Many of you forty years of age or older will remember the sense of relief that came with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Of course, as Peggy Noonan reminded us at the time the Gipper died, it did not fall, it was pushed–by Ronald Reagan). After the Berlin Wall came down, and some months later when the Soviet government fell with hardly a shot fired, a collective sigh of relief was heard among those of us who had gone through the long insecurity that we called the Cold War.
That forty-five-year, low-grade anxiety where nuclear weapons and ongoing unsettledness characterized a national psychology came to an end so suddenly that we didn’t know how to react. Mostly we just breathed easier and pinched ourselves for a couple of months every morning to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
The years of wondering if this would be the day when a major city was vaporized, or if this would be the year when the dark scenes of the 1984 movie “Red Dawn” would actually come to pass, had hardened us to a kind of stoicism. The Carter years were especially bad, while the Reagan and Bush “41” years were a little better. Still, we had memories of bomb drills, of hiding under our school desks, of survival measures and back-yard fallout shelters.
When the Cold War ended, historian Francis Fukuyama famously declared the “End of History,” the dawn of an age when free markets and universal democracy would make such a dangerous world impossible ever again. Fukuyama was spectacularly wrong, as is obvious now that we’ve experienced a couple of decades of Islamic terror, North Korean irrationality, and the unfriendly ascendance of powers like China, Russia and Iran.
Today the Cold War has returned. This time, however, not because of any of those external threats. The Cold War is now an internal, civil war. The New Cold War is being waged by a President and a political party that wishes to destroy the America of one half of its population. It uses not nuclear threat and terrorism, but the undermining of the rule of law, the intimidation of groups and individuals by state agencies such as the EPA, the NLRB, and the IRS, the inconceivable expense and complexity of the Affordable Care Act, the mobilizing of the poor and rich against the middle class, and the cheapening of the national narrative by those who respect neither our historical customs nor our founding documents.
Millions of us now feel in our bones the same sense of disorder that troubled our childhoods and younger adult years. We now have the same concern for our children and grandchildren that colored the 1960s and 1970s, when we began our careers and families. We witness the hostility of an administration that cares little for the values of thrift, personal piety and self-reliance that we grew up with. We patiently endure a popular culture that wags its sanctimonious finger in our faces and calls us racists, bigots and homophobes, while it smears the virtues and decencies of a civilization it has never claimed as its own.
We lived through the tormented years of the despotisms of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro. The face of tyranny now looks different, with its perfect teeth and flawless stage presence, but the feeling in our bones is familiar to us.
As civil people, we are reluctant to draw the conclusion from this, but until we do so we cannot know what we are up against. We know we are at war once again, and that this war will take reserves of determination and perseverance that may be new to us. We know that life will not return to normal until the New Evil Empire is resisted, and, like the old Evil Empire, collapses of its own internal contradictions. Then, and only then, will we once again breathe freely.