[This article appeared in the April 1990 issue of Conservative Review, pp. 27-28.]   

The Mudding of America 

Dwight D. Murphey 


            On Wednesday mornings, I get together for breakfast with four or five friends to share some lively conversation about world events.  One of them, a good conservative who hails from Chile where he was a sheep herder before he came to this country years ago to become a farmer and then a college professor, will often bring clippings illustrating the latest examples of liberal media bias.  If possible, he is even more wrought up than I am, usually, over the oppressiveness of the envelope of pop-ideology in which we live.

            There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans just like him around the country.  They are, fortunately, stubbornly resistant to the liberal ideology that floods in upon them on a daily basis; and they see with sharp clarity the many aspects of the intellectual and cultural slide in which our society finds itself.

            Such people—wrapped in common sense, busy in their pursuit of ordinary life, and deeply loyal to the values that they know are basic to what is best around them—constitute, in effect, a rugged seawall against which an ocean of ideology pounds relentlessly.  That America grows and prospers and moves on largely impervious to liberal ideology has long been a source of despair to those on the Left.

            Just the same, there is little ground for self-congratulation on the part of conservatives.  It is precisely the Left—ensconced (with, of course, notable exceptions) in academia, among public school teachers, in the film-making industry, in the arts, and in the mass media—that is winning the ideological struggle over how Americans are to perceive themselves.  By sheer repetition, the Left is recasting America’s self-image.

            There are basically two parts to this recasting: 

New Art and New Values

            Virtually everything about America prior to the advent of the Civil Rights movement in 1954, and quite a good bit about America to this day, is being well-nigh universally presented as narrow, bigoted, oppressive and befouled—in short, a past that is out of keeping with today’s vastly more enlightened aspirations.

            My wife and I recently saw the movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”  It had all the artistry of superb film-making and characterizations—and its own mean-spirited dollop of ideology.  Almost everyone in the story was presented empathetically.  I say almost, because a conspicuous exception was made with regard to two Southern highway patrolmen, who were inserted in a gratuitous scene in which they momentarily terrorized Miss Daisy, a white Jewish woman, and her black chauffeur.

            In the artistic community, one finds the beginnings of a reevaluation of all prior art, to see whether it was perchance “racist.”  One centuries-old painting depicting the horrors of the slave trade has been condemned even though the critic acknowledges that it clearly is not guilty of pro-white racism.  Why?  On the ground that the artist, by showing the atrocities of the slave trade, was seeking to distract attention from the exploitation of workers by capitalists.

            As I grew up, I learned that Americans had been courageous and full of indomitable spirit in crossing the West in their covered wagons.  The pioneers were heroes.  But not today.  There are scholars studying how whites “committed genocide” against the Indians in the American Nortwest by introducing them to microbes brought over from Europe.

            I would not have us caught up in any one of these examples.  What is important for us to see is that our past thinking is being “worked over”—and worked over good.  An American child growing up today will find it virtually impossible to find heroes in the American past.  And I wonder what conceptual frame of reference the millions of Latin and Asian immigrants into America are forming about our past.

            For the most part, the “formative experience” of American conservatives consisted of a reverence for the ideals that they saw embodied in American history.  That, certainly, was the case with me.  I lived in Mexico as a small boy, and, yearning to be home, looked idealistically upon everything I could find out about the United States.

            Our own children are not growing up with that same formative experience.  They are learning to perceive with distrust and cynicism—if, indeed, not to hate—the very things we have loved so well.  It is a process that began many years ago, such as when Charles Beard wrote his cynical critique of the American Founding Fathers, whom he saw as serving their own economic self-interest.  But it is at a crescendo today. 

The Raising of New Heroes and New Villains

            The destruction of the past creates a vacuum which the Left is assiduously seeking to fill with its own images.  Who today are our culture’s popular heroes, and who the villains?  Just ask your children.

            I served as a judge in an Optimist junior high school oratorical contest recently.  The speeches were all well done, reflecting careful attention by the contestants’ English teacher, who had coached them.  They were replete with glowing references to Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and—reaching back farther than is customary today—to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  One seventh grader spoke fervently of Nelson Mandela.  And who were the villains?  Exxon, of oil-spill fame, for one.

              On a trip to Nashville not long ago, I saw one of the tourist-directed musicals put on for the thousands who pass through the Opryland amusement park.  The theme was a “salute to America.”  It included [note: material is missing here in the published version].  The mythologies of the future are being created around other, opposing figures.  And this is no accident.  The Left casts everything into its own light.

            What can we do about it?

            Not very much unless we create a new intellectual culture.  The recasting of perceived reality is not occurring because of a conspiracy of a small number.  It is the result of a constant accretion from the efforts of tens of thousands, all repeating the same things in lecture halls, school classrooms, on TV sitcoms, in the movies, wherever biases can be voiced.

            It does us little good to react to each such ideological outrage—such as Robert Mapplethorpe’s tax-subsidized photo of one man urinating into the mouth of another or Andres Serrano’s image of a crucifix submerged in urine—unless we come to appreciate the generality of the problem.  We need to realize that our society pumps vast resources into an intellectual culture that, in its essence, hates the society that feeds it.

            Not long ago, I attended a ceremony in front of the School of Business on one of our university campuses.  A well-meaning donor was being honored for contributing $12 million to the college of business.  There at the site of the ceremony, directly in front of the School of Business, was a statue of a young man smelling his armpit.  The statue has been there for years, with no one bothering to notice or to remark upon the sculptor’s alienated message.  A hundred yards away, another statue portrays a fat plutocrat with his fat wife and fat child.

            I stood there wondering just what it is, precisely, that causes a wealthy man, himself obviously no enemy to the wealth-creating processes by which he made his fortune, to be so oblivious to the reality of the modern university.  Would he not have been much wiser to have directed his money toward a republication of, say, the Horatio Alger novels?