Friday, February 10, 2017

The New Proletariat

Class consciousness – class warfare – the mainstays of Marxism, but also essential to the teachings and activities of American liberalism, are a foundational element of the Democratic Party. There was a class system in colonial America, which naturally resembled that in Europe, although the boundaries were, partly by necessity, much less rigid and more fluid (for one thing, no hereditary titles). There was never an official American royalty, but there were certainly landowners and grant-holders, merchants, craftsmen, peasants, laborers, and, yes, slaves. This class system, so natural to any human society, did not seem to overly offend anyone at the time, because, after all, it was what they were used to. It was the way the world worked, wasn't it? And anything else was unimaginable. (We tend to forget how radically different our world view is from that of our colonial ancestors.) And what probably helped was that all were united, more or less, against the offenses being committed by the mother country, i.e. Britain, and its king. But then came the founding documents, with “all men are created equal”, and so forth – implying that class was an illusion, or an unfortunate accident, and that it might soon be done away with (or so was the fond hope). But the American Revolution was a political one, not an economic one. Landowners remained landowners, merchants remained merchants, peasants remained peasants, and slaves remained slaves – at least for a time. Before long, Marxism had taken hold in Europe, and real political revolutions had occurred (1848 being a critical year) – plus the Civil War brought out class divisions (in both North and South) in sharp relief. (Basically, the North's upper classes sent the North's lower classes out to defeat the South's lower classes and thus to render the South's upper classes powerless and bankrupt). So class consciousness, while it is always with us, grew from a taken-for-granted state of affairs into a political cause, and we had, later in the 19th Century and into the 20th, a rise in both immigration and anarchy – not a coincidence, since many of the immigrants were from areas where the new consciousness had taken hold, particularly the animus against hereditary rule – kings, czars, and emperors. (The immigrants came here in part because things were moving too slowly back home – and the minute they got off the boat, they started to agitate for the political, social, and economic changes here that they had longed for in their places of origin. And let's admit, their optimism was well-founded, at least up to a point. Where Old Europe had failed, America became the great testing ground; the American Experiment was taken over from the WASPs by the teeming masses from Eastern and Southern Europe. But this effort only succeeded up to a point; we became, for all intents and purposes, socialistic, but balked at becoming a people's republic, a failing which continues to irritate the hard left to this day.) Plus, we had the rise of Progressivism, not the very first manifestation of populism (forget not Andrew Jackson) but one with many more long-term consequences. Then came the Russian revolution, and yesterday's anarchists became, almost overnight, today's totalitarians – and at this late date, we can say, with confidence, “'twas ever thus”. Put populism and Bolshevism into a stew pot, stir for a while, and you have – ta-da! -- the New Deal, which, in most any way that counts, we are still living with.

So the question is not – nor was it ever -- “do we, or do we not, have, or want to have, a society defined by class?” Every society is, to some extent, defined by class – by social status, hierarchy, pecking order, what have you. Any honest anthropologist will admit this. It's such a universal phenomenon that it might almost be described as “natural”, or “all too human”, or even “instinctive”, except that it's the very people who are always longing for a “return to nature” who are the most opposed to the idea. And collectivist/totalitarian propaganda reflects this. Who carries on the most about “a classless society”? The very people whose ideal social structure is a ruling political class, or nomenklatura, supported by the military, and a mass of faceless serfs (peasants and workers) on the bottom, with a conspicuously missing middle class. This is the way it always turns out with communism – no exceptions! The only thing that seems to stand in the way is the existing middle class, unless you're talking about a society that is so primitive that it hasn't yet developed one – and when it is eliminated or suppressed things tend to deteriorate, particularly in the economic sector, and no one can figure out why. After all, the “bourgeoisie” are dull, boring, conventional, rigid, wed to tradition, and, basically, politically hopeless – and the answer is to declare them superficial and unnecessary, and then to either kill them off or impoverish them to the point where they are no longer distinguishable from the proles. And yet, the occasional honest economist will admit that, in a proper economic system that is likely to succeed, the middle class is a needed element; it is, in effect, a go-between, connective tissue between rulers and serfs. Imagine even a small town with a mayor and village council, and everyone else either a subsistence farmer or factory worker. What's wrong with this picture, and why do we never see it borne out in real life?

But of course, economic “success” is a matter of definition, and in our time it's clear that it takes a remote back seat to things like “equality”, “fairness”, and “diversity” -- that it's better to fail as an economic system than to commit the sin of “unfairness”. (This has been an explicit meme throughout the Obama administration, for example.) And yet, paradoxically, the more government tries to remedy the many offenses of the traditional class system, the more it's forced to create a new class system whose job it is to enforce sanctions against the old class system. This does not eliminate class, or hierarchy, or anything of the kind; it only substitutes new types of people at the various levels. So under the old American system, you might have had bankers and industrialists at the top, then politicians at the next level to serve their interests, then merchants, craftsmen, farmers, laborers, and so on. Under the more recent American system, you have politicians at the top, then the bankers and industrialists who must defer to the “people's representatives” and conform to a heavy burden of regulations, then merchants, craftsmen, farmers, laborers – with the bottom layer populated not by people suffering the abject poverty of the Third World because they are supported by the state. But this is only in theory, understand, because in reality the bankers and industrialists are still in charge, but cannot show their colors in as blatant a way as they did back in the “robber baron” era. Politicians can still be bought and sold (and amazingly cheaply at that), but the money spends more time under the table than on top of it. And the ones who suffer the most are the ones caught in the middle – the storied bourgeoisie, or middle class, whose resources and political power are eroding day by day. And much of their suffering is not in terms of their financial straits per se, but in the total lack of respect they receive from the other sectors of society. They are, by and large, sufficiently fed, clothed, and sheltered, but at the same time treated as lepers by the dominant culture.

Any economic distortions caused by big government will result in winners and losers, and the losers of our time are the middle class. Call them the people who earn enough to be taxed, but don't earn enough to avoid taxes, and who earn enough to miss out on entitlements. They are, in a sense, the only self-supporting class we have, and are thus ripe for the picking. Is it any wonder that they have come around to the notion that no one is on their side – and they they flocked to Donald Trump, who at least said that he was, although it remains to be seen how this plays out.

But – you might say – if the middle class is an essential element of an economically successful society, why would those in charge want to eliminate it – or at least bleed it dry? Call it short-sightedness, ignorance of economics and history, or just plain greed, but it's clear they just don't care, any more than the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island cared. (This is from “Collapse” by Jared Diamond.) Rare is the man, even at the very pinnacle of world power, who looks beyond his own life span. “Apres moi, le deluge.” (This is one of the many reasons why concentration of wealth and power is bad. The people who wind up with it are still just as human as any of the rest of us.) And this is just on the material side; you also have the theorists, who still subscribe to the Marxian orthodoxy that the middle class is an artifact of an intrinsically unfair and unjust system, and that only by eliminating it can we make any progress toward universal liberation.

I've been saying for quite a while that the American middle class has a very large target painted on its back. The liberal/Democratic agenda is to hobble, humble, and ultimately eliminate the middle class from the American scene, and they are quite open about it. The Republicans are not in quite such a hurry, but they aren't doing anything to reverse the trend either (although one wonders where their support is going to come from if the largest part of their base vanishes – there just aren't enough country-club types to so the job). It seems like every time a Republican is elected president, the middle class breathes a sigh of relief – they have a new lease on life, and have been spared from the ministrations of the executioner for a while longer. But then along comes a Democrat, and the ax is raised higher. The rise and victory of Donald Trump has been called many things – and in a way it resembles the peasants' revolts of ages past, or the relatively more recent revolutions throughout Europe... or the “softer” revolts of populism, Progressivism, and the New Deal. Except for one thing – those were all revolts of the lower classes against their rulers and oppressors, and, occasionally, against the middle class as well, as in the cases of France, Russia, and China. (Revolts against oppressors are typically fueled by brutality, starvation, and hardship, whereas revolts against the bourgeoisie are typically fueled by Marxist theory, which is the reason they are a relatively new phenomenon, although it must be admitted that the French Revolution was pre-Marx.)

The Trump phenomenon is something truly new under the sun for America – a revolt of the middle class (as foreshadowed by the Tea Party). And as such, it's a revolt against both the ruling elite and against the dependent class, AKA tax receivers. But it's shocking, and this is the main reason why the establishment and the media (and Hollywood, and academics, etc.) are so thunderstruck. “Never before has a boy asked for more” said a character in “Oliver”. Likewise, never before has the middle class done anything even remotely resembling a rebellion – and yet here it is. It happened, and they won. Or, at least their chosen leader won.

See, here's the real problem. The middle class is not supposed to revolt. They're not supposed to complain. They're supposed to be polite, passive, submissive, and take whatever comes their way like bobo dolls, and come back asking for more. They're supposed to be complacent, satisfied, and if not politically apathetic then at least non-activist. These qualities have defined the middle class for generations, or even centuries. The idea of them actually standing up and defending themselves is... well, it goes against theory, for one thing (Marxist theory and all of its derivatives). And it's disruptive to the political economy, which demands some sort of balance between doers-to and the done-to. One might even say that as the lower classes have gained political power and social and cultural influence, society in general started looking around for a new out-group, and it found one.

It seems that the middle class has been unleashed, and this is what has everyone upset. That, and the growing realization that Trump is not a politician, and not an ideologue, and neither a conservative nor a liberal. This has turned the political world upside down, and violated rules we didn't even know were in place until someone violated them. Who knew that political etiquette was such a fine-tuned thing, and that so many people would be so sensitive to its breach? One might even say that Trump has united the country after all – or at least the “chattering class”. They are unanimous in their hostility and resistance to who and what he is, and everything he stands for – which is why this is, if only for a season, a time for those who have been voiceless for so long to find a voice. In fact, it may be the last chance for the middle class to have a voice. Judging by the reaction against Trump, if he runs again in 2020 and is defeated, it will be the signal for the long knives to come out, and the life expectancy of the middle class will suddenly be shortened, possibly to a drastic extent.

Another way of looking at this is that even with all the (largely non-violent) egalitarian uprisings of the past in this country, the middle class remained more or less intact, and it was not targeted per se. (This, again, in contrast to France, Russia, and China.) The lower classes wanted a piece of the pie, and the perception was that the ruling elite owned that pie and had to be forced to divvy it up a bit; the middle class was more or less ignored and left to its own devices. This time around, we have a relatively pacified lower class (yes, despite the war between them and the police – the new opiates of the people being sex, drugs, and rock and roll), and an unheard-of, up until the Tea Party phenomenon, rise in consciousness among the middle class. Another way of putting it is that the middle class is now less satisfied than the lower classes, despite any statistical advantages they may have in terms of income, quality of life, and so on. Satisfaction is, as we ought to know by now, not an absolute. No one compares their lot to some Platonic ideal. It is simply as follows: Satisfaction = Results minus Expectations. The middle class expected this society to be a certain way, and they are grossly disappointed and disillusioned. The lower classes, on the other hand, being more resigned and fatalistic, had expectations, but they were not as high (despite “Hope and Change”), and the contrast between those expectations and the reality are not as stark.

As I said, the election of 2016 and the Trump administration may be the last hope of the middle class. And by that I mean not all of the self-consciously middle class, but those who don't feel guilty about it, despite decades of shaming on the part of the media, the entertainment industry, and liberal politicians. There is another group which I will call the self-hating middle class, and that includes not only the so-called “snowflakes” -- the most obvious subgroup – but also what have been referred to as “guilt-ridden liberals”. They are the products of public schooling, for starters – but also of both public and private collages and universities, and, above all, of political correctness (which was amplified and fine-tuned by the likes of Hillary Clinton). And in a way, it's easy to understand. If we are really brought up to believe that “all men (or whoever) are created equal”, but at the same time shown, on a daily basis, overwhelming evidence of inequality of outcomes, that's going to cause some cognitive dissonance. And the reactions can vary widely. One might be simply that “those people” (the “underprivileged”) are lazy, apathetic, and uncooperative, and therefore deserve what they get (or don't get). Another reaction is that even if this is partly true, it's not their fault, because they are victims of “the system”, of institutional racism, prejudice, etc., and therefore deserve at least a helping hand; this is the affirmative action level of liberal social policy. But there are plenty more possibilities, including the radical notion that all differences in outcome, for whatever reason, are intrinsically unfair and have to be done away with – and this is the point at which the middle class finds itself on thin ice. What “right” do they have to have more – to have a higher standard of living – than anyone else? This is obviously a serious problem, and only liberals/progressives have the solution. So over time, the middle class is subjected to the death of a thousand cuts, and while the masochistic among them might welcome this (“snowflakes” again) the rest are puzzled, dismayed, and eventually become angry. And when it gets to the point where they have little enough left to lose that they might take a chance on revolt, if not outright revolution, we have phenomena like the election of 2016.

So are we seeing a true sea change in the political history of this country, or only a four-year stay of execution?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doom at the Top

The Trump people are already feeling the effects. There is an easy assumption that all you have to do is get elected to the presidency, appoint key subordinates (including cabinet-level posts), get your agenda rolling, and extend your span of control far and wide throughout the bureaucracy and to the farthest corners of the earth, and a new day will dawn. But no – the people at the top generally prefer to stay at the top, where there is sunshine and fresh air, and innumerable “perks”, and either cannot or will not dig deep into the heart of the bureaucracy in order to detect and weed out hostile forces.

Compare it, let's say, to buying an old, rambling, broken-down house with countless rooms, wings, basements, attics, stairways, secret passages, closets, and hallways leading to nowhere – a veritable hive of inactivity, or of activity of the wrong kind. This would pretty much match what happens when a political appointee takes over a government department. And you can move into this house, title deed in hand, assuming that because you're there, your mere presence will suffice to turn things around and cure all the inherent ills. But this is not the case. It's the same house that it was the day before you (ill-advisedly, perhaps) bought it – and unless you hire an army of exterminators to get rid of all the rats, mice, cockroaches, parasites, hangers-on, and subversives, you might as well not even be there... and it will become a source of endless frustration and, ultimately, a tarnished reputation and political defeat.

I have first-hand experience with this. I've seen political appointees come and go. Some of them are just passing through – day trippers on the way to bigger and better things – and they seldom make waves or bother anyone down in the trenches. They are political animals, basically – ambitious, but superficial – lacking a theoretical base of any sort. Smiles and handshakes, and the occasional briefing, are their legal tender, and as long as they can be “large and in charge” they're happy. And this, by the way, holds true no matter which department or agency we're talking about; it's a universal syndrome. No part of the government, no matter how exalted, is immune from this problem or from these people.

And then there's the other kind. Two kinds, actually. The first is relatively benign – they show up with ideas, a program, an agenda, which may involve “draining the swamp” but is more likely to be limited to “good words” about efficiency, cost-effectiveness, eliminating waste, leadership, good management, serving the interests of “customers” and “stakeholders”, and contributing to the accomplishment of the stated mission of the department or agency (assuming that it has a stated mission, and that anyone can remember where they put it). These people can, on rare occasions, do a bit of good, but they are more likely to disrupt things by imposing management fads, leadership theories, and endless surveys and get-togethers for the rank and file (which, by the way, are typically viewed as good things because it's time off work). They may show up in person at some of these confabs, attempting to cajole, inspire, and set an example of good grooming and appropriate business attire. And they may feel that they're doing good, but eventually it dawns on them that nothing has changed – the bureaucracy is every bit as entrenched, rigid, ossified, and inefficient as it was the day they arrived. So they move on, with much waving of handkerchiefs -- “Well, he (she) wasn't bad, he (she) tried, but you know how it is.” -- with a faint smile and chuckle. Back to business as usual!

The second other kind is another matter entirely. It's the most dangerous, vicious animal in the jungle. I'm talking about the political appointee who somehow manages to wind up heading up a department or agency, but who, in fact, hates it and all that it stands for, and therefore hates all the people who work there. How these people get appointed has always been a mystery to me. Are they appointed on purpose, by a president or official who shares their outlook? I think more often it's a matter of their expressing an “interest” in whatever it is – the mission – and also having some sort of alleged “expertise” or at least experience in the area in question. (It would be like a wolf expressing an “interest” in the Department of Sheep.) But their true agenda comes into full bloom on Day One, and it's as if they're wreaking vengeance on everyone for some real or imagined slight or offense. (Think of the stereotypical 90-pound weakling suddenly being put in charge of an agency full of all of the bullies who have ever kicked sand in his face.) And of course you can count on them to bring along an army of, basically, goons and hit-men (hit-women) to aid in the pursuit. (These latter are the true mercenaries and sociopaths in the system. They are allowed to run amok for a time, and when they have wreaked a suitable level of destruction they move on to other pursuits, either elsewhere in the system or in the private sector, leaving scorched earth and a battlefield strewn with bodies in their wake.)

But does the bureaucracy take whatever these people dish out lying down? Not a bit of it. They may shrink from open defiance, but they do have ways of coping – many of which resemble the behavior of the slaves of old, who would bow, scrape, and flash smiles at their master while at the same time plotting ways to thwart his every wish and, in extreme cases, exterminate him. And believe me, the meek and lowly are tuned in to the foibles and weaknesses of their oppressors, and do not hesitate to blow whistles or drop dimes when the time is ripe. The slightest sign of vulnerability is a signal for the peasant revolt to begin.

So what this adds up to is that a political appointee who is magically placed at the top of a very large pyramid may have good intentions, evil intentions, or see it as a mere stepping stone, but in all cases the lowly serfs down in the trenches will go about their business as if he (she) doesn't exist – which, on any given day and for all intents and purposes, they don't. And yet it's these people – the army of faceless serfs – that has a lot more to do with the operations of the organization, and its success or failure, than the member of the privileged elite at the top of the totem pole. They are masters in the art of passive-aggressiveness, for one thing – throwing the occasional monkey wrench into the works so that things go somewhat wrong, but no one can be singled out for blame. They are studied practitioners of the great slowdown, or of working to the letter – doing the minimum (or even less, but appearing to do the minimum) – not enough to earn a bad rating or reprimand, but enough to make the operation at least temporarily grind to a halt.

And the motives for all of this are many and varied. There may be genuine resentment toward “that political type who doesn't know anything about what we do here”, or it may be a more global, baseline resentment toward a stifling system – one that offers job security in exchange for, basically, giving up all self-respect and ambition. (“Hope and change” would be the least appropriate motto possible for the government bureaucracy. I question whether it's even that realistic for political appointees. There are way too many people hanging around Washington looking for a plum job, and way too few plum jobs to go around, even though the bureaucracy expands each and every day.)

And so far I'm just talking about systemic issues. If you add political considerations to the mix, things get even worse. For starters, the bureaucracy is staffed with, guess what, human beings. And those human beings, as dull and listless as many of them appear to be, nonetheless have political leanings, loyalties, and points of view. And this tends to be correlated with the department or agency in question. Nor surprisingly, people who work for the Department of Labor, EPA, and HUD tend to be on the liberal/progressive/activist side, and people who work for defense and the intel agencies tend to be more conservative, although this is by no means guaranteed. (I'm sure you can come up with many other examples.) Now, when the political appointee who takes over at the top is from, let's say, Party A, and he (she) takes over a department or agency whose employees are more or less in synch with Party A's platform, things go along fairly well (with all of the caveats described above, of course). But let a Party A appointee take over a department or agency staffed with Party B types, and you can expect passive-aggressive behavior nigh unto gridlock. And it may not even be the case that the appointee is one of the “slash and burn” types – they may merely be trying to redirect the mission and efforts of the department more in the direction that their political convictions dictate. (In the case of defense, the Republicans will tend to favor weapons system acquisition, combat training, and readiness, while Democrats will tend to favor social experimentation and providing jobs.) (I note that actually winning wars has become passe as a motive for pretty much everyone.)

With all of the above in mind, the miracle is not that the bureaucracy is as wasteful and ineffective as it is, but that things aren't worse. Like the few righteous men in Sodom and Gomorrah, there is a modicum of competence and conscientiousness in the bureaucracy, particularly among those who are able to largely ignore politics, power struggles, infighting, and game-playing. (They must also be self-motivated and have self-esteem independent of their circumstances.) Any government agency has a few people in it who just want to get things done, and they are typically swimming against the current. Others may be more or less neutral -- “paper pushers” -- neither adding nor deleting value (other than encumbering a position and collecting a salary). And others may be “part of the problem” -- creatures of the system who have been conditioned (through a distorted array of rewards and punishments) to seek their own interests and undermine the interests of others -- to play a zero-sum game at best, and more often a negative-sum game.  I used to wonder if these “types” could have ever worked anywhere except in the government, where there is no profit motive, where it's nearly impossible to fire anyone, and where “process” typically takes precedence over “product”. One might as well ask if drug addicts are born that way; I think they are created, and that the system creates bureaucrats. They could have been some other way, but that fork in the road has receded into the mists of time, so here they are... and anyone who comes in at the top had better take them into account, because on any given day they are the ones who are really in charge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Obama's Greatest Achievement

I know not what historians will say, but it strikes me that Barack Obama's greatest achievement and contribution to the general welfare -- of not only America but the world – was to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House (as president, that is – vs. as former “co-president”).

“Huh?”, you might say? “How so?” Well, think about it. Back in 2008 (how soon we forget) Hillary was the “inevitable” Democratic nominee, and thus the inevitable winner. All it would take was pointing out George W. Bush and his cronies' crimes and offenses (of which there were many, let's admit) and she would be made president by general acclaim; she wouldn't even have to campaign. In fact, there wouldn't even have to be an election! That's how much of a “shoo-in” she was.

But then along came this Obama character out of left field (pun intended). He cut in line in front of her, and she and her cronies were, well, dumbstruck and paralyzed. How could they possibly object to a charismatic black man running for president on their party's ticket? It was, for many of them, a dream come true; it was just unfortunate timing is all. So... well, to put it bluntly, “black” trumped “woman”. One aggrieved minority beat another to the punch. Of the two victim groups that were all primed to shout “it's our turn”, one wound up shouting and the other wound up biting its knuckles.

Needless to say, in 2012 it would have been the height of folly for Hillary, or any other Democrat, to challenge Obama. On what basis? After all, he had won the Nobel Peace Prize the day he took office, or thereabouts... he had healed racial strife in America... and he had ended George W. Bush's unjust wars. Oh, and he had saved the economy, and thus America and the free world. (This all really happened, didn't it? I mean, they all said so, and who am I to argue?) So he was a hard act to follow and no one chose to try.

Then along comes 2016, and it really, truly, and finally was Hillary's turn. They promised her all of that and more back in 2008 if she would just cool it and take the State Department as a consolation prize (a nice move on Obama's part, by the way – how much damage could she do, and even if she did any, it would all happen overseas, and who cares about all those ragheads anyway?). And besides, the Republicans were in manifest disarray, and apparently well on their way to nominating some tacky TV personality and thus insuring their demise as a party. But what Hillary's people didn't count on was the Obama Legacy – not the one he claims but the real one -- you know, the one that included rule by executive order, elitism, snobbery, waging war against Christians (and on traditional/family values), open contempt for the white working class (and for whites and the middle class in general), endless griping about “talk radio” and Rush Limbaugh, harassing his opponents with the help of the IRS, foreign policy catastrophes, ObamaCare (a new high in totalitarianism)... and the list went on.

And no, I'm not talking about Hillary's blunders as a candidate, the plot against poor old Bernie Sanders, Benghazi, e-mails, Anthony Weiner, tarmac pow-wows, etc.. Those were annoyances, for certain, but I think she could have survived those just as she survived all of the scandals prior to 1992 and during her husband's administration. What she could not survive was Obama, and his administration, and his attitudes, which people had good reason to believe would simply be extended another four (or eight) years by Hillary.

(My theory was that Hillary's first term would be Obama's third term in domestic policy, but George W. Bush's third term in foreign policy – the worse of all possible worlds, in other words.)

(But – you might say – wouldn't her first term more likely have been Bill Clinton's third term? After all, she was “co-president” then. No, and here's why. Bill Clinton is not a theorist, and he's not an ideologue, Sure, he mouthed the usual Democratic/collectivist/socialist talking points all along the way, but the reality was that all he ever wanted in life was to be president, and once he became president, he basically ran out of ideas (at least of the governmental kind). Between that and a fortunate “vacation from history” during his term in office, he was able to more or less coast. Hillary, on the other hand, is a true believer – in herself above all, but also in all of the bedrock liberal notions that have accumulated over the years in spite of all contradictory evidence and experience. So she would have governed more in the Obama mode – or, if you like, even the FDR mode, but with much less justification.) (“If it ain't broke, don't fix it” was said by no liberal, ever.)

So, I say again, Obama deserves this much credit, at least. He did indeed save America, but not in the way he claims. And for this I believe he deserves our gratitude. Or, at least... OK, if he gives back that Nobel Peace Prize we'll call it even.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016: A Most Radical Year

Dig up the oldest stone tablet from the oldest ruins of the oldest known civilization, and chances are it will be inscribed with the name of a king, and a reference to his victories in battle. These are the universal markers by which human societies define themselves and reckon time. Granted, there are other cataclysmic events – floods, famines, earthquakes, and the like – that merit occasional reference, but the basic stuff of history is always and everywhere rulers and wars.

And our own history as a nation differs from this not a whit. We have self-defining (as opposed to necessary) wars, and we have kings – you know, the ones who are elected or re-elected every four years. We don't call them kings, but that's what they are, i.e. that is the purpose they serve – as figureheads, exemplars, idols, “most admired”, “man of the year”, and so on... and their administrations are provided with terms like “era”, “age of”, and – most shamelessly -- “Camelot”. Whether their actual powers rise to the level of kings and tyrants of old is debatable, but in terms of the sheer numbers of people impacted by virtually everything they say or do they are clearly superior to any known rulers up to the 20th Century. Chairman Mao was the greatest tyrant of all not only because he was a tyrant, but because of the mind-boggling number of people he had life-and-death power over. Look on, ye minor, forgettable, and occasionally pathetic “kings” of the British Isles of old, and despair!

But what would history be, after all, without eras... periods... dividing lines? Just an endless stream of mind-numbing facts, and we surely can't have that! The Old Testament provides a good example. Yes, it is structured in terms of rulers and wars, but there is plenty else going on as well – and those other events, of the types that always risk being “under the radar” for historians, are often, in the long run, more important. More people recite King David's Psalms on a daily basis than remember all of his wars, battles, triumphs, mishaps, and failings.

So American history, on the topmost, surface level, is, basically, a chronicle of presidents and wars, with a few market crashes and depressions thrown in for good measure. Take every statue and every memorial in every park and public square in the nation, add them all up, and the overwhelming majority will have to do with warriors, battles, and wars – with occasional references to things like exploration, invention, technology... but you can pretty much forget about “peace”. Peace didn't make good press in 1000 BC, and it doesn't make good press now. It's not that peace is opposed to human nature; it is, arguably, one of our many ideals and values, but it's so readily trumped by war and strife that one wonders that it survives at all – anywhere. And yet, from a Darwinian point of view, war may be an expression of a natural human drive expressed in large numbers, but periods of peace are also necessary, if for no other reason than to provide rest and gather up resources for the next war. Not only that, but warring and invading tribes have a tendency to, sooner or later, settle down and start farming. If they didn't, they might vanish altogether. Yesterday's fierce warriors become today's peacemakers; look no further than Scandinavia, or Japan.

We see this so clearly in our own history: No sooner is a war won, or somehow ended, or just peters out, than we enjoy a brief period of peace then start getting restless and looking around for the next opportunity to make the world safe for democracy, or some other delusional meme. If you take the history of this country and subtract all the wars (including wars connected to westward expansion, “police actions” and all undeclared wars, as well as those fought on the sly, e.g. by CIA mercenaries) there's not a whole lot left. Economic trends and many social trends have been war-driven, not to mention technological advances. Without war, we would have quickly devolved into a tribe of lotus-eating proto-hippies, lounging on the greensward until some barbarian tribe rode over the hill and put us all to a quick but still unpleasant death. It has been said that “war is the health of the state”, which is true if one defines health as accretion of power. But it may also be true that lack of war is, in the long run, the death of the state – if we only envision part of the world as being peaceful and pacifistic. It may well, be, for example, that nations in our time that are lauded for being peaceable are only able to be so as long as others are at war. The peace and stability of Scandinavia, for example, may well depend, at least partially, on the perpetual stand-off between the U.S. and Russia.

So if the history of the U.S. is, above all, a history of wars and presidents, then it also has to be a history of how wars start and how presidents are elected. Wars can start for pretty much any reason, or for no reason – and they can end the same way. And the amazing thing is that things are no clearer when we witness them first-hand – i.e. when they are “current events” -- than when they are confined to dusty tomes in the history section of the library. Quick, now, class – who can tell me how, and why, we got involved in Vietnam? And who can tell me how, and why, we got out? It sure as hell wasn't because we won. See? This is in living memory, but it is no less an enigma wrapped in a conundrum than it was in 1975. So how can we expect to do any better with the current events of our time? How did Donald Trump get elected? How did Hillary Clinton lose? Is there any agreement on these questions? Not that I'm aware. The Trump camp is attributing his victory to a number of political, social, and economic factors, and the Clinton camp is attributing her loss to, basically, Trump – and his supporters and facilitators in the FBI, on talk radio, on Fox News, and in Russia. (And please note that we're talking about the same FBI that is part of the Obama administration, and the talk radio that, allegedly, no one listens to because all it is is racism, sexism, and homophobia aimed at “deplorables”.) (And by the way, the voting machines that the Democrats, before the election, declared to be absolutely, positively, immune to hacking and meddling turn out, in retrospect, to be highly fallible and suspect.) Heaven forbid the Democrats/liberals' loss should be the fault of the Democrats/liberals or their candidate! Theory forbids it!

Oh, and let's not forget the Electoral College, which, it turns out, is the enemy of the people. I hate to rain on anyone's parade on this issue, but that is precisely what it was designed as – the “enemy” of pure democracy, where delusion, hysteria, and mob rule would carry the day (as they would have done if the Electoral College could have, somehow, been persuaded to reverse the results of the most recent election).  It was also designed to protect state sovereignty, a subject which has about as much salience in our time as the economic impact of buggy whips.  

Another factor which seems to be built into our system, although one is hard pressed to find it in the founding documents, is the perennial “pendulum swing” between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, communist and fascist (well, that's what they call each other, so who am I to argue?), tradition vs. reform or “progressive”, and so on – to which we can add populist vs. establishment, which crosses the other dimensions. A lot of this may simply be an artifact of the two-party system – also not at all envisioned by the Founding Fathers and to be found nowhere in the founding documents. It's also an inevitable effect of an ideational system combined with the natural human tendency to see things in either/or, black-and-white, in- vs. out-group, friend vs. enemy, etc. terms. Take a look at any public school playground (or prison exercise yard), and witness the natural human tendency to form gangs, societies, clubs, in-groups, cliques. But our system, again because of its ideational nature, tends to limit this natural process in a binary fashion – there can only be two parties allowed, and anything else is beyond the pale. This is why there's a perennial opposition, not only by the established parties, but also by the media, academics, economists, political theoreticians, etc. to “third parties” (which may be great in number, but which are all considered “third”). Maybe it's all about left- vs. right-brain, who knows? The fact remains that there is always a ruling party and an acceptable opposition – and which is which can change fairly suddenly as the result of an election. But they are, at the same time, united in their belief in the two-party system. That, somehow, matches up with their basic premises about reality – about the way things ought to be. Politics is pretty much a game, with opposing teams, but every election is a Super Bowl because there are no other serious contenders – and this is the way they like it. Third parties may be amusing at times, or annoying, but they are hardly a threat unless they act as “spoilers” in an election – but there is always a debate as to who wound up getting “spoiled” and why.

What's less tolerable to either party is an uprising within its own ranks, and in our time that has taken the form of populism on both left and right – Bernie Sanders on the one hand and Donald Trump on the other. And what's amusing about this is that each populist uprising represented a rebuke to the party mainstream; Sanders was a better, and more authentic Democrat than Hillary, and Trump was at least as authentic a Republican as any of the other contenders. But that doesn't matter, because according to the conventional wisdom, populism is an idea whose time has come and gone. It was new and fresh and charming prior to World War I, but since then saner heads have prevailed, and the grown-ups are in charge, and we don't need any more children's crusades or idealists or any other sorts of nonsense. (Consider the fate of third-party populists and other upstarts, like George Wallace, Ross Perot, and Gene McCarthy – a veritable parade of Don Quixotes.)

I should also add that any Democratic candidate will attempt to project an aura of populism to some extent; after all, they are “the party of the people”, right? But if that's true, why do they ever lose elections, since there are always more of “the people” than of the elite. Oh, but wait, I forgot – some of “the people” keep getting fooled by capitalists into voting against their own interests. Either that or they are “self-hating”, or delusional, i.e. casting their lot with the elite even though they are bourgeois at best. The truth, of course, is that the Democratic establishment is as elite an outfit as you'll find anywhere, and they are no more interested in the plight of the “working stiff” than anyone else. This is why it's possible to have a populist uprising within the Democratic Party; it's not a contradiction or a redundancy, any more than Gene McCarthy's campaign was.

The extent to which the mainstream Republicans and the mainstream Democrats have been reading off, basically, the same sheet of music for decades might not have been revealed in such an obvious fashion if Trump had been left in the dust by the nomination process, or been soundly defeated in the election. But things turned out otherwise, and the caterwauling from all quarters is a marvel to behold. Add to this that we have apparently turned out an entire generation of hysterics and paranoiacs, who have now taken to the streets and the airwaves to express their near-suicidal despair over Trump's victory. Seriously, now, did you know there were that many people of this type in this country? It's like a negligent homeowner who one day discovers that the sheer biomass of rats, mice, and cockroaches he's sharing his dwelling with outweighs him by many times. It's kind of creepy, frankly. It turns out that we're surrounded by pod people. But if anyone else on the Republican roster had been nominated, and had won, none of this would be happening. Traditionally, the winners revel in their victory and the losers retire to lick their wounds and make plans to fight another day – but half the populace does not engage in a collective meltdown. And it's not because anything Trump has said or done is all that radical, really – it's just that he's not in the club. He came out of left field, and opposed not only the Democrats and the mainstream Republicans, but also the basic political premises of both. So in that sense, he's radical, and his election victory is not just another mile marker but a radical event.

How radical is it, Johnny? Well, let's think back to 1964 with Johnson vs. Goldwater – both total establishment insiders, and Goldwater's brand of conservatism had a populist flavor, as did Reagan's brand, as opposed to the elitist version represented by William F. Buckley. It was, if you will, an idea whose time had not yet come – or, more precisely, come back from exile. Recall, if you will, that Reagan was considered more radically conservative than Goldwater, and yet he managed to win – but 16 years had gone by, and liberalism had had many more opportunities to demonstrate its bankruptcy in the meantime.

On the other hand, it can also be argued than the Carter campaign of 1976 had a populist flavor – I mean, what could be more “down home” than a peanut farmer from Georgia? But I attribute his victory more to the residual anti-Nixon forces than to Carter's merits (assuming he had any, which is still debatable). Gerald Ford had Nixon cooties clinging to him the way Humphrey had LBJ cooties, and the way Mondale still had Carter cooties in 1984.

In any case, Carter turned out to be a pretty poor example of a populist; it took him about five minutes to become co-opted by the power structure, and five more minutes to be ignored while they went on their merry way. And if Goldwater had won in 1964, would we have seen the mass mourning we are witnessing today? It's hard so say, but again, Goldwater was an insider, albeit on one end of the political spectrum. I don't think the reaction would have been any more extreme than the reaction against Reagan in 1980, although that was extreme enough, at least for its time.

So while Trump was nowhere near the most “radical” candidate in the post-World War II period in terms of his actual platform, he was certainly the most “outsider” candidate who actually won – more than Carter and more than Reagan, even though he also had his own brand of populism. The point is, even though populism is, paradoxically, a minority movement in our time, it's not the most radical position. Even libertarianism and strict constitutionalism are things people can understand, even as they disagree and look down on anyone who “believes that stuff”. But being a true outsider – this cannot be allowed, since it threatens the entire system. It's not radical within the form, as Goldwater and Reagan were; it's radical outside the form, and in fact radical because it's outside the form. Imagine, a rich businessman taking over one of the major political parties and winning the presidency! Is there any precedent for this in our entire history? Not that I'm aware. It's like the difference between rooting for one's team in the NFL and wishing that someone would take over the NFL and do away with it. The world would shatter! And that's just what has happened to so many of these – in many cases, remarkably young – political types. The world they grew up (so to speak) in has apparently been smashed to atoms, and they are totally set adrift, with no anchor and no umbilical cord. How did they acquire this fragile a world view in so few years, I wonder? I suspect the public schools had something to do with it – only to be reinforced by what they encountered in college, while at the same time hearing, seeing, and reading nothing in serious opposition in any media. Their skulls are like the proverbial glass house – and Donald Trump has been only too happy to start lobbing stones.

What's in store for these people? Do they stay miserable and helpless for 4 or 8 years? Do they become depressed and go underground, and start a revolution? I don't think they have it in them. But to think of such a large portion of the population given over to instant despair and resignation – that is depressing in its own right. Perhaps when reality overcomes Trump and Co. starting on Jan. 20, these people will see that nothing all that terrible will happen because nothing all that terrible can happen – or, to be more precise, the baseline upon which we act out our history is not about to change. We've been here too long. There are too many layers of delusion, habit, bureaucracy, custom, expectation, ossification, and petrification preventing things from being a whole different tomorrow than they are today. Besides which, someone out there has things well in hand, and no mere businessman-turned-politician is going to be able to budge what has become a monolith. If, as has been said, progress is an illusion, then it may be that change is an illusion as well – change for the worse as well as change for the better, except in tiny increments that don't impress anybody, and that constitute an endless source of frustration for idealists and revolutionaries.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Every Race is the Master Race

The Trump victory in the presidential race has spawned a number of memes, all generated by the Democrats/liberals and their mainstream media allies – among which are (1) “fake news”, (2) the notion that the Electoral College is, somehow, now invalid because it came up with the wrong result, and (3) “white supremacy”. What these have in common, supposedly, is that without all 3 Trump would never have been elected. (In the case of “white supremacy” it's not that whites are actually supreme – heaven forbid! -- but that certain people either believe they are or want them to be.)

My answer to the “fake news” issue can be summed up as follows: The problem is that much of what is called fact-checking is merely the substitution of one person's (or group's) "facts" for another's. Bonafide fact-checking, if universally applied, would mean the end of politics -- which, come to think it, would not be a bad thing.

For what is politics, after all, but the art of deception? Some will say, no, it's also about persuasion, negotiation, compromise, and so on – but why are these things always accomplished at the expense of the truth? Or, as in the case of the Clintons, why are they frequently accomplished at the expense of the idea that there even is any such thing as the truth? In that sense, politics becomes a substitute for the truth, and “political correctness” is nothing less than a tyrannical way of inflicting one person's – or a small group's – reality on everyone else.

The current post-election political debate simply continues the one that has been raging for decades, namely: What is the core reality – the “truth” -- about America? Has it been a force for good in the world, or a force of evil? Or, in the long run, neutral, the good balancing out the bad? And on the domestic side, has our system served the people properly, or has it been intended, all along, to serve the elite, with everyone else having to be satisfied with crumbs? And each side in any of these debates has the “numbers” -- the statistics and the historical records – behind them to support their position (as with “global warming”).

You can be sitting next to someone on the bus, on any day of the week, who has as wildly different a view of this country and its history and politics as you would expect from someone who just landed from Mars. And yet they have the “facts” on their side, just as you have. So if one person's “facts” are another person's delusions, rumors, conspiracy theories, fantasies, etc. -- what does “fact-checking” mean other than the imposition of one set of opinions over another? Ultimately, each individual has to judge, for himself or herself, two things – what is truth and how can one know it? These are the classic philosophical categories of metaphysics and epistemology, and no amount of political maneuvering, propaganda, or media dominance can take anyone off the hook when it comes to these core issues. Another way of putting it is that “brainwashing” only works if there's already a hole there waiting to be filled.

In other words, I am responsible for my beliefs. No one else is, and I'm not responsible for anyone else's beliefs. Oh sure, I can do whatever I want to persuade others, but if I fail to convert them, too bad, and I have to grant them at least enough respect to allow them to hold on to their reality (and hope that they will eventually be converted by experience, i.e. by life itself).

As to the Electoral College, I've dealt with that already, and yes, it is a serious issue. It's in the Constitution, but that doesn't make it sacred, because the Constitution can be changed. What makes me suspicious is that the only people who ever object to the Electoral College are the ones who just lost an election. I'd like to see the winners try to get rid of it some time. But the current debate does provide a civics lesson for those who managed to sleep all through civics, AKA “social studies”, class. To wit, the U.S. is not a pure or absolute democracy, and never has been. We have a representative government for a reason, and an Electoral College for, basically, the same reason. And it boils down to who do you trust more, the masses or the “best among them”, which, presumably, describes elected officials. And yes, I know, more often than not our elected representatives seem to be, far from the best among us, the worst among us. (I often refer to the retirement plan for Pennsylvania state politicians -- “3 hots and a cot” in the state penitentiary.) And that may be sufficient reason to convert our system over to an absolute democracy – the idea being that the “wisdom of the people”, or of “the common man”, is superior to the inevitably corrupted thinking of politicians. The main problem with this is that the supposed wisdom of the common man is not always rooted in the traditional verities; it's more likely to be a product of whims, fads, delusions, and hysteria, all of which are whipped up and exploited by, guess who, politicians and their lackeys in the media. So – bottom line – if we put “the people” in charge, they won't be any more in charge than they are now. They'll have the illusion of being in charge, perhaps, but it will be only that – an illusion, just as the whole notion of “people's republics” under communism was, and remains, an illusion.

But the real point of this post is to “drill down” into the notion of “white supremacy”. Historically, this country was founded on, among other things, the implicit notion that, of course, the white – i.e. European, and preferably Northwestern European – race was superior, and fit for independence and self-rule, whereas other races might just be better off ruled with an iron fist. (This was back before “spreading democracy” became a meme in its own right.) In fact, the premise was that, even though we were, by and large, of English descent and America was a British colony, we were, somehow, just enough better than our relatives in the Old Country that we deserved to be free of their rule, supervision, and oversight. After all, we had the gumption to escape the close, claustrophobic confinements of the Old World and dare the rolling seas in order to reach the New World.  That alone endowed us with sufficient merit to justify any attempts at gaining independence.  

Add to this that the premise of superiority was also based on the notion that we had inherited the wisdom of the Greeks and Romans and pretty much everybody else worth reading or listening to in the meantime (provided, of course, that those purveyors of wisdom were our own kind – but who listens to the Greeks these days, in any case?). This formed the basis for (usually) implicit racism, ethnocentrism, and religious prejudice, and all of the discriminatory and oppressive policies that followed. And those policies had to be challenged and broken, one by one – and the process continues to this day. This is American history, folks – and it's really quite simple. On July 4, 1776 we entered into a dialectic, and that dialectic continues and is likely to continue as long as the Republic exists. It's inevitable, based on human nature, and on the fact what while history doesn't change, our view of it and of its significance does, and that's what counts (politically, at least).

And this dialectic keeps changing, evolving, and morphing – getting renewed and refueled with each newly-discovered “issue” (or impending “existential threat”). First it was about democracy per se – what it is, what it is not, is it a good thing or something to be handled with care, etc. Next it was the question of whether “the people” should be heard and earnestly listened to, as opposed to letting the elite (gentleman farmers, merchants, bankers, etc.) run things. Next came the slavery issue. And in the meantime we had the immigration issue, which continues to this day. Then it was about America's role in the world. Did we want to become a colonial power like the dominant European nations? Was it our job to bail out Old Europe and set things right? Was democracy such a universally good idea that it ought to be spread worldwide at all costs? (Note that this particular question is just about 100 years old at this point, and not settled yet.) Then on the domestic side, is it government's job to secure not only life and property, but to see that everyone is suitably clothed, housed, fed, educated, and employed? (See what I mean by the “dialectic”? Most of these questions are still being debated.)

But to get back to the issue at hand, the consensus among the talking heads of our time is that “white supremacy”, however defined, is always bad – that it's a bad, and in fact wrong, idea... that it's simplistic, oppressive, hateful... that it leads to oppression, discrimination, “hate”, bad politics... ad infinitum. It's seldom, if ever, even spoken out loud that identification with one's own race (or ethnic group, tribe, clan, etc.), accompanied by a certain amount of pride, is the most natural thing in the world among human societies, both historically and in the present day. An honest anthropologist will tell you, in fact, that without that sense of identity a society cannot even exist in a coherent and meaningful way – that there has to be an “us” and a “them” to, in effect, define borders and boundaries, both literal and figurative. The same honest anthropologist might also be willing to acknowledge that when one asks the members of any tribe what they call themselves, the word they provide simply means “people” or “men” in their language – the implication being that anyone else – the outsider, the stranger, the other – is less than a person... less than a man.

The irony here is that our commentariat has no problem whatsoever with identity politics, or with just about any form of group “pride” -- with the exception that when white people, and especially white men, do it, it's wrong. And this is based on the unstated premise that “pride” is something that has to be kept in reserve for the oppressed, for minorities, for those seeking upward mobility, their share of the “pie”, etc. Pride is the engine of their advancement, in other words – whereas the pride of the “oppressor class” is a way of uniting them in the effort to keep everyone else down.

But here's where it gets interesting. White non-Hispanic (add “heterosexual” if you like) men are now in the minority – so why don't they now have a newly-minted right to express racial/ethnic/gender/sexual identity along with everyone else? Well, it's because they were formerly a member of an oppressive majority, and in fact the oppression continues even though they are now in the numerical minority. This is the thinking (if it can even be characterized as such). Plus, they deserve to be punished, unto the third and fourth generation, if not beyond, for the crimes of their forebears. (This is the notion that karma cannot be allowed to just happen, it has to be enforced.)

You might, if you searched diligently enough, find a member of the commentariat who was willing to admit that racial/ethnic pride is a perfectly natural thing and not to be condemned per se. But then politics enters in, and that which started out natural becomes a weapon – either of revolution or oppression (or of revolution, then oppression). The liberal project of remaking human nature never runs out of challenges and projects – and the current one, which requires a much finer hand than any of them possesses, is to reward and reinforce racial/ethnic pride among “minorities”, and sexual/gender pride among other “minorities”, while condemning and punishing the exact same things among the (allegedly) dominant (non-) majority. I say it requires a fine hand – and that would be much finer than the knee-jerk habit of finding racists, sexists, homophobes, male chauvinists, etc. around every corner. It would certainly require something more than political correctness, one of the primary tools of the culture wars but which is brutal and ham-handed in its application – not to mention that it's one of the major means by which certain people gain and maintain power.

Anyone can see that what we are dealing with here is a form of genocide – not in the literal, physical sense but in the area of self-esteem. Make a good portion of the populace afraid of criticism and ashamed of just being alive, and you have, in effect, killed them off – wiped them off the map politically and culturally, and rendered their values (including culture, customs, habits, etc.) unacceptable and on the way to extinction. Make them non-persons and they become little more than slaves, and we are all too familiar with the charms of that state of existence.

This is, in fact, the program of the mainstream media, liberals, Democrats, academicians, and popular culture purveyors of our time – and what has them all upset is that their victims/targets have finally awakened and started to push back. The election of Donald Trump was their greatest victory to date, and the question now is, was that the high water mark, and there is nothing in the future but to lose ground and suffer further, and more severe, oppression? Or do we at the very least now have two visible and viable camps, with neither one about to go away? Well... I hate to say it, but we had a situation not unlike this prior to the Civil War. Let's hope that some other sort of accommodation can be reached this time around.

As near as I can tell, the overt “white supremacy” movement is the act of a small minority, and likely to stay that way. If there was racial/ethnic pride involved in Trump's victory it was, by and large, implicit and unstated – and even unconscious (and any true feeling of belonging ought to be, i.e. it shouldn't have to be asserted out loud at all times and on all occasions). But does pride in “my” group necessarily imply hostility or “hate” for all other groups, or for particular groups other than my own? I don't see why it should, and in fact it usually doesn't, as near as I can tell – any more than any given “diverse”, or “minority” group has to automatically dislike all the others.

I think what's more likely is that the Democratic/liberal program was rejected on its own terms, not because it was the property of “minorities”. The mainstream media narrative is that it was all about “hate”, but it's much more likely it was about a feeling of being left out – left behind. This is a feeling that has been building over the past few decades – let's say, for convenience, since the end of the Reagan presidency. It's nothing new, but this time around it found a voice. Do these people dream of taking over and oppressing minorities (again or for the first time)? I'd say it's more likely that all they want is respect, visibility, and a voice that will not be drowned out by purveyors of shame.

If bonafide “white supremacists” see an opening now, well, my guess is that they're in for a disappointment. For one thing, they're going to have a hard time getting people to distinguish their, let's call it, “coat-and-tie white supremacy” from the old KKK style – and the media are certainly not going to give them any help in this regard. And they're going to have a hard time getting people to distinguish legitimate pride from its poor country cousin. I think, in other words, that it's a dead end as a movement – and yet one can understand the roots and the causes, just as one can understand the rise of Islamic radicalism in the face of our endless meddling in the Middle East. A chained dog may be more dangerous than a free one once that chain is broken.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A G-Man for Our Time

It was enough to make you nostalgic for the days of J. Edgar Hoover. If Hoover had had as much on any president, presidential candidate, or pretty much anyone else as James Comey had, he wouldn't have talked about it, he certainly wouldn't have told Congress, and he would have kept it carefully hidden, to be used as blackmail material later on, should the need arise. J. Edgar was the great puppet master of his time, and he struck fear into the hearts of anybody and everybody who had any interest in getting, or staying, ahead in Washington, DC or in politics in general. He was, arguably, the most powerful man in Washington, at least in the later decades of his seemingly-interminable tenure.

But those days are over with, and now we're in the era of public spectacles, open accusations, open denials, and all the rest of it. Some will argue that this is an improvement over the old secretive, hypocritical days; I don't know. It could be argued that pretending is preferable to mucking about in the offal under the glare of the multi-media spotlight; at least it lent a slightly more dignified air to things.

And has corruption become worse, or is it just more public? It is certainly harder to keep secrets now, with the breaking of the old-time media monopolies and the rise of alternative information sources like WikiLeaks. The larger question as to whether increased exposure will noticeably alter human political behavior is as yet unanswered, but I'm not optimistic.

In any case, in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign came James Comey, an apparently scrupulous and honest man who happened to be working for, and within, a remarkably corrupt administration. So his life must have been an endless series of decisions, on an almost daily basis – do you please the boss by adhering to her suggestions and “guidance”, or do you follow the mission statement of the agency you're in charge of? In other words, do you do the right thing, and damn the consequences? The FBI is, I would say, more above politics than the average government department or agency, but can it possibly be totally above politics? Highly unlikely. So anyone in that position has to choose, and they have to fall back on their own principles on a regular basis. (Or, if they have no principles, fall back on politics.)

So what comes out of all this seems strange at times. Comey recommended that Clinton and/or her aides not be indicted, but then laid out an elaborately detailed case that made it clear that they could have been, except (implied) that his boss, i.e. the attorney general, would never have pursued the matter. And then three months later, after having effectively said (to Congress) “case closed” he comes back with new information – all in the interests of full disclosure, avoiding the appearance of a cover up, etc.

I think in the first case he knew full well that no indictment was ever going to come out of the Justice Department, so to save face (the agency's and his own) he declined to recommend it. But because he is an honest man, and wanted to “make a statement”, basically in defiance of the overall corruption of the administration, he laid out the case. So, on balance, were Clinton & Co. pleased or annoyed? They certainly acted pleased, but when someone hangs out a pile of your dirty laundry you're bound to be annoyed as well. Did Comey have any reason to think he was going to be fired by Obama/Lynch? I believe he had taken care of that matter by his recommendation not to indict – plus, he had to be aware of the long-standing ambivalence in the relationship between Obama and Clinton. It wouldn't be the worse thing in the world for Clinton to be in a bit of hot water, in other words; in some ways it would validate the fact that Obama had been nominated in 2008 and had won.

But did Comey have any reason to think he would be fired on Day One of the next Clinton administration, assuming that Hillary had won, which – up to that point – seemed like a certainty? It seems like he would have ample reason to think that – and so when the next avalanche of e-mails happened, he figured he had nothing to lose by not only notifying Congress, but by telling everybody that he had done so.

There is nothing more dangerous, in a sense, than a dead man walking – if that dead man still has some weapons at his disposal. And you'll notice that, although Justice put up a fight on this, he was not totally slapped down or fired. Perhaps they knew better, at least prior to the election – you know, “optics” and all that. Their real attitude would have become much clearer on Nov. 9, but we'll never know for certain.

I must say, though, that there is something particularly delicious about the fact that the entire second look at Hillary's e-mails started with an investigation into Anthony Weiner's “sexting” with an underage female. The karmic significance of this cannot be overstated. And to add to the deliciousness is the possibility that the attorney general held off on quashing Comey's letter to Congress because she had been compromised by her airside chit-chat with Bill Clinton, as explained in this article:

This has to be one of the “funnest” connect-the-dots puzzles in recent memory – especially when the picture that emerges is, not surprisingly, one of bottomless corruption spiced up with incompetence, grandiosity, and a towering attitude of entitlement. How often do we see people really and truly getting the comeuppance they deserve? It's a gift that just keeps on giving – and the reason it does is that the dead keep coming back to life, like in a B-grade horror flick. Hillary lost (1) the nomination in 2008, (2) the election in 2016, (3) the recount in 2016, and (4) the Electoral College vote in 2016. As Rush Limbaugh said, shouldn't we at least give her a participation trophy?

(And by the way, if Trump doesn't keep Comey on as FBI director, he's betraying the guy who may well have put him into office. In this respect at least, I agree with Hillary.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Unholy Silence

Two quarters that we are hearing next to nothing from since the election are (1) Hillary and (2) Israel. Other than being in the cheering section and one of the prime supporters of Jill Stein's recount crusade, Hillary really has been remarkably silent, as have her minions. The explanation for this... well, it could be a number of things.

“Optics”: She may not want to “distract” from the pristine purity of a complete underdog – Jill Stein – going up against The Power, which is another way of saying she doesn't want to look like a sore loser. But why not? Isn't she finished in politics? Not a bit of it. I suspect the “Hillary in 2020” campaign is already being organized (the way the “Hillary in 2016” campaign was launched the day after the Democratic convention in 2008). So – let Stein look like a sore loser; she's expendable. If she succeeds, it will only benefit Hillary, and Stein will be thrown into the same dustbin as Bernie Sanders.

Hoping that Stein succeeds, and the campaign to bag “faithless electors” succeeds, Hillary might just wind up winning! -- or so she thinks. In which case, there is plenty of planning to do, but it has to be kept super-secret (not unlike HillaryCare) or she risks looking like a fool if Stein fails.

Plus, she doesn't want to be too closely associated with the Green Party, which – much to their shame, if they had any – is what the Democrats should be like rather than what they are like, namely one head of the two-headed monster that serves the Regime.

Bottom line – Hillary has not given up on politics, and she hasn't given up on this election. She and her inner circle are plotters and schemers, and they never sleep. And she and Bill are, lest we forget, still in charge of the Democratic Party, which means they have an army of unthinking slaves, like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. You can be sure they're up to something, the only question is what.

Now we come to Israel, which is even more of a conundrum. Has Bibi phoned Trump to congratulate him, or Hillary to commiserate? Not that I'm aware. And after all, whose side was he on? He came over here in 2012 and campaigned for Romney – an absolutely outrageous act which should have caused great indignation, especially among the Democrats – but no one seemed to notice. The Republicans were glad to have the support, and the Democrats didn't dare criticize, because to criticize Israel or anything its leadership does is to be anti-Semitic, a Nazi, blah blah blah. So the Dems were tongue-tied, and it was a marvel to behold, since it happens so seldom.

But this time around? We know the Russians seemed to be favoring Trump, for some reason – maybe because they see him as a non-ideologue, and Hillary as just more of the same Obama-esque “cold war lite” nonsense. And in our time, anyone the Russians like will more or less automatically be disliked by Israel, except that things have been a bit icy between them and Obama, and Hillary would, as far as they knew, continue Obama's foreign policy with nary a bump. (My theory was that her foreign policy would look more like Bush's, which should have been just groovy with Israel.  But apparently they had their doubts.)

In any case, Israel didn't make a peep during the election, and hasn't made a peep since. I suspect they've adopted a “wait and see” attitude, since Trump is a bit of an unknown in many respects (unlike Hillary, who is all too transparent, which is one reason she lost). They figure once he takes office they can sit down and reason together, which is true – and yet their stony silence is nonetheless intriguing.

Unless they know more about this recount issue than we do; maybe they're hedging their bets. After all, their intel and spying apparatus is the best in the world by far, not to mention the fact that pretty much any Israeli teenager can hack into the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. -- not to mention the Democratic Party, and who said that hacking them was the sole privilege of Russia?

(Note that there was a widely-circulated “conspiracy theory” among anti-Clintonites a while back that many if not all of the voting machines in the U.S. were either owned or programmed by, or both, Israeli companies. I never looked into this because I figure, they don't need to get down in the weeds that way, they have our politicians in their back pocket anyway, so why should they care who wins? But it was an interesting theory if only in that it reflected a common assumption that of course the Israelis wanted Hillary to win. But of course it could have just as readily been the other way around, and that's what Stein & Co. are obsessing about at this point. Not about Israeli involvement, I mean, but about the hackability of the American electoral system – which never seems to bother them when they win, needless to say.)

Anyway – these are, arguably, sidebar issues, but intriguing nonetheless. Hillary in particular is much more dangerous when she's silent and out of sight than when she's out in public. This, as I've theorized before, is the main reason Obama made her secretary of state, just so he could keep an eye on her and cut down on her scheming. And it did seem to work for a while, plus it gave her a chance to completely muck up our foreign policy, which, on some level, might have been quite satisfying to Obama -- “Aren't you glad you didn't nominate and elect her to the presidency?” (I suspect a similar mindset is behind Obama's silence regarding the outcome of the election. The possibility that he can out-scheme her and Bill must be pretty darn irritating to both of them.)

The problem with people who are entirely political in their motivation is, well, that they're entirely political. They have no loyalty. They will desert and abandon friends, supporters, and colleagues at the drop of a hat. There are countless buses just waiting for some Democratic politician to throw some other Democratic politician under them. It's a very primitive, brutal, dog-eat-dog world they live in. The Republicans are far more gentlemanly, which is probably why they typically lose political battles; they just aren't cut out for the way things are done in our time. And I'm sure that was a big part of Trump's appeal – here's a guy who doesn't even pretend to be a gentleman, or refined, or a diplomat. He's more like a Democrat than a Republican in that sense – which may be one reason why he appealed to the lusty, rough-and-ready portion of the electorate – you know, the people with their organs of reproduction still intact, unlike the army of eunuchs that currently comprises the White House staff and the DNC.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

December Surprise

It's the stuff that conspiracy theorists' dreams are made of – and it's happening right now, before our eyes! Hillary and her Stalinist army are trying to overturn the results of the election, while Trump & Co., plus a few resigned Republicans, are busy populating the next administration (with, by and large, hard-core neocons) and fleshing out their domestic and foreign policy without a care in the world. Are we witnessing the greatest political stunt in American history? Is Hillary playing rope-a-dope with the Republicans – pretending to give up when, in fact, she is doing just the opposite – gathering her forces for the mother of all battles? If so, she's going to catch them off guard because right now they are engaged in unparalleled triumphalist reveling, and not noticing the cockroaches falling out of every crack in the wall and skittering about on the floor.

And sure, the Electoral College comes up for criticism every time there's a close election but, funny thing is, no one ever does anything about it. Hillary herself has complained bitterly about it on previous occasions, but then never followed up. And it's hard to see why, because, after all, the Democrats are, as the name implies, democrats – that is, they believe in absolute majority rule, and never mind the federalist niceties of representative government. They did manage, a while back, to impose the popular vote on Senate races, which pretty much makes the Senate and the House indistinguishable except for length of term. And now they would love to do the same for the presidency because of all the surplus votes that go to waste in the “blue” states, whereas in the “red” states, every vote counts. What good does it do to have an overwhelming majority in the East and West Coast states, if a bunch of hayseeds in the Midwest and South can still snatch the presidency out of one's deserving hands? And you'll notice, every day there's a new headline announcing how much Hillary has gained in “the popular vote” -- as if it mattered! So we see that the propaganda campaign is in full swing, and a Constitutional amendment may, at long last, be in the offing. Once the Democrats regain control of Congress and the state legislatures, that is. 

Now, I say that Hillary & Co. are disputing the election results – but not always directly. Obama has apparently told them to cool it with the poor-loser crap, and I suspect that it's because (1) there really was never any love lost between him and Hillary; (2) he sees Hillary's loss as his own vindication, in that he won in 2008 whereas she might very well have lost; (3) he'd rather not have a fellow Democrat fouling up his legacy (which she would be certain to do); and (4) he doesn't want the last few weeks of his term marred by a “Constitutional crisis”, especially if he might be forced to “take a position” on the matter. So – my theory, of course – Hillary has turned over the heavy lifting to Jill Stein, who has mysteriously already collected over $5 million for the cause of recounting votes in three states. (I never knew recounts cost anything – at least not for the candidates. Live and learn!) And of course there are now “experts” -- mostly unnamed, of course -- who have provided statistical arguments in favor of the recounts. And – horror of horrors! -- the results don't match the poll numbers. (I guess in the future we can settle who's going to be president just by polling, and skip the election entirely, if poll numbers are so superior to actual election results.)

Another question that might just occur to someone who remembers what happened in 1960, and in countless other elections – national, state, and local – over the years, is: What happened to the big-city Democrat machine? This has traditionally been a kind of automat that dispenses extra votes, as needed, to put Democrat candidates over the top – and has operated primarily in large cities, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. And look at the three states that Stein has targeted: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Two of those have old-time machine cities – Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. So wha' hoppen? Either the Dems are losing their grip on their traditional urban strongholds (possibly due, at least in part, to “white flight”, which was caused by “urban renewal”, which was a Democrat program – please ring the Irony Bell, thank you) or other parts of the country have gained just enough in electoral votes, which means in population, to tip the scales. But why has the South, for instance, gained in population? The terms “right to work”, “taxation”, and “cost of living” occur to me – and two out of those three are, once again, directly related to Democrat domestic and economic policy.

If all of this sounds a bit like karma, or “what goes around comes around”, it's no accident. And it shows how “agents of change” may get more “change” than they bargained for, or the wrong kind.

So much for the irony of the Democrats asking for a recount. Someone said, regarding elections, “if it's not close, they can't cheat”. What seems to have happened this time around is that it was close, and they failed to cheat – or they did cheat, but it wasn't enough. In any case, they can't complain – unless they want to repent and declare Nixon the winner, post-mortem, in 1960.

But wait! It's not too late, and, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “it ain't over till it's over”. What if they decided to hold off on the shenanigans on Election Day and during the initial vote count, but are now poised to pull off a coup d'etat in the recount? Wouldn't that take the Republicans by surprise, who are right now busy planning Inauguration Day festivities (or sitting at home sulking)? Is anyone keeping an eye on this? We're all used to the idea that the Electoral College vote is a mere formality, and that of course it can't possibly turn the results of an election around – but this is far from the case. We did not elect a president on Election Day! We elected electors, who may or may not be reliable. They may, for example, decide that "the will of the people” should be interpreted to mean the national popular vote, rather than the vote in their respective states. And if enough of them do that, Big Nurse will emerge triumphant, and Bill will be smirking non-stop for four years.

So... OK, as I said, this is red meat for the conspiracy crowd, and it will be even more so if Hillary, disguised as Jill Stein, succeeds and the election is reversed. It can't happen, you say? Well, neither could Trump have been nominated for the presidency, and neither could he have won. So much for “impossibility” -- which is akin to “inevitability” on the wishful thinking scale. (I should also add that the U.S. would never make a movie actor president – except that it did.) (Add “or a peanut farmer” if you like.)

But, should this come to pass, what happens then? I shudder to think, but it might just ignite a civil war. Please note that there is already a war on, with rioting in the streets and electors receiving death threats. But at the same time, many of the losers are holed up in “safe rooms” with teddy bears, blankets, and binkies. (And now they have to deal with the death of Fidel Castro! They just can't win.) I don't think the Trump crowd would take a loss – especially one this unprecedented -- quite so passively.

But why even worry about any of this, because it's not going to happen. It's impossible. Yep. No way. Just roll over and go back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bad Prophet! No Sushi!

Well, I guess it's time to face the music. I can't put it off any longer. I have to, in the interests of “transparency”, resurrect my predictions from last February concerning the presidential election and provide, as promised (or at least implied), a final rating of my talents as a prognosticator. So here goes.

Prediction #1: Obama will nominate someone (not a “flaming liberal” but a “moderate” according to his frame of reference, who will seem like a flaming liberal to conservatives) for the Supreme Court.

Result: True! So I get one point.

Prediction #2: The Republicans will hold hearings (re: confirmation of the nominee)

Result: False! They at least had the cojones to resist all of that pressure, and Obama apparently felt that he had better things to do than threaten “the nuclear option”, i.e. a government shutdown, if the hearings didn't take place. Plus, he was confident enough that Hillary was going to be president that he preferred to toss the matter into her lap. No points.

Prediction #3: Whoever it is will be confirmed because enough Republicans will cave, fearing “voter rage” in the election and/or a “government shutdown” (and how that relates to the Supreme Court is beyond me, but the Democrats are already talking about it – and of course the Republicans will be blamed if it occurs).

Result: See Prediction #2. No points.

Prediction #4: Some of the Republican “base” will be annoyed and skip voting in the November election as a result, giving the Democrats even more of an edge than they already have.

Result: Hard to tell. What I should have said is that some of the Democrat base will skip voting. I underestimated the advantage Obama had in 2008 and 2012 by being a political rock star (and black, by the way). Apparently many of the Democrat stay-at-homes were black and were less than inspired by Hillary (and who can blame them?). No points (due to a minor semantic issue).

Prediction #5 (oh, this is a good one): The Republicans will NOT – repeat, NOT – nominate Trump for president. They would rather lose the election (they've said as much). They are almost as unlikely to nominate Cruz. There will be a “brokered convention” and the mainliners will put up someone they consider a “moderate” -- but who? Bush has dropped out, so that leaves Rubio, and maybe Kasich for VP.

Result: Well, you know. I think what happened was, basically, as follows. The Republican mainstream saw the handwriting on the wall – they had, basically, a mutiny on their hands – and it was easier to just let it run its course than try and fight it off. Plus, they figured that by losing (and they were positive Trump would lose, make no mistake – they were as much believers in Hillary's inevitability as the Democrats were) it would teach those populists – that rabble – a damn good lesson, and give them (the establishment) an excuse to banish them from the party once and for all. They never dreamed in a million years that Trump would actually win, and that his takeover of the party would be set in concrete for at least 4 years. (How he handles this windfall is another question. He could just kick all of the country-club types out and turn the party entirely over to his supporters, but that doesn't seem likely. What's more likely is an uneasy truce, with each side hoping to make gains in 2018.) No points.

Prediction #6: Bernie will be crushed to fine powder by Hillary long before the Democrat convention.

Result: True! Not only that, but it turned out (surprise, surprise) that Bernie was a dead man walking since Day One because there had been a conspiracy against him within the party all along. The dismay his supporters felt could only be exceeded by the fact that, within five minutes after Hillary's nomination, he got down on his knees and became her footstool. A man of principle, right... One point, for a total of 2 so far!

Prediction #7: Hillary will beat whoever the Republicans put up because she already has a solid base of nearly ½ the eligible voters.

Result: Well, I was right about her base. I said at some point that she had 47%, and guess what, she won a bit under 48% of the popular vote. What I failed to anticipate was that she would be unable to add much of anything to her base, i.e. to inspire very many independents or “undecideds”. Whether they switched to Trump, or voted third party, or just stayed home is another matter, but the fact remains that, when it comes to the rock star, AKA charisma, factor, Obama had it and Hillary... not someone you'd exactly want to cozy up to, right? (And Bill agrees.) I'm going to be generous and grant myself half a point on this one, because I called the solid base correctly. (Total: 2 ½ points)

Prediction #8: Once inaugurated, Hillary will dramatically pivot away from the Islamic world and from Muslims in the U.S. But it's unlikely she'll start World War III – for one thing, she and Putin are too much alike. Foreign policy overall will change little from Obama's, which changed little from Bush's.

Result: “Not applicable.” But while we're on the topic, Trump is sliding into the neocon camp faster than you-know-what slides out of a goose. What ever happened to his skepticism about America being involved in countless conflicts overseas? About the American Empire? I knew that kind of loose talk was over with when John Bolton appeared at Trump Tower. He never saw a proxy war he didn't like... and, for that matter, any other kind of war he didn't like. If you think we're already fighting a war on Islam, oops, I mean “terror”, wait until this joker takes the reins at State. No points.

Prediction #9: Domestic policy will be a seamless continuation of Obama's.

Result: “Not applicable.” But I don't think it's going be as radically different as all of the rioters expect. Trump is too much of a realist to go off on any wild pursuits when it comes to domestic policy. I mean, what's he going to do about entitlements? You can't un-scramble eggs, as they say. But we'll see what happens. No points.

Prediction #10: A bachelor pad for Bill Clinton will be built in the White House, with a secret door leading out to Pa. Ave. Also, the Clintons will bring back the furniture they took with them when they moved out in 2001.

Result: These could still happen, but it's unlikely. Especially the furniture part. No points.

Grand total: 2 ½ points out of 10, which would be enough to earn me a passing grade in the Chicago public schools. I think I deserve a participation trophy at least; don't you?

And BTW, is this so-called “failure” going to deter me from making predictions in the future? Surely you jest...