The great coup of 2021
Borges, thou shouldst be living at this day.
I am not one to hyperbolize today’s news cycle. Actually almost nothing ever happens.
But the Great Coup of 2021 is one of the most amazing storylines in years or even decades, a kind of syzygy of news—a perfect juxtaposition of not two but three totally different narratives, each of which regards both others as dangerously insane—must present a natural feast for any historiographer of the present.
I wrote about this remarkable story the other day, while it was still happening. Today the story is what it’s done to people, which is absolutely remarkable and far greater than even I would have predicted. My wife described the attitude at her e-job as “9/12”—zero work is getting done.
Well—the present can suck to live through. But what else is there? And if you want to study bats, you have to go into the bat cave. You will get bat crap on you. My friends—today is a good day for bats. Shall we?
The three stories I’m about to highlight—which we could call the histrionic story, the hypochondriac story, and the historical story—form a kind of prism of narrative which perfectly illuminates not just the real events, but the world in which they can happen.
The way to understand the world is to understand all these narratives. You should be able not just to repeat, but to actually inhabit and almost believe in, all three. The third, of course, is the least popular (by far!) and the only one worth calling true. But there are always more stories, of course; and more facets of each story.
Last night on Clubhouse, I heard the most remarkable first-person narrative—by ”the only black man at the storming of the Capitol.” The speaker had an AAVE accent so thick I could barely understand him. He was “high as hell” and every three sentences was “smoking the gas”—he was about to “light up under that dome” but didn’t quite dare, but he also had a “cup full of apple juice and Cointreau.” But this may give the wrong impression of one of the finest comedy performances I have ever heard. (Sadly, this truly American genius had to waste a bunch of time explaining to the other black people in the room that no, all these wild-ass hill crackers wasn’t being racist at him. While that live moment was lost in time like tears in rain, the room was also full of producers. Surely the public will get some thin, sanitized, N-word-free replica of it.)
The dude was like: someone was like “we’re going to the Capitol” and the crowd went to the Capitol, and when it got there it went in. Everyone kind of gawked around, checked stuff out, took selfies, left trash on the floor and maybe smoked some weed. Then they left. Some people grabbed funny souvenirs. He didn’t see no violence, he didn’t do no violence, he was just there because he could feel it was going to be wild.
And indeed—the actual impact on the hallowed marble halls was not unlike a situation in which a herd of actual wild animals—not primates; perhaps donkeys or hogs; maybe even a cleaner animal, such as the fastidious tapir—had been somehow, for one brief and delirious moment, lured into the temple of the nation. But to the real stories, the important stories, the stories that matter… I present: the Great Coup of 2021.
The histrionic story
The histrionic story is the story of a true popular uprising crushed by a repressive regime—of course, the Trumpist narrative. The other day I took a shot at a couple paragraphs in this genre. And thought I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. Maybe I can get hired by TASS, Goebbels, NPR or OANN.
What’s so fascinating about the structure and content of the histrionic story is that, put under a microscope, it reveals itself as a kind of historical pastiche—a mosaic made from shards of actual, historical popular uprisings.
Pieces of our own Revolution are there; also the Bastille and even the Paris Commune. The Tea Party sits nervously next to the White Rose, thinking about whether to make a move on Sophie Scholl—alas, she has her heart set on Spartacus. The whole pageant of insurrection across the last four centuries, from the Grand Remonstrance to the Arab Spring, returns in the mosaic-chips of the broad panorama of MAGA, Trump and Q.
And when we look at all the sources of this pastiche, we see something interesting. All of these insurrections—every one in the above list, certainly including the (original) Tea Party—was a revolt of left against right. But Trump is obviously right against left. Wait…
Could it be that you’ve been turning the screwdriver backward? That the screw only comes out counterclockwise? Maybe that’s why you’re just stripping the head! And—obviously, literally correcting the mistake means you have to sell all your Proud Boys swag and go full black bloc. A new wardrobe—probably new friends, too…
But… no, that’s not right either. Let’s just say: an engineering error of this magnitude means you have to start from scratch. It reminds me of the time in college when I was wire-wrapping a 68020—not a cheap CPU in 1991—into a logic board, turned it on, and nothing happened. Except the chip got hot. They do that but I turned it off fast.
I checked that I’d wired everything right. I had—but I’d read the pinout upside down. There were like 100 wirewraps—each of which took me about a minute to do, each of which was wrong, each of which would take me just as long to undo, and some of which could have fried the whole goddamn chip by putting power on a logic line.
This is how wrong the histrionic strategy—if it can even be considered a strategy—is. Every idea it has is wrong—or at least, misplaced. It is an attempt at rightism which is made completely from ancient, incredibly-stale leftist myths. It’s actually amazing how well it works, given that the chip is upside-down on the logic board.
But what happens is that the farther it gets, the farther from reality it gets. While the Trumpian strategy of fishing in the Rubicon got blown up by a Praetorian drone after some of his drunken buddies decided to put on waders and go into the Rubicon, it is not just Trumpism that the Coup of 2021 has exploded.
What did Trump think he was doing when he asked his people to “fight” and promised to “never surrender”? He was either plotting the Viking pillage of the Senate—or just running his mouth. In the histrionic story—as well as the hypochondriac story—it was the former. But not even Trump was that crazy.
But what else is the point of a demonstration? Any demonstration is the assembly of a political crowd for the purpose of intimidation. The idea is fundamental to democracy. Historically, democracy was born out of mob violence and would not exist without it—that is, left-wing mob violence…
And there is only one way to take the next step in a demonstration: do something with your crowd. Like, occupy a building. You’d heard of crowds occupying a building before—like in the ‘60s—the dean’s office at Yale? Always romantic and glorious… the young Bernadine Dohrn, in her long, long leather pants… kill the pigs!
But the more you turn the power up, the quicker you find out that the chip is really upside down. It sort of works at 1; you think you’ll quickly go to 2, then 3; you glance away quickly, and when you look back the bench is on fire. If you’d gone straight to 3, it would have just detonated. Actually winning, by the way, is 10. Or maybe 100.
But—it is not just the radical histrionics that the Great Coup disproves. It is also the moderate histrionics, who have been operating the same chip—but would never, ever turn the volume up to 1. That would be a way to start a fire! What’s safe is: 0.15. Maybe 0.17… you don’t want to be too irresponsible… but someone has to click the bait…
The moderates are playing the same game. They are “fighting.” Their rhetoric is rife with just the same language of battle. They are just a diluted version of exactly the same faux-historical pastiche. They are not less bogus—they are even more bogus.
Once we realize that the radicals are useless—it is useless to fish in the Rubicon like Trump, useless to wade in the Rubicon like a Viking—we realize, a fortiori, that it is useless to gaze poetically upon the Rubicon; or even to pretend there is no Rubicon—so we can stroll to Rome whenever we like; or we that we are already in Rome, debating in the Senate, our weighty words honored as is our right… it’s all fake. It’s all garbage.
The whole American right wing, from bowties to Nazis, are in the same position. They are on the wrong side of the Rubicon: nowhere and no one, with no real power, meaning or importance. They have no way to cross the Rubicon; they have no plan to cross the Rubicon; they do not even have a map of the other side of the Rubicon. If war is politics by other means, every right-wing faction is in a hopeless military position.
The only advice a reasonable person can give to the GOP, to the whole American right, is an apocryphal old quote, attributed to some statesman of the French Third Republic: “There comes a time, gentlemen, when God walks in, jangles his ring of keys, and says: ‘time’s up’.” And indeed—in fact, France is now on her Fifth. Good times!
The hypochondriac story
The hypochondriac story is the story that is convincing everyone, right now, that America has cancer. “It’s a horrifying day that will go down in US history, however much longer that is,” as Stephen Colbert put it.
Colbert, always a pro, knows how to wear his hypochondria lightly—he almost never sounds like Marat on jimsonweed. It’d be nice if everyone in his party had that talent. Or at least some Xanax. (It may be that what America really needs now is Operation Warp Speed—but for Xanax.)
All Democrats, except post-leftists, and all Republicans, except post-liberals, are coup hypochondriacs—dare we say, coupochondriacs? No, too clever. But America has cancer. January 6, to the hypochondriac, is like the doctor’s phone call at the end of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man—you had almost forgotten about it; you knew it was coming.
The Great Coup is the perfect narrative capstone to the whole hellish saga of Trump, which from day one reeked of exactly this sulphur—and now the volcano has erupted! And we barely stopped it… if we stopped it at all… da dum, da dum…
Talking to a friend who is a diehard hypochondriac, I eventually got him down to a clear, concise, and neutral statement of the hypochondriac creed—no small victory. My friend wrote:
Look, do you agree that IF you saw yesterday's insurrection not as harmless larping but as a historic threat to the continuity of government in the US and everywhere else, THEN my greater concern about the insurrection than about BLM would be totally justified and reasonable?
Based on my knowledge and experience of the United States Government, I replied, this would be like saying that IF the moon landing was faked, THEN my greater concern about the Apollo budget going into secret experiments by Stanley Kubrick which recruited hippie chicks in the Haight, drugged and kidnapped them, and used MAO quotes and TETRODOTOXIN injections to create an army of COMMUNIST SEX ZOMBIES would be totally justified and reasonable. Logic is good!
Often, when I encounter a perception of reality which I find simply fantastic, I try to make that observation concrete by imagining what it would actually take to turn the real reality, that I believe I live in, into this amazing fantasy.
For example, let’s suppose (I am indebted for this analogy to some Twitter wag, whom I can’t find now) the US Constitution worked like the first-person shooter Halo. If you occupy the center of the Rotunda for more than 90 seconds, you become the Congress. You can pass laws and stuff.
The masters of the law of the land are no longer the Struldbrugs of the committees—you gibbed them all with your plasma rifle 1.5 seconds after you blew down the door. The masters are you, and your buddy @hitler420bongman—who covers you while you legislate—at least, for as long as the two of you can stay alive and on the circle… the Bongman is a 13-year-old kid, you think, from somewhere near Philly… amazing shot…
In this world, occupying the Capitol is indeed a historic threat to the continuity of government. Anyone who makes it past the last bosses to the Rotunda, then can defend the space, has literally interrupted that continuity. In fact, once the circle in the floor turns green, and you can start to legislate, you (and the Bongman) have technically founded America’s Second Republic. (Or, arguably, like its sixth or something.)
What about in real life? What happens in real life, when this happens? What happens is: a formal ceremony is delayed for a couple of hours. As if a water main had broken. In the worst-case scenario—they have to use another building. Or even—Zoom. (Maybe Zoom needs a special option that, instead of a room, starts a temple of democracy.)
Also, there was a tiny bit of violence. Tell me again about how much you hate violence. Neighbor, after 2020, I am all ears on that one.
But I am being too mean to the hypochondriacs. Cancer is a real thing. People really get cancer. It happens to people like you—people like me. I could have cancer in me, right now. You could too. One common symptom of cancer is aches and pains. Or anything weird, really. If you think you have cancer, you should talk to a doctor—now.
A good doctor, treating a hypochondriac like me for what is after all a serious medical condition—hypochondria—usually does it by explaining what a real cancer looks like. What would an actual political cancer look like?
Let’s go back to the historical sources of the histrionic version, and make up a modern version. You’ll be wargaming it—playing as Trump. You’ll do the Great Coup right.
First, your crowd has seized the legislative building. Great—but it’s only a building. But unlike the White House, which is (and always was) a trap, the Capitol remains a great building for the center of a great coup. Your occupation of it is a violation of space, demonstrating persistent contempt for the old regime. Your goal is to expand this space of illegitimacy into your new regime.
But you still need as much as legitimacy as possible. You yourself need to get into the building. You’ll have to get as many loyal Congresspersons as possible—and if you can catch some enemy ones, treat them well but hold them in the basement. Your loyal wingnuts will declare themselves the new Congress—like Cromwell’s “rump”—and start passing laws.
Or at least one law: an enabling act that gives you absolute power. Fuck yes! But now, you have to use it—that’s the only way to turn your legal power into real power. But first things first—you have to defend the building.
Your mob organizes into little platoons with the weapons they brought, or confiscated from the police. (The Congressional mace is also an option, if you can locate it—it’s +3 against libs.) Barricades go up. The Capitol is the new Alamo—you and your men are coming out as rulers or corpses.
You’re doing what you do best—getting on the phone. You’re still the President. You’re acting under emergency authority. You order all US Marshals to the building—with all the ammo they can get in their car in five minutes. Can someone seize the Pentagon? What about the Navy? Can we use the Navy? I know what that “Littoral Combat Ship” was for—the Potomac! Let’s get on the phone to loyal governors, police chiefs, mayors. We’ll federalize the Guard… bring in Delta… call the Air Force Academy, they can parachute a brigade or two of hardcore shitposting gamer cadets onto the Mall…
A coup, like cancer, is a real thing. This is what a real coup would look like. (See the standard modern manual—Luttwak’s Practical Handbook.)
Obviously, though that’s a word I shouldn’t use this week, the difference between this and what actually happened is the difference between a melanoma and a freckle. But the hypochondriac has a cogent reply. What is a freckle, anyway? A mole?
What it is is—a benign tumor. In fact—a precancerous condition. Most melanomas start when a normal mole, which has been on you for decades, doing nothing special, takes a cosmic ray in the wrong gene, boils over—and starts sending its sinister tentacles out through your body, causing incredible pain as they swell and rip your organs apart… at first, of course, you won’t even notice… you do check your moles, don’t you?
Did this mole boil over? No. Do moles boil over? Yes. Is it wrong to worry about moles, especially weird, funny-shaped moles like no other moles on your body ever? No. But here is why this kind of mole won’t, and can’t boil over. You can relax. You won’t even need a prescription for Xanax.
It’s not that these people don’t have the right plan. Their plan could mutate. It could become the right plan—with a lot of mutations. Some cancer virus could infect it. I mean—didn’t I just give them a plan? Lol. “Next time—we’re not coming out.”
Don’t worry, my fellow Brown alumni. None of those hill crackers can read this far. The real reason this could never happen is a reason you’ll like: they are simply not capable of it. They suck too much. And it’s just a biological fact—you can mutate bad ideas, but you can’t mutate suck. Huge sighs of relief are heard all over Berkeley.
It’s not just that the peasants are ignorant. There were plenty of illiterate proles at the storming of the Bastille! It’s that the 21st-century American prole simply lacks the spirit and will. They do not sense that they have the Roman virtus that gives them the right to rule—nor can they ever come to their senses—because they are right. In the simplest, crudest Nietzschean sense, they are way too weak to worry about.
Is everyone in America who’s kind of done with the USG now an ignorant, depressed, couch-potato prole? No, just most of them. You don’t need most of them for a coup. You need the proles to follow—but not to lead. And if history has one lesson, it’s that no empire is forever. The ruling class can never stop worrying about regime change.
But what you’re worried about, dear hypochondriac, isn’t a coup. You’d love a coup! Guess who’s tanned, rested, and ready? Make Obama President-For-Life, with absolute power. Done! Sold! (Frankly, I might even go in on that too.) What you actually fear and loathe is a prole coup—and that’s exactly what can’t happen. Whew.
And here is something, dear hypochondriacs, that you should worry about. Observe how, in response to this farce, you changed everything you believe in a day. We’ll need to run more tests, but I just want you to know—I’m afraid this isn’t a good sign.
How on earth did you become so committed to law and order, overnight, that you are now viscerally horrified by the idea of a protest entering a government building? That you’re churning out all these incredibly loud, screechy Medium screeds that sound like General Jaruzelski condemning the lawless hooligans of “Solidarity,” or the new Hong Kong regime cracking down on CIA-supported subversive student terrorists? That you’re cheering when unarmed protesters are shot? “Fuck with the bull, get a horn in the ass.” How did you turn, on a dime, into the principal from Ferris Bueller?
Has someone put a chip in your brain? At least it’s not a tumor. You can’t get a brain tumor out with a Dremel tool while your wife holds up a big mirror. A chip, though…
The historical story
Enough mockery. As students of history, we should be above this—even if we aren’t. The only people who think this way, or even try to, are post-liberals and post-leftists—two very different tribes, but both fatally addicted to mockery. It’s our age’s drug.
As an actual historical event, the “storming of the Capitol” was barely more than a fraternity prank—a little rowdier than MIT stealing the Caltech cannon, but basically the same sort of thing. Let’s get back to the much more important pseudo-event.
For those few of us who choose for some foolish reason to live in history, is the Great Coup a good thing or a bad thing? A blackpill or a whitepill?
Obviously, in the short term, it has added enormous energy to the power of the purge. It fits so perfectly with the whole narrative of the Trumpenreich; it creates enormous confidence upon leaving the theater. For at least the next couple of weeks, everyone with a BA and a Twitter account is Matthew Hopkins. Be careful!
Yet I think something beautiful, actually, has happened. The world has clarified itself. Though not in a way that anyone believes, or will soon believe, it has taken a genuine step into the mind of its own future, and the future of its own mind.
When you talk to the hypochondriacs, sooner or later they reveal that what they really care about is that the regime, which to them is holy—and a regime is, and always has been, a fundamentally holy thing—has been disrespected, even delegitimized.
In other words, the great crime of the Great Coup is the oligarchical counterpart of the old offense of lèse-majesté. Dear hypochondriacs: at last, we are on the same page. (You would say “democratic” rather than “oligarchical,” but that’s just a word.)
These proles, like Alcibiades but not as cool, have defaced the herms of Athens. Before all the gods of the forum, they must pay! This is the true spirit of anger sweeping the nation today. Or at least, sweeping its ruling class.
Now, of course, we have seen this before. The ranters of January, the Twitter Defarges, are nothing new in the history of the revolutionary age—which we are still in. Though late in, I think. Or I would like to think.
Over the last four years, we have all watched the development of the classic machinery of the total state—which demands total obedience to official thought in every context. In the last two years this cancer has spread even into the corporate sector—so that you can be politically awake for your entire waking life. And indeed you have to be.
But until now, your obedience has always been indirect. You are not asked—or rather, ordered—to support the government. Of course not! You are supporting black lives or the workers of the world. Everyone who isn’t an ally lacks empathy and is a racist or a snob.
Your comment has been moderated because it was hurtful to workers and peasants. You were committing the brutal, sociopathic crime of assault by keyboard. Tons of people get arrested for tweets in the UK today—and it’s coming here.
But this is always a pretense. Over time, the pretense becomes thinner. Eventually it is stretched so thin that it can no longer stretch; and the brutal reality is clear.
Everything that is censored, always and everywhere, is censored for exactly one reason: disrespecting power. Power survives because it is respected. Comparing Premier Xi to Winnie-the-Pooh is a genuine attack against the Chinese Communist Party. When you say that the workers smell and the peasants are ignorant, you are not saying it because you “hate” the workers and peasants and want to hurt them with your hurtful words. You do hate. You hate the Party—and you want to defy it with your heretical words.
This is extremely hard to explain. I remember well how hard it was to explain, just ten years ago. The simplification that happens, as a total regime moves into its final stage (which can last quite some time), is that all pretextual issues and personalities disappear. All of normal politics disappears. If the ceremonies are still performed, almost no one cares about them. But politics does not die; it just gets simpler.
In the one-party state—a state in we are now in, since the pretense that Republicans and Democrats are equal and symmetrical is just dead—a state in which democracy, the Democratic Party, and the US Government are one and the same, as communism, the Communist Party, and the USSR were one and the same—all politics is existential. In the late Soviet Union, it’s very simple. You are for the government or against it. You are for communism, the Communist Party and the USSR; or you are against them. All political crimes reduce to “anti-Soviet agitation.”
This change, from indirect dissidence to direct dissidence, is a critical transition point in the life of the revolutionary total state. The outcome of this transition is that, very soon, it becomes utterly impossible for any cool person to support the government. In fact, Chuck E Cheese did not condemn the Great Coup—it easily could have, though.
Fashion, which is what we’re talking about here—intellectual fashion, but fashion—always flows from cool down. Cool people do not copy uncool people.
Once power loses its mask, once censoring dissent because it makes a mockery of the government is not just what power is doing, but actually what power says it’s doing, we enter a new stage of history—because serving this power is openly humiliating to the servant. Or at least, to any servant of intelligence, wisdom, conscience and character.
At this stage, therefore, power is actively recruiting its own counter-elite. There is only one way to produce a regime change that sticks: a circulation of the elites. Therefore, we have taken a genuine step toward history. The gigantic gear has moved one click.
Finally, we have seen a vivid illustration of real regime change in the 21st century—not what regime change is, but what it isn’t. Because whatever it is, it isn’t this.
Regime change in America cannot possibly come about as the effort of either side in its comic-opera cold civil war. Rather, it must represent the end of this farce; it must hold a vision, and hold to a vision, of a government which effectively serves every American.
And it cannot seek power through some tantrum against its ruling class—who, while they are certainly getting worse, are really not that bad on a historical scale. Proles: it is very easy for them to be awful, and you to be worse. You will never win that way.
To win, you have to follow leaders that are better than them—by their own standards. And the hardest thing of all to understand—since, as Xenophon put it, you are just about ready to eat them raw—is that your enemies will have to win too.
It’s very simple. It’s not a moral thing. It’s not that you shouldn’t have a regime change in which not everyone wins. I think that would actually be great! I think plenty of people are guilty! I think they deserve all kinds of lovely and delicious punishments!
It’s just that—under present circumstances—you actually can’t. And if you try, you’ll just get another of these hilarious disasters.
And it’s impossible to force any of these great changes. When the revolution happens, when it is ready to happen, it will feel completely natural, inevitable and even overdue—like the fall of East Germany, not like the March on Rome or the Paris Commune. Once any real circulation of elites is ready to roll, the new elites step into power as smoothly and calmly as if they were walking up the stairs.
Imagine seeing that today—you can’t imagine it. Which is why nothing remotely like it can happen any time even remotely soon. But nothing else can happen—ever. At all.