From The Wall Street Journal:
‘I worry that this book has all been in vain,” writes Vivek Ramaswamy in the last pages of “Nation of Victims.” He fears that the American liberals he so badly wants to reach will simply brush him away as an Uncle Tom or a “Dinesh”—after Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian-American conservative whose name, for many, has become a byword for partisan hackery. He worries that people will dismiss him for “just spouting conservative talking points,” which liberals find especially indigestible when delivered by a non-white person.
Mr. Ramaswamy is Indian-American and has been, he tells us, politically conservative since he was in the sixth grade in Ohio. A self-made magnate, he founded a biotech company at age 28, eight years ago. He is now a robust commentator on current affairs, contributing from time to time to the features pages of this newspaper. His last book, “Woke, Inc.” (2021), took corporate America to the woodshed for its cynical—and lucrative—embrace of “social justice.” He has dissed Davos as “the Woke Vatican.”
In “Nation of Victims,” Mr. Ramaswamy turns his burning gaze on identity politics in America, blaming it for “the death of merit.” A first-generation American, he laments the fact that his America is no longer the country that his parents came “halfway around the world to join.” He doesn’t quite say that the American Dream is dead—he is too much of an optimist for that—but he does believe that “we’re not a nation that tells itself Horatio Alger stories anymore.”
As if to underscore the point, he feels the need to explain who Alger was—a writer who “made a name for himself in the 1800s writing rags-to-riches young adult novels” about poor boys who made good through honesty, hard work and luck. Alger isn’t read any longer in America. Mr. Ramaswamy wonders, mischievously, whether he might be resurrected by letting it be known that Alger was gay. We have been, he writes—pursuing his subversive advocacy a little further—“erasing a prominent gay author from American history, and representation matters.”
In Mr. Ramaswamy’s telling, the Alger “trope” illustrates how America, once a “nation of underdogs,” has become a nation of “incumbents”—a word he uses as a synonym for victims. The underdog American endured the hardships dealt to him by fate and strove to overcome them by making demands of himself. The incumbent American, by contrast, complains of hardships being thrust upon him by others, “the evildoers who commit racist acts, the perpetrators who steal elections.” And so these others owe him his rescue, his salvation. Today’s America has two options: either “closing off victimhood as a path to success” or forsaking the merit-based culture that is in “our national DNA.”
“Nation of Victims” makes a passionate, persuasive case for the first of those options. As such, it is a polemical companion to the oeuvre of Shelby Steele—who has spent a lifetime making an elegant and irrefutable case for the repudiation of the culture of black victimhood—and to John McWhorter’s “Woke Racism” (2021), which teaches weary Americans how to fight the virus of political correctness.
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Intriguingly, Mr. Ramaswamy suggests that the roots of American victimhood lie in the defeat of the South in the Civil War and the Lost Cause movement, which claimed the Confederates would have won but for the mistakes of a few ignoble generals. Prominent among them is James Longstreet, blamed by Lost Causers for the crushing defeat at Gettysburg. Mr. Ramaswamy makes a game attempt to burnish the reputation of Longstreet and argues—no doubt looking for a fight—that his name might replace Bragg’s in any rebranding of American military installations. Bragg, of the eponymous fort, was “a hapless general who lost almost every battle.” Longstreet, says Mr. Ramaswamy, was a better man: He became a Republican after the war, supporting Reconstruction and rekindling his prewar friendship with Ulysses S. Grant.
Victimhood also has constitutional roots, the book argues, describing how notions such as substantive due process and strict scrutiny have empowered an activist judiciary to “correct defects in the democratic process that had allowed majorities to oppress minorities.” Mr. Ramaswamy is at his weakest in his discussion of the 14th Amendment—whose due-process clause has led to much thorny jurisprudence. In his breezy armchair originalism, in which he seeks the amendment’s authentic meaning, he glides past almost all recent scholarship on the subject. Yet a few inexpert pages on American law don’t detract from his compelling conclusion that what we witness in the U.S. today is a form of “constitutional oppression Olympics.”
African-Americans, he writes, have become enshrined by precedent as “the gold standard of constitutional victimhood.” There were periods in American history when racism was so rampant that it “demanded a comprehensive societal response.” But the book insists that the need has passed. Now, in the name of anti-racism, we risk exacerbating the very problem we seek to solve. Mr. Ramaswamy gives us the example of a young Indian-American protege, a STEM-loving kid who was rejected from every college he applied to in favor of non-Asian applicants whose SATs were significantly lower than his. Heartbreaking questions tormented this young man: “What’s wrong with me? What do they have that I don’t?” What liberals miss, says Mr. Ramaswamy in response, is that they create new and genuine victims by their “ruthless pursuit of social justice,” in which some races are elevated over others in a hierarchy of victimhood.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal