Laura Donnelly Sings Kate Bush
Twin Peaks Revisited

Notes On the Crack-Up of America

(I started fiddling around with this post several days ago, before the debacle in Afghanistan began to unfold. There was never going to be any good way for the U.S. to get out of that situation, but I never thought it would be bungled to this degree, in a repeat of the 1975 fall of Saigon. I had thought that if nothing else, and if only for the sake of its own image, the administration would see to it that the spectacle of terrified local civilians trying to flee the vengeance of the conquerors and being left behind, or even dying in the attempt to cling to aircraft, would not be repeated. I was wrong, obviously. The best single observation on the situation I've heard is in a tweet by someone named Jack Prosobiec, which was linked to by someone at another blog: "DC Theater gave way to reality." That says so much that's so damning about what's happened to our government and our country.)

The terms "liberal" and "conservative" as descriptions of our political factions have always been a problem, but now they make less sense than ever. For a while now I've tended to substitute the simple "left" and "right," because the liberals weren't very liberal and the conservatives weren't very conservative. Now even those are inadequate, so I've resorted to "left-crazy" and "right-crazy." It's crazy all around. 

This Quillette piece, "Watching America's Crack-Up", is a pretty good assessment of what we've come to, though I disagree fairly strongly with some of the specifics. In particular I think the author is seriously mistaken about what's happening and has been happening when Democrats are in charge. Joe Biden is a Hollywood image of what some want to see in a president: white hair, white teeth, blue eyes, handsome for his age. Or maybe not even Hollywood--just an advertisement aimed at old people, fairly old but "vibrant." And he has just about as much substance. Still, the piece is right on target as far as the basic situation is concerned.

This, I think, is the worst of the many problems the writer points out: "A significant segment of the American Left and Right have both, to a great extent, given up on the republic and its institutions." If that's true, and I think it is, how can recovery be possible? 

The writer notes that "both sides [are] hermetically sealed in their cultural, ideological, and political bubbles." The term "epistemic closure" was suddenly popular a few years ago. It's just a grander--and, I must say, cooler--way of saying "closed-minded." As far as I noticed it was used mainly, if not exclusively, by the left against the right. But it's just as applicable in the other direction, as the Quillette piece points out.

I have been pretty consistent in my low opinion of Donald Trump, before and after he was elected. "Donald Trump Is Not Right In the Head" (April 4, 2016) seems to have been my first post on the subject. I never changed my mind about that. I did, however, sometimes try to make the point that Trump was being portrayed as being far worse than he actually was. I don't necessarily mean in relation to competence, but to all the claims that he was literally the new Hitler, etc. Occasionally it was a conscious experiment: show people a transcript of what Trump actually said about, for instance, neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, and see what happens. The reaction of the fanatically anti-Trump was always what I think of as a "these go to 11" moment, i.e., a brief pause, then a repetition that Trump was a Nazi sympathizer (and I was a fool), as if nothing had been said or demonstrated. 

As far as I can tell the only thing I accomplished with these experiments was to make some people think I was a Trumpist. But it confirmed my impression of epistemic closure, which has been further confirmed since Biden took office, by the reception, running from acceptance to enthusiastic support, of things he's said and done that were as bad as or worse than any of the things that Trump was denounced for (quite rightly in many cases, of course).

Trump talked a lot of garbage which sensible people didn't take seriously, with most of the harm of it coming from the crazed reactions to it (which I think he enjoyed, demonstrating his unfitness for the presidency). And he also talked garbage that was genuinely harmful. But I can't think of anything he ever said that was as poisonous and destructive as Biden saying that a law intended to prevent election fraud was "Jim Crow on steroids." As a matter of simple fact, it's an insane assertion. As the word of a president charged with the leadership of an already divided country, it's contemptible. One could argue with specific provision of such laws, but to say what Biden said...well, I can't add anything to my preceding two sentences.

A week or two ago a reader of Rod Dreher's American Conservative blog wrote that there are three factions at work in American politics now. Quoting that reader, these are:

Woke Left: This is a group that needs no introduction.

“Loyalists”: These are the classical liberals, the Eric Weinsteins, Bari Weisses, Damon Linkers, and even you, Rod! I call you all the “loyalists” because you all, despite your diverse views, still believe in the American experiment, the Constitution, and embrace our history, good and bad, and would like to see this country stay together. I’m proudly part of this group.

Authoritarian Right: There’s really no other term to describe them right now. Much the way many of the Left came to embrace dictators or, at least, find something redeemable in them, the Right is also embracing dictators and finding something redeemable in them.

The picture is clearer if you substitute "authoritarian left" for "woke left," because the woke left is authoritarian to its core. "Loyalist" isn't the best term for the middle group. Lower-case "republican" would be accurate, but has obvious problems. As do terms like "traditionalist" and "Americanist," even "constitutionalist."

So "loyalist" will do. And like this person, I remain proudly a loyalist, and hope I never find myself forced to choose between the other two. My hope in all this is in the fact that the vast majority of people just want to mind their own business. And I see a fair amount of evidence for that in the real life around me, as opposed to the online world.

The first and third of those categories encompass the most politically engaged people (all the way up to "fanatical"), and it's these who have essentially given up on the philosophy on which the American government is based, the one embodied in the constitution and in many informal ways. For want of a better term, we can call that classical liberalism. I am very much aware of the problems, including what are arguably intrinsic problems that will or could ultimately doom any system founded on it. But as a matter of down-to-earth everyday goods, bads, and uglies, I think it's preferable to most of the alternatives. I have little patience for fantasies of a confessional Christian state; aside from the question of whether it would even be desirable (Kierkegaard has a few reservations), it is not a possibility. It can only arise after a period of collapse which very few will enjoy and in which many will suffer.

A few days ago someone made the point that conservatives--conservatives of the academic, journalistic, and think-tank worlds, anyway--tend to devote more time to talking about their ideas than do those on the left. My first reaction to that was to disagree. But on further consideration I think there's something to it. These conservatives are saying "Liberal democracy is failing, and will probably be followed by some sort of authoritarianism," and they are talking incessantly about what that might mean.

Their counterparts on the left are not doing that. They are simply pressing hard for what they want, and rather than considering whether what they want is compatible with American constitutionalism they are identifying whatever they happen to want with what they call "democracy." This, I think, is the reason for "our democracy" having become a sort of robotic tic in the talk of Democrats over the past few years. "Democracy" is identified with progressive policies, regardless of what connection they do or don't have to democracy in the formal sense. It can just as well refer to John Lennon's Imaginary world as to anything actually existing. And "our" is quite literal: "our democracy" seems to be "the system in which we govern." This means that opposition to them is anti-democratic. They're even getting fond of the epithet "anti-American," as they become more dominant. It's a nice and convenient rhetorical posture, pretty much the same thing that used to be practiced by the right when it attacked opponents as unpatriotic.

Notice, by the way, that the loyalists listed by Dreher's correspondent are not conservatives in any traditional sense. Most of them are secular liberals, but of the old liberalism that emphasizes reason, free speech, and open debate. Several have been badly burned by the woke authoritarians. I find some hope in this, too.


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While the term "Jim Crow on steroids" is obviously wild hyperbole, I'm not sure exactly what the correct comment is after one party loses an election and then seeks to make more restrictive voting laws in order for a better chance to win in the future. Politicians have always exaggerated and lied, but I think 45 took it to a new level and has breathed a great deal of air into the idea that it is now more okay than ever before!

It's not hyperbole, it's a huge ugly inflammatory lie. It's as much "hyperbole" as if you have two feuding neighbors and see one of them near the other's house, so you call up the other and tell him that the first one is coming to kill him. I saw Jim Crow up close. There just is not any comparison whatsoever. "making more restrictive laws in order for a better chance to win" is misleading, but it's at least in the realm of sanity.

I don't really disagree with your second statement though.

As bad as 45, Jan 6, and the aftermath was, and as wrongheaded as the GOP efforts to "make voting more difficult", such as they are, might be, the really scary thing about last year's election was the Podhorzer "shadow campaign," as outlined in the Time story back in February.

I wrote this on another blog a couple months back:

~~The first political book I read after the 2016 election was Lasch's The Revolt of the Elites, and that has colored my thinking on the thing ever since. (I read it again last summer, thinking that maybe I had overestimated its prescience. I had not.)

While I was neither a Trump nor a Biden supporter in 2020, the revelations that came out in Time this past February about how a large cross-party effort was created in order to unseat Trump, an effort largely hatched by various elites, made me very angry. Although I did not like DT and was not sad that he lost, the way in which he lost, as we now know, was if not demonstrably illegal, quite "tricksy." And of course had the shoe been on the other foot, we know that Biden voters would be screaming no end, and themselves using words like "collusion" and "conspiracy." In my opinion considerable damage was done to the Republic last year; steps were taken to ensure the defeat of an admittedly bad president, but it's not at all clear to me that those steps, which no doubt set a precedent, will not be much worse for the country in the long run than four more years of DT would have been.

Those anti-Trumpers who do not see a problem with this whole thing are either blind or delusional. A moment's thought about how they would feel if the situation were reversed should at least give them pause. But in many cases it seems to have no such effect. One wonders what will happen if and when such an effort is amassed against a candidate that they like. Will they simply grant that turnabout is fair play and move on with it? I highly doubt it. Creating a monster, even if the intent is for it to destroy another one, seldom goes as planned.

That the Tech Elites were part of this "project" is inarguable. That their influence extends far enough and high enough to help engineer a presidential election should be worrisome no matter which side of the aisle you're on, even if one were to ignore their huge cultural and economic influence. This is very bad juju all the way around.~~

In response blogger Jeff Martin said this:

~~The plot to "fortify" the election was orders of magnitude more organized and comprehensive than anything of which the GOP - of which I am hardly a fan - has ever even been *accused* of, let alone has executed. In combination with the decision of a large part of the political apparatus to allow BLM and Antifa free rein, it is obvious that the US was subjected to a color revolution of the sort the State Department and various affiliated oligarchs and NGOs have fomented abroad. 2020 was not a mere contested election, with a farcical denouement on Jan 6; it was a qualitative shift to a different form of regime: the elected offices are not the regime; rather, the permanent bureaucracies and the networked elites are the regime, and the elected offices are supposed to be, and in most cases merely are, the factotums and step-n-fetchits for the regime.

To put the point plainly, for the Russiagaters who spent five years lying, fabricating risible conspiracy theories that make Alex Jones seem sane, 2020 revealed the US to be everything Russiagaters claim Russia to be. It's an oligarchy with nukes.~~

No offense, but compared to this Jan. 6 was a fart in a windstorm. People blaming either the Dems or the GOP alone are missing the bigger picture here, to put it mildly.

I don't really understand your post, Rob. I know that the 2020 election was closely contested, but didn't all of the past administration's challenges go to courts in each state? These states are certainly not solely controlled by Democrats.

It's a really complicated story, Stu. The Time mag piece Rob is referring to describes a systematic and extremely well-funded effort to manipulate elections all over the country so that Trump would lose. It's not simple cheating, as the Trump challenges alleged but couldn't prove. Chances are probably good that some plain old cheating was involved in some places, but it's the whole effort that's chilling. And maybe the most striking thing about it is that they're proud of it, congratulating themselves very publicly.

For decades conservatives have been saying about one thing and another "If a Republican/conservative did this....". This is another one. If something like this had been done by Republicans, Democrats would be in the streets.

I mean, this is *their own description* of it:

"a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information."

Here's the article. It's written from the triumphant Democrat point of view, so it simply assumes that, for instance, a law requiring voter id is "vote suppression."

Rob, most of what you describe illustrates what I said in the post: that the left-authoritarians don't sit around in think tanks jawing about abstract philosophies of government, they just pursue power.

Here in Wyoming you can do same-day voter registration, mail-in voting, and also do not need to show ID to vote. We were the largest percentage of votes for Trump, followed closely by West Virginia, I think. So there is certainly no concern on the right about too much voting from the left to matter.

Well, it is like I've been saying to people, our form of government does seem completely broken at this point. You can't blame one side on this, it's been a collective dismantling. The only reason I bother to vote is my conscience. That said, I do like our Republican governor and intend to vote for his re-election the next time around. Although I have voted for GOP governors once or twice, I have never voted GOP in the presidential election.

I'm still happy that Trump is out. The whole "jackhammer outside my window each morning" as he bellowed about this and that was my main problem with him. All I wanted was someone with decorum, the rest I can attempt to ignore.

One can be happy to get over malaria and yet not pleased to come down with dysentery. :-)

The whole voter registration/id/etc thing is of interest to either party only where things are close. So I can imagine they weren't too concerned with Wyoming or West Va. Georgia on the other hand.... As I understand it one reason for the new laws was that the Democrat Stacey Abrams had lost the governor's race pretty narrowly and insisted that a la Trump that she had actually won but that things were rigged. So that gave the state incentive to try to eliminate the potential for fraud as much as possible.

"that the left-authoritarians don't sit around in think tanks jawing about abstract philosophies of government, they just pursue power."

True, and this partly stems from the right's ambivalence towards political power and "statism." The left doesn't have the same qualms.

Revolutionary leftism has a kind of built-in trajectory toward statism. It starts with the idea of setting everybody free to be their wonderful selves, but then when people don't live up to the dream, or get in the way of it, it has to start coercing them. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, watching people who either are old hippies or their cultural successors turn stridently authoritarian. Like the writer at Vox the other day who advocated taxing people who refuse the covid vaccine at a 99% rate. In other words, back to the old punishment of confiscating the property of rebels.

This is why I remain a conservative agrarian/distributist/populist (what I sometimes call a Wendell Berry conservative) as opposed to leaning towards socialism. I have yet to see a model of the latter that, given the government power needed to implement it, does not lead to statism. At root, I guess I'm something of an old school Jeffersonian democrat.

I would describe myself more or less the same way. Unfortunately there's really no significant political movement that matches it.

Unfortunately, indeed.

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