Epitaph for pure wind
The grand finale of the Trump administration recapitulates four years in one day.
Today, as a last, doomed gasp of democratic resistance to the System regime, a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters, demonstrating against the latest ‘election’ mysteriously won by the usual avalanche of late votes from System-controlled districts, brushed aside a thin line of security police, and peacefully occupied their own Capitol building.
Within hours, they were driven out savagely by the special strike squads. One unarmed young woman, name still unknown, was slain in cold blood by a plainclothes agent. Tonight, all patriotic Americans will light a candle in her sacred memory, and pray for their dying nation…
Everything in this piece of propaganda is arguably true—though not obviously true. Yet you can go to any outlet in the country and read the exact opposite—with no less cunning elocution. And with plenty of relevant context quite absent from the above.
Some of the “peaceful protesters” were packing. The deceased woman was part of a small group trying to break into one of the chambers. Terrified Congresspersons, many of whom are octogenarians with Alzheimer’s and/or syphilis, were still within. The police were not exactly “brushed” aside. Etc, etc, etc. Of course, these takes are completely unemotional and objective and do not fail to mention any relevant context.
Quite coincidentally, just five days ago, George Orwell’s early death brought his books into the public domain. Orwell, in his most famous essay, wrote:
One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.
If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.
Political language—and with variations, this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Pure wind. Some readers may know the medieval logic-twister of the irresistible force against the immovable object. Today’s conflict is just the opposite: the negligible force against the insubstantial object.
Any force more significant than Trump goes through the System like a knife through hot butter. Any power more substantial than the System doesn’t even notice Trump.
In short: they are both made of pure wind. This “civil war” is dream against dream. I hate Marx—Marx was a shit—but if the only six words he ever wrote were “first as tragedy, then as farce,” his name would still be immortal.
Imagine storming the Capital of the United States as the government of the country literally fucking flees and then just wandering around the building confused about why the level isn’t ending instead of declaring a new government and issuing warrants for congressmen’s arrest
If you yourself, dear reader, were wondering why this didn’t happen—you definitely need to read the rest of this essay. “Wandering around the building, confused about why the level isn’t ending” is the most perfect definition of the Trump administration. There are certainly a lot of people who thought of Trumpism as essentially a quest.
Actually, only one thing happened today. Someone got shot. I don’t like that. It does happen a lot, though. Also, the stock market was up—in dollars, but not in Bitcoin. As for everything else: it was made of pure wind. You can tell by how it moves its tongue.
Recently I explained why we haven’t all been vaccinated yet: because Hippocrates was biased. He had a conflict of interest. Besides looking after his patient, the great doctor was looking after himself.
To the patient, harm by action and inaction are equal risks. But to the doctor, harm by action is a much, much greater risk—whether your patient or his family are violent, litigious or both. You don’t need no law degree to see the conflict of interest, and “the Hippo” himself learned it the hard way on the hard streets of Ephesus.
Unfortunately, the same is true of pundits. While leftist and rightist pundits can get along surprisingly well—sometimes, before Covid, they would even drink with each other—there is only one idea that will get a dirty look from the whole table: the idea that punditry itself is, or still worse should be, irrelevant.
But how could, in such an important conflict, so pivotal to American history, the task of influencing public opinion, so critical in our democratic system of government, be irrelevant? Only if—the entire conflict was exactly a case of dream against dream. Both sides are on the same side in a sense—they are both selling the same dream.
What we see in these sad cases of dream-on-dream crime is that both sides take the same dream just as seriously. The QAnon Viking at the Senate podium thinks he is genuinely trying to seize power. And the CNN reporter covering him agrees. In propagating this extraordinary popular delusion, which of them is more to blame?
I mean—if you sneak into the Vatican at night, and sit on the papal throne, are you truly gunning to be anointed the next heir to St. Peter? Once you get past the Swiss Guards, does that make you, like, ready to start picking out your Pope name? What?
It is clear that in some sense both sides of the dream felt they were looking at the new storming of the Bastille—or at best, some fake, American-instigated “people power” Second World revolution from the ‘90s.
Anyone under this impression will enjoy the Bastille story, with special attention to the fate of de Launay. Even Qaddafi had good reason to stay out of the way of the mob—but imagine QAnon fans, even full-on Proud Boys, catching a Democratic Senator in the executive bathroom and handling him like Qaddafi in that culvert. Tragedy does not repeat as tragedy, ever—they’d probably end up getting that Senator’s autograph. That this is too pathetic to believe does not make it untrue.
Fishing in the Rubicon: the dream of the right
Obviously there are plenty of right-wingers who sincerely believe in an election protest, even an election coup. Never pick on anyone to your right—ten mitarbeitern to your left have already done the job for you. Do you want to be mistaken for them?
But it is important to note the great service that the Viking captivity of the Senate, brief though it was, rendered to the American right. It brutally and (crossed fingers) definitively displayed the inadequacy of the strategy that, long ago, Ernst von Salomon called “fishing in the Rubicon.”
Fishing in the Rubicon was the Trump marketing strategy. There are plenty of fish in that river; and big, spicy fish they are. But the strategy must be masterfully calibrated; you have to hint to your supporters that you are really about to cross the Rubicon, while making it clear to your coworkers that you would never consider such a thing—what a ridiculous and absurd idea!
But the saga of Harald Hardrada and his merry men screwed both these cons forever. The Rubicon now has a brand new “No Fishing—Radiation” sign posted on its bank.
On the side of the base—who doubtless expected Trump himself to hear the news, react with joy, and make his imperial tour of the occupied Capitol, with his motorcade and a posse of radicalized US Marshals—maybe in a big leather trenchcoat, like Hitler at the Eiffel Tower—there must have been dismay to see the instant, total submission of Trump and all his family to the universal condemnation of this terrible violence.
What? But he was supposed to be /ourguy/? Hey autists: this old fat fuck was running cons when you were sucking your mother’s dick. On people with real social skills, too. Only autists think they can’t be conned—some are right, but not enough.
Whereas to Trump’s coworkers in DC, who had to actually put up with him for four years in order to protect the hilarious, rotting pretense that the country is actually a democracy, it suddenly became clear that a President who fishes in the Rubicon is not at all acceptable—because if he fishes in it, Hägar the Horrible there is going to cross it. And apparently the stream is really not that deep…
We can only hope that “fishing in the Rubicon,” which used to get big spicy votes, and which was once barely tolerated by an amused Washington, has lost both its public appeal and its professional immunity. As von Solomon said: “nothing is worse than the kind of German general who marches up to the Rubicon, then sits down to fish.”
The end was quick and grim. Trump even recorded a surrender video—which was judged insufficiently obsequious, and censored. Then his whole account was blocked by Twitter. Sad! Then, late at night, he surrendered the Presidency itself. Perhaps in a week or two he will flee the White House in Melania’s clothes, like Jefferson Davis. (Editor’s note: this is a historical urban legend.)
Defending the Bastille: the dream of the left
My favorite person to pick on is my fellow computer scientist, Scott Aaronson. Scott has the following fine qualities: he is a world-class intellect; he is completely honest; though eloquent, he is not a journalist; and he cannot be described as a coward. (I never put my name on open letters, obviously—but at least it would be at the bottom.) Scott therefore can stand as a steelman symbol of the intellectual prisoner of power.
But crucially, if a few individuals—Pence, McConnell, various White House staffers—who’d cravenly abetted Trump for years, hadn’t suddenly turned around today and decided they’d had enough, the insurrection would probably have succeeded. To anyone with any sense of history, this is terrifying shit, and next time we need not be so lucky.
To be brutally frank, this is one of the problems with cheap history. People think they have a sense of history, when the oldest book they’ve read is something published in 2017 that explains the Byzantine Empire in terms of “Game of Thrones.” Maybe we need to ban the History Channel, until we can figure out what’s going on.
Yes—to both sides of the dream, the Viking conquest of the Capitol, so reminiscent of Brennus and his Gauls, was a realistic threat to the United States Government. The Viking thought he was doing something real. So did CNN, and so does Scott.
Would probably is a little strong, even for me. A fortiori, let’s scale back Scott’s assertion to: the revolution could have succeeded. (Besides the direction of the wind, revolution and insurrection are synonyms—especially when both are made of pure wind. If they made Star Wars now, Grand Moff Tarkin would refuse to say rebel—only terrorist, or possibly even Jedi supremist.)
Scott, probably subconsciously as he is a deeply honest person, cannot quite think this is so; so he mixes “Occupy Rotunda” with the various procedural attempts to contest the election through legal procedures—all of which were going, or rather failing to go, through completely legal channels.
(Apparently due process of law is bad—which is not to say that there is any compelling evidence of any due process of law. Unless “due” means “perfunctory.”)
Of course the process is not of law but politics. There is no such thing as law, only power. Once the Supreme Court, packed with Trump appointees, refused to consider Trump’s case, power had given him a gentle, American version of Qaddafi’s finale. At that point he perhaps should have folded his tent.
In theory, the Court is responsible to no one, so in theory the Republican Court could easily declare that Trump actually won the election and is President. Or President for Life, or God-Emperor—what’s the difference? In that sense, Scott is right and “a few individuals” could validate the revolution.
On the other hand… empirically, those particular individuals seem pretty well under control. We don’t have to understand why, and it’s probably nothing super weird. As for the people Scott mentioned… to see them as Trumpist coupsters, even potentially, is hilarious, and only underscores his distance from the subject of his thesis.
But let us get back to the question of treating the Capitol mob as a serious political player. It is true that there are several differences from the regrettable incident at the Bastille—notably, nobody’s head was ripped off and paraded around town on a stick. But the Bastille (and its various remakes) are what both dreams are LARPing—so let’s understand why the Bastille thing actually worked.
The active ingredient was not the venom and brutality of the mob. It was the failure of Louis XVI to use the army without restraint against the mob—both during and after the Bastille—as his ancestors no doubt would have. Sadly, the King was under the spell of enlightened English constitutionalism—he was, as a Proud Boy would say, a cuck.
As any peaceful protester still in DC tonight is no doubt aware, there is absolutely no difficulty in using any level of the American security forces against the barbarians—regardless of the ideology of said security forces. Thus dies another right-wing myth: the idea of sworn security forces disobeying orders because Ron Paul Revolution, or something. To be fair, all these myths are popular because such attitudes once were real—like, a century or two ago. (This is why we call it LARPing.)
But let us set this all aside. Let us suppose that the Capitol had been stormed by some crack squad of SEAL supersoldiers, who had set about fortifying it. Let us suppose that all the gelatinous DC lifers Scott mentions were in fact bold, energetic and spiny, and encouraged Trump in his plan to join the revolution, abandoning the White House itself (where the supposed President-elect will be held under close arrest, while the election is fully audited), sending texts to all US Marshals that simply read “A Moi,” and setting up his new unified regime in the Rotunda where his imperial audiences, executions, etc, will be held.
Would this constitute a successful insurrection—by Scott’s definition? By any sensible definition? By Scott’s definition, we sense, it would. By a sensible decision, it is quite ridiculous—one building defended by a few bearded, rifle-toting randos, against the most powerful power in the world. It is many orders of magnitude from actual success.
A better way to utter this critique—which applies to both variants of the Trump coup, Bastille or Supreme Court—is that no Trump coup can succeed, since no two Trump supporters share any common or coherent definition of success. They have no map, plan, destination or even organization.
Since they were only fishing in the Rubicon, not making any kind of practical plan to actually cross it, if they accidentally do cross it—they are lost. They will just wander around in the endless fields of Chianti, “wondering why the level isn’t ending,” until some Roman asswipe finds them and kills them with a spear.
They certainly will not “declare a new government.” How? What government would that be? After Trump sets up his new basilica in the Rotunda, what is his next step? Even if the Supreme Court steals the election back for him—if he thought he was at war with Washington in his previous term, how about now?
And if he actually takes power by force, on the back of this mob—what exactly goes on in that Rotunda? What is his next step? What would he do tomorrow? Next week? Next month?
The dream of the left is that the right is as good as them. That it has an idea, a plan, a cadre, an organization lusting for power like a running back for yards, ready to plunge with all its power into any hole and take it all the way to the goal line.
This dream too, for anyone with eyes to see, has been shattered—for all those eyes see is this ridiculous shambles of a mob, not any kind of organized power, not anything which in any conceivable sense could succeed even in becoming a regime.
The right’s fever dream has emerged into cold day; and been evaporated by it; but in this emergence it has dragged the left’s dream into the same cold day. That old dream is a much bigger dream; but it needs an enemy.
Today it had one—which it used up. Tonight it is still basking in the warm glow of that fire. Now it can look forward to a cold, dry four years—from the standpoint of media revenue, at least. Good luck with that!
Also, a woman was killed—executed, basically, in fact. She was committing a crime, and deserved it. Law and order matters. We have always been at war with Eastasia.