Dubai Reflections: Particles (Or Four Italians and One Iranian American)

-for Susan, Khristian, Darcy, and the world that almost was.

“Perfection belongs to narrated events, not to those we live.”
― Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

On holidays I swear I hear an echo
You hold tight to it then you simply let go
Sure as you let those feelings show
They let you know that you are not alone

Speak now love to me of your return
It’s not how much you make but what you earn
Put your petals in a pile and watch them burn – Lampchop, “Kind Of”

A Prelude

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Taking a break, briefly, from my “Strange Death of Liberal Wonktoplia” pieces, because I am becoming more and more irate at the state of politics in the US.  If the increased instance of racialist violence and legitimate fear over rights seemed completely to be just rhetoric, I would just laugh it off but it doesn’t seem to be.  Furthermore, the liberal histrionics  around this have done more than not helped.  It has included doubling down same kinds of rhetoric, limitations of speaking, and pipe dreams that led liberalism into the current crisis.  Talk of succeeding from the Union is bubbling up from the same Californians who called Brexit racist.

Such middle class demons:  To quote the recently late Leonard Cohen, “I didn’t know I had permission to murder and maim, you want it darker?”

We kill the flame.

In part, I want to write about that flame we are killing and how it is smoldering my own vision of life.

A Context 

I am nursing a lung infection caught on a job-related trip to Dubai.  The city in the shadow of Burj Khalifa and the Burj al El Arab is like a colony on the moon.  You meet Emirati men at passport control in the ultra-modern airport in clean, freshly pressed looking keffiyeh and taub.  They are polite, but curt, and shuffle you into Dubai.  The entire city seems to have a new car smell, and overly polished look of a mall.  Chain eateries from all over Europe and the States are around, and so is high in shopping. There are currency exchanges everywhere. However, you quickly notice that most of the shoppers are not Emiratis and most of the workers aren’t either.  English and Arabic are both spoken, but more the former, and most of the workers are each convenient store seem Indian or South Asian.  Businesses with a more white collar tendency tend to have European, North American, and other non-Emirati Arab faces around.

There is something at once beautiful and dystopia about Dubai.  The Sultanate and the Emirates of the Gulf definitely have a history, but you would hardly know it.  Yet, like Yew’s Singapore, the trains run on time and are incredibly clean. There is little obvious crime. And aside from the encroaching desert, mocked my foundations and water features that abound, and the Gulf, there is something completely inorganic about Dubai.  Both wonderful and terrible, and utterly commercial.

That is not to say I did not like Dubai. I did. I could see why young people want to work and live there, but it definitely feels to have a darker side than its marbled floors indicate and a more generous side than its oversized malls would make apparent. In some ways, Dubai is product of the globalization and the reaction against it, and as such is remarkable in how impressive yet unremarkable it is.   If I go back to the Emirates, I would like to go less commercial areas to get a taste of what the country’s face to itself is.

Part 1: Heat, the desert, and my fear of driving 

Carlo ROVELLI

“IF you keep your heart soft, you will will find an entire of life of poetry”– Susan Atefat- Peckham inscribed to me the year we met in a copy of That Kind of Sleep 

Susan Atefat-Peckham and her young son Cyrus died in a bus wreck around Ghor Safi, Jordan in 2004 while on a Fulbright, the year after I got married the first time, too young, and went to work for an insurance company.  In 2005, my checkbook, a few of my notes, and a copy of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew were found in a overstuffed arm-chair in her former office where I would talk to her about poetry.  I worked with her and her husband Joel my senior year, and both said goodbye to me before they left from the middle east the day after I was married.  Susan and Joel was there first professors that became personal friends.

Susan’s advice to me has been seldom followed, and in a Holiday Inn Express, while the team I was coaching was asleep, missing partner, my second wife, who is in the states visiting family and fighting cancer, I couldn’t stop crying.  I have been adjusting well, building up small habits, focusing on my job, but as I began to cough from a lung infection I caught from a sick student on the airplane. I missed her.  I missed a lot of other people too. I feel like a particle let loose on the world, out of its quantum orbit, and flying wildly into some nebulous space.

The hardness of my heart was something that always bothered Susan.  She thought I was essentially a kind person, hurt by situations, and I didn’t think that. Rage was my prime whisky, to quote another dead poet, Alan Dugan.  In retrospective, Susan was responding to someone only ten years younger than her. Indeed, it is shocking to realize, that I have outlived her two years writing this. I have flown over the desert she died in.  Perhaps why her crept into my mind in the darkness of my hotel room, and I picked up Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, a brief and poetic, but somewhat superficial introduction to modern physics.

Yet I hit on this passage, from the Sixth Lesson:

“…The difference between past and future only exist when there is heat. The fundamental phenomenon that distinguishes the future from the past is the fact that heat passes from things that are hotter to things that colder.

So, again, why, as time goes by, does heat pass from hot things to cold and not the other way round?

The reason was discovered by Boltzmann, and is surprising simple: it is sheer chance. 

Boltzmann’s idea is subtle, and brings into play the idea of probability.  Heat does not move form hot things to cold things due to an absolute law: it only does so with a large degree of probability. The reason for this is that it is statistically more probable that a quickly moving atom of the hot substance collides with a cold one and leaves it a little of its energy, rather than vice versa. Energy is conserved in the collisions, but tends to get distributed in more or less equal parts when there are many collisions.” (pages 51-52, translation by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre)

This was strangely conforming in that moment, thinking about Susan’s advice for me keep my heart soft, my partner’s struggles, and where I am going.  It’s like when I feel small and think of the curvature of the space itself.

How did I end up in the Dubai?   Or in Cairo? Or Seoul? Or San Francisco?  Or New York?  I was small town Southern boy who came from a strange background whose origins were obscure even to him, whose anger at the drug problems that taken a girlfriend and several friends by 21 was mounting, and whose intelligence was compromised by that emotional brokenness.

I felt like a particle because I was one, but while am not soft-hearted, I left it soften enough.  Indeed, when I speak of politics, I manifest an anger that strike even close friends as borderline abusive. There was beauty and openness to the world that I didn’t have before.  Yet that beauty can be snatched away at any moment.

Resentment can’t linger because your heat spills out in each collision. Save the heat for the collisions where it is needed.  Then I read more of Rovelli’s poetical reflections and used the bits of knowledge of mathematics I had to refocus, I had students to coach for Quiz competition in the morning, and I had done a good job of hiding my worries from them.

Part 2: Hyperreal 

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I woke up that morning, when to the hotel buffet breakfast, and got my morning ful madames –fava beans with tomatoes, onions and spices–and a chopped salad. My students chatted in a mixture of Arabic and English–more English than anything else–and after running my students through some drills, I started reading Umberto Eco’s Tavels in Hyperreality.

In early 2000, my conservative Hegelian philosophy professor assigned me that book when I was a sophomore. It exploded my mind, and I found myself coming back to Eco in general, and this book, in particular when I am feeling estranged and alienated, I go back to Eco’s reflection on the superficially of America.

In many ways, Eco’s writing here reflect Baudrillards, but Eco seems less bombastic, more calm. In a sense, more true. So on the bus to the competition, I hit this passage:

“In other words, to see if through these cultural phenomena a new Middle Ages is to take shape, a time of secular mystics, more inclined to monastic withdrawal than to civic participation. We should see how much, as antidote or as antistrophe, the old techniques of reason may apply, the arts of the Trivium, logic, dialectic, rhetoric. As we suspect that anyone who goes on stubbornly practicing them will be accused of impiety.”- Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality ( William Weaver translation)

The secular mystics meets the secularized piety. Prayer rooms in giant malls, Islamic banking and halal industries, and teaming poverty in most of the “Islamic” world. Looking out at Dubai, one gets the feeling that we have seen the transition into the end of an antiquity. The world changing faster and this seems the product of hubris, and while I tend to discount the most apocalyptic. Eco was writing about America, but now even the Emirates resembles the kind of malls that US itself largely doesn’t have.

The relationship to the Rovelli is clear: The simplicity of the universe is daunting, and the reality of reality seems more slippery. In such time, we tend to value our commentary and chatter.

Indeed, in absence of meaningful community, one sees retreats into nebulous ideas of tribes.  Hyperreality is not just the authentic fake, but the fake authenticity in response to it. Constant discourses on whiteness or construction of identities, and the response to that is to insist on the material of reality of the community between people who do not know each other, and do not enact except on wires.

If an election between a celebrity wonk-political agent and a celebrity real estate mogul, both largely famous from legacies that they didn’t actually create, and watching different disadvantaged groups rush to either as if they represented “them” proves how little reality there is this.  Indeed, Trump and Farage claiming to represent a rebellion against elites while in a gold elector is about as rich as pretending that a career politician who cut her teeth supporting Nixon somehow cares and knows the plight of working black families is beyond laughable.

Yet the worse of it isn’t political.   On the internet, there are more space for counter-cultures than ever before, yet they seem to constantly collapse in relationship to the larger culture.  Jacobin lamenting the lack of socialism in comic hero movies instead of really looking at movies of deeper substance.  There is an opportunity cost here, and that opportunity cost is withering of the political imagination to reified categories like “whiteness”–again, if the almost all white middle class Huffington Post editorial board writes another editorial beginning “Dear White People,” my jaw might clinch enough to drip blood.

The entire spectrum of criticism of the mediocre by the mediocre.  Authenticity itself inauthentic.  Forced.

Looking around Dubai?  Who is a local? What is real Dubai culture?  Capitalist water features?  Sharia courts while trophy wives of business men sun themselves in bikinis between brick walls while women in niqab walk just beyond.

It is so unreal, it is more real than real. Eco was a prophet, and it seems almost too apt that he died this year.

Part 3:  Passions 

220px-Leopardi,_Giacomo_(1798-1837)_-_ritr._A_Ferrazzi,_Recanati,_casa_Leopardi.jpg

After shaving a beard down a bit, sending my team to bed, and making myself an evening cup of tea, I took at a book I purchased at giant mall underneath the Burj Khalifa. The largest English language bookstore I have seen in the middle east is in that mall, and has all the charm of a mall bookstore, but with books from the US, UK, and the Arab world, it was worth pursuing.

I have a book addiction and thus don’t allow myself in book stores that much. Indeed, this one was massive, although I have been to bigger used book stores in Utah and New York, but since two students asked me to purchase a book for them since they left their dirhams at hotel and had used their pocket money on dinner.  I agreed since I knew that could pay me back and who was I not to support at ninth grader request to read.

Going through the stacks, I found Giacomo Leopardi’s Conti, Zibaldone, and Passions. I have been pursuing both Conti and Zibaldone, but Passions was new to me.  More pithy aphorism and reflections collected at the end of Leopardi’s life, they were like a condensed form Zibaldone.

Reading an article on Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, impressed with his attempt to funnel the oil and natural gas reserves into Emirati infrastructure and education, but bemused that most of the wealth still seemed primarily from resource extraction,  I came started reading Tim Parks’ introduction to Passions and came across this quote from Zibaldone,

The most unexpected thing for someone entering into the social life, and very often for someone who has grown old there, to find the world as it has been described to him, and as he already knows it and believes it to be in theory. Man is astonished to see that the general rule holds for him too. (quoted in Passions, Parks translation and introduction, page viii-ix)

Even a great man like Sheikh Zayed has trouble overcoming long term probabilistic trends. Like Rovelli’s description of particles, greatness is against all odds and often forced upon the normal individual, but the probability is still weighted towards the mediocre and forces outside of even a great person’s control.

Even when we are the exception that proves the rule, we still find the weight of probability upon us. Contingency after contingency and all teleology factors are developments from otherwise stochastic developments.

Leopardi feels haunting to me.  Born in the conservative papal states and pessimistic like a conservative, he still understood the Enlightenment and science more than most.  His writings seem like Montaigne having a conversation with Nietzsche. Even in some ways, a precursor to Stanislaw Lem as much any other, but the framework, the dizzying erudition, the classical mind.

It felt surreal to read in the shopping mall in desert on the coast with the Persian gulf. Yet Leopardi himself lived in a time of upheaval.  Perhaps he lived to see beginnings of the modern world and formation of Italy, and yet his writings already see the problems that would arise from it:

Just about the strongest inducement to suicide is self-loathing. Example: a friend of mine deliberately went to Rome intending to throw himself into the Tiber because someone somewhere had called him a nobody. My own first experience with self-hatred provoked me to expose myself to all kinds of danger—to kill myself, in fact. How amour propreworks: it prefers death to admitting one’s worthlessness. And so: the more egotistical you are, the more strongly and continually you will feel driven to kill yourself. Meaning: love of life equals love of one’s well-being, so if life no longer seems of value, etc. – Zibaldone

Conversely, yet confirming of this: one of my beloved friends lost her brother this year. 36. My age, two years older than Susan when she died, but far too young. She was depressed, and even engaged in lots of self-damaging, but suicide seemed too narcissistic for her.  Instead, she stabilized herself in the life of others.  Leopardi could see the development of modern narcissism.  Indeed, in countries with high suicide rates, it is social shame as much as depression that prompts it.

Rarely do you see suicide among the urban unemployed in Cairo or Lagos, or the poor women in a village in Oaxaca.

It is the absurd amount of self-regard our own modern alienation gives us that makes suicide an absurdly common way for modern people to die.

Leopardi was a ruthless particle, and realizing he was set loose, wrote about it unforgivingly.

Something about that brings a wry, tired smile to face. Indeed, Plato said the unexamined life was not worth living.  Leopardi answers:

Noia is plainly an evil: to suffer it is to suffer utter unhappiness. So what is noia? Not a specific sorrow or pain (noia, the idea and nature of it, excludes the presence of any particular sorrow or pain) but simply ordinary life fully felt, lived in, known; it’s everywhere, it saturates an individual. Life thus is an affliction; and not living, or being less alive (by living a shorter or less intense life) is a reprieve, or at least a lesser affliction—absolutely preferable, that is, to life.-Zibaldone

Part 4:  Fundamental Elements

“This cell belongs to a brain, and it is my brain, the brain of me who is writing; and the cell in question, and within it the atom in question, is in charge of my writing, in a gigantic minuscule game which nobody has yet described. It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.”
― Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

leviportrait.jpg

Reading so many Italians in the desert, but Primo Levi comes back into my mind. Of the most likely suicides I know, Levi’s is the most baffling in that it doesn’t fit Leopardi description of narcissism nor did it seem to come out of reprieve from physical pain.

My students won their match, I packed the trophy in my carry-on, and took it back to Cairo. I delivered it this morning, hacking out a lung, and coughing yellow phlegm into a napkin.  I was sent home.

The night before I had come home, and a taste of Levi’s life hit me.  Slightly delirious from exhausting and the bronchitis developing in my chest, I saw my two siamese cats welcome me home.  My friend’s son had fed them while was I gone, but they missed me as they always seem to when I travel and leave them to others care. My apartment is “our” apartment–mine and my partner–even though I moved out of the one we lived in together over the summer because it was too large for just me and saddened me with its emptiness. Yet in this second,  I thought Khristian would welcome me home.  I awaited for a second before realizing she was literally an ocean and two continents away.  For second, nothing in the house seemed like mine, seemed to belong to me, seemed to be anything other than random.

It is the awareness of that chance moves us, and that we don’t know where we are going. We are not without will or anchor, nor are we JUST particles in a void, moving from heat to cold in time.  Yet we are not NOT such particles either. We self-overcome but in doing so are still subject to forces beyond any of us.

Levi leaves me with a thought that got me through that night:

“If it is true that there is no greater sorrow than to remember a happy time in a state of misery, it is just as true that calling up a moment of anguish in a tranquil mood, seated quietly at one’s desk, is a source of profound satisfaction.”
― Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

A life of poetry isn’t the only life we lead, and it is hard and sometimes requires hard people–hard men and women–to go beyond the vague poetry of our dreams because life is so contingent. Yet that is the reason to soften your heart sometimes because even hard people eventually lose all their heat, all their energy, and no longer exist in time.

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The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 7: In the Land of Unintended Consequences

Simple electoralism as a method of even maintaining what most “progressives” see as social progress is rife with paradoxes and contradictions. Urbanization was supposed to produce a more liberal and cosmopolitan populace and thus a more liberal polity across the global, yet while urban populations are more educated and urbane in the way most liberals view those term, the politics of the world have become more and more nationalist.

In the United States, increasing, there are some very naive arguments about the electoral college, if it were just eliminated the country would be better represented. The problem with this is that this pretends that executive is who represents the will of the country, and that elections would still not largely be decided on a state level, over which Democrats have no control. They can’t control it either without a significant in either appeal or the demographics of the non-urbanized areas of the country because federal elections are still under state control as long as they do not violate any other provision of the constitution. This is set out by the constitution itself modified by the 14th amendment.

Furthermore, this hyper-centralized areas over large states with multiple cultural regions have a poor track record for stability even if they have one-party rule. The reason for this is actually obvious, large portions of the country are more dispersed and thus have almost no chance of their local polity influencing the dense urban areas that effect the government.

The media market of the US has already led to increasing dominance of national level candidates. For example, New York has had little pull on the executive most of its history, its internal politics being so vast but so different from the rest of the country. While Hillary Clinton is not a New Yorker, but a kind of inverse carpet-bagger, she has represented New York interests since her tenure in the Senate and the past two and a half decades have been spent in New York and/or Washington, DC. Trump, although an outsider and sort of an accidental celebrity, is also an outsider born and bret from New York. The fact that his has been missed is itself telling: much ado was made about Rudy Giuliani’s limited success in the 2008 election because of his New York origin and the history of that city being distrusted by the rest of the country. We have seen candidates moves from Governors to Senators in the past 20 years, and now, we see Senators to celebrities.

The nature of the managerial class in the US is difficult to discern as is the nature of the pundits that serve it. For example, Andrew McGill’s” Clinton’s Popular-Vote Lead Will Grow, and Grow, and Grow” at the Atlantic, where he points out that estimates in a lot of blue states have to push the numbers up with mail-ins and absentee ballots going towards Clinton in heavily blue areas: New York, California, and Washington in particular. He concludes,

…. California is due for a record turnout, and possibly other states are as well. It’s too soon to tell, he cautions, if Clinton’s total haul, which sat at 61.3 million as of the afternoon of November 13, will match or surpass the 66 million votes Obama received in 2012.

But let’s be clear: While these uncounted votes may grow Clinton’s popular lead, they absolutely will not change the course of the election. That math is settled; Trump holds an insurmountable lead in swing states, which turned his popular defeat into a sizable electoral victory. All the votes in liberal-leaning New York and California will not change that.

However, these ballots will knock the legs out beneath the argument that Clinton failed to mobilize Democrats. Yes, she’s no Obama in 2008. (Neither was Obama in 2012.) But county-by-county results indicate Democratic voters flipped for Trump, not that they stayed home. “We just saw massive shifts in the industrial midwest from ’12 to ’16, and those are the same voters,” Wasserman said. This is the conclusion Democrats must face, and in the absence of other data, it’s the one they’ll have to live with.

I am not quite sure what the point of this is.   47% of the electorate still did not vote, but more Rust Belt Democrats flipped sides?  No, I have gone into the specific material and economic reasons that may be, but we does one get by seeing that more people in densely urban areas voted for Clinton, even though Trump got higher percentages of the minority vote than the last Republican candidate?   That the electoral college is the sinister villain tying the country to rails in front of a moving train?   That despite her relative unpopularity fear of Trump mobilized more voters on the West Coast and abroad to vote for her?  That she is somehow a viable candidate in the populist mode? And even if she was, the decimation of the Democrats at every other level of government outside of coastal areas doesn’t really promise that should would have half the power to redirect thing as Trump could have if his party remains loyal.

Furthermore, things get more complicated quickly. A post with the somewhat clickbait related tile of No Hillary Did Not Win the Popular Vote at Fermenting Politics, the gist of this is that we actually do not have means of knowing who won the popular vote in every state. The Nixon in a Pants Suit versus the Cheeto Benito is Round Four of the Title Division has heavy disincentives on voting in certain states:

Because the goal of the game is to get to 270, not to see who is the most popular nationwide, campaigns are no concerned with the total number of voters. The Electoral College is not part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). You don’t get extra points for running up the score. So, it doesn’t matter whether you win Florida by one vote or one million votes, the value of winning Florida remains 29. Team Blue wins California regardless of the number of voters it amasses there. So if you are Team Red, you probably have supporters in California. But whether they vote or not, they cannot affect the color of California. They therefore have a dis-incentive to go out and vote because they can’t be the Hope and Change they want to be. Likewise, Team Blue will waste no resources on encouraging voters in Texas, because it will remain Red.

So saying Clinton won the popular vote nationwide is comparing apples to mangoes. The system is not set up to determine the most popular, merely to ascertain who got what number of Electoral Votes. So the numbers being bandied about claiming Clinton “won” the popular vote are misunderstanding what the numbers mean. It is simply the total of people who voted in the election, regardless of whether their individual vote counted.

The more people understand the electoral college, the more people in certain areas know their vote is irrelevant and stay home. The encouraging of strategic voting by both mainstream and third party candidates often leads to more knowledge of this fluke in the system and people age out of the system.

This is going to make electoralism in the US very difficult without some fundamental re-conceptions of how one engages in politics itself.  I hope to start thinking on these questions soon and looking at the international picture.  After all, nothing happens in a vacuum, even a depressing American election.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, day 6, part 2: I Drink Your Kool-Aid, I Drank It Up

I remember in 2005, when the GOP was publishing whole books on how it was going to dominate politics for the two generations, and then, lost congress and many governors in an upset in 2006.  Then in 2009, there are books calling for the neoconservative light, closer to the triangulation of the Clinton Era Democrats forsaking most of the Moral Majority rhetoric. Then a few months after that the more or less libertarian Tea Party was emerged unto the scene nationally and was quickly astroturfed by a variety movements resembling the old Theo-conservatism, but even more monetarily radical.  Far away from any of this, for more than a decade, paleo-conservatives and paleo-libertarians were radicalizing themselves: some becoming “radical traditionalists” and others outright racialists around a movement started by a few ex-paleoconservatives and white nationalists calling themselves the Alternative Right.  Around the same time, Nick Land and Menius Moldbug started popular neo-reactionary blogs, repackaging a skeptical attitude towards Democracy itself with strains of ethno-nationalism and spiritual fascism. This was seen as too insane to even deal with, and even the other Paleo-conservatives ignored them.

Then the Alt-Light happened, repackaging some of the ideas of the Alt-Right, some ideas of traditional Republicanism, a less interventionist foreign policy, and bits and pieces of libertarians in cool memes that mocked the frustration at campus Social Justice excesses. The racialism was toned way done to a more inclusive nationalism. Even the paleo-conservatives over at American Conservative missed this, even though Richard Spencer, at founder, had at one time been an editor at the magazine but his views became too radical for even them. Very few people saw it coming because they didn’t know about the institutions that had been building from the decades prior, and since those movements were largely seen as too radical for even cooption, they were left alone and un-astroturfed. They had little money, but they used meme warfare, podcasts, reddit, and obscure publishing houses to much effect.

Currently, but also stealthily, the liberal center consensus wing of the Democrats was telling itself that raw statistics where in their favor.  Minorities were loyal patrons of the Democratic machines, and they would turn out and keep them in power.  Sure, they had some problems at the state level in the “red States” but those populations were declining anyway. This, by the way, was hubris. The same kind of hubris I saw from GOP in 2005. How bad was this hubris?  

Since 2010, the Democrats have been losing house level seats, state legislatures, and governors seats. Bump puts it very clearly:

When I use the term “decimate” in reference to what’s happened to the Democratic Party in the era of Barack Obama, I admit that I am using the word in a way that would annoy those same pedants. After all, the number of Democrats in Congress and in state leadership positions has dropped far more than 10 percent since 2008.

So not only has the Obama coalition lost between 6-9 million voters to thin air and abstaining, but they lost tons of the state level apparatus. But they forgot they were in a Federated Republic as well with the increasing concentration of their population in very tiny, population dense, geographic regions.  What was the cost?

Two patterns to note. The first is that the Democrats surged into power in 2006 and 2008, winning seats in elections that would normally have leaned to the Republicans. So some of the losses since 2008 are a function of reversion to norm, light-red areas going red once again. The second is that federal and state races largely correlate. A good year for the GOP nationally tends to make a good year at all levels.

First the lost the purple states at a state level, and then… they called it wrong.  They mispredicted wins in 2014 and in this election, as many Democrats I knew were using internal polling data to say they would take back the Senate.  I had heard this before in 2014 as well. Yes, gerrymandering played a part as do felon voting laws, but have no state game at all since the sending Howard Dean packing as DNC chair. Well, that has a cost.

I am not fond of the Democratic establishment–or their apologists, pundits, and true believers–anyway, and there continued partisan success is, frankly, not my concern, but you have to wonder how they misplayed the game so badly and at such at cost the structure of democracy in the US itself.  This does complicate the thesis that Bernie Sanders would have won handily.  He may have won, but it could have been just as close, and he probably would have had a Republican House and Senate to deal wit.  It would have only taken one state in the purple spectrum of the rust belt to go the other way.  However, that wouldn’t have fixed your problem.  A stalled Sanders would have had a hard time keeping the reigns of power, and forces of the Alt-Right that Trump, and yes, Clinton, played with in this election are out now.  That pandora’s box is blown open.

The Alt-Right is tiny, and punches, for the first time ever, above its weight. The main reason it had is that both the Alternative Right and the Neo-reactionaries were not known outside of obscure and dark corners of the internet.  However, a series of campus regulations oversteps and the perhaps overly ambitious use of no platforming became a means for less radical rightists and libertarians to use some of their tropes. The biggest coup though is all the attention Clinton and left-liberal magazines have given the movement to try to use Trump’s rhetoric against him.  They successful broadcast this small sub-set of meme warriors into the popular dialogue and exposing them to far, far more people than they were exposed to at any time prior.

Wonktopians were drinking their own koolaid by the gallon, and yet also trying to give it out for free.  That really rarely ends well.

When something becomes larger than a few rants, but you need to slow down…

For years I have been asked to write a book on various left-wing things: an attempt at pathologies of the left, or historigraphy of the left.  I have two books of poetry completed and reviewed but not out. I have most of an interview book done, but these “Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia” have caught the eye of people more than anything I have written since a fairly petty-shit posting about Neil Degrasse-Tyson.  In fact, this the first thing I have written since 2011 that I cared about politically that people are actually responding too.

I am also, as some have figured out, at a particular point in my life.  I need to slow down for a white and develop some of this thinking.  It may become a book.  Regardless, even if it doesn’t, I am going to continue to ride out the dying gasps of Wonktopia and the beginning of “Fear of Trump Planet” with posts and analysis. I need, however, to slow down.

I am traveling to Dubai in the coming week for work, and then the holidays hit, and I will be visiting Salt Lake City and the snow-covered high desert of Wyoming.  I will be writing in the meantime.  I need to sit and watch things, get a better grasp on the statistics and maybe talk to some more people.  Expect more here, and maybe expect something bigger like a book that collects this and fleshes it out.

 

Thanks,

 

D.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 6: Intersectionality is always a key term until someone asks you to actually do it.

Let’s getting something out of the way that is spreading like a virus: You can’t understand what it means to be “white working class,” or any working class, from polling results.    This isn’t going to become a John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen video with a folksy version of the Internationale in the melody.  Finally, no, you don’t have to empathize with the “white working class.”  You don’t have to empathize with anyone for a lot of what I am going to say to make sense.  That, however, isn’t the same thing as not shaming them, ignoring them, pretending what is happening to them isn’t happening.

The first part of the narrative:  The interests of the working class are divided by both race–and something even Marxists don’t talk much about anymore–region.  The reason for this difference is historical, but not just because of the long history of racial violence in the United States.  That most definitely plays a part, and the real gap in wealth between the black community and the white community largely comes from that very history: slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, chain gangs, and the second wave of Klan. The gap in wealth between the white community and the black community has to the ownership of real property and investment, and not just current income.  It also has to do with inheritance and access to fair investment markets.  That, however, most left-liberals and Marxists vaguely understand.

What historical factors are ignored?  The shape of economic development in the country. While it is tempting to think the interests of the working class are unified, even within the “white” working class, this is somewhat laughable if you look at the shape of the country.  The Union movement in the USA has largely failed. As I wrote about in another place, the South and West’s “Right to Work” laws and history of race baiting actually killed the Unions there.  But there was another problem–the South were NEVER industrialized on the same model as the upper mid-West of the United States and share-cropping and prison labor was used to keep agricultural wages down as well. Similar to the way exploiting undocumented immigrants who do not have wage protections are done now . This means the industrial union model never took off, and the few unions that did exist were largely for contractors, functioning more like professional guilds.  After all, who can a Union of independent contractors strike against as they are technically their own employer.

The West Coast’s working class and now most of the South have a working class in the service sector or in the military or education.  That said, the service sector in the West Coast, largely because of a historical accident, is in higher skilled work like computing in urban areas or in crops that are resistant to mechanization like vegetables, nuts, and fruits in rural and suburban ones.  In the mountain West, outside of the cities, the main employer is mineral extraction but of more profitable and rarer minerals than in the mountains around the rust belt. The South is even more complicated,  being largely urbanized and de-urbanized very quickly, centers of population are even more concreted than North East.  This changes the nature of land ownership, and the kinds of employment there.   While in area manufacturing and contracting specifically for turning former farm land into rich subdivisions provided a lot of jobs, that manufacturing work was limited. Furthermore, many employers from Japan and even the US moved factories to the South but they were newer, much more highly automated, and cost of living and wages low enough that even a non-unionized job was more attractive than what else was on offer.

This is a very rough sketch of the last two decades of development, and I am sure there is much to contend with in the fine print.  It definitely related to the voting patterns. Here’s what we know about Trump’s voting electorate.  It was overwhelming white, but upper middle class. The “white working class” only seemed to turn the election to his favor actively in the devastated areas of the rust belt.

To delve into some further vulgar Marxism, the bourgeoisie in the US are mixed too and not just by size of their businesses. Small business owners have been in decline as have small farmers. This is nothing new.  However, the GOP has largely based itself out of Sun Belt where these declines were more pronounced.  Furthermore, ironically, the GOP and black Democrats colluded to make sure that representation was more concentrated, allowing for a bigger electoral hold on Sun Belt states than would otherwise happen in exchange for some clearly black representation of mostly black districts.  The Democrats, whose origins back to Andrew Jackson or Thomas Jefferson, depending on our interpretation, are a populist party without an ideological or even consistent class base core. The GOP has always, even in Lincoln’s day when it was radically progressive, been a party of business.  The nature of business to society itself has changed. As the Brahmin Republicans declined in the North East and West because of urbanization, the Nixon strategy and the Goldwater vote on the civil rights act, and the taint of the Dixiecrats drifting away the Democrats, Democrats were able to take over the political machines and the interests of the Wall Street in the North East fairly easily.  Meaning that there are some substantive differences between the GOP and Democrats even though they both favor managerial and bourgeois interests–those interests are different. For example, Trump and Koch make things or build things, but Goldman Sachs finances things and Silicon valley disrupts things–ironically, though, because even the sharing economies business model of ending monopolies is based on intellectual property monopoly.

You will note that NONE of that requires empathy. It does require understanding. It requires also a buzzword that everyone throws around in Social justice circles but few people actually try to do: Intersectional understanding.  Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined that term from his work in law at the turn of the 1980s to 1990s. It did really take off with meme and think-piece culture in the late aughts. Like lectures about privilege, it hide in legal and pedagogical studies in the academy before being integrated by undergraduates into to think pieces 20 years later. I have written in other places extensively on the strange relationship of intersectionality to ideas like standpoint epistemology, and it has theoretically absorbed some of those assumptions in its common use. But at least, Crenshaw wanted disability, race, class, gender, sex, caste, and class into our understanding of human interactions.   Crenshaw did not think they could weighted or put down in simple categories and thus all analysis had to be multi-casual. This is easily done in cases like understanding American labor, but it removes the easy of sloganeering and simple reductive rhetoric.

Yet think pieces and blogs have increased simple reductive rhetoric to the point that “intersectionality” is generally used a way to shut people up,  or as a substitute for the idea of Solidarity, or as way of erasing the very things it was suppose to overlay. When combined with the psychologization of a lot of left-liberal politics–with analogies to trauma, unintended aggression, and constant pleas to empathy–you can see where this valuable way of analyzing the world drops out and becomes useless because the substantive methodological content goes into the air.

This brings me to a series of counter articles written in the last few days to all these naive pleas about the empathizing with the white working class. Some of this is a weirdly liberal appropriation of Maoist-Third Worldist ideas, but only applied to race within the US. I will ignore that because J. Sakai being used to support Hillary Clinton is absurd on its face. Other responses are been more nuanced in part, addressing “white allies.” I will talk about Kali Holloway’s piece for Alternet,  “Stop Asking Me to Empathize With the White Working Class: And a few other tips for white people in this moment,” as I think it is representative of what is likely to become a genre in the few weeks of doubling down on ideas and paradigms that largely only speak to themselves.

Holloway begins with,

The only people who were surprised by white people voting for white supremacy is other white people. Muslims, black folks and other people of color have been petrified of this outcome for a long time now, because we know how white power will do anything to preserve itself. We have seen it, worked beside it, watched it on the news, lived next door to it, witnessed it call itself our friend and then question our experiences with racism when we recount them.

Right out of the park, we begin with a bunch of assumptions that have to be unpacked. One of my problems with standpoint epistemology is the way it conflates derailing someone’s experience with questioning the scope of someone’s experience. Is a vote for Clinton NOT a vote for white supremacy?  After all, she was an active supporter of her husband’s tough on crime act.  Furthermore, in most of the country, “lived next door to it” is a false claim.  This implies an integrated America that only exists in the upper middle class suburbs of large cities. It also implies equal class footing. That’s not even false.

However, the conflation of both interests of whites being unified and the interests of people of color being unified but opposed is common.  It’s a white hat/black hat myth, with the moral significance of the colors inverted, but it’s common.  Yes, all white identified people benefit from the social structures around race, but they do not all equally nor is white power necessarily in everyone’s interests equally. Furthermore, as we pointed out, the diversification of the elite actually hasn’t been that much of a threat to white power. That is not what is going on.

Holloway says,

The only surprise to come out of this election is how many, and how quickly, white people want us to empathize with the people who voted against our humanity, our right to exist in this place. Even before the election, the Washington Post actually had the audacity to berate us for not crying for the white working class. In the days since Trump won, the number of articlesurging everybody to be cool to Trump’s America, to understand what they are facing, to hear their grievances, has added insult to injury. Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying Trump “tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” I read it at least three times and couldn’t find the words “white supremacy” anywhere in it.

Which is true, but also it wasn’t just white supremacy being maintained. 47% of the population didn’t vote. 70% of the voting electorate was white, about 9% more than representation of the country, and while the majority of those votes did go to the Republicans, the white working class that needs someone to listen to them didn’t vote for anyone. Neither did larger portions of working class blacks and hispanics. These are facts. I have documented them elsewhere.  The reasons why people are calling for this to be looked at is based on a simple question:  how are you going to win state level races to get back those purple states if you can’t address white people?  2060 is the year projected that the white population becomes majority minority–if and only if other current groups don’t start identifying as white.  But even then, you have to assume simplified interests among groups.  This doesn’t start up to much pressure.

Without that reforms of electoral college and other things that liberals are putting their hopes on are not just unlikely but impossible. Furthermore, as has been a theme, shaming people on this front doesn’t work.  Holloway makes it worse though in key ways:

Let me pass along some advice black folks have been given for a long time: stop being so angry and seeing yourself as a victim, and try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s really all I have for you right now, this re-gifting of wisdom.

This is not just spite, it’s stupid spite. Everyone knows in her circles that this is not possible. Indeed, the very image is a logical impossibility but dismissing that is the normalization of a downward trend that also continues to affect large portions of the black and hispanic community. Hard work doesn’t change aggregate outcomes for anyone.

Holloway makes another lazy argument:

Here’s another reason I’m not interested: This whole idea that I have to understand the people America seems to believe are its “real” citizens is less and less relevant. Yes, they won an election. This country is getting browner and gayer by the day, and for all they are fighting to get back to the 1950s, lazing in toxic nostalgia isn’t going to change that. The demographics of this country are not on their side. They might want to try understanding the future—in which they are outnumbered and outvoted—because it comes for us all.

Yes, but Republicans are getting more and more of the brown vote, the idea that identity has set ideological content because of abstractions is, frankly. absurd. White power is a material thing, as it wanes, the interests of those who replace it in the same economic system will resemble that of who they replaced. Don’t believe me? Study the history of the coloreds in Haiti versus the black former slaves and who made up the elite classes there after the whites were gone.  The demographics of the U.S. are centralized in urban areas in a way that make it less and less democratic, and fixing that without also erasing many state borders and localities, would quickly cause several constitutional issues to become manifest like they did in large nation-states with diverse population that didn’t have a system to balance those interests:  see the history of Mexico and Brazil and the increased history of party centralization, corruption, and military coups for the long gains from that.  You don’t only change one part of a broken system, and yet that is all that is being talked about and predicting that raw number demographics will change things for the Democrats and People of Color. In Brazil, the “whites” (although Americans who think of them as Latinos) dominated and still dominate politics despite demographic trends being against for almost two decades. Why?  Accumulation, centralization of power, and conflicting interests among other groups.

Holloway doubles down again before she’s finished,”To paraphrase Samantha Bee, if Muslims and black folks have to take responsibility for every member of our communities, so do you.”  This again is confusing identity revenge with some vague notion of justice. The reason why everyone from bell hooks to Samantha Bee says making people representative of their race is it bad thinking. Inverting it is still bad thinking and is basically just sticking ones finger in the air and screaming: you did it too.

Holloway does make some sound points: poverty is always portrayed more romantically for whites and is perceived differently by the public, the diversification of elites isn’t what is causing white working class problems, and that it is basically each community’s responsibility to speak to itself.  However, if one was intersectional AT ALL in the analysis, it would be clear that communities overlap.  Indeed, Holloway’s whole premise in the beginning based on exposure to white communities is predicated on it overlapping.

I will quote a friend’s conversation with me about this as it makes the point clear:

Here’s what I mean (I feel like I’m talking to 5th graders, so I’m even worse than mansplaining): SOME white people are racist ignoramuses, and SOME white people are economically oppressed, and the intersection of these groups is not
the NULL SET. See? That’s not hard, is it?

The main point being not that “I am right” in the particulars, but that a certain amount of complexity is irreducible. As an analogy: if you want to cure a disease, you have to get the etiology right. Bleeding someone with malaria might make you feel better about yourself, as a caretaker, but it will do fuck all, therapeutically, for the patient.

The right isn’t totally wrong about how therapy has taken over a model for politics, they are just wrong about how and why. There are confluence of interests and actors in all of this, but the liberal and conservative–indeed most of the American– imagination has become so withered by simplistic typologies and the focus on emotional states that simple descriptive facts seem beyond most people’s capacity.  The personal being political, and the politics being symbolic has massively eroded liberals’ ability to parse complicated reality.  It has make intersectionalism the buzzword for most activism while also making it nearly impossible to say anything that actually has a multi-factor analysis as its core,  which is what intersectionality itself demands.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 5, part 2: The Years of Magical Thinking, part 3.

Of Safety Pins  and Solidarity, Carrot and Kings

It is incredibly hard to get people to change their thinking, the only thing that generally does it is exposure and trauma, but the latter often backfires completely and retrenches thought. So the in the wake of Trump’s election, everyone wants to show solidarity, to protect the weak, or reaction.  Well, everyone who thinks that is actually happening–or who doesn’t regularly visit Stormfront.

So there is the Safety Pin campaign.  Debating it has become all the rage these days on social media, like debating the strategic important of riots but with much less consequences or compelling riot porn footage.  The crux of the debate is as follows: Safety pins are small acts of solidarity that can make people feel like they have allies versus safety pins are more about self-congratulations and white people still benefit from white privilege, so its silly.

That is an incredibly bastardized form of the debate, but lets go a bit deeper. Landess Kearns wrote a piece for Huffington Post on the increased use of safety pins. Here is the crux of the argument:

By fastening a safety pin to their clothing, people are declaring themselves allies to groups who have been maligned by Trump, to show that they stand in solidarity with anyone who might be afraid.

And as we’ve been dismayed to find out in the days following Trump’s election, it appears that there is reason to fear. People across the country have shared stories on social media of violence and hate speech directed at them in the wake of Trump’s victory. Racist graffiti was spotted around the country and minorities reported experiencing harassment the day after Trump was elected.

These frightening instances illustrate why the #safetypin idea ― which was inspired by a movement following Brexit in the United Kingdom ― is so timely. It’s a tiny gesture, but it speaks volumes, assuring people they are not alone.

I have heard, again anecdotally, a few black people in red states see waitresses with it and felt safer, or at least validate them.  That said, the issue is that it doesn’t speak volumes for a variety of reasons: it is a low cost gesture, it is easily coopted (as we shall see), and it has to be backed with genuine concern.

These were  the primary reason why I saw it called embarrassing though. So this brings me to another article, one that I really want to parse for second. Christopher Keelty wrote an opposing open letter to white people saying its embarrassing. Open letters to entire racial demographics are, generally, a bad idea, but regardless.  What is Keelty’s problem:

Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people — only white people — put him there.

So there is strange problem with collective guilt here.  Yes, as Kealty points out later, Trump voters will be coopting the gesture or even doing it sincerely.  The problem is 70% of the voters in 2016 weren’t even 47% of the country.  Trump won from abstainers more than anything else. 47% of the electorate didn’t vote. 1/3 of Hispanics voted for Trump as well.

These facts can’t be said enough and yet collect blame is assigned. Kealty then goes on to say,

Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’sthe spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.

That was actually divided too. Something can be done from privilege and still be a sincere gesture of solidarity. So from marginally lame argument to particularly illogical response.  Showing someone you are an “ally”–a term I have come to particularly dislike in the way it used in left liberal circles–is always from a place of privilege.   You have the relative social safety to show Solidarity.

However, both the authors are white, well-educated, writers for Huffington post, and by Kealty logic, he has self-implicated by speaking for people of color in the first place. Furthermore, Kealty is absolving all sorts of people of responsibility. If the logic goes that even if one is not a racist, but voting for Trump enabled racists so Impact < Intent.  This same logic goes to liberal too:  they empowered Democrats who helped make everyone poorer except for the upper middle class and above since the 1990s, so they enabled the policies that would make Trump appealing.  Impact < Intent, therefore everyone is implicated.

But if everyone is implicated, then no one really is.    The same when blaming all white people for the appeal of nationalists.  Lastly, Kealty’s answer is the following:

I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.

But if Kealty is pointing out that such virtue signaling is coming from a place of privilege, then this STILL does undo what his one criticism applies.

In the 32 flavors of symbolic political magical thinking, this the battle between Armenianism and Calvinism.
Kealty, however, did get to a practical point. Symbolic politics, even #BLM, is easily coopted.  There are already reports of white nationalists using the safety pin as well. Meme war is accelerated and this makes symbolic protest and symbolic gestures almost obsolete immediately. In fact, there are memes showing white nationalists using safety pins as a stance against “globalism and loxism.”  Also, sadly for Kealty, when I search his article on Google, the fifth link was a discussion board on the article on Stormfront.
So the debate itself is already irrelevant. Meme wars are agitprop blitzkrieg.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 5: The Imperial President or the Cult of Milquetoast Personality

“Present-day politics places emphasis on personality. An entire party, a platform, an international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality. A charming candidate is the alchemist’s secret that can transmute a prosaic platform into the gold of votes. Helpful as is a candidate who for some reason has caught the imagination of the country, the party and its aims are certainly more important than the personality of the candidate. Not personality, but the ability of the candidate to carry out the party’s program adequately, and the program itself should be emphasized in a sound campaign plan.” ~ E. Bernays, Propaganda (1928)

Bernay’s theories, which were obvious and apparent the two decades after he wrote them, were both the secret and the downfall for the Democratic dream of Wonktopia. The end of Bernay’s passage could have described what Obama became: hope and change in the guise of a young constitutional law scholar-turned-senator from a strong family but who could made emblematic of the long integration of the black experience in America. Obama, biracial, born of an African immigrant and a liberal Brahmin family, identified as black. He had been, while not the anti-war vote many liberals projected onto him, a gust of fresh air against the neoconservative approach to war and the Washington consensus on Greenspan economics. He then stocked his cabinet with the old guard of Clinton and even Carter staffers. People like me noticed immediately, but for most of America, President Obama embodied hope and change. Change that some people loved and others hated, even if it was largely just symbolic and tonal change.

What was remarkable at first, even when the Democrats had dominance of entire apparatus of the Federal government for Obama’s first two years, was how little seemed to substantively change and yet how much the tone of the country changed. Eight years later people talk about opposition to Obama as if his first two years weren’t with a super majority of his party. Obama was being projected on, and while he can be more candid than most politicians, his actual policies were just a tonal moderation on Bill Clinton’s.

Like Bill Clinton in 2000, Obama would probably win this election if there were no term limits. Yet also like Clinton, we will have seen him as the normalizer of policies seen as previously right-wing. In the popular imagination, Obama was signaled to be the end of an area, but since he embodied Bernay’s point: he could embody both the party and the platform in his policy while also being a projection of hope that change had come.  Like President Bill Clinton’s dynamic, Clintonism was beyond the charisma of the man even if it stemmed from it, but unlike Clintonism, Obamism did not out shine the men himself because there isn’t much consistency or novelty there. Indeed, the very phrase “Obamism” seems strange.  What could it be?  What was Obama’s doctrine?  Just Prudence?  Drone strikes as opposed to ground wars? Deporting more than the Bush/Cheney consensus could do but showing compassion to children through the Dream Act and executive actions? Spending four years trying to forge a bipartisan consensus for issues that, politically theatrics aside, there was more or less a consequence already, and yet no consensus could made?

Those aren’t doctrines and you can’t build an -ism out of those seemingly ad hoc actions.  Obama is easy to thus see personified but nearly impossible to explain.

Obama as a figure will probably be immensely popular, but Obama’s Presidency as historical period of US government, for all its talk of change, will be seen be a continuation of the 1990 and aughts worldview far past its prime.  Obama himself stands un-reprimanded, but what he actually embodied in government  is meagre.   He used executive orders extensively for domestic policy differently from his the Presidents before him, but he based the actions on the ways Presidents since Reagan had used such orders for foreign policy and police actions.  This, however, could always have been undone in a hand-wave–with Trump, apparently, they will be. Like using the Supreme Court as a tactic, the liberal inability to take Wonktopia to state, local, and even federal legislatures did and continues to make all of its gains constantly at risk for erasure by fait of either the judiciary or the executive.

While it is probably the intense and obvious “coronation” aspect of Hillary Clinton hurt her possibility to the Presidency, and the obvious manifestation of family dynasties as manifestations of the Imperial Presidency, what was being missed is that these families were useful because they were wonks and inside dealers. These were not dynasties as autocrats or heads of state.  Indeed, the primary campaign argument made for Clinton, beyond the symbolism of a first female President, was her wonk-ish expertise.  In the US, more than in Parliamentary systems, the head of government and the head of state are co-terminus. While this was also true in the Soviet Union, even many Communist governments, including Maoist China, kept those two roles separate:  see Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.  In the US, the President has the power of both and neither.  President Reagan seemingly embodied the elements of the head of state, and President Clinton embodying the of government.  Obama shared more in common with Reagan or Kennedy than with Johnson or Clinton, yet he had to try to continue the latter two’s legacy.   In short, Bush the dynasty didn’t embody either well, although Bush 41 was a component head of government, his inability to be an effective head of state was constantly a weakness of which the media was aware.

The head of government in the US is the imperial wonk, Bill Clinton establishing the current format of DLC and DNC triangulation and a bipartisan consensus even in a time of partisan rancor.  He could manifest the bourgeois values of New York but package them in the rhetoric and temperament of the sun belt.  Bush 43 could do the same, but in a much more, frankly, tacky way.   Obama was able to carry on the policy torches of both while making multicultural America the face of the whole affair. Bill Clinton had tried to be the honorary “First Black President,” but he was always a good old boy from Arkansas.

Trumpism is larger than Trump.  Indeed, he is almost inversion of Obama except in one key way: Obama and Trump were both seen as outsiders.  As Trump staffs his Cabinet with a mixture of wonks and people from the non-Bush wing of the old GOP guard–a lot of faces that emerged in the 1990s are clearly predominant0–we shall see if Trumpism remains larger than Trump. Some appointments seem to indicate it will: Preibus and Bannon both being linked to the more radical end of Trump’s vision. It is not so much that a mandate was given to Trumpism: 47% of the electorate did not vote at all, and Clinton won the popular vote thinks to urban density.  Even if Trump is a the crude hybrid of American business with two Italian figures, Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini, his autocracy is currently limited. Furthermore, the common liberal idea that impeachment with Pence becoming President would make liberals complicit in the return of the one form of conservatism that have actually successfully defeated: Protestant theo-conservatism and its moral majority.

This is what makes the hopes of change based on protesting in major cities with Democratic bases so futile.  Even if one were to cause some faithless electors, this would be a black swan event.  A black swan event that require faithless electors in states where the protests are not popular and borderline non-existent.  As a form of even resistance, few things could more futile. Furthermore, at no time in US history, including the five previous times when the electoral college split has faithless electors change the results of an election. Such an event could trigger another black swan event itself, and cycles beyond the control of liberals would ensue.

What goes beyond this?  Liberals themselves don’t believe in the status quo they defended, and aside from fear of reprisals, most of the arguments made for this the methods used are unconvincing.  The Electoral college acting in bad faith would NOT slow the violence against vulnerable minorities–it would predictably accelerate it.   Clinton would have the most hostile congress in US history to her rule, and there would be special Prosecutors on the White House door step immediately.   Furthermore, the damage done to liberal jurisprudence would be as bad, or worse, if the conventional GOP got its way with the Supreme court.

The imperial Presidency has, so far, actually been able to maintain and expand the imperial party mechanism. Parties, even more than legislation, becoming the driving forces behind law, and think-tanks, more than legislators, drafting bills. Indeed, this has been a way to hide bourgeois management of the US political system and the dominance of several bureaucracies both partisan and none.  It is beyond time to rethink our alignment to these bureaucracies, and that would requires thinking beyond the executive branch of government.  Even traditional Democrats will have to do this, not just wilded-eyed progressives or jaded Marxists, because their focus on the executive electorally, a natural result of them being in large urban centers, has cost them most of the machinery of government at a state by state level.  In fact, so much so, that one more election could give the GOP the power to make constitutional amendments.

This will require thinking about para-state institutions beyond Unions, parties, and traditional think-tanks. This is the work we need to do. The right did it while you weren’t watching.  Not just the think-tanks that liberals knew about, but para-state institutions that left doesn’t have.  First through churches and the cover of religious exception, but now, honestly through magazines, charities, and memes.

Without thinking about what leftists used to call “dual power,” most attempts to change the direction of the government will determined by those bourgeois figures that have more room to move and a more coherent tribally singular contingency:  populists and the right. The right-ward shift is happening all over the world, not just in the US, for this very reason. We never needed to defend Wonktopia, but it is particularly deluded to think we can bring it back from the dead with some protests alone.