We have now been through at least two generations of constant denigration of American society, two generations in which cheap glory could be gained by flouting rules and mocking values.
Is it surprising that we seem to have dwindling numbers of people willing to take responsibility and make sacrifices to preserve the social framework that makes our survival and advancement possible? Harvard is just one small example.
There was a time when being at war meant accepting a great weight of responsibility, even among politicians. After Wendell Willkie waged a tough presidential election campaign against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, winning more votes than any Republican ever had before, nevertheless after it was all over, he became FDR's personal envoy to Winston Churchill.
In the midst of war today, we see former presidents and defeated presidential candidates telling the world how wrong we are -- sometimes collecting big bucks in foreign countries for doing so -- and members of Congress playing demagogic party politics with national security.
Sowell rightly wonders how long a country like ours, born in freedom, can be sustained when a belief in freedom is displaced by a pervasive narcissism that seeks cheap glory and is willing to sacrifice all values for the transient and childish thrill of getting attention.
He sees the triumph of narcissism in our academic institutions; in the faculty who are less interested in teaching and more interested in "flouting rules and mocking values". But academia--the home of political correctness and multiculti worship-- is not the only place where shortcuts to fame and cheap glory may be attained by the self-righteous bashing of America, while proudly displaying a casual contempt for the values that this country once stood for.
The truth is that we see such behavior everywhere in our society these days. We see it in entertainment; we see it in politics. We even see it, as Sowell points out, in the cheap shots taken by former presidents and presidential candidates that are self-serving and completely focused on temporary self-aggrandizement.
Those who engage in the behavior, spend a lot of time rationalizing it, too. That is why the most blatant examples are so sensitive to any comments about their patriotism.
Patriotism, for them, is always 100% compatible with their narcissistic sense of entitlement. They bash America because they love America--or, rather, they love their own personal and private image of what America should be.
In their child-like minds, America should behave as they imagine The Perfect Parent does. Completely and without exception totally responsive to their childrens' needs at all times and in all circumstances. A parent who never allows anything bad ever to happen to anyone anywhere; who can control the weather; who can control the behavior of everyone threatening or dangerous; who is completely selfless and willing to endure any degree of abuse; and willing to suffer the daily temper tantrums of their narcissistically preoccupied children.
God help America if it doesn't live up to the demands of those children 24/7. That unleashes their destructive narcissistic rage. It also provokes the rabid sense of victimization and dramatic feelings of ill-usage that are always just below the surface.
neo-neocon recently put it best:
To the child, the parent is omnipotent, and perfection is demanded and easily achievable. Everything that goes wrong must be the parent's fault, that much is clear; otherwise, the world would become a much more frightening place.
Because the truth is that if the parent is not omnipotent, or can't ever become perfect, then the child is exposed to truly frightening dangers that he/she is unequipped to handle. So it's far better to preserve the myth of parental omnipotence and perfection, and to get angry at a parent who, after all, (at least ordinarily, in the absence of major pathology) loves the child and is not about to retaliate harshly against that child.
The child knows the parent is strong enough to absorb the blow, so it's safe to direct the blame and the anger where it won't be dangerous to do so (if the US were really as bad as extreme leftists say, they'd all be in jail or worse). It's a win-win situation for the child, who gets to "vent," and to feel that the world isn't such a dangerous place, knowing the parent will not strike back and harm the child.
I'm not saying leftists--or those liberals who join the "blame America first, often, loudly, and last" chorus--are children. They are not. But in their relationship to their own government they seem to be acting out a similar dynamic.
The pursuit of cheap glory is characterized by denigrating the parent--and feeling somehow as if this is a courageous thing to do. You see the Hollywood elites, for example, patting themselves on the back for the brave, valiant behavior of standing up against BushHitler. I'm sure they truly believe they will imminently be dragged to a jail cell for saying the ridiculous things they say; just as they fiercly denouce the coming Christian theocracy (that has for some inexplicable reason failed to materialize in the last 6 years)--all the while totally ignoring those who would like to impose an Islamic theocracy. I suppose if Bush were Muslim, that might change their infantile-like minds.
You also see the pursuit of cheap glory in the left's sneering contempt and devaluation of their fellow citizen siblings who are willing to defend freedom in the real world, instead of the fantasyland that exists only in the windmills of the leftist mind.
Meanwhile, in that real world, there exists real evil, as well as real threats to our freedoms. People are dying to defend Freedom of Speech. People are being murdered for desiring freedom and democracy. Standing up against those real world villians, though, is far too frightening for the narcissistically preoccupied (why, they might get hurt! And they want to make sure they stand on the correct side of history, after all).
It is much much easier to bask in the light of cheap glory and continue play the pretend games against the fantasy threat; all the while ignoring, denigrating, or mocking anyone who possesses the real courage to stand up and defend the values of America with their lives and their honor.
I think it is interesting that our law schools saw it as an infringement on their right of free speech to allow a group with which they happened to disagree to speak freely. And not only that, these legal eagles were so outraged by this horrible group, that they absolutely insisted that it was their right to continue to recieve millions of dollars from them--even as they tried to exclude them from their campuses.
Now, seriously, don't you think such a position takes real moral courage and a willingness to stand up for what you believe--even as you pocket the payola? No, I don't think so either.
Not only is this an example of supreme narcissism in its most entitled and malignant form; but consider this: these are the legal intellectuals who are supposedly teaching the next generation of legal scholars the meaning of the constitutional values on which our country was founded. That is truly frightening.
Not only are they cheap literally and figuratively; they're also remarkably deficient in the intellectual and moral departments.
UPDATE: Ben Stein notices the "cheap glory" narcissism of the Hollywood elite. It was hard to miss during the Oscars; and makes some complementary points to the ones made above regarding the academic elite. More, from George Will regarding the "professors of pretense".