The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free
By Mike Gonzalez.
Encounter Books, 2020.
Hardcover, 224 pages, $28.99.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Folks.
The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free is a profoundly thoughtful and knowledgeable book highly relevant to the condition of America today. It reflects the extraordinary commitment of an author who cares deeply about the direction in which America is heading and who provides useful suggestions for altering that course. In this sense The Plot to Change America is among the most impressive books I have read in many years.
Gonzalez begins by reviewing the history of progressive thinking with its origins in Continental philosophy and, in particular, in the work of Karl Marx. He studies the pathway to America of authoritarian ideas from German and French writers, especially those who immigrated to the United States around the time of the second World War, and the role of Antonio Gramsci, who “essentially provided the field manual for taking over countries.”
From his perch at several American universities, Herbert Marcuse was particularly influential on students such as Angela Davis. What Marcuse taught, however, was not reform of a flawed system but wholesale rejection of order and tradition and unbridled censorship of and assaults upon less radical individuals. In his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance” (the title reveals a great deal), Marcuse urged “shifting the balance between Right and Left by restraining the liberty of the Right” (quoted in Gonzalez). Contemporary leftists have gone much further, arguing for fines and imprisonment for “climate deniers,” opponents of affirmative action, and those whose religious values prohibit recognition of gay marriage. All in all, identity politics relies on an authoritarian philosophical base that involves “a rejection of the body of thought that gave us our present understanding of individual freedom, natural rights, equality, and democracy.”
Soon leftists such as Marcuse were able to enlist the efforts of sympathetic liberals in government, media, education, corporations, and nonprofits, particularly the Ford Foundation during and after the years it was headed by McGeorge Bundy. Ironically, liberals like Bundy soon found themselves the object of vicious attack, so much so that now anything less than enthusiastic support for woke causes is taken as proof of bad faith. As Gonzalez states, “[a] particularly dangerous component of identity politics is the coercive diversity to which we must all pay lip service today. This is decidedly not the inclusive melting-pot idea that Americans come from many different lands but are united in a common cause.” Presumably, from his post as head of a well-funded nonprofit, Bundy acted in good faith in an effort to “lift” various ethnic groups from poverty, but the end result has twisted the concept of disadvantage to that of victimization requiring reparations and preference, or what Gonzalez calls the “recognition and restitution canard.”
A crucial element of the plot that Gonzalez exposes is the division of Americans into discrete groups based on race, national origin, gender, sexual preference, class, and other features. Before the 1960s there was little sense among immigrants and other groups that they were anything more, or less, than “Americans,” and the ambition of most immigrants was to assimilate and thereby open doors to full participation in American life. It was radical activists like Saul Alinsky who plotted to divide Americans by pressing for the labeling of groups such as Mexican American, Asian American, and Native American and by “raising the consciousness” of women, homosexuals, and blacks. Along with Marxist academics, including many from the Frankfurt School who had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, activists infiltrated powerful nonprofits and government agencies such as the Census Bureau, where for the first time identity labels other than “white” and “black” were included in the decennial reports. These labels were then used as the basis for government programs to address “inequity” among various groups, a lucrative reward for minority status that then spurred further creation of so-called disadvantaged groups.
As a result, the traditional idea of a common American civilization and of loyalty and obligation to that civilization has been weakened to the point that wide swaths of our population now voice antagonism toward our nation’s values and history. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our public schools, in which the teaching of CRT and of curricula such as the 1619 Project seem intent on replacing reverence for our nation’s founding principles with an intensely divisive and critical ideology that leaves no room for common values or patriotic belief. Those behind woke teaching appear intent on destroying every facet of our traditional identity and replacing it with centralized authoritarian government. To accomplish this, it is necessary to undermine the faith and pride that Americans traditionally connected with their nation’s history and values, and to instill identification with a host of competing identities, a condition that would lead inevitably to virtual warfare among identity groups and the breakdown of social order. Into this vacuum would then step a classic Marxist vanguard of the proletariat.
Ironically, the intent of the New Left is the direct opposite of the Civil Rights Movement. The idea that each gains identity through inclusion within a discrete ethnic or other grouping is exactly the sort of separatism that civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s fought so hard to end. The growing practice of awarding preferences based on minority status also violates the central tenet of the race-neutral society that Martin Luther King, Jr. so strongly supported, as when he declared his hope that his children would someday “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” King’s dream, as he said, was “deeply rooted in the American dream,” but now the left is determined to destroy both King’s dream of racial unity and the American dream that underlies it.
The Plot to Change America is an ambitious work which traces not just the history but the current parameters of the left’s influence across all of our institutions. Gonzalez’s treatment of the mounting division in our country is thorough and well-informed, so much so that the attempt to reverse it may seem like a daunting task. To begin, it is necessary to recognize just how pervasive and determined the left has become: nearly every public school has come under the sway of Critical Race Theory to one extent or another; half of the electorate votes for politicians who wish to increase the role of government and to implement programs that encourage the balkanization of American life; corporations and the media kowtow to radical influencers who intend to transform our understanding of race, class, and gender and, in effect, to criminalize those who resist woke thinking. On all of these fronts, there is a diminishment of our freedom, especially with the vast powers of the federal and state governments now enlisted in the cause of promoting “equity,” that is, the forced redistribution of assets and privileges so as to equalize outcomes, an effort that necessarily diminishes the opportunities of some while it penalizes others. As Gonzalez points out, the race-based preferences of these redistributionist programs eerily echo the “separate but equal” rationale of Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision upholding segregation.
Gonzalez provides the essential information and analysis needed to comprehend what is taking place and to resist what is truly a “plot to change America.” The single goal of this plot, whether manifested in ethnic and gay studies, radical feminism, or Marxist teaching, is to bring about a communist dictatorship within the United States. There is no task more important at this time than to identify and resist the left’s influence and to replace it with the teaching of Western civilization and American civic traditions. The only way to accomplish this defense of liberty is to become better informed about the nature of Marxist thinking and tactics and to deploy this knowledge in opposition to the left’s influence. The Plot to Change America is an invaluable tool in this most important endeavor: nothing less than the future of America as the world’s center of democratic capitalism is at stake.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
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