A column on May 10 by Dennis Prager, the American Jewish conservative talk-show host, commentator, and author, asks how a candidate like Donald Trump could have emerged as the clear frontrunner among ostensibly conservative voters.

As well as displaying appalling loutishness, Trump, as Prager notes, may be a nationalist but “is not a conservative and has never been one.” (See, for example, National Review columnist David French’s list of Trump’s liberal positions.) Yet somehow Trump bested a bevy of Republican candidates who not only behaved with personal dignity but had conservative track records.

Prager’s answer to his question is that: “The majority of Republicans are not conservative.” Which, of course, raises another question: how could that be? Prager’s melancholy answer: “Most Americans no longer know what America stands for.”

America, in Prager’s view, is rooted in an ideology of small government, a free economy, liberty (inevitably fostering inequality), a melting pot, and Judeo-Christian values.

Leftists, conversely, favor big government, a planned economy, equality (outstripping liberty), multiculturalism, and dogmatic secularism.

How, though, could left-liberalism have eclipsed the original American values to the point that even supposed conservatives no longer know what they are?

“It took generations,” says Prager, “but the left has succeeded (primarily through the schools, but also through the media) in substituting its values for America’s.”

He adds:

Schools even stopped teaching American history. When American  history is taught today, it is taught as a history of oppression, imperialism and racism. Likewise, there is essentially no education on civics, once a staple of the public school system. Young Americans are not taught the Constitution or how American government works. I doubt many college students even know what “separation of powers” means, let alone why it is so significant.

Prager’s words strike me as true. They jibe with what I read, with what I hear from friends back in the States—and with what I remember.

Having been born in America in 1954, and having entered its education system in 1959, I well remember a country brimming with pride at its accomplishments. I was taught about those exemplary figures, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln; about the heroic assertion of independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War; about the Civil War that “freed the slaves.” I was taught, too, that “prejudice”—racism against blacks—was still a problem that needed to be overcome; and, indeed, in 1964, the Civil Rights Acts was passed.

In other words, what was conveyed was not jingoism but a healthy, justified pride in being the world’s—and history’s—leading light of democracy and progress.

And I also remember how—in the latter half of the 1960s—it changed.

The Vietnam War was the catalyst. But while it was one thing to question whether the U.S. involvement was wise, it was another to start condemning “Amerika” as an evil force abroad and an oppressive, soul-strangling society at home. But that was what the left—particularly from its strongholds in the universities, the media, and the arts—increasingly did as the sixties wore on.

By the time I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo in the early to mid-1970s, all—all—students in humanities and social science fields had adopted that view of America. The kind of global, destructive criticism that the left engaged in is inherently polarizing; and those same college students now looked with leering disdain at all those who were still “conservative,” who still thought America was great.

And it was from those universities, now turned adversarial toward America and what had been its dominant conception of itself for almost two centuries, that legions of certified teachers went forth to instill their outlook in millions of American children.

In a column on May 3, a week earlier than the aforementioned one, Prager wrote that “there has never been a darker time in American history”—no less. He went on to note some of the problems:

According to a Pew Research Center study, more and more young Americans do not believe in freedom of speech for what they deem hate speech. Forty percent of respondents ages 18 to 34 agreed that offensive statements should be outlawed….

 

Universities (outside the natural sciences and mathematics), are intellectual frauds. In terms of ability to think clearly, they actually make most students dumber than before they entered college….

 

The size of the federal government, and its far-reaching meddling in and control over Americans’ lives, is the very thing America was founded to avoid….

And perhaps most alarmingly:

The traditional family has become nothing more than one of many options open to Americans. For the first time in American history there are more unmarried women than married women…. [M]ore than 40 percent of American births are to unmarried women. Among Hispanic women the percent is over 53, and among black women the rate is over 71 percent.

Even if all of that can’t be laid at the door of the left, a lot of it can. The notions of proscribed “hate speech,” universities as indoctrination centers, big government, and the family as an “option” all originate on the left.

Today, having emigrated from America over three decades ago, I look back in sadness—not least at what is shaping up as a bleak presidential race between the corrupt, cynical Hillary Clinton and the uncouth, possibly dangerous Donald Trump.

Perhaps efforts among anti-Trump Republicans to field a respectable third-party candidate offer hope. An America that could find its way again would not only be good for America but a boon to the rest of the world.