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The Future Belongs to Them?
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The Future Belongs to Them?

‘The People’ being on the side of a cause doesn’t tell you anything about its rightness or goodness.

Anti-Israel protesters chant outside the City College of New York (CCNY) on May 1, 2024—one day after the New York Police Department cracked down on protest camps at both Columbia University and CCNY. (Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images)

There is a certain kind of political partisan who always believes that the people—the People!—are always with them. The People lack a coherent political outlook and so aren’t really on anybody’s side, of course, and I don’t see why you’d want them on your side.

The people are, generally speaking, the worst. 

There’s a very fine scene in Lincoln in which a couple who have come up to Washington from Missouri to lobby the president about a business matter are asked whether they’d support the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, if the Confederacy first capitulated and the war came to an end without an abolition amendment. The Missourians confess that they’d rather not see the institution abolished. Secretary of State William Seward asks why, and the husband looks at him like the answer is too obvious to need saying:

“N—–s.”

Seward turns to President Lincoln and observes acidly: “The People.” 

In her very sour review of Nellie Bowles’ new book, Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches from the Wrong Side of History, Becca Rothfeld of the Washington Post chastises the writer and Free Press co-founder for failing to appreciate the importance of “mass movements,” citing the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and the current ruckus on a few high-profile college campuses as examples. Bowles is, in Rothfeld’s telling, guilty of a moral offense: casting doubt upon the authenticity of these movements by suggesting that they have been popularized by the members of the elites that have taken them up rather than by the People. Rothfeld: 

It is telling that Bowles is not entirely above the more openly conspiratorial approach. At one point, she writes that BLM gained support “primarily thanks to the warm embrace from glossy magazines and CEOs.” It takes a conspicuous lack of humanity to see a man murdered by police on camera and conclude that protesters took to the streets en masse because “glossy magazines” put them up to it. For the average person, it isn’t so hard to conceive of being moved by an injustice.

First appreciate the illiteracy and dishonesty of the above sentence, a willfully stupid misreading undertaken to facilitate landing on “conspicuous lack of humanity.” (There simply is no good-faith reading of Bowles’ work that suggests she finds it “hard to conceive of being moved by an injustice.” Rothfeld is wrong and intellectually dishonest to write such a thing, and her editors at the Washington Post are irresponsible to indulge that kind of journalistic incompetence. It’s a bad-faith misrepresentation, i.e., the opposite of journalism.) The most obvious problem with holding up BLM as a mass movement is that it is not a mass movement and never was one.

Neither are the current celebrations on U.S. college campuses of Hamas’ genocidal campaign. 

There are more than 20 million people in the New York City metropolitan area, and the Columbia campus is not very large. Neither was Zuccotti Park, the site of Occupy Wall Street, where I spent a fair amount of time. You do not have to turn out a very large share—or even a significant share—of the local population to fill these spaces. (Compare the protests at campuses with similar student populations in smaller metros, such as Virginia Tech or Texas Tech, and you’ll see the difference.) Estimates vary, but the available data suggest that fewer than 5 percent of Americans attended a protest, rally, or other event during the 2020 apex of the BLM demonstrations, something on the order of 15 million people. 

That’s not nothing, but it’s not really all that much, either. Nearly five times as many people came out to vote for the second-place presidential candidate four years ago. The Big Bang Theory outperformed those numbers when it was still putting out new episodes, and The Last of Us had about 32 million viewers per episode at its height. These are not mass social phenomena, even by the standards of television programming. (By way of comparison, about half of the country watched the final episode of MASH in 1983.) 

It’s a big country, but 3,000 people in Dallas, 1,000 in Tampa Bay, etc., is not especially remarkable; or, rather, it is remarkable only by the low expectations of U.S. political demonstration. The United States doesn’t really do a lot of mass social mobilization—nostalgia for the World War II years is to a great extent founded on the fact that this period is an exception to the American rule of civic stand-offishness. The old proverb used to be that Republicans don’t stage protests because they have jobs and families, which is … less the case today!

Jacob Chansley, also known as the "QAnon Shaman," screams "Freedom" inside the U.S. Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Jacob Chansley, also known as the "QAnon Shaman," screams "Freedom" inside the U.S. Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

But it is the case that Americans do not go in for mass movements that much, and that this is probably because they are—in spite of everything you hear about on Facebook—not all that displeased. Black Lives Matter never became a mass movement because most Americans—including most black Americans—are generally satisfied with the state of their lives and optimistic about the prospects of racial progress. 

Don’t ask me—ask the people. Gallup does.

In its most recent comprehensive survey, Gallup documents no year in which the majority of Americans say that they worry “a great deal” about race relations, and as late as 2014 those who said they worried “not at all” about the subject outnumbered those who worried “a great deal.” As of 2024, the share of Americans who say they are “very dissatisfied” with “the position of Blacks and other racial minorities in the nation” had fallen—by half—since 2021. The majority of Americans said in 2021 that they believe that “Black people have as good a chance as White people in your community to get any kind of job for which they are qualified.” About 57 percent of Americans said they believe that black-white relations are an issue that eventually will be “worked out.” (The share of black adults who held that view rose from 32 percent in 2001 to a high of 54 percent in 2020 but had declined to 40 percent by 2021.)

Other Gallup findings bolster the case for such optimism: At 94 percent, the share of Americans who approve of interracial marriage, for example, has never been higher; majorities say they generally favor affirmative-action programs for racial minorities; majorities support civil-rights laws and antidiscrimination laws; the great majority of Americans believe that the civil-rights situation of black Americans has improved in their lifetimes, and the share of black respondents who say the situation has grown a great deal worse is only 11 percent; only very small numbers (8 percent of whites and 12 percent of blacks) believe that violence and destruction of property in racial protests is justified.

And, no surprise: 87 percent of whites reported being “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their own lives, as did 88 percent of blacks. 

By way of comparison, on my first day of work at the Indian Express newspaper in New Delhi in the mid-1990s, there was a Communist Party (I forget which one; India has a few communist parties) demonstration on the street in front of my office, and more than 1 million red-banner-waving partisans marched in it—and it barely made the morning paper. 

Of course, survey responses can be funny. The share of both white Americans and black Americans who reported that relations between them were “very good” or “somewhat good” declined about 30 percentage points from 2013 to 2021. It is the case that 65 percent of black adults in 2021 said they were “very dissatisfied” with the way black Americans are treated in general, double the number from 2001; the white response (about black treatment) went from 9 percent “very dissatisfied” in 2001 to 32 percent in 2021. They said this even as they reported by very large majorities that their own lives were satisfactory. This is a variation on the old American theme of “I hate Congress but my congressman is okay.”

Again—survey data should be taken with some context. One variable to keep in mind is that people very often want to think of themselves as being in the majority. Ask people what the average opinion on abortion is and, in the majority of cases, they’ll tell you that the most popular opinion is the one they themselves happen to hold. Politicians do this all the time, of course: Whatever it is they want to do, they are certain that “the People” demand it, and they are equally certain that “the People” won’t stand for whatever it is their opponents want to do—even when the People turn around and vote for their opponents. Taken to a level of group hysteria, that is the kind of thing that led to the attempted coup d’état of January 2021, the Capitol riot that accompanied it, and the conspiracy kookery that continues to try to justify it.

I’ll get to the little savages at Columbia in a minute. I promise. 

There is a lot of 1968 envy going around, but the protests against the Vietnam War are a classic example of recruiting into one’s service an imaginary majority. In reality, most Americans supported the war for much of its duration, including during the entire presidency of Lyndon Johnson. And it was the young who were most supportive. In the mid-1960s, a majority (56 percent) of Americans under 30 approved of Johnson’s handling of Vietnam. Contrary to the story you hear around the countercultural campfire, it was not the young who led the effort against the American effort in Vietnam but their parents and grandparents. In fact, even when the war was at its least popular—in the 1970s, when it was coming to an end and Americans had finally in a substantial majority turned against U.S. policy under the unlovable Richard Nixon—young Americans were disproportionately in favor of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, while antiwar sentiment was disproportionately associated with their elders. In 1973, only a small majority of those under 30 (53 percent) said U.S. involvement in Vietnam had been a mistake, compared to 69 percent of those over 50. As the Pew Research Center reports:

The generation gap in attitudes toward the Vietnam War did not erode over time. Gallup surveys conducted between 1965 and 1973 show that over time people of all ages increasingly expressed the view that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a mistake, but the broadest criticism always came from older generations. In August of 1965, people ages 50 and older were already twice as likely as those under 30 (by a 29% to 15% margin) to say sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake. Nearly eight years later, as U.S. forces were about to be completely withdrawn, majorities in all age groups saw Vietnam as a mistake, but younger people remained far less likely to take this view (53%) than those age 50 and older (69%).

Opposition to Vietnam must have looked like a very big deal if you were one of the relatively few Americans attending college at that point. And those people may not be the ones who write the history books, but they are the people who edit them, publish them, and market them. It would be easy to think that John Lennon was correct in his sardonic observation that the Beatles and the counterculture for which they stood were “more popular than Jesus.” We saw the same thing during the Iraq War, when protests played out in popular culture as though they were an echo of 1968, which they were—but not in the way those who idealize campus protest culture imagine: As with Vietnam, opposition to the Iraq war was much more prevalent among other Americans than among the young.

“Me and my friends from college” do not a mass movement make. And it is hard to make one in these United States—especially if you mean to make one in the real world and not just on a couple of social media accounts. The sheer comfortableness of American life is our great national shock-absorber: The big ideas of 1968 started as political radicalism and ended as fashion; Black Lives Matter devolved into that least destructive of pursuits, a scheme to make money; Occupy Wall Street was absorbed into the more conventional personal social and economic ambitions of figures such as Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Trump movement may look like a protofascist monolith at the moment, but it will go where the doggie-vitamin dollars go, and already it is, seen clearly, a kaleidoscopic and schismatic collection of everybody from neo-Nazis to flat-Earthers.

The antiwar movement may have been a very big deal in Berkeley in the 1960s, but it represented a minority view in the country. America’s top newsrooms are run by people who went to graduate school at Columbia—it is no surprise that they care a great deal about what happens at Columbia. (I am not very much interested in what happens at the University of Texas, but, then, the University of Texas never was very much interested in me, either.) But we shouldn’t mistake that double-ought (onanistic and ouroboric) bias for a reflection of reality. Becca Rothfeld is an Ivy League-educated journalist married to an Ivy League-educated academic—no doubt whatever happens at Columbia today and tomorrow seems intensely interesting from her point of view, for the same reason my dachshund is intensely interested in other dachshunds.


I don’t find the youngsters very interesting, myself. I used to write about local politics in Philadelphia, so this isn’t my first turn on the bronco at the Jew-hating-weirdo rodeo. I wrote about politics in India, too, which was a first-rate education in conspiracy-minded horses—t and the persecution complexes of very powerful people and powerful classes of people. I have also been represented by Ted Cruz in the Senate, so I am familiar, on a civic level, with the most contemptible kind of self-interested moral grotesquery as a factor in public policy. Hooray for me.

We should begin by acknowledging the facts. Of course the protests are fundamentally antisemitic. The antisemitism is at one level incidental and at one level foundational. It is incidental in that the students who revert to antisemitic tropes and truisms are simply delving into an American political culture in which such ideas and tendencies have long festered. The antisemitism is foundational in the sense that the protests are being orchestrated by Students for Justice in Palestine, which is, as a recently filed lawsuit argues in detail, a dedicated propaganda operation in the service of Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. These are protests orchestrated by Hamas for the benefit of Hamas, an organization engaged in the murder, torture, kidnapping, and rape of Jews wherever it finds them, which is as a matter of its publicly stated policy dedicated to the extermination of Jewish populations around the world, not only in Israel. 

It should not surprise us that the little cretins at Columbia and elsewhere have lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with the bullies, the murderers, the torturers, the rapists, the kidnappers, etc., against the very people who have suffered the violence and hatred of those savages. They always do. Of course, they tell themselves a fanciful story in which the victims of all that violence are, somehow, the real perpetrators of it, that they are part of an all-powerful cabal against which the most brutal kinds of violence not only are acceptable but are morally necessary. We have heard that story before—you can read all about it in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

We should not be surprised to see the young in particular lined up on the side of violent fanatics and totalitarians: The extent to which both Nazism and Italian fascism were sustained by idealistic youth movements is a fact known to anybody familiar with the history of 20th-century Europe. These are not the first callow young cretins to declare, “The Future Belongs to Me.” This is a perfect time for a revival of Cabaret, though I do worry that all those people watching Eddie Redmayne swan around in that leather dress are going to take the wrong lesson from the spectacle. (Cabaret isn’t for everyone—Shia LaBeouf couldn’t sit still for it even when Alan Cumming was carrying the show.) They don’t know much, but they don’t lack confidence. 

“Go back to Poland!” they say. Well. Poland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, of course, but it is not monolithic. You won’t find a lot of Jews there, though. In fact, there are about eight times as many Orthodox Christians in Poland today as there are Jews, thanks largely to recent immigration from Ukraine. The numbers are not very large. But there are also more Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and Lutherans in Poland than there are Jews. The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland claims fewer than 2,000 members—about the same number as the Mormons claim—though there probably are about 20,000 Jews in the country in all. There were about 3.5 million Jews in Poland—some 10 percent of the population—before they were systematically exterminated in the Holocaust. Almost all of them were murdered by people like the ones leading the protests at Columbia today—vicious, hate-filled, full of righteousness, besotted with an imbecilic, juvenile ideology. 

It is a familiar ideology, of course. As the administrators of the Auschwitz Memorial write:

It would be a mistake to see the reasons for the Nazi electoral successes of 1930-1933 as limited to the exploitation of antisemitism rooted deep in the national psyche. Besides his call for reducing the role of the Jews, Hitler offered the Germans a relatively coherent vision of national greatness, in which history and geopolitics destined Germany for the leading role in Europe. This vision swept many off their feet. They regarded the recovery of the territory lost during World War I, the integration into Germany of German-populated areas in neighboring states, and an as yet undefined form of hegemony over the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, populated by racially inferior peoples, as right and just. Some Germans learned with satisfaction that there was a credible, “scientific” justification for their intuitive belief in their superiority not only to the Jews and Roma, but also to the Slavs. To turn this vision into reality, it would suffice to gather together all the strength of the nation and submit to the leadership of Adolf Hitler, who always knew best what needed to be done, and who was always right.

Your hatred is just. You’re better than them. You’ll get your land back. You’ll get what’s been coming to you and your people for generations. Just maintain revolutionary discipline. It is as predictable as cancer.

But, Poland? Poland, they say. 

Of course, most American Jews do not come from Poland. Neither do most Israeli Jews. Most Israeli Jews do not come from Europe at all but from the Middle East, having been expelled from their homes by the Arabs and Persians among whom they had lived for some centuries. But I suppose even the little savages at Columbia might blush before telling a Jew: “Go back to Yemen.” Or, maybe not. You cannot shame the shameless. 

There isn’t much to say about people who sign up to do Hamas’ bidding. And, please, spare me the nonsense that the Palestinian people—the poor, longsuffering, noble Palestinians, heroes of the Battle of the Pizza Shop, and dauntless blood-soaked conquerors of daycares and peace festivals—are not to be associated with the atrocities of Hamas or Islamic Jihad or the rest of them. If there were a meaningful difference between the Palestinians and their leaders, more than 19 percent of Palestinians in a March poll would have said Hamas was “incorrect” to launch its pogrom on October 7.

People resist vicious and autocratic leaders all the time, including to the point of death. It is easier with the benefit of elections, a benefit of which the Palestinians are generally deprived. But the last time they had one, they elected Hamas. Instead of resisting the worst of Hamas, they celebrate the worst of Hamas. If the Palestinians truly wanted different leaders, they would have different leaders. They will murder Jews all day—and jump for joy every time a Jewish baby is murdered or a Jewish woman is raped to death—but they haven’t lifted a finger in the better part of a century for decent governance or representation for themselves. 

If anything, the opposite is the case, and the masses are more forthrightly bloodthirsty than at least some of the leadership, in a perverse way: Palestinian authorities threatened to murder an Associated Press photographer if he published photos of Palestinians celebrating after the al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001. That isn’t some talk-radio conspiracy theory: That’s the Associated Press reporting about the Associated Press. 

(The Palestinian leaders are, of course, irony-immune: “If you suggest that we are sympathetic to terrorism, I’ll have you killed.”)

The little savages at Columbia and elsewhere would like you to believe that the People, Hegelian capital-H History, the arc of justice, and everything else is on their side, that, as the Hitler Youth put it once upon a time, the future belongs to them. Maybe the People are on their side, maybe not—either way, it doesn’t tell you anything about the rightness or goodness of their cause. The People get it wrong at least as often as they get it right. It is hard to say who is on the side of the Columbia protesters, but we know whose side the Columbia protesters are on: the murderers, the torturers, the rapists, the arsonists, the propagandists, the book-burners, the people who kill inconvenient reporters and critics, the people who dream of incinerating every Jew walking the face of the Earth. 

Was there something else we needed to know? 

Words About Words

I started this with that dumb piece in the Washington Post, an example of the problem of asking an inferior writer to write about a better one. See if you can spot the irony in this excerpt: 

The real question is not about whether there are “Narrative Enforcers” at the New York Times, as Bowles alleges, but why there is a market for so many books like this, even though they are all so predictably indistinguishable from one another. Bowles’s book appeals for the same reason that other conservative memoirs of political “growth” do: because they reassure their readers that progressivism is not a genuine political philosophy but an almost biological byproduct of youth, like acne. Bowles and her ilk are thereby absolved from contending with the principles of those who oppose them, or from seeing their political nemeses as rational moral agents.

A minor secondary point: alleges.

Economics for English Majors

Banking should be boring. You know you’re in for trouble when banking gets exciting. From the Wall Street Journal:

Vernon Hill’s Commerce Bancorp was about to open its first New York City branch in 2001 when his wife, Shirley, called wanting to know whether dogs could be allowed inside.

Shirley Hill, also the branch designer, had been stopped from bringing the couple’s Yorkshire terrier, Sir Duffield, into other banks. 

Vernon Hill, the bank’s founder and chief executive, declared it “just another stupid bank rule” and launched a campaign to encourage dogs to visit Commerce.

Hill, now 78 years old, thought a lot of bank rules were stupid. At the three different lenders he ran over the past 50 years, he wanted to upend how consumers bank. 

He kept his banks open on Sundays, threw extravagant parties for customers and employees and splurged on prime locations for the bank’s branches. He stocked the locations with dog treats and gamelike “Magic Money Machines” where customers could deposit spare change. Commerce became one of the fastest-growing banks in the U.S. in the early aughts, a thorn in some big banks’ sides who tried to replicate some of his practices.

But the rules also had a way of catching up to Hill. He was fired from Commerce after regulators complained about conflicts of interest, including paying his wife’s design firm millions of dollars for architecture and marketing services. He left Metro Bank in the U.K. when an accounting scandal erupted

His latest project, Republic First Bancorp  in Philadelphia, was seized by regulators last weekend, after shareholders had ousted Hill in a last-ditch effort to save the bank.

I am a let-markets-work kind of guy, and generally skeptical of government interventions in business, particularly in business failures. That being said, the FDIC has always seemed to me to be one of those things that, whatever your ideological preferences, just seems to work pretty well. But … maybe not? Peter Coy in the New York Times

Michael Ohlrogge has a theory about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the agency that makes sure ordinary depositors don’t lose their money when their bank goes bust.

Ohlrogge, an associate professor at New York University Law School, argues that when banks fail, the F.D.I.C. is not resolving them in the manner that is least costly to its Deposit Insurance Fund.

If he’s right, then the F.D.I.C. is going against the explicit instructions of Congress, so this is kind of a big deal.

The FDIC’s real mandate isn’t financial at all—it is psychological. The FDIC doesn’t exist to make people whole on the $8,000 or so they have (on average) they have in a checking or savings account—it is to prevent panics. Like most regulators, it tends to end up adopting the point of view—and the interests—of the institutions it regulates. One of the things that stuck in my mind about the 2007-08 financial crisis is the fact that the FDIC basically didn’t collect insurance premiums from member banks for a decade before the crisis. They just thought everything was cool and that they’d never need the money.

Back to Coy: 

The Deposit Insurance Fund is financed by assessments on banks, so when it loses money, banks have to pay more into it, and they pass along their higher costs to their various stakeholders: depositors, shareholders, borrowers. Another bad result is that zombie banks stay in operation longer than they should because uninsured depositors happily supply them with funds, knowing the F.D.I.C. has their back.

Ohlrogge speculates that the F.D.I.C. is experiencing “mission creep,” taking on a responsibility for uninsured depositors that it was never assigned. He has been elaborating and pressure-testing his theories for several years in scholarly presentations, including a working paper in November, “Why Have Uninsured Depositors Become de Facto Insured?” In that paper he estimates that the F.D.I.C.’s practices have added at least $45 billion to the cost of bank resolutions over the past 15 years.

In an interview, he told me he can’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the F.D.I.C. is breaking the least-cost rule, and one reason is that the agency doesn’t divulge how it evaluates different options it has. The F.D.I.C. reveals its evaluation standards to the Government Accountability Office but not to bidders, for fear that they could use that information to game the system.

Elsewhere

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghettohere

You can buy my other books here

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You can check out “How the World Works,” a series of interviews on work I’m doing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, here

In Conclusion 

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are, to one degree or another, pro-choice. There are plenty of well-meaning and honorable people who are. But I always advised conservatives that people who aren’t on our side on abortion aren’t really on our side in general.

I’ve rethought that some in recent years. But what seems most obvious right now is that even the people who are on “our side” on abortion probably aren’t really on our side, either, when it comes down to it. Sometimes, I lean more libertarian, sometimes I lean more conservative, but I’m going to end up an Ent: on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side. And I’m okay with that.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.