Reflections on the late election
President-elect Biden is a Machiavellian's dream—especially the way it happened.
Though I did not put this in writing, not from responsibility but just out of cowardice, I did go around telling people IRL that my preferred outcome was “it looks like Trump wins, then it looks like Biden steals it from him.”
Some mistook this for an “accelerationist” stance. It was only Machiavellian. I would also tell Trumpists that I was “so pro-Trump, I wrap all the way around to pro-Biden.” This did not raise many hackles and was also quite true.
In any case I am delighted to hail, perhaps prematurely but I doubt it, the election of this elder statesman, this American Nestor, always a bridesmaid and now a bride, “China” Joe Biden. If the big guy ever needs to pull an Augustus, he knows who to call.
(President-elect Biden has in fact kissed my own mother, not in a sexual way I think. My stepfather, a former Biden staffer from the ‘80s, is a gentleman of honor. So I hear only good things about America’s new cynosure. His teeth sure are looking great.)
Elections have consequences
It is useless to speculate on the details of a Philadelphia election. One need only say the words, “Philadelphia election,” and anyone on or near the grave of Mark Twain will experience a little earthquake. Has Philadelphia ever had a free and fair election? (This country, for what it is, takes itself too seriously. Have you ever considered the possibility that America has always been a joke? I’m sure most historians have.)
The fundamental purpose of a democratic election is to test the strength of the sides in a civil conflict, without anyone actually getting hurt. The majority wins because the strongest side would win. Better to measure that by counting heads, than knocking heads; and counting heads produces a reasonable guess as to who would win a head-knocking contest. Same outcome, fewer concussions: a Pareto optimization.
But this guess is much better if it actually measures humans who are both willing and able to walk down the street and show up. Anyone who cannot show up at the booth is unlikely to show up for the civil war. This is one of many reasons that an in-person election is a more accurate election. (If voters could be qualified by physique, it would be even more accurate.)
My sense is that in many urban communities, voting by proxy in some sense is the norm. The people whose names are on the ballots really exist; and almost all of them actually did support China Joe. Or at least, preferred him. The extent to which they perform any tangible political action, including physically going to the booth, is very low; so is their engagement with the political system. They do not watch much CNN. The demand for records of their engagement is very high, because each such datum cancels out some huge, heavily-armed redneck with a bass boat. This is why, in the data, these cities look politics-obsessed, but photos of the polling places look empty. Most votes from these communities are in some sense “organized.”
Whether or not such a design constitutes “fraud” is the judge’s de gustibus. That is really no concern of ours. All we need to know is that whatever incubus sparked the divine wind that early on that dark, fateful morning struck so many swing cities, first pausing the dutiful clerks, then lifting up China Joe like Bilbo saved by the eagles, the noble and venerable American judiciary seems unlikely to want to look closely at it.
On behalf of the short-fingered vulgarian? In just a couple of months, he will be on the phone with his lawyers. For the rest of his life. No one will ever forget what he did here. No one will ever forget anyone who even tried to work with him. If someone shot him on Fifth Avenue, they’d get a ticket for unlawful discharge of a firearm. And when he does go to jail, it will not be for being strong, but for being weak.
Does he have an alternative? Sure. But he’s not going to like it. Nor will most people.
The irrational fear of power
Progressives see power as an end; conservatives see power as a means to an end. As soon as conservatives get even a sliver of power, they start trying to use this power to create good outcomes. This is irrational.
The rational way to use power is the progressive way: to make more power. Your power grows exponentially. Eventually you have all the power, and can get all the outcomes you want.
There is not one progressive idea which does not yield a power dividend. I cannot think of a conservative idea that does. If one did, the progressives would steal it. Then the conservatives would persuade themselves to oppose it, and all would be well.
This is not a coincidence. The great flaw of the American right is that, besides not being able to get any real power, they do not want any real power, and have no idea what they would do with any real power.
As I write, the path remains entirely open for Republicans, if they can operate as a coherent unit, to take all the power they want. They cannot, and they will not. Their fault is not in their stars, but themselves.
How? Simple: they just need to legally assume absolute power, then use it absolutely. This would have been literally trivial four years ago, when Republicans controlled all three constitutional branches. Now it would take a constitutional hack to even get the Presidency back, and a couple more to reach real power. Let’s walk through the steps. (Content warning: this “very legal coup” will not actually happen.)
A very legal coup
First, Republican state legislators would have to declare the ballots flawed and seat their own electors, effectively stealing the election back. They could do this trivially, legally, today. They could call it the “Very Cool And Very Legal Act” (VCAVLA).
Second, to govern unilaterally without the Congress, the President would have to assert his unconditional constitutional authority over the executive branch. This is clearly stated in Article II: again, very cool and very legal. As for the so-called “power of the purse,” it doesn’t mean much against the power of the Fed. Since the Federal Reserve is part of the executive branch, who needs a Congressional appropriation? Lol owned.
Third, lacking a perfectly loyal Supreme Court, the President would have to point out the fallacious, ahistorical and illogical quality of Marbury v. Madison, and assert the independent and coequal status of the executive branch. Judicial supremacy is a completely apocryphal invention of Justice Marshall, created for his own random political reasons. Very cool. And very illegal, so screw that guy.
The President is always happy to hear the resolutions and opinions of the other two branches. Under normal circumstances, he would obey them unquestionably. Really. He would. But you know how it is. For the unavoidable use of his personal judgment in our present state of emergency, he is responsible to one party: the American people. He thanks you, though, for your concern.
Fourth, using the same very cool legal authority as Eisenhower in 1957, he has called out the National Guard and will be using it to govern the several states directly. He also observes that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which has a very cool name but is frankly a major pain in the ass, does not apply to the Marines.
At this point the President has taken full and absolute personal power for the length of his second term. Perfectly in compliance with every last letter of the highest law of the land, he has gone from abject defeat to absolute victory. Indeed his new powers exceed even those claimed by Washington, Lincoln, or FDR. If you thought his first term made America great, I hope you’re wearing your seatbelt.
Because, fifth, no power is real until exercised. Power is a muscle. The use of power builds strong institutions. And there is an obvious target for power: the muscle of the old regime. The new regime’s fifth step is to liquidate the powerful, prestigious, and/or wealthy institutions of the old regime, inside and outside the formal government.
Stripping all the dead muscle of the dead regime is the first task of any new regime. Only once all the old power structures are lustrated and debrided is the new regime real, the old regime imaginary, and the entire transition complete. Not only is a revolution very cool, everything it does is very legal—by definition. After all, it is writing the new laws! And didn’t Lincoln padlock newspapers? Lincoln was dope.
Of course, liquidating organizations does not mean liquidating people, like Stalin—it’s just like a company going out of business. The departing staff may even deserve a generous severance. After all, they didn’t actually do anything wrong. And even if they did, there are still Stasi agents getting pensions. It’s the right thing to do, since their old careers have left them professionally useless. It is never, ever, the employees’ fault.
Sixth, though, it is not enough for any new regime to be a mere negation of the old. Any such regime exists within its parent’s conceptual shadow, which means its parent is in a way still in charge. And will probably end up actually back in charge. Weakness and smallness of any kind are no good signs in the infancy of any regime.
Rather, any new regime needs a completely different vision of the country it will rule. A true regime change has to change the life of everyone in the country. A true regime change must be a revolution in every sense of the word. Its purpose, now and for the rest of its life, which will probably end but which certainly never plans for any end, is to achieve and maintain its singular vision of utopia.
And the revolution, since it is sovereign, has all the powers it needs to do so—so long as that utopia is realistic. Of course, since the right is order and the left is chaos, the left-wing revolution is a butcher and the right-wing revolution is a surgeon. If ours needs to keep its bandages on for a few days, theirs can barely be sold as hamburger. And even before her stitches are out, America feels and looks better than ever.
And before you know it, an election dispute has terminated a historical period that was a quarter-millennium old. Well, no empire is forever—and ditto for republics. And our new empire of the future just keeps getting more amazing.
Why this won’t happen
At which step did you start wondering whether you were tall enough for this ride? Don’t worry. Ain’t no one tall enough for this ride. So it can’t happen. Well, at least, not this time.
There is a minority of radical right-wing firebrands, nowhere in control of anything, even in the godforsaken Republican Party, who well might concur with the first step. Perhaps they could take that step—cross that Rubicon—and look around to see how it’s received? Or maybe just stop there, and have, like, a normal Presidency? Yeah, no. To execute this plan or any plan like it, the President would have to keep moving.
All regime changes must proceed as rapidly as possible, lest remaining elements of the old regime mobilize their remaining forces. The sixth step could take some time—but even the reconstruction of society should start as quickly as possible. Any vacuum of power is dangerous. No regime is ever totally eradicated, especially when you rule out actually punishing its former staff and supporters.
So it is not just that, for President Trump to keep his job (and probably his freedom), he would have to cross the Rubicon. He would have to cross five Rubicons, and do it without stopping. He also does not have (a) a map; (b) an army; or (c), of course, a general.
And once he pauses at one of these streams, he is at war with a recovering enemy. The slower he moves, the harder he needs to fight. If he thought he was at war before, cancelling the election will take it to another level. And that’s only the first step!
There is no way to pause or adjourn a war unilaterally. And the faster the battle, the better—speed and surprise are essential, especially for a guerrilla underdog force.
One lesson that should be appreciated by all sides in all civic conflicts is that force is not another word for violence. Force is the opposite of violence. Violence is bad, and force is good. Violence is chaos, and force is order. Violence is slow and force is fast.
If you can win by force, what are you waiting for? Do it immediately. If you can’t win without violence, you probably can’t win at all, and you probably shouldn’t try. Much bloodshed could be saved if all young persons were educated with these simple and timeless Machiavellian principles, though every principle has its necessary exceptions.
Explaining our own inexplicable incompetence
Again, none of this will happen—which is the only reason I’m talking about it. There may be some farce. There will be no force, and certainly little or no violence.
Instead, Trump and the Republicans will lose—even though they could win, right now, just by marching straight forward and not stopping until Rome. Their first step would be to legally steal the election back. If they try this they will not try hard, and they will almost certainly fail. And if they succeed, their first step will be their last; and once they stop advancing, they will be rapidly destroyed.
Historians are often puzzled by these moments of inexplicable incompetence. If the Confederates, after the Battle of Bull Run, march straight forward and don’t stop until they reach the Canadian border, the war is over and the Confederates win. The Union, despite superior population size and industrial power, is not yet ready to fight and has no organized forces in front of Washington. If Japan, upon Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, invades Siberia from the other end, the war is over and the Axis take the Old World. Instead Japan raids Hawaii, which is the worst possible move for both Japan and the Axis. Worst, it is very difficult to see why the correct decisions were not obvious at the time.
To understand the people who made those mistakes is to understand their causes. It would have been hard for those leaders, with the goals and perspectives they had, to avoid these particular errors. Nonetheless, hindsight is merciless in exposing the fact that their leaders had an obvious opportunity for total victory, and failed to take it.
We know our own side, and its reasons for failure are obvious. To win a war you need an army, a general, and a plan. Trump is always ready to fight a battle, and never ready to fight a war; the staff of his party are not soldiers, but lobbyists; and not even the biggest of our brains has anything remotely like a plan.
We cannot cross the Rubicon, then march until we reach Rome. We would not even know where we were going. We have no army, no general, not even a map. We have no idea where Rome even is. While we flatter ourselves as historical sophisticates, we are in reality political children—not just the politicians, also the philosophers.
I asked one of the best of these intellectuals, a Catholic traditionalist, a prominent conservative writer and editor, what an absolutely new regime would do. “Provide for the common good,” he said. I agreed, of course. But what exactly did that mean?
I invited him to go through how he would change the government, given absolute authority, agency by agency. He politely demurred. Perhaps, I said, we could go population by population? Here too he had no ready answer. Okay, just foreign policy? Did he have some other way of getting down to details? No, no, and no. He had a list of tweaks, if I wanted that—minor course corrections, sure—politics is the art of the possible, not that even such tweaks are possible—”Drag Queen Story Hour”—etc.
How does such a person deserve to win? He has no idea what winning would even mean. He is not even ready to win. He has not even worked on the problem—or if he has, he can’t admit it.
We expect a thoughtful man to be obsessed with his own dream; this thoughtful man, it seemed, had not even thought about his own dream. It was as if he was respecting some taboo on dreaming. So thorough a power it is that he lives under, he would have no idea what to do if it just disappeared, even if his own personal will could magically replace the entire regime.
What is this person who is not even ready to win? He is a dog chasing a car. What would happen if he caught it? Nothing good at all, for him or anyone. Nothing bad, even, for the car. So why would anyone support him?
What stops the Republicans from ruling is not a few wizard-cooked inner-city votes. Most votes from these areas are cooked and always have been—they do not reflect any real participation in any real political conversation. The rules of the game are that you need enough real participation to outcount them. It’s a weird game, of course.
The Democrats changed the rules of the game a little this year. This is of course their privilege, since they have all the real power and (for the lives of those now living) always have. But in 2016 the Republicans did beat the wizards; they did win all the branches—and did they rule? So why bring the same people back for a second try?
I am told by certain quasi-insiders that the Trump administration, by about a year ago, having shown up fully in thrall to the public narrative that the President is “in power,” the CEO of the government, etc, etc, actually figured out that the White House could not do anything at all except by appointing actual Trump supporters, ideally actual Trump supporters who actually knew something about the actual US Government. This could only have been achieved by a very stable genius.
His next discovery, with a couple hundred thousand votes he didn’t work hard enough to get, would have come in another year or two: these people can’t do anything either, because their so-called “employees” (whose tenure is actually more secure than their “bosses”) can always sabotage it. By 2024 he might even be ready to tweet about how the American people have no real power over their government, since the people they elect have no real power over their government.
There are two exceptions: while antigovernment politicians can never get anything done, they can often f*** s*** up. They cannot create change; they can often block it. Also, in an emergency, they can become relevant again—and/or f*** s*** up. Sometimes the Trump administration did deploy these exceptions; not enough, not often enough for good. God is the lord of battles, and also of elections.
What stops the Republicans from ruling is that they do not feel they have a right to rule. Worse, they are right. They have no right to power, because that right is created only by the capacity to exercise power capably. It is unfortunate that the Democrats have no such right either—arguably, they have much less right. But the Democrats will always win and always rule, because they are the ruling class—and they feel that right to rule—and none of their bad outcomes will ever change their minds about that.
There is only one way to give the enemies of power the feeling that we have the right to rule: create the capacity to rule. They don't need that capacity to win. But we do. And we would want it after we won, anyway.
Indeed, no one today can imagine how much popularity any such competence, and the confidence that would come with it, is capable of generating. Winning an election in any other way is a waste of time at best. The public is a woman. Women like nothing so much as confidence.
Instead: as none other than Newton L. Gingrich has said, “You have a group of corrupt people who have absolute contempt for the American people, who believe we are so spineless, so cowardly, so unwilling to stand up for ourselves, that they can steal the presidency.” Newt is right. So is the group of corrupt people, unfortunately.
Ultimately, I am glad Trump lost, because Trump was more than just a liar—he was a lie. As soon as he accepted the fraud that he was actually in charge of the government, he became complicit in a fraud against his own supporters. They could never understand why he didn’t “do something” about this, that, or the other thing.
He could have told them why; he could have even worked to change that. He was given the choice between looking and feeling important, and realizing and revealing that he wasn't important. He chose as he did. Given that he did, his defeat at the hands of the ballot wizards of the Midwest may have been legal injustice—but it was divine justice.
Yet, like many a flawed human instrument of the divine, what he accomplished was more than he himself conceived. He did nothing to “drain the swamp.” In fact he filled it. And left it flooded—which made it (a) more visible, and (b) poised to dry up horribly.
Accelerationists who voted for China Joe will be disappointed. Nothing will speed up. All the gas in the regime’s tank is coming from Trump. As soon as Trump is out, the panzer death sportscar custom-built to guzzle his pure octane will sputter to a crawl.
Once as the Trump administration is over, no one has anything to fear or hate. No threat could ever be as exciting as the racist rapist in the White House. No Malibu hausfrau will ever again feel like she is in the French Resistance. After Prohibition, breweries could still sell nonalcoholic beer. This is journalism after Trump.
Why was I pro-Biden? Because I longed to see my enemies cast out into the cold, uncaring wind of poverty and despair. Why were you pro-Trump? Because you loved seeing your enemies grow huge and fat and hard? I like to win. I hate to get owned. How about you, my based friend?
By March or April, America's ruling class will feel like Hunter Biden on a Tuesday morning. Hunter reflects. He knows he left his pipe somewhere. He's not sure where. What he knows is that this world, which as recently as mimosa brunch on Sunday was still burning with the rainbow fire of a hundred suns exploding in H-bomb supernova pornstar orgasms while galaxies collide, is an ugly, boring place. A sterile promontory. A foul and pestilent congregation of vapors… also, something sticky is stuck to his ass. He'll get to it in a minute... oh, man...
For four years, the regime is stuck with a spokesmodel who combines the charisma of Leonid Brezhnev with the probity of Willie Brown. China Joe is getting no younger. His circuits already wrestle visibly with every solar flare. He did bring a backup unit, who has the charisma of Linda Blair and was once the protegée of Willie Brown. Is God supposed to hand us something better?
The new strategic landscape
If this administration was not perfect enough, it started even before the election with a clumsy iron fist on the Internet. Next the election itself was fisted. Now, calls for lists of enemies abound. Feel the power of the dark side! Some of my best friends are very, very afraid.
They shouldn’t be. Yes, revolution's iron fist is terrible. But revolution takes more than evil, smarmy, corrupt bureaucrats. It takes energy. It takes passion.
Those who bet on this passion will soon discover that not much happens when they press the pedal, and the next gas station is four years ahead. The passionate fringe may even get mad at the corrupt bureaucrats. This will be amazing entertainment and should do wonders for Portland popcorn futures. It will not lead to American gulags.
Trump America, meanwhile, is on full bed-rest with an epic rear fistula. These poor, innocent people thought they were playing a game, with rules. Until well into spring, every wipe will remind them what a red state is. Without wishing pain on anyone, pain has a purpose. Pain is the body notifying the brain of a danger that was not averted. "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved."
And indeed their future and the future of their posterity is not consigned, as they think, to the democratic rule of law, but rather to a ruthless, oligarchic regime and its morally-decayed ruling class, which hates them with the passion of a crackhead for crack, and is more than happy to burn even its own interests for any quick hit of sadistic power thinly dressed as justice. To any people in this dire, servile position, action is essential, anesthesia is poison, and pain is a holy gift from God.
Yet the grace of this situation is that red America has a long-term problem, but not a short-term problem. There is some finite time to get it right. Demographically, it will be slightly harder to repeat 2016 in 2024. There is probably also some kind of Moore’s law of ballot-farming technology. But hardest of all by far will be to get it right this time. Four years may not even be enough time to make a proper plan.
Beyond its own suicidal tendencies, blue America has no long-term problem. It does have a short-term problem. Its product sucks. Its product, beyond China Joe himself, is pure pompous smugness. As you can see by looking at his “rallies,” not even the dogs will eat it. And that’s before he was elected! The message was fresh… 50 years ago…
People will always buy this product, because it ships with power. Since 2016, it had been easy to contrast pure smugness with Trump, and market it as holy water. Now, it isn’t. The product does not really need to sell, but the people who sell the product really need to sell it. So China Joe’s presidency will be absolute hell on the journalism industry, which will either starve or teach its regulars to have a good time on O’Doul’s.
Red America’s story, however, gets much simpler and easier to sell. The identities of the overdog and the underdog, oddly tangled for four years by the aborted, farcical, incompetent Trump revolution, straighten out again and have never been clearer. Nature is healing. The nobles are back in power. The peasants are back to the fields. They will pound their swords into plowshares. An inspector will stop by every month, to check for unsafe, dangerously-oversharpened plows...
One unremarked-on fact about Generation Z, and to some extent even Generation Y, is that they grew up on dystopian fiction. The methods of the Orwellian state are now the stuff of cliche. These tropes were even used against Trump, though they hardly fit. From here on till the end, they will fit like a glove. “Never interrupt your enemy,” as Napoleon said, “while he is making a mistake.”
Appendix: some constructive criticism
I hate to suggest public policy. But the tone of this post, though optimistic, is so mean-spirited that I have to provide one positive suggestion, which could actually be taken. Again, if you're worried that this suggestion will actually be followed, you needn’t be.
If anyone in the Trump administration is listening, there is exactly one useful thing you can do now. The President has exactly one unilateral power which is dangerous to the regime: the power to declassify. This power can be trivially slowed to zero by the bureaucratic process, which is what happened when he tried to use it normally.
Instead, the President can order the US Marshals to seize and publish the documents. Which documents? All the documents—not just those about his specific beefs (though certainly those as well).
Except for weapons blueprints, America has no real secrets. Washington has plenty of real secrets, though. The President, even as a “lame duck,” retains every legal right to publish every single one, without process or delay.
No harm will come to America, for instance, by publishing all State Department cable traffic. The whole archive. All of it. Plenty of harm will come to the State Department. There is not a single file at CIA whose publication would harm America. There are many—some quite old—which would harm our government.
As for individuals named in documents, are the enemies of the people allergic to the power of personal destruction? It sucks, of course. But nobody ever had to get involved with the “intelligence community.” And time, alas, is short. And excuses, frankly, suck.
(And while you’re at it, Mr. President, bring the troops home—not just from Syria and Afghanistan, also from Germany and Japan. Leave your successor with American boots only on American soil. China Joe could invade the world right back again. But will he? Now, imagine if you’d conducted the last four years in this spirit.)