The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 2: I am Sancho Panza, We should be Sancho Panza

I am running a fever as I write this, watching without any particular strong emotion, President Obama, having to eat crow and welcome President-elect Donald Trump to the White House.   As my friend Arya said, “What a fitting way to end a presidency, by a man who forfeited all his principles in order to maintain a face of political modesty, and shall now open the White House doors to welcome President-elect Donald J. Trump.”  In this moment, as being on a podcast too late may have weakened my fight against a desert fall cold, I am probably going to alien more “left liberals” who feel disgraced and embarrassed for their country, but refuse to see their role in any of it.

So I got angry at the left and liberals on a podcast last night.   For months, I have been calling this a race to bottom, and it was:


Between 2008 and 2016, we saw the demoiblization of about 10,000,000 voters.  More facts to astonish, Trump won the electoral college with less votes than Clinton, but both got less votes than either McCain or Romney lost with.  Furthermore, while this narrative that it was only bigotry and not the Democrats playing with fire that does this, Trump got a HIGHER percentage of the Black and Latino vote than Romney. He got a majority of white women who voted. 

So Romney’s vote was larger and whiter than Trumps.  Clinton could not get youth or he demographic to come out in force. Obama’s oversaw the the demobilization of 10,000 voters. And Clinton made almost no policy prescriptions, Michael Moore’s only real defense of her was she would be the first woman president.  The whole thing was made to look like she was inevitable when there wasn’t much there. While I often don’t like Sam Kriss’s opinions even if his caustic writing is always a joy, we have agreed more and more in this election about the impotence, silly rage, and lack of substance of the post-Obama progressives in the DNC.  He hits the worm I the apple:

Throughout the entire election, one slow-motion clip of a clown car ramming into a crowd of pedestrians, I’d assumed that the danger of Trump and the danger of Clinton were of two different orders. Trump was dangerous because of what he said and what he represented, the waves of fascism and violence that rippled out from the dead plopping weight of his speeches. Clinton was dangerous because of what she would actually do, because Clinton was going to win the election. I was a sucker, the kind who gets duped precisely by believing himself to be too smart for any kind of con. I thought I saw through it all, the whole stupid charade, a coronation disguised as a battlefield. I was wrong. This was exactly what Hillary Clinton wanted people like me to think; she wanted to be an inevitability. And this is why Trump won: the presidency was Clinton’s to lose, from the moment she announced her candidacy, and she lost it. She was the only person who could. People don’t like taking part in someone else’s inevitability.

My guess is even a lot the people throwing useless tantrums that they will call protests now couldn’t bring themselves to care either.  One of the lowest percentile of voters in a country that already has anemic voter participation gave a non-mandate to a celebrity who is a populist cheeto and effectively threatening to grab the infrastructure by the pussy.  I can’t make this up.  And the people who liberals say they are speaking for voted for him in higher numbers than they voted for Romney.  White women voted for him in the main despite two weeks of predictions.  They didn’t seem to really want to vote for him. However, he was a sledge hammer and the few that did vote used it.

Why did they want a sledge hammer?  Juan Cole, who wrote an excellent article whose only mistake is confusing neoliberalism with non-Kenyesian capitalism, hits at part of it:

Compared to 1999, white workers, according to another recent study in the Commonwealth Foundation: “have lower incomes, fewer are employed, and fewer are married.” This study found other causes for the increased death rates than just the ones mentioned above, but didn’t deny the Princeton findings. Here is their chart:


The only comparison I can think of to this situation is what happened to Russians in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation had a population of nearly 150 million in 1990 and thereafter fell to about 144 million. The end of the Soviet Union caused their confidence in the future to collapse and the end of the old economic system created very high unemployment. They stopped having children and drank themselves to death.

In America, the rural/urban divide is becoming one of life and death like the black/white divide was and the way Democrats–and progressives in general handled that was–calling them racist and sexist for wanting something. I have said for the years that the natural result of privilege talk wouldn’t be lifting everyone up, it would be subjecting everyone to the same hellhole that minorities undergo and then pretending it already wasn’t happening to the rural and exurban poor.  The National Review and Vox basically came to a tactic agreement on this.

So let’s take a second here and look at what Glen Greenwald says,

Put simply, Democrats knowingly chose to nominate a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption. It’s astonishing that those of us who tried frantically to warn Democrats that nominating Hillary Clinton was a huge and scary gamble — that all empirical evidence showed that she could lose to anyone and Bernie Sanders would be a much stronger candidate, especially in this climate — are now the ones being blamed: by the very same people who insisted on ignoring all that data and nominating her anyway.

But that’s just basic blame shifting and self-preservation. Far more significant is what this shows about the mentality of the Democratic Party. Just think about who they nominated: someone who — when she wasn’t dining with Saudi monarchs and being feted in Davos by tyrants who gave million-dollar checks — spent the last several years piggishly running around to Wall Street banks and major corporations cashing in with $250,000 fees for 45-minute secret speeches even though she had already become unimaginably rich with book advances while her husband already made tens of millions playing these same games. She did all that without the slightest apparent concern for how that would feed into all the perceptions and resentments of her and the Democratic Party as corrupt, status quo-protecting, aristocratic tools of the rich and powerful: exactly the worst possible behavior for this post-2008-economic-crisis era of globalism and destroyed industries.

But it is worse than that: Nate Silver ended up yelling at HuffPo for predicting with more hubris than Fox News did a Romney victory that there was 98% that Clinton would win. See I never fully accepted the inevitable because I knew that the Democrats were relying on demographics who have not voted in high numbers except in the first Obama campaign to save them based off of nothing but fear of Trump Planet. Vox, the supposed bastion of liberal fair-mindedness, objectivity, not siding  with Huffpo or Silver but pretending they were on more or less equal ground. .   But we are talking to the same Vox that forget to mention the biggest electoral college, but not popular vote, winner in American history, Lincoln, in an article on the topic. 

So there are plenty of voices, some less loud but more established than me saying this. Thomas Frank is speaking the same talk as Greenwald, myself, Kriss too:

Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.

In light of the Podesta e-mails, not only did DNC do exactly what was Frank says and were clueless to the people warning them, they actually brought their kryptonite in, they did because they thought it would enable them to win.  Not only did it not happen, nor could milquetoast Obama and saying that the recovery was great despite the fact that rural America is dying not do it, Trump blow up the traditional conservation coalition, more or less ended the religious conservatives as a force in secular politics, and divided his party.  Yet they still routed the Democrats. A celebrity land developer with no political experience who set his party on fire, not only won, but enabled that flaming, divided party to win.

Now for all the decries of shame on America, and all the talk of defeating the patriarchy by supporting a candidate on Wall Street and that anyone who told you differently was mansplaining to you.  What did that you?  So if you continue to do it, what will it get you now?  Particularly when many of the professional white women claiming this have to ask themselves: why did the women in their race and some even in their class but outside of coastal elites not fight the great misogynist. Was it just brocialists trying to shut you up? Was it just the alt-right?  No, no it wasn’t.  Working class women in the main sat on their hands this election. Why?

To go further, and return to Kriss.  I don’t think Trump is a fascist for the very reason Kriss thinks he is. I actually have strict definitions, Trump is something new:

Donald Trump is a fascist. We shouldn’t be afraid of the word: it’s simple and accurate, and his fascism is hardly unique; it’s just a suppurating outgrowth of the fascism that was already there. Still, this time it’s different. The fascisms of Europe in the 1920s and 30s, or east Asia in the 50s and 60s, or Latin America in the 70s and 80s were all the response of a capitalist order to the terrifying potency of an organised working class. Fascism is what capitalism does when it’s under threat, something always latent but extending in claws when it’s time to fight; it imitates mass movements while never really having the support of the masses. (In Germany, for instance, support for the Nazis was highest among the industrial haute bourgeoisie, and declined through every social stratum; look at Trump’s share of the voter per income band and see the same pattern. The workers didn’t vote for Trump, they just didn’t vote for Clinton either.) But today the organised working class is nowhere to be found. There’s no coherent left-wing movement actively endangering capitalism; the crisis facing the liberal-capitalist order is entirely internal. It’s grinding against its own contradictions, circling the globe to turn back against itself, smashing through its biological and ecological limits and finding nothing on the other side. This is the death spasm, a truly nihilist fascism, the fascism of a global system prickling for enemies to destroy but charging only against itself. There’s no silence in the final and total victory, just an endless war with only one side. It’s not entirely the case, as the slogan puts it, that the only thing capable of defeating the radical right is a radical left. The radical right will defeat itself, sooner or later, even if it’s at the cost of a few tens of millions of lives. We need a radical left so there can be any kind of fight at all.

I actually don’t think Kriss is entirely right here. He is right that this emerging from contradictions within capitalism and global economy. The organized left exists more now than any time since 1980s though, but its still tiny, irrelevant.  Losing battles like SYRIZA. Misplaying its hand by backing Corbyn or Sanders. Believing in a mixture of magical thinking like MMT that currency and value as the same thing because exchange creates products, creates value, and that this can go on in a closed system for more than two voting cycles despite the fact that all command economies that I have studied have stagnated and massively declined within a decade if they thought the you can operate an economy like a war.  There hasn’t been an organized left because the left has been wrong or opportunistic or both.  It continues, more conservatively than liberals or conservatives, to use models from the distant past and ignore events in decades that don’t suit them.  To hope this is a death pasm, is like the nice, polite but petty optimism of phrases like “late capitalism.”  You don’t have evidence that this isn’t a crisis that will, like a brush fire, will allow it growth again.

Nor do I think Tom O’Brien, who was in the podcast I appeared  on last night is right, that this infrastructure will produce jobs and bring work back. Tariffs and deficit spending will save the US and its internal economy because economics never has been limited to a single polity. And manufacturing is coming back to America, it just isn’t providing jobs.  Automation is as big a problem of austerity.  Service jobs don’t generate as much value and thus can’t pay as well in  a capitalist economy.  This is a hard truth.   This cuts against populists and the left deeply if it doesn’t internalize many hard truths about economics and culture and the interplay between the two.

Furthermore, despite this, how has some of the stars of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats reacted.  Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren reached out to Trump, particularly on things like Trump’s infrastructure plan, which people like Mitch McConnell  want to stall and destroy.  People like Arthur Chu go two steps further, seeming confirming what a  lot of conservatives and alt-rights believe about all leftists, liberals, and progressives:


That the elites should be like them. Like they are better. That white people are scum in the rural areas for not wanting more death. He knows better than those racial inferiors. Invert that language. How does it sound to you? That is what the alt-rightists think ALL Progressives believe. That institutional wonktopia will save them and that people are depraved, moral monsters who need to be told what to do.

If Arthur Chu is the face of young progressivism, it deserves a worse fate than the Whigs in 1850. Smug, angry, and frankly just as racialist as those it claims are racialists themselves. Call that what is it: deluded, disgusting, hubristic.   You think you can shame people because of merely who you are?  I  will quote Wes Alwan of Partially Examined Life:

The left needs to look in the mirror stop it with the sanctimonious, deluded partisan-bubble narrative about bigotry and how America suddenly found millions more racists in its basement after electing Obama twice. Where’d they come from? Did someone grow them in a box? The existing electorate suddenly realized that they couldn’t stand having a black man as president, after voting for him twice?

We lost the election because we thought we had our boot on the neck of the white working class and that we could not only ignore their concerns, but ridicule them for having any concerns. We thought that we could could make them America’s new bad object, to fill the void left by the fact that persecuting black people has fallen out of fashion. We told them they were Nazis for worrying about blue collar job competition from illegal immigrants and wanting to see immigration law enforced. We told them they were thinking about voting for Hitler. That’s not what Obama did. He won precisely by reaching out to these voters.

That’s not what Bernie Sanders did either. We were positively allergic to Bernie Sanders’ winning message, because we just couldn’t deal with the fact that it laid off the identity politics for two seconds. In fact, Sanders supporters similarly became a target of the relentless you’re-a-bigot loop that a certain segment of the American left have going on in their heads on constant replay. “Bernie Bros.” Every time you think about why this election was lost, I want you to think about the wisdom of the phrase “Bernie Bros.” Poll after poll showed Sanders dramatically outperforming Clinton against Trump, precisely because he made the same appeal as Trump to actual swing voters.

Here’s a novel way to win friends and influence people: stop calling people names. Stop trying to shame them into compliance. Stop telling your political opponents that they are evil. It’s remarkably effective.

Finally: consider the enormous asymmetry in cultural power in the United States, the one the media conveniently never talks about. Ask yourself how you would feel if Republicans had a mortal lock on the University and the media and Hollywood.

As long as the left’s hegemony over American cultural power remains unenlightened and devoid of benevolence, we’re going to see political power balance it out.

I watched the same thing happen under Clinton. The PC bullshit peaked right before the 2000 election. The Republicans are terrible losers, but the Democrats are terrible winners.

The first black president. Gay marriage. The more cultural gains we made, the more the left ratcheted up the rhetoric about how sexism and racism and homophobia are worse than ever and that the rednecks are to blame. If you think you have your boot on the neck of America’s cultural peasants, and your conscience can tolerate it, then that’s a winning strategy. Grind them into the dirt. But if you’ve decided on total war, you better be sure you actually have the armaments for total war. Did you forget that the majority of the population is white, and that the majority of them do not have a college degree? Did you really think that they wanted to hear about their “privilege” from liberal white elites? You thought you could tell the peasants to shut the fuck up and eat their cake, and that they wouldn’t come at you with your pitchforks?

The effete delusions of a corrupt aristocracy, of hash-tag courtiers who have abandoned actual policies that help the underprivileged to indulge in conspicuous ethical consumption that displays their moral superiority to the cultural peasants. Screw the diverse mass of peasants: Does the aristocracy have the right race and gender balance? Screw socioeconomic policies that help African Americans; I’m going to a “protest”!

If Chu is an example, Wes Alwan is right:  Chu sees himself as an aristocrat. Better than the people.  Democracy should have been used to suppress Democracy.  I am not a fan of liberal democracy anyway, but this  Chu is an example of this lack.  If Chu is representative of progressives, is the alt-right wrong that they just want to take the seat and grind most regular people to dust?   DeMaistre ancien regime is manifested in tantrums like Chu’s. Wes is right  the effete delusions of a corrupt aristocracy, of hash-tag courtiers who have abandoned actual policies that help the underprivileged to indulge in conspicuous ethical consumption that displays their moral superiority to the cultural peasants.

The question: How did it become an ancien regime in just eight years if there was substance in the ideology in the first place?

Progressives are scared–after all, they enabled this and people ARE mad. A lot of innocent people will be hurt by policy shifts, but then again, it’s not like ACA was working. ACA will probably be gone.  With the premiums were skyrocketing and so was the penalty tax next year, there is no incentive to save it. What did Democrats expect? They compromised and put the bomb in the program to be kicked the road. Progressives should be afraid–more for what the Senate and Congress will do than what Trump will do.  Honestly. There will be all kinds of things dependent on whether or not a conservative Supreme Court decides to uphold stare decisis.  There is even talk that there will be horse-trading over LGBT+ rights.  I obviously don’t think this is good.  However, this would have happened with any GOP routing of the Democrats, not just Trumps.  Furthermore, it is unclear how much Trump will play with both consensus GOP and Tea Parties, since his populism is different from the conservatism of both. It is also unclear how they will play with him. This isn’t just happening in the states. Every year Le Penn’s National Front grows in the French electorate. Brexit has happened. Theresa May is PM of Great Britain.  Trade is down worldwide. Modi won India. Putin maintains power in Russia. Rody Durante. The pink wave has crushed and Latin America is in a rightwing mood.  PRI has retaken Mexican politics.  The Arab Spring is over and most of the places are in civil war.  Even politicians in Canada are talking about taking lesson from Trump.   You heard of Kellie Leitch? You probably will.

So let’s get one thing straight though: IF the DNC was serious about responding, heads would be rolling and they would be preparing to not just assume support. What did they do? Keep Pelosi as a leader. No significant change in the guard. The left–in so much that there is one–should regroup and give the Democratic leadership no quarter. Don’t be suckered into supporting them on pragmatic grounds.  This election was proof this leadership aren’t pragmatic.  They aren’t real as force.   Their wonktopia was substance.  An empty phantasm of a city on a hill. These were tilling a windmills and pretending we were a distant past.

You and I need to be Sancho Panza, but angrier and more consistent.  Give no quarter to these delusions and don’t forget anyone who holds them.  Wonktopia was a delusion. A shiny polity on a hill that never existed.  We need to be careful of being fooled into thinking that politics as normal in liberal democracies is going to save us.



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