effort to clear his name of prejudices of which he is presumed guilty until proven innocent. In opposing higher taxes, he must make clear that he does not presume to have any inviolable right to the products of his labor and that he does, after all, work in the service of society. In opposing redistributive welfare programs, he must repeatedly defend against accusations of racism and hatred for the poor. And God help him should he try to staff his business on merit alone, for the impossible standards of Affirmative Action will make appeasement impossible should he try to both find the best possible employees, hire representatives of any and every social group imaginable to prove that he is not prejudiced, and pay wages that reflect not the qualifications of his employees but his commitment to eradicating inequality from society.
Today, the United States is well into that initial stage of societal decay as cries of sexism, racism, ageism, and every other prejudice are leveled in our country’s leftist publications against someone, anyone, everyone, and the onus of disproving those charges is forever placed upon the accused. Prejudices once in decline are roused to a fervor by the insistence of outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Slate, and Salon upon framing every economic and social issue in base, demographic terms no matter how outlandish and improbable their interpretations may become in the process. Trust between the financial sector and the rest of the economy has yet to be restored as the recent federal court decision against Bank of America showed that politicians are far from being finished absolving themselves of all responsibility for the crisis. All the while, the administration has taken to blaming private industry for the US’s lagging recovery, taking credit for any improvements (however slight) and blaming continued failure on businesses’ unwillingness to invoke arbitrary pay raises and undertake new, self-sacrificial investments in an unsteady economic environment.
It is crucial that Americans recognize that the properties of this administration—statist economic policy and divisive social policy—are not incidental but mutually dependent. The takeover of an economy by the state is a task so great that no population will consent to it on the grounds of victimization by a few separate and distinct threats. The threat must be generalized across whole demographics as social groups are paired off as victims and villains, with the state ready to sweep in as the championing hero. No number of Bernie Madoffs will justify the full takeover of an economy unless they are generalized into an assumption about businessmen as a whole. Loyalty cannot be cultivated among the embittered people of a town rocked by a controversial police shooting unless the tragedy is generalized and contextualized as part of a wider phenomenon of racial violence (which has been on the decline for decades, despite characterizations by leftist media outlets). And the challenge of retaining the dwindling support of women, a demographic comprising fifty percent of the population with differing incomes, education levels, and personal values, is complicated if they are left to think of themselves as individuals. Instead, under leftist political strategizing, they must be herded together and told that by virtue of a chromosome they are to be banded together and treated as traitors if they dissent. They are to accept not regulation or national security as their primary interests in politics but birth control and affirmative action. They are told to assume all Republicans to be marauding chauvinists out to disenfranchise them and return them to the Dark Ages. Finally, they are led to see a free market as an elaborate male con and to view the economy as a place where they could not compete if not for government support at every turn. This is what passes for leftist respect for women.
“On this day,” said President Obama in his 2008 inaugural speech, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics.” The result, six years on, lies before you, in our headlines and on television: a country in dissolve, an ironic consequence of an administration that has roused conflict to pick winners, stoked Americans’ fears of one another to offer comfort, and nurtured discord in order to swoop in as the hero. As for hope, it seems that with a president for whom interest group conflict is such a fundamental tool of power, the only hope for the US is that its wounds are shallow and might heal with this administration’s passing. To do so, however, this country will need a new kind of leader, one who not only spurns the petty galvanizing of social unrest but embraces a philosophy of governance that does not depend upon conflict but abhors it; a president who understands capitalism as a system of mutual consent to mutual gain and does not seek to supplant the countless, inextricable relationships of a free market with those of sacrifice and interest group warfare. Only then might we say, as President Obama hoped in that very speech, that by the forces of history “we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed upon the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”