Donald Trump, the natural experiment
As usual, both sides are right and both sides are wrong.
Unless you are in power, there is never a good time to lie. There are many good times to keep your mouth shut, though. I refrained more or less scrupulously from mocking Donald Trump while he was in office, and I hope you did too. Here is why:
First: to add your voice to power’s chorus is the act of a monkey, not a man. If you agree on anything with the New York Times Editorial Board, you have no respectable reason for saying so. You have plenty of simian reasons.
Second: state must always be respected. “There’s such divinity that doth hedge a king,” even a weak or totally fake king. The proper monarchist attitude toward a weak king is to hope the fucker wakes up one morning and realizes he needs to do his fucking job.
Donald Trump, as I myself wrote in 2012, has the manner, style and presence of a king. Watch Ian McShane in the old NBC series Kings. Any director would cast Trump as Claudius. Why, the man is a natural Claudius.
But besides elephantine arrogance and sound intuitive common sense, he had no real personal qualifications for the actual job of king, and no idea how to actually do it. In particular, Trump has never shown any particular gift for management or delegation, and he has the attention span of a rabid chipmunk. Apparently, in hotels, this is fine.
Nor did he or anyone around him know that being a king was his actual job—or that if four years ago, he had just walked into the office and started to do that job, that might even have worked. It was certainly what the Times was so scared of! Fortunately for the Times—not only did Trump not know how to be a king, no one he knew did either.
Yet if his voters had any idea they were not electing a king, a Leader of the Free World, they evinced no such thing. At a certain rational level they do know that the President is not a king; they learned some such thing in high school; emotionally, all that might as well be partial differential equations.
It would be interesting to poll the American voter on how much less power their chief executive has over the “executive branch” than an absolute monarch over his court, or a CEO over his company. The right way to do it would be a polling tree. First you’d ask if the President’s power, as a percentage of a CEO’s power, is 75%, 50%, 25% or less.
If they answered (d), you’d go to orders of magnitude: 10%, 1%, 0.1%, or less. Anyone who got it right again would receive some kind of prize—a Lamborghini, maybe.
Anything which, though real, is only 0.1% real (still on the high side, I’d say!), is fake. Americans: you thought you were voting for orange juice. You were actually voting for orange drink. Yes—it does have natural orange flavor!
Why wasn’t this obvious to you? Well: do you think you’ve ever tasted orange juice? Lol. But one sip of the real thing—and you’ll never go back to orange drink, will you?
The natural experiment
A natural experiment is an uncontrolled event in which nature has a wardrobe failure and reveals more than usual of her sacred person. A great example is a natural nuclear reactor. It shows scientifically that a uranium chain reaction can work. But no one designed it, so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t actually generate electricity.
Donald Trump was an uncontrolled event. He was never going to be a president-king like Washington, Lincoln or FDR. He was never going to “make America great again.” He was never going to generate electricity. But he was never going to be an ordinary postwar President, either; and of course he was not. He was never not a phenomenon. In Silicon Valley they say: don’t hire anyone who you wouldn’t describe as “an animal.” Donald J. Trump will be an animal till the day he dies.
And the collision of this energetic particle with the ginormous lead-tier nucleus of USG, while it did not of course so much as loosen a single baryon, let off a spray of remarkably illuminating leptons. These fireworks (this is how X-ray crystallography works) give us a snapshot of the nucleus beneath: Satan’s invisible world discovered.
A moment in Washington
After giving 200 National Guardsmen covid due to a hilariously nonexistent threat, when a total of three lethal domestic terrorists showed up in the New Green Zone for the inauguration of America’s most popular President in history—the IRL fedposters of the cosplay coup having been scared out of their wits by the discovery that power is no game—the System, letting a few troops trickle home, remains hardly less terrified.
But for a different reason: it flees where no one pursueth. Or where ”Q Shaman” alone pursueth. (In any case, the Great Fedposting Crackdown of 2021 has already begun—so please doublecheck your anti-fedposting filters, especially before commenting here.) It’s also worth reading up on the saga of constructive treason—an old English weapon against fedposters, whose abuse motivated the Treason Clause in the Constitution.
So long as you and your friends can stay out of the fireworks, this paranoid wartime mindset is beneficial. It lights up Satan’s invisible world—for you and everyone else.
Let’s look at a characteristic example, which just happened. (Soon if not already, lovely natural experiments like this will be a thing of the past. Everything will be boring. As a content farmer, these will be hard times—but, for mine enemies, they will be harder.)
The right to machinate
How many Times stories have you seen exposing right-wing machinations? At the risk of “whataboutism”—what about left-wing machinations? I know your answer.
There are only two possible explanations for this phenomenon. One: the left, being on the right side of history, does not machinate, because it does not need to machinate. This hypothesis is intriguing and should be followed up.
The other hypothesis is that the left, being in power, has the right to machinate; and the right, being out of power, has the duty to not machinate.
So it is not in any way a story when the left machinates—any more than it is a moving violation when one of New York’s finest blows through a red with the lights on. Once you realize that might makes right, a lot of shit starts making sense.
On some beautiful days the Times gives you a great example of both these rules at the same time. For example, as I write, the front page features these two stories:
The congressman’s involvement underlined how far the former president was willing to go to overturn the election, and Democratic lawmakers have begun calling for investigations into those efforts.
A huge coalition of activist groups had been working together since the spring to make sure that Joe Biden won and that the “election stayed won” amid Donald Trump’s subterfuge.
These two stories are full of Russell conjugations: I plan, you plot, he conspires. Let’s give each of them a close read—not to “call out” hypocrisy, just to observe how—since we are ruled by hypocrisy—hypocrisy actually functions in our society.
If we are ruled by hypocrisy, the shape of hypocrisy is the shape of power. Hypocrisy is the shower of electrons; power is the atomic nucleus; Donald Trump is the X-ray. (Let no one criticize my physics, which is impressionistic.) We’re going to walk through both these hypocritical NYT articles, watching for those brief glints of the nucleus. Remember that there is nothing unusual about this situation, since might makes right.
The communist plan
As a Brown graduate, even though I did not do Brown’s famed degree in semiotics (aka “Modern Culture and Media”), but spent all day playing Tetris and Nethack in the CS lab, I have paid in full for a lifetime license to deconstruct and I ain’t too shy to use it.
We won’t invert the Russell conjugations, which would just be puerile. Instead, we’ll play a simplification game: replace all synonyms of “professional leftist”—that is, any member of any profession in which being, or appearing to be, a leftist is a professional necessity, and whose main goal is to advance some leftist cause or causes—with that delicious old avocado-and-teal classic from the ‘50s, communist.
Other jargon is adjusted to match. At the occasional cost of some semantic nuance, we are shooting for both retro and basic. The transformation just flattens huge amounts of linguistic camouflage, and brings a striking pattern to the surface. You may judge for yourself whether or not this pattern is real.
Click the headline to read the original. I have also cut some boring parts:
A huge coalition of communist fronts had been working together since the spring to make sure that Joe Biden won and that the “election stayed won” amid Donald Trump’s subterfuge.
Notice that that whatever you want to call these groups and their members, there are no ideological tensions at all between them—they share one homogeneous ideology. More on this later.
The video call was announced on short notice, but more than 900 people quickly joined: a coalition of communists and communists, communists and communists, pulled together in a matter of hours after the hooligan attack on Capitol Hill.
Wouldn’t it be cool if this coalition had a name? And a permanent organization? No, it wouldn’t be cool at all—it would mean there was one Party, which had one neck. If there is any lesson American communism has learned, it is the power of decentralization. We won’t be seeing any more Bridgman Conventions.
They convened to craft a plan for answering the onslaught on American communism, and they soon reached a few key decisions. They would stay off the streets for the moment and hold back from communist demonstrations that could be exposed to armed hooligans goaded on by President Donald J. Trump.
Look at this incredible admission. They would stay off the streets. Fuck!
Do you remember the dogs of summer? The riots that did $2 billion in damage? The miniature armies in black clothes and black masks? Those were dogs on a leash. They could be turned on and off in one Zoom call. Anything that can be suppressed with “a few key decisions” is not in any way spontaneous. You just read it in the Times—so it must be true, right? And did the people in black show up on the 6th? They did not.
And just who was pressing that button? Go back to “was announced.” Who set up this Zoom call? Who selected the 900 people? What is this list? Wouldn’t you like to know, you fascist peasant? Go back to Dubuque, smoke some heroin and jack off into your Playstation 5. You! Hayseed! Why are you even reading this story? It’s about your betters—for your betters. We now return you to all the news that’s fit to print.
Honestly, stories like this are a liability that shouldn’t even be printed. They appear for one reason: people like to brag. Especially people with mens rea, conscience of guilt.
Such guilt cannot be neutralized; it must be converted into a virtue; it is not a crime, it is a bold, necessary action for a good cause—straight out of Himmler’s Posen speech. Anyone can be guilty of something that isn’t the Holocaust. Morally healthy people in a guilty system are especially prone to thinking of this type—true sociopaths have no need to rationalize.
The Times reporter is writing this story as a payback into the ol’ favor bank for having access to these powerful, nameless, unorganized Zoom-call people, most of whom do not want to be named—but who still want to brag. And some, of course, want both:
They would use careful language. In a presentation, Anat Shenker-Osorio, a communist messaging guru, urged against calling the hooligan attack a “coup,” warning that the word could make Mr. Trump sound far stronger than he was—or even imply that a fascist hooligan militia had seized power.
Always get to know your ruling class! Ms. Shenker-Osorio’s biography:
Anat Shenker-Osorio examines why certain communist messages falter where others deliver. She has led research for communist messaging on issues ranging from communism to communism and from communism to communism. Anat's original approach through priming experiments, task-based testing and online dial surveys has led to communist electoral and policy victories across the globe.
Anat delivers her findings packed in snark at venues such as the Congressional Communist Caucus, Centre for Australian Bolshevism, Irish Workers’ Centre, Peoples’ Society Foundations, the Ford Liberation Front and RED International.
In short: a brilliant career in helping ordinary folks to accurately perceive reality.
And they would demand stern punishment for Mr. Trump and his party: fascists at every level of government who incited the hooligans “must be removed or resign,” read one version of the front’s intended message, contained in Ms. Shenker-Osorio’s presentation and reviewed by The New York Times.
Never miss a chance to smash the fascist hooligans, citizens.
The meeting was no lucky feat of emergency organizing, nor was the highly disciplined and united front that emerged from it.
Didn’t even have to change any words there.
Instead, it was a climactic event in a long season of planning and coordination by communists, aimed largely at a challenge with no American precedent: defending the outcome of a communist election from a hooligan bent on overturning it.
Maybe I should call my theories “planning and coordination theories.”
By the time hooligans ransacked the Capitol, the machinery of communism was ready: prepared by months spent sketching out doomsday scenarios and mapping out responses, by countless hours of training exercises and reams of opinion research.
All volunteer work, of course—done for free, by cool people, who were giving their time and energy to make the world a better place. These “folks” were certainly not funded by anyone. Nor were they organized—they’re all so chill that they work perfectly together, like a well-oiled machine. A machine which does not exist and has no name.
At each juncture, the hard-line wing of the communist front deployed its resources deliberately, channeling its energy toward countering hooligan attempts at sabotage. Joseph R. Biden Jr., an avowed moderate who has often boasted of beating his more communist primary opponents, was a beneficiary of their work.
Why, it’s almost as if Mutt and Jeff were on the same team! But how could that be?
Just as important, communist groups reckoned with their own vulnerabilities: The impulses toward communist rhetoric and communist demands—which generated communist slogans like “Workers of the world unite” and “Fry the capitalist pigs”— were supplanted by a more studied vocabulary, developed through nightly opinion research and message testing.
Honey, do the gaslights look a little dim today? Maybe call the gas company?
Worried that Mr. Trump might use any communist demonstrations as pretext for a federal crackdown of the kind seen last summer in Portland, Ore., communists organized mass gatherings only sparingly and in highly choreographed ways after Nov. 3. In a year of surging communist energy across the left and of record-breaking voter turnout, communism has stifled itself to an extraordinary degree during the precarious postelection period.
Since the violence of Jan. 6, communist leaders have not deployed large-scale public protests at all.
Literally, you just read it in the New York Times: this summer’s riots were organized. And not sparingly. And not highly choreographed. And whatever this organization is, it can stifle itself—if it wants to. I guess this summer it didn’t. How interesting! Tell us more, New York Times!
The other day I saw a billboard on the freeway, thousands of miles from DC, asking me to call in tips about rioters. But only the winter rioters. If you’re an aristocrat, you can do $2B in arson of other peoples’ shit, and no one cares. If you’re a prole, and you get wasted, and trespass, and even jack Citizen Pelosi’s podium—everyone loses their minds. (The podium, at last report, was still undergoing the elaborate reconsecration process.)
If you wonder how some prole thought that could be okay—in retrospect, it’s simple. The problem is that America has not implemented a proper system of information control. This should include a Party newspaper not available to our simple, noble and good workers and peasants, who don’t need to know anything about any of this stuff, and can easily be confused by many narratives which remain important and necessary.
Fact: the proles are the victims here. The perpetrator is Big Tech—which has marketing profiles on all their customers, has algos that can smell a prole in three clicks, and, if it wasn’t too busy making money by promoting violence, could easily block all proletarian access to complex, inflammatory, easily-misunderstood stories like this one—which the larping sans-culottes of the 6th may have thought they were acting in. Are they laughing now? As Ferris Bueller’s principal said: fuck with the bull, get a horn in the ass. Abridged:
Demonstrations in support of the jailed opposition leader swept the nation, beginning in the Far East, where people braved subzero temperatures, and reaching the capital. Arrests climbed into the thousands.
From the frozen streets of Russia’s Far East and Siberia to the grand plazas of Moscow and St. Petersburg, tens of thousands of Russians rallied in support of the jailed opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny on Saturday in the biggest nationwide showdown in years between the Russian authorities and critics of the Kremlin.
As night fell in Moscow, videos circulated on social media that showed extraordinary defiance by protesters and violent scuffles between them and the police.
Footage showed protesters pelting a group of riot police officers with snowballs. Chanting “Shame!” protesters also threw snowballs at a passing government car with an official blue light. After it came to a stop, people rushed at the car and started kicking it.
The remarkable acts of defiance showed how protesters on Saturday appeared to be more brazen than Russian demonstrators in years past. Across the country, videos showed protesters scuffling with police officers who rushed at them, swinging batons and kicking them.
The government car that was attacked belonged to the F.S.B., Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, state news media reported later. The driver lost an eye, the RIA state news agency said.
It appeared to be the biggest day of protest across the country since at least 2017, though it was far from clear whether the show of dissent would push the Kremlin to change course. A report on state television called the protests a “wave of aggression” and warned that jail time loomed for some participants.
“Attacking a police officer is a criminal offense,” the news report said. “Hundreds of videos were shot. All the faces are on them.”
Saturday’s protests, which drew thousands of people from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean to Moscow, nearly 4,000 miles to the west, fell far short of the mass demonstrations by hundreds of thousands seen last year in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus.
But while posing no immediate challenge to Mr. Putin’s grip on Russia, they raised a defiant cry in favor of an alternative, something that the president and his security apparatus have worked relentlessly to make seem impossible.
“We won’t bear it anymore. We are not afraid,” read a banner hoisted in Pushkin Square.
All of this is delicious. But the part I appreciate the most: the journalist’s “messaging” chops are so strong that he can give even the word brazen a positive connotation. Wow. Also, we must grant serious Engrish points to—all the faces are on them. Citizen! All the faces are on you!
That wasn’t today’s Times—it was yesterday’s. Now, this is an important story and has to be published. It could help change Russia. But its audience is—(a) policymakers and other genuinely important people; (b) Russians, ideally smart young Russians.
(Nothing against Russia—Gray Mirror has a few Russian fans, I hear—but when you’re that deep up Asia’s ass, even the Whore of Babylon looks pretty good. No new problem there. Though to be fair, Navalny is, or was, actually kind of based. If I was Putin, which I am most certainly not, I might try to deal with him and turn him against the West. It’s just a physical fact, immutable as Newton’s laws, that every fellow has his price.)
But why on earth should some Gulf War veteran in Idaho be exposed to such material? The problem with giving the proles access to texts like this is that proles are stupid and don’t understand revolutionary praxis. You can’t even explain to a prole that ethics and even facts can depend on the timezone, or even the time of day. Neither is absolute—there is no absolute anything. Rather, citizens, everything is relative to the revolution. (Some say it was indeed Einstein, on the record as a tankie, who first figured this out.)
If prole-blocking really is too technically hard (Big Tech will always give you this BS), why not just block all domestic IPs, except for Georgetown, Manhattan, Hollywood, and all real universities? ( A real university is one your kids could go to.) Why does most of the Midwest even need the Times? Don’t they have USA Today?
Interviews with nearly two dozen leaders involved in the effort, and a review of several hundred pages of planning documents, polling presentations and legal memorandums, revealed an uncommon—and previously unreported—degree of collaboration among communist groups that often struggle to work so closely together because of competition over political turf, funding and conflicting ideological priorities.
Maybe they’re “collaboration theories.” I wonder why it was previously unreported? Perhaps it only just now became fit to print? I guess these things happen, huh..
Also, I’m sorry, but “conflicting ideological priorities” is just a lie. Communists and fascists certainly have conflicting ideological priorities! And clearly there exists a categorical difference between the two. And clearly there is no categorical difference between any two kinds of communists. Do they shun each other at parties? What? Do you see a partition on the social graph? Once again you are sold a donkey as a horse.
I can’t even imagine what these conflicts would be. They clearly don’t interfere with the ability to put together a 900-person Zoom call on a moment’s notice. Writers: once you have two true facts, don’t add a third just to be too good for the Oxford comma.
Communists love to split and be split. They hate to have just one neck. They learned this very early—the hard way. Moreover, the very nature of communism lends itself to frangibility. Profoundly chaotic, incarnating the force of chaos on earth, like a tumor it is fundamentally crumbly.
This is because communism is fundamentally narcissistic and ambitious. Its deep inner purpose is to stimulate dopamine release in the substantia nigra of the ruling class. This has two clear consequences which produce the aforementioned frangibility.
In the outer life of the ruling class, “turf and funding” is everything. In an oligarchy, life is always and everywhere a game of Diplomacy—success is all about joining the right circles, making the right friends, mentors and sponsors, and stabbing exactly the right people, at exactly the right time, in the exact right part of the back. You can be assured that anyone mentioned in the story is a champion of this sport and positively charming at a dinner party. A wise man once said: don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Yet in the inner life of the ruling class, every citizen owns the whole movement himself. Hence the rampancy of the No True Scotsman fallacy. To each of these aristocrats, communism is about himself; so true communism is whatever he himself believes in.
And whatever he doesn’t believe in is a deviation, of course, that needs to be purged—and will, by the inexorable material forces of history, be purged. So of course there’s no need to worry about it—or if there is, all the more reason to fight for true leftism.
Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, but at least no Nazi has ever thoughtfully explained to me that “that wasn’t real Nazism.” Rather remarkable if you think about it, since it’s so much better than all their other excuses for the Holocaust. But the Commucaust remains excused. All your dreams, communist, stink of blood.
For the most part, organized communism anticipated Mr. Trump’s postelection schemes, including his premature attempt to claim a victory he had not achieved, his pressure campaigns targeting fascist election administrators and county officials and his incitement of hooligan violence, strategy documents show.
Ai-jen Poo, a communist organizer involved in the effort, said the realization had dawned on a wide range of fronts: “We all had to come together and bring everything we could to protecting communism.”
Michael Podhorzer, a communist strategist who was one of the architects of the coalition, said it presented both a communist model and a cautionary tale about a badly frayed communist system.
I would translate Ms. Poo’s biography. It might wear out my C key. Mr. Podhorzer is more interesting. He appears to come out of a group called Citizen Action, of which Wikipedia notes with unusual prosopographic fidelity:
Those principled opponents of violence, SDS. And the cream of the working class:
Once you look at enough communist headshots, you realize they all have “communist face.” This is a little like “Mormon face,” but different. No doubt an an algorithm could be taught to recognize it.
Each of these faiths seems to create its own very special kind of peace and happiness—like heroin, but not dysfunctional, without the facial scabs, and—never coming down. Sometimes even I wish I could jam that shit into my veins—like a “nice juicy steak.”
It is evil, though. If you’re on it, you need to get off. If nothing else, your shriveled soul is desperately athirst to know how cold your real reality really is. The good news is: it will grow back. But only if you stop pornographically indulging your lust for power.
“We are eight months away from crisis,” Mr. Podhorzer wrote in a missive to his allies. “Our efforts over the last three years to create a communist infrastructure to mobilize and persuade voters has been extraordinary, but our preparation for the coming crisis has been woefully inadequate.”
Other communist strategists, at fronts founded after 2016 like the Fight Back Table and the Social and Economic Justice Leaders group, had been mulling the same perils ahead.
If you know anything about American communism in any era since the ‘30s, you know one thing: communists go through front names like Russian arms dealers through offshore shell companies. They may even be naming their fronts with an algorithm— “Mulberry Partners VI,” or the like, wouldn’t really do.
And so the Democracy Defense Coalition was born. Deirdre Schifeling, a former top strategist for Planned Parenthood, took the lead in coordinating the effort. With a grand name and a skeletal staff, the group began approaching communist organizations in Washington and the states. A cluster of a few strategists became a coalition of 80 groups, and then of more than 200.
It was the largest of several interlocking communist federations that prepared for a contested election.
I love these disposable brands. It is an organization—but not in any sense a permanent one. Or a real one. If you try to persecute it, or as some would say hold it accountable (another Russell conjugation), all you find is a nameplate in a bank in the Caymans. You can read Ms. Schifeling’s bio. If there is one of her, there is a million—and they all adore chardonnay.
So do I! Unless it’s so oak-soaked it tastes like cat piss. But I think some people, even some very smart people, actually imagine that some equal and opposite power like this exists on the enormous and deadly American Right—different in form, of course—some secret smoke-filled room full of fat CEOs in top hats, smoking even fatter cigars.
If you actually saw a gathering of the “thought leaders” of the American Right, you would see a little room full of dork nerd losers. If you had a zoom call with the 900 most significant right-wing activists in America, in last place you’d get some sophomore columnist for the Kalamazoo State student paper—the conservative one—with its print run of 500—400 of which are instantly picked up and recycled by “activists.”
I think there’s a sound case for both the Empire and the Rebellion. I just would feel better if everyone was clear which of those sides everyone is on—because it is clear.
The communist organizations prepared for physical threats, too. They held de-escalation training sessions around the country, aimed at giving people the tools to ease potentially violent conflict.
Nelini Stamp, a top official with the Communist Party, said her organization had been in touch with bail funds that could be activated in response to mass arrests and had readied a separate fund to raise money for the families of anyone killed in violence on or around Election Day. Their thinking, Ms. Stamp said, had been informed by the immense protests after the killing of George Floyd.
“We prepared for the worst of the worst: We’re going to get shot at, killed, on Election Day and afterward,” said Ms. Stamp, adding, “You have to understand that a lot of this is coming from movements that have been dealing with a lot of death.”
In other words: you planned to bring your army into the streets. Or were the Proud Boys conspiring to hunt you down, and shoot at you en masse in your homes? Certainly the Sturmabteilung, who were fascists too, did such deeds, so… one can’t be too careful.
As Matthew Yglesias, a true Red blueblood whose grandpa was literally the film critic for the Daily Worker, wrote in a long-deleted tweet:
My guess is that in a Trump administration angry mobs will beat and murder Jews and people of color with impunity.
Since this happened, we are inclined to keep trusting the “reality-based community.” And Ms. Stamp’s biography is indeed cut from the usual stamp. Our best intellectuals!
Notice that none of the people mentioned so far can be described as leaders in any literal sense—these are just typical people who would be on that 900-person Zoom call. They are not the people who managed the Rolodex that set up the Zoom call.
What makes a communist a communist, anyway? Who decides who is cool enough to be on the call? What are the real, durable organizations, if any, behind all these disposable brand names? Are they just a random social graph of cool people? Or is there some kind of more interesting structure? What does the money flow look like?
These things are completely unknowable to the peasant. The reporter obviously knows. The reporter is hiding nothing—he’s just super fond of the passive voice.
And another funny question: what did these people plan to do if the results, which after all like any election is a total crapshoot, came out wrong? I mean—if they didn’t have a plan—if they didn’t need a plan—well, that would be worse, wouldn’t it?
No. Their respect for the majesty of American democracy and the integrity of her world-famous, uber-secure elections was so great that they had a plan: to do nothing at all. Their balaclavas and riot shields would grow mold in a closet for four years, since America is a democratic country and Americans chose Trump. Very cool, citizens.
Anna Galland, a prominent communist organizer involved in the deliberations, said it had been a “tough decision” not to mobilize communist demonstrations. Part of the concern, she said, had been that they might “inadvertently turn the tide of media momentum” by depicting a defeated hooligan as a fearsome adversary.
“Organizing any kind of massive ‘It’s a coup’ mobilization, in the midst of those contested days, would have just been bait for the right,” she said.
But now it isn’t, of course. Anna Galland comes to us from Civic Action—not to be confused with Citizens’ Action. So much action! You can tell by the look in Ms. Galland’s eyes that she too has seen the holy light—and loves La Crema chardonnay, which is buttery but not not at all oaky. A solid value at $14.99, less 10% case discount.
Imagine turning the steering wheel of “the tide of media momentum.” Excuse me, but: what the hell is this country? How the fuck does it work? And in particular: what the fuck is all this bullshit? “Progressives” are invited to email me, and explain. BTW: my grandparents, too, always called themselves that. They were actually CPUSA members. Discuss.
Where they did gather, communists were urged to take a tone of celebration and triumph. The goal, leaders agreed, would be to make Mr. Trump’s actions look impotent. When communists finally took to the streets en masse on Nov. 7, after communist organizations projected Mr. Biden as the winner, it was in a mood of jubilation.
“Celebrate our achievement: turning out in record numbers, seeing will of people prevail,” a presentation on Nov. 6 had recommended, and that was how the scenes that Saturday unfolded.
Everything is produced. Everything you see on TV is a show made to be seen by you on TV. Everything. Yes: even the stuff that actually happens.
This side of the natural experiment has shown us, just because people wanted to brag, how many large and intricately-toothed brass gears are turning behind phenomena of present history that look natural, spontaneous or distributed.
It is my belief that this power transmission does not lead back to any single engine—any one person or even clearly definable group. Power is distributed, though never evenly distributed; the inchoate nature of the structure makes it as hard to attack as a school of herring; yet the school is a sort of meta-organism, and anything but random. This school of fish is the oligarchy of process and influence that we call the System.
My belief could be wrong. Carroll Quigley sure thought it was wrong, and he knew a lot more than I ever will about the institutional gears of the modern world. Then again, he could have been right then and I could still be right today. There might be a single point of failure—but I see no reason for anyone to bet on that. Also, while an orchestra does use a conductor, it can keep on playing without one—just not very well. And if making a government worse was a way to get rid of it—you’d be home by now.
Enough with these people. Obviously they are the drink in your orange drink. But did you buy that drink for the drink? Let’s take a look at the orange.
The fascist hooligan plot
Flipping over to the opposite page, we are confronted by quite a different picture:
The congressman’s involvement underlined how far the former president was willing to go to overturn the election, and Democratic lawmakers have begun calling for investigations into those efforts.
On this side of the page there is no planning, no coordination or even collaboration. There is only plotting. The Russell conjugation is in full effect.
Plotting seems to involve a much smaller number of people than planning. If you can get 900 people on a call, you can really plan. To put together a plot, you only need three—at least if one of them is the President, another is a Representative and the third is an (acting) assistant Attorney General. Let’s deconstruct:
Mr. Perry, an outspoken Pennsylvania Republican, played a significant role in the crisis that played out at the top of the Justice Department this month, when Mr. Trump considered firing the acting attorney general and backed down only after top department officials threatened to resign en masse.
It was Mr. Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who first made Mr. Trump aware that a relatively obscure Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of the civil division, was sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s view that the election had been stolen, according to former administration officials who spoke with Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump.
Mr. Perry introduced the president to Mr. Clark, whose openness to conspiracy theories about election fraud presented Mr. Trump with a welcome change from the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, who stood by the results of the election and had repeatedly resisted the president’s efforts to undo them.
Mr. Perry’s previously unreported role, and the quiet discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Clark that followed, underlined how much the former president was willing to use the government to subvert the election, turning to more junior and relatively unknown figures for help as ranking Republicans and cabinet members rebuffed him.
Our first critical impression is that, philologically speaking, our text is loaded for bear. “Subvert.” “Hard-line.” The good old “conspiracy theories.”
This is exactly the kind of wartime prose that so deeply affected Orwell. You can go back and read scads of this loaded language in any WWII reporting. It is an absolutely relentless pounding of aspersions, insinuations and connotations. Reading it upwind is like paddling out at Ocean Beach on a victory-at-sea day. Reading it downwind is your ride back in—bumpy as hell, and a hell of a ride.
Emotionally loaded language has a strong polarizing effect. Until you have mastered the fine art of political detachment, or time and space have given you an involuntary distance from the text, you cannot approach it crosswind. When you read this text, you are with it or against it. The artist’s power is such that while in the last story “brazen” became a compliment, here “outspoken” has somehow turned into an aspersion. Here is propaganda at a truly Olympic level. Though a bad thing, it is done brilliantly.
Pause for a moment to imagine to admire the cynical nature of this kind of reporting. It is all affect and no irony—it “lays it on” with the relentless patter of a 30-second TV spot for your local Kia truck dealer. Did you know Kia makes trucks? Big trucks! Tough trucks! Korean trucks! (Cut to tae kwon do—boards bursting in thin air—etc.)
How can anyone with a soul write this way? Everyone on the Times’ staff was one of the brightest kids in their high school—half were the coolest, most interesting. Where are their souls? Alas, they have no souls. What ate their souls? Power ate their souls. In a way, Tolkien, Lewis and Orwell are all saying the same thing.
Some more planning and plotting for you:
Jeffrey Clark Was Considered Unassuming. Then He Plotted With Trump.
Justice Department colleagues said they were shocked by Mr. Clark’s embrace of the president’s falsehoods and plan to oust the acting attorney general in an effort to overturn Georgia’s election results.
It was New Year’s Eve, but the Justice Department’s top leaders had little to celebrate as they discussed Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the civil division, who had repeatedly pushed them to help President Donald J. Trump undo his electoral loss.
Huddled in the department’s headquarters, they noted that they had rebuked him for secretly meeting with Mr. Trump, even as the department had rebuffed the president’s outlandish requests for court filings and special counsels, according to six people with knowledge of the meeting.
A six-person leak! That’s no leak—that’s a channel. And were they “huddled”… secretly? Also, since all Americans, despite our many differences, hold the rule of law sacred and all-powerful, DOJ has the right to rebuff the President’s requests. Because reasons. At least—if those requests are outlandish. (The semiotics of which word are interesting.)
Facts in the case
Literary criticism is fun, but needs a foundation of fact. What actually happened here? Clearly, something happened.
Nothing happened. Which is, as Sherlock Holmes observed, sometimes the point. But something did try to happen. If attempts were insignificant, attempted murder would not be a crime.
You can click on the Times article to read the prosecution. You can read a lawyer’s brief for the defense from the exquisitely capable lawyers at Powerline, which for 20 years has produced the best of mainstream conservatism. While free from the barbaric, Marat-like howls and slurs of the Times, it is a lawyer’s brief and must be read as such.
What happened is simple: Trump tried to be President. He tried to be President at the worst possible time, for the worst possible reason, in the worst possible way. Such is the nature of the man—such even is his luck. His luck was useless against such powers.
The normal presidency
A real President—a president-king like Washington, Lincoln or FDR—a President like the Founders intended, for who could tell them that their own initial implementation did not match their own architectural design—is the chief executive of the executive branch. Which is, basically, the government.
A chief executive is a common role. I myself have held the job, though never bigly. Then again, Trump never had it bigly—he funded and branded properties; he didn’t manage properties. It would be difficult to say which is a greater world of illusion: marketing or investing. The irony is that, as Mark Twain once pointed out, anyone who can run a hotel can do almost anything. But Trump never ran one single hotel.
When you are the chief executive of an organization, the organization is an extension of your will. There is no sense in which it has any right to disobey you—although if you misuse it, you may be held accountable. All efficient organizations work this way, unless their jobs (like law partners or college professors) are fundamentally individual.
The President can tell the government to do anything and the government has to do it. But he is still accountable—to two oversight committees: the voters, and the Senate. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an imperial Presidency. It is a normal Presidency—though not an average Presidency. No, we have not seen one lately.
It is normal in the sense of being normative: as the people who invented it designed it. We know what they meant because they ran the machine themselves for eight years. If you want a snapshot of real “original intent,” look at the Washington administration.
To the radical communist reporters of the NYT, the “Clark affair” was yet another attempted coup. To the fascist corporate lawyers of Powerline, it was a normal use of Presidential power. As usual, both sides are right and both sides are wrong.
Wie es eigentlich gewesen
Here is what happened—as I see it.
Trump wanted to use the DOJ to investigate the election. This Congressman from Pennsylvania introduced him to one of “his own” mid-level appointees at DOJ—a person he had never met or heard of, of course—a serious, if mildly eccentric, lawyer who believed he saw serious “red flags” in the election results.
Though only sharing this impression with the President and about 50 million fucking Americans, this fool, Clark, thought it might be worth shifting some of Washington’s proctological resources from teenage meme fedposters and garage-door ropes to those odd noises and smells coming from the polling booth—which might totally be nothing.
One of the more intriguing revelations in the story is the department’s “dozens of investigations of voter fraud nationwide.” Dozens! I’m sure these investigations existed—at a certain level. On the other hand, there are investigations and investigations— Midyear Exams and Crossfire Hurricanes. Power will always find a way.
And there are all these affidavits by crazy people who claim, under oath, that they saw aliens abduct the election. Crazy people tend to be garrulous, so you would think some of them would have mentioned their subsequent conversations with the blue jackets— the right-wing rumor mill being what it is. No one who knows DC can doubt that “dozens of investigations” could mean “dozens of phone calls”—to Captain Renault, asking whether any voter fraud is going on here. The Captain replies in the negative.
Trump talked to Clark and had a brilliant, Trumpian idea: he would make this asshole attorney general. His new AG could then order his DOJ to investigate the election. He had a meeting to suggest this. All his other appointees threatened to quit (the much-caricatured Barr, who actually understood the system, but being a boomer wanted to repair it rather than destroy it, having already ducked out); and, like the raisin-balled coward he is, Trump backed down. That was his last Hail Mary and it wasn’t even near a receiver. You can love your team, as I love Trump America, with a passion most Americans reserve for college football, and still think it needs a new quarterback.
On the one hand, what Trump tried to do was completely illegitimate. On the other hand, what Trump tried to do was completely legal—or at least, constitutional. In a democratic analysis, it was heroic. In an oligarchic analysis, it was sordid.
What was it? It was sordid and heroic, legal and illegitimate. Few natural experiments indeed have the energy to illustrate this profound duality. In the end, America is an oligarchy, not a democracy—so it was sordid and illegitimate. But now we know it. We should not forget what the X-ray showed us, though we will. But you don’t have to.
Heroic, you may ask? Do you watch… movies? Have you ever seen the story of one or two or even three people, standing up for what’s right against some huge, faceless Moloch of an institution? Why—ten or twenty times a year, you say?
And in these conflicts—the bad guys, if it’s a good movie, are realistic. That means you can empathize with them. What exactly do you think they’re thinking over there at the Moloch Fund, the Moloch Department, Moloch Academy or the Moloch Foundation? They are people too, you know—not computer-generated.
Let’s paint the situation through the people and structures involved:
The (acting) assistant attorney general
There was some middle-aged Federalist Society law nerd, this Clark guy, a “rumpled, thoughtful lawyer who is an intellectual,” who got hooked up with some low-level DOJ appointment in the Bush administration, and later a somewhat higher level one in the Trump administration—both in totally technical, nonpolitical areas.
We know almost nothing about this person besides the positions he’s held. But that list tells us a lot. (He fucked with the bull, got a horn in the ass, and will never hold another—inside or outside government. Maybe he should start a Substack—if he can.)
What were these jobs exactly? These “schedule C” or “Plum Book” appointments, like all jobs in an oligarchy but more so, are passed around as party favors among cool people who are connected. Of course you have to actually be qualified for the job.
However, the job is a “job”—the career staff do not rely on you to actually do anything. In some cases you will be used as a decision oracle—resolving exceptions or conflicts kicked up from a lower level. You are not in any sense a manager—in the sense that you could tell your employees to do whatever you feel will help you achieve your goals.
You have no budget or personnel authority. Your staff, like you, operate according to process and not mission; they are not given resources and ordered to solve a problem with them; rather, they have standard procedures to execute properly and correctly.
The point of this automatism is to eliminate power from government—which must be made totally scientific, mechanical and inhuman. While this goal has a kind of sense and beauty to it—I can see why people find it cool—it is impossible. The appeal to science, especially, is not scientific but scientistic—a rotten parody of the real thing.
Where formal power—the right of hierarchical command—is banned, power becomes informal. These rigid processes always bend; there are always cracks between them; real power bends the processes and flows between the cracks. The human will always triumph over the algorithm. On paper, a bureaucracy has so many rules that you would think power could never survive. But there it is, in the cracks between the rules.
Power’s only enemy is power; power loves invisibility. Power does not decline in these robotic bureaucracies; it flourishes. Power is not in the open, but is exercised by, in a phrase I once stole from a professor who was using it sincerely, “manipulating procedural outcomes.” In the end, the function of process is to destroy transparency.
But the pyramidal shape of a command organization remains useful and is retained, for two reasons. First: the hierarchy preserves the illusion of command. Second: the hierarchy is itself a process for handling exceptions.
You don’t know what to do, so you call your “manager.” If you had no way to kick unanticipated problems upstairs, you would have to take responsibility for them yourself. Individual responsibility for decisions is anathema to bureaucrats—who cease to advance in rank once their personnel file is anything less than spotless. Any kind of accountability is toxic waste which must be vented to deep ocean trenches.
Although European democracies—in which the permanent bureaucrats go almost all the way to the top—do not have this “Plum Book” layer of political appointees, which they must see as some weird cowboy remnant of the age of Lincoln and his plague of “office-seekers,” yet are governed the same if not better, it serves a purpose for us.
First, this corrupt favor-trading network helps keep our politics juicy and interesting. Politics in the early 21st century, at the tail end of the democratic period, needs all the flavorful juices it can get.
But second, and more important, it provides an accountability sink. The main purpose of political appointees is a place to dump decisions and the responsibility for them.
No one in DC wants to personally make decisions—the downside is always greater than the upside—and no one wants to let anyone else make decisions, which would mean only that person mattered.
The “sched C”s are temporary—disposable humans. The perfect wipes. There is some danger that they will make the wrong decisions, but not too much.
First, it’s easy to signal clearly to them what the right decision is, without taking any responsibility for it. Second, one of the reasons they sought the appointment was that the connections they will create in these positions will be of lasting professional value. But if all they get is a rep as not a team player, the appointment may have negative value.
The function of political appointees is completely different between Democratic and Republican administrations. In a Republican administration, the incentive is to act as radical as necessary to get the job, then be a good boy once you have it—since all the career staff are, of course, Democrats. In a Democratic administration, the incentive is to serve as the machine’s moderate brake on the radical zealots in the agency—since those who picked you need to make sure the agency does not go too far, and frighten the horses—who may be farm animals, even fascist peasant animals, but do still vote.
The poor Congressman, who got both barrels of the headline’s shotgun, did nothing. Dude just made an intro. Then he made a good target—so he got a faceful of press.
So it is not really three men against Moloch—just two. Exactly two. All the faces are on them, citizens. The faces are on the third as well—but he is not really in the movie. Or was the coup his idea? Perhaps—but the plot doesn’t need him. Let’s write him out.
The president in his labyrinth
Did Trump ever know he was not a real President? Does he know now? Did his time in the White House teach him anything? Let’s go back to the tape:
Department officials were startled to learn that the president had called Mr. Clark directly on multiple occasions and that the two had met in person without alerting Mr. Rosen, those officials said.
Justice Department policy stipulates that the president initially communicates with the attorney general or the deputy attorney general on all matters, and then a lower-level official if authorized.
Imagine running, like, a company this way. “If authorized.” You also have to admire the sheer chutzpah of “Justice Department policy stipulates that.” My daughter also has a “policy” which “stipulates” when her parents can come into her room—”if authorized.” Indeed if we let her treat us the way “Trump’s” DOJ handled their “chief executive,” she’d convince her doctor to prescribe her ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner—and her lawyer to sue us for child abuse, the first time the scoops were too small.
This method of turning a purported executive into a ceremonial figure, by embedding him in a web of ritual and process, and forbidding any sort of deviation or initiative, is not a 20th-century invention. It is exactly like something out of the later Ming dynasty, involving eunuchs—and, in a way, proof by construction of the Donald’s raisin-balls. Had he been a full man, he had not been smothered by the soft hands of these castrati. Historians will have to grope their way to evidentiary confirmation of this hypothesis.
But Trump, though not a man, was still an animal. A neutered lion (what does it say about Republicans that their last two presidents were nondrinkers?), but still a lion. He was no Bush or Romney. He was not even a Reagan. Like Nixon he could never be happy in his cage. Unlike Nixon, who was smart, and also had the kind of wisdom that God reserves for his kings who can polish off a fifth, he never really knew he was in it. And Nixon was a man; but even Nixon proved too weak. But like Nixon, Trump would pace his perimeter, howling and roaring horribly—Nixon on tape, Trump on Twitter.
There was no chance the lion would break loose; but, down to the very last minute, he was a master of convincing his audience that he was just about to—that he could; that his patience was great; that he was monitoring the situation… and in the end he tried, sort of. And it was retarded—the
The best con artists are not sociopaths. They are not faking it; they are convincing themselves first. They are monetizing their own gullibility.
Of course, Trump had a lot of help. How is a fake monarch persuaded of his own importance? One of the most effective ways is ritual. This is why Presidents spend so much of their day in glad-handing, ceremonies and photo-ops—which no reasonable person would expect to consume an instant of the most valuable calendar in the world. What percentage of his day do you think Mark Zuckerberg spends on photo-ops?
When you are literally the center of a ritual, it is impossible not to perceive yourself as importance. One of the most characteristic mistakes of our era is to mistake power for other things, and other things for power. The two commodities most often mistaken for power are money and attention. It is a decent prediction that the more ceremony surrounds a purported monarch, the more likely it is that he is a ceremonial monarch.
This ceremonialization does not stop at the top. For whatever reason, Trump’s outgoing (acting) Secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller, and his former Devin Nunes aide Kash Patel, let a journalist follow them around for a week—remarkable, since Patel (whom you can see in Amanda Milius’ excellent film) was essentially the Deep State’s public enemy #1.
And what are Miller and Patel doing? Are they plotting some last-minute irreversible stroke of bureaucratic genius, like going full Saigon 1974 in Afghanistan? Furiously declassifying reams of embarrassing documents? No—they are investing their once-in-a-lifetime January, their precious January that will never come again, in—ritual:
We stopped in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, home to the Y-12 National Security Complex, a sprawling site that has been nicknamed the Secret City. Wearing Geiger counters to gauge their radiation exposure, Miller, Patel, and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette visited a building where nuclear weapon components are assembled and disassembled. The stated purpose for the visit: to assess the viability of America’s nuclear arsenal.
“Yup—looks viable.” This is not power—it is power theater. Two weeks from death, the Trump administration was still grimly grinding out its photo-ops—like Hitler handing out last-minute Iron Crosses. Even for the great enemies of the Deep State, ceremony was king; and ceremony could not wait.
Such a far cry from the fevered fantasies of Q! But let’s face it: Q was an optimist. The number of reasons the Trump administration, far from draining the swamp, barely got its feet wet, is too long to list. It never knew what that dream would even start to mean—and the same for “making America great again.”
The end of dreams
And yet the Trump administration was good for the country, I feel. If the dreamworld of Trump was only a dream, it was at least a good dream; and at least we dreamed it.
Who can really be against making their own country great again? Who is such a churl? Who, sold on wetlands—on their rich diversity of insect and reptilian life—would turn their own garden into a swamp? Then why not a swamp into a garden? C’mon, man.
Some would ask us to judge dreams not by their beauty, but by their real results. They have a point. Before throwing stones they should take a closer look at their own walls. Tip for homebuyers and stone-throwers: if you can see through it, it may not be brick.
The truth is not just that American politics is a dream, but that it was always a dream. Not just since the founding of the United States, but since well before it, the reality of government and the public narrative of democracy have always been deeply divergent. The voters have never been in touch with anything like the reality of power.
What is happening, both on the right and the left, is not that the dream is diverging from reality. It is just the opposite. The dream is converging with reality. The rings that hold the two apart are wearing out. The piston is making contact with the cylinder— which is why you’re getting all that engine noise.
When a dream makes contact with reality, most of the damage is taken by the dream. At the start of the administration, some Republicans believed in Trump’s dream, or at least the dream Trump was selling; some believed in the old dream, Paul Ryan’s dream.
Right away, Trump crashed these dreams into each other. The old Republican dream was rekt—this bowtie golf stuff could never compete with Trump’s Bane-flavored inauguration speech. But the avant-garde base, who sat bolt upright and pointed at the screen like Leonardo DiCaprio when Trump said “give it back to you… the people,” got smashed flat as a pancake on Thorazine when Trump gave it back to… Paul Ryan.
Even until January 6th, the avant-garde dream was battered but dreamable. But on that day it was not just QAnon that was broken, but the even broader dream of what we might call “QAnon lite”—the belief that Trump somehow genuinely wanted, intended, planned, or even knew what it would have meant to take control of the executive branch.
I just asked a friend, who might even have known, whether the Bane reference was intentional. He replied: “nothing cool was intentional.” Of course not. Trump was a boomer, in the end; to the end, he was sailing along in his private bubble of the 1980s.
They had him completely convinced he was the real President—and the voters who elected him completely convinced that they were real voters. He was the orange. They were going to drink the orange juice. They got—four years of orange drink.
Finally, at the last minute, he realized that he was completely alone, and no one around him was working for him. His “lawyer” was not even his lawyer. As for his voters, they realized that there are no rules anymore—at least, no rules that protect their kind.
And for the first time—not in the dream world, but the real world—they both tried to act. Both these actions had the same character. They were actions in reality, outside the dream; but in planning and conception, they were devised as if the dream was real.
Trump tried to be the chief executive of the “executive branch.” His demonstrators tried to give the American regime a dose of its own “people power.” It turned out that the “executive branch” is really the legislative branch, that a Republican in the White House is as relevant as tits on a boar hog, and “people power” is just an excuse for the State Department to destabilize regimes it doesn’t like. It does like ours—so no dice.
Because such actions were not planned in reality, but in their own dreamworlds, they were hilarious and catastrophic failures. But we have a term for the collision of reality with a dream, after which the dream explodes and cannot be restored: waking up.
A natural experiment, at its best—and covid was also a natural experiment, of course— generates data that can never be destroyed. It makes a noise that cannot be unheard. It is exactly this sort of surprise that your subconscious is listening for while you sleep—in case a leopard has come into the cave.
So you woke up. But what is going on the cave? And will you just go back to sleep? You might—but not by resuming your dream. You can’t pause a dream. This is the favor that Trump, for all his faults, has done for his country: he woke the place up. Whatever we should be doing next, are you sure we didn’t need that?
The dream of the right
When we wake up after a dream, we experience the dream as a memory. We test this memory to see if it happened—and conclude that it did not.
The dream soon becomes hard to remember—as the Cold War is hard to remember. Did we really do duck-and-cover drills, in the early 80s? Or was it before my time? I can’t even remember. I could google it.
What are Republicans supposed to believe in now? It is too cheap to say they will go back to bowtie conservatism. Bowtie conservatism has lost the voter’s confidence, because the voter has tasted a deeper, more flavorful conservatism. If the only legal beer is light beer, everyone will drink light beer. As soon as the beer laws are relaxed and you can get a decent IPA, light beer becomes a niche product.
Then we discovered that real beer gives you cancer. And bourbon will just kill you. And light beer is just a diluted version of real beer, so it probably gives you cancer too. In any case, Congress is banning alcohol. We’ll need another way to get wasted. Glue? Every party has bad years—the GOP picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue.
The whole Republican spectrum is a dream we are rapidly forgetting. From bearded musket larpers on the right end, to gay oil-and-gas lobbyists on the left, it is all fake. None of it has any positive agenda, any plan, any goal, that stands the new light of day. The only available dreams are either disproven or diluted. Who wants to try the same fantasy again, and get the same result? Who would rather pretend, and get no result?
The dream of the left
The absolute worst kind of hangover is when you got so drunk, you wake up and you’re still drunk. Leftists must feel like that now—the Trump administration was one long wild party for the American left. Maybe impeachment will be a nice hair-of-the-dog. But no New Jersey wine aunt will ever again feel like she’s in the French Resistance. The party, like the dream, is never the same in the morning.
The next four years will be a kind of midlife crisis for the American left, in which it realizes that it isn’t young anymore. There will never again be a rebellious left. The left is married to power—the left has a wife, a house, a mortgage, two cars, a kid and a dog. The left is rich. The left is old. And the left is boring.
And yet the left in its own mind is still Luke Skywalker and his friends—a ragtag band of madcap heroes, going up against a vast and faceless empire. And yet we just saw which side is the ragtag band, and which has Zoom calls as big as the Galactic Senate.
The mindset of being consciously in power, of accepting Virgil’s burden of giving the law, of cheering your Cossacks when they charge a hooligan peasant mob at full gallop, then mercilessly beat those yokels with the heavy leather knout—this is an unfamiliar new situation for the American left, which is not used to its brand-new red lightsaber.
Not that the left hasn’t been in power for the lives of all now living. It has been. But for that whole time till now, it has succeeded brilliantly in pretending to be the underdog. Thanks to Trump, and to its response to Trump, this charade seems no longer viable. And it has always underpinned so much of the left’s appeal.
Now, the left will have to adopt the mindset of a party of power—the mindset of every party of power, for this mindset is always the same. Power is good, and the headrush of incoming power will keep everyone stimulated for a good solid while. Once it peaks and goes stale—all you have is this grim, grimy, anal and paranoid delatocracy.
At this point the System is still strong—but only physically strong. It has lost every trace of spiritual sap. Its phloem is dry as a bone. It’s as thrilling as Christian Science. No one can say how long its husk will persist; but it is dead, and cannot grow back.