“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,” wrote Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919 as he contemplated the post-war world with dread. For anyone on the lookout for evidence that America’s political center has disintegrated, 2023 was a banner year, with a bumper crop of proof that a certain madness has enveloped both the right and the left, driving what remained of the center underground.
A new Washington Post poll reflects that 36% of Americans believe that President Joe Biden assumed office thanks to an “illegitimate” election. That figure has actually increased since 2021, even as it has gone from merely crystal clear to irrefutable that Donald Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election has always been an utter fraud. Roughly half of Americans are prepared to once again make the fraud who is selling that fraud the most powerful person on the planet, nuclear codes and all.
The left has provided plenty of evidence that it has also gone mad. When several thousand genocidal jihadists invaded a sovereign country and slaughtered 1,200 Israelis at a music festival or in their bedrooms, blowing innocents to pieces, burning them to death, decapitating, dismembering and raping them as they shouted “Allahu Akbar,” self-professed “progressives” decided that defending them was trendy. Feminists, social justice groups, human rights advocates, students and faculty chose silence, tortured justifications or outright praise for the murderers over solidarity with the victims. Accustomed to ascribing moral rot to MAGA World, the left exemplified it.
Enter the scandal that forced the resignation of Harvard University’s president, Claudine Gay, a scandal entirely of her own making. Despite her best efforts to change the subject, Gay’s resignation was not at root the fault of those on the right who doubtless wanted her gone in order to prove a point, but hers alone.
Summoned by a Republican-controlled congressional committee investigating various universities’ negligence in addressing antisemitism on their campuses that has turned quite ugly, Gay declined several direct invitations to simply agree that calls for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct. She declined to do so not because she was confused, ill-prepared or unintelligent, but because she is ambivalent not only about whether such calls do violate Harvard’s code of conduct but whether they should.
But what did her in ultimately was her serial plagiarism or, as Harvard’s Board put it in Orwellian fashion, “examples of duplicative language without appropriate attribution.” But for the disclosures that she had repeatedly cheated — not once, not twice, not even three times, but over and over, by plagiarizing, or stealing others’ work, before Harvard decided to make her president of the world’s foremost institution of higher education, it looked as though Gay would remain in office. This kind of conduct gets students expelled from schools all over the country. President Gay apparently believed she could cheat without consequence — because that was indeed her experience.
Gay wasted no time blaming others for having the nerve to uncover what she had managed to keep hidden, playing the victim immediately and loudly. In a New York Times op-ed published the day after she resigned, Gay reframed the disclosures of her own dishonesty as an attack on — wait for it — civic virtue. “This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society,” she actually wrote, knowing that half of America would nod their heads at the idea that the whole affair was the fault of a vast right-wing conspiracy. “Campaigns of this kind often start with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda.”
This was unadulterated chutzpah, since Gay’s conduct has undermined public faith in one of our society’s pillars — higher education in general, and Harvard in particular. But it was chutzpah that was widely swallowed whole. It is another sign that in an America comprised of two teams — my team against your team — the center has all but disappeared.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.