If you are going to call Trump Out… be right. (Or what Han, Yuan, Goguryeo, Joseon history may mean for silly headlines)

So The Hill misleadingly titled, South Korea to Trump: We’ve never been part of China. There is so much wrong with this headline and the things in it, I basically, to speak like someone ten years younger than me is supposedly going to speak like, “can’t even.”

The issue that both The Liberal Party, which it’s kind of amazing how factious Korean conservative parties are as they have split more than Trotskyists in recent years, and the Democratic Party both are worried more about Xi’s statement that would lead Trump to take about a prior claim of sovereignty over Korea. This is trickier than most people know and understand.

You see seriousness of claim of sovereignty can see this from the Chinese commenters flooding the article with half-truths such as

In 108 BCE Korea was conquered by the Han dynasty of China (206 BCE – 220 CE). The Han were interested in natural resources such as salt and iron and they divided northern Korea into four commanderies directly administered by their central government. Koreans spoke chinese up until the 14th century when their leader at the time “invented” the current S.Korean language.

Where to start with this claim: There was no unified Korea during that period for to a singular vassal state, and parts of Joseon that now in Andong or Yaniban Provinces were part of the China, and various different kingdoms emerging during decay of Gojoseon (ancient Joseon) Korea as we know it was Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla developed in the period claimed. Part of what would be Joseon, but not part of modern Liaodong Peninsula were the four Han commanderies which were claimed by Gojoseon but were Manchurian.

There was no singular “ancient Chinese” to be spoken. It’s hundreds of languages that shared common idiogrammatic writing system. Mandarin was literally the courtly dialect that later unified the Han. Many of the languages called “Chinese” barely share verb-order, and despite claims that they were somehow “similar in pronunciation to ancient Chinese.” There is no evidence for this and there is no standard ancient Chinese for it to be based on.

In fact, it’s hard for me to believe someone who spoke both Mandarin and Korean would say this: There are tons of lone words from Chinese, and an entire number system of which Korean has two, but Mandarin (what dialect are you referring to as “ancient Chinese”) and Korean (both Chosunguko [North Korean/Yanbian dialect] and Hanguko) have TOTALLY different language structures down to unrelated verb order, completely different tense structure (Chinese basically doesn’t have a tense structure), and completely different ways of denoting parts of speech. However, the Korean nobles and scholar classes did write in Chinese characters and the Han used the ideogrammatic characters to unite languages that had no linguistic relation. Korean may be strongly related to Manchu and Mongolian, but it is definitely NOT remotely in the Sino-Tibetan language family despite the use of Chinese characters, which were used until much later.

So we immediately realize that both countries are contesting history in ways that find modern nationalist narratives and Trump walked into it. Tensions between Korea and China have been downplayed by tensions between Koreans most recent occupiers, Japan. However, this seems to be changing and the implication is that China may try to claim a long standing imperial role there as a way to end the current conflict to their liking. Goguryeo, the largest of the early kingdoms after Gojoseon, does actually cover parts of what would not be considered outer Manchuria, Andong, and Jilin provinces. It was definitely a vassal state at various points both often played between China, Japan, and the Mongolian powers.

This gets more complicated by the fact the last clearly unified Korean state, Joseon, has a contested legacy in the reforms of the language and it the nature of relationship to China.  Koreans are taught that the Neo-Confucian sage-King, Sejong, unified Korea and enabled mass literacy by abandoning Hanja (the use of Chinese ideograms modified for Korea) with the highly simplified syllabary of Hangul.  I was taught this when I lived in Korea.  I have recently seen non-Korean scholarly indicating that Hangul was not actually so cleanly invented from scratch, this scholarship claims the Koreans didn’t invent Hangul , but derived the syllabary fro the alphabet of phagas Pa, first devised by the Khitans and later promulgated by the Yuan Dynasty for all subjects and clients, including the Koreans. However, this is obvious contested by most Koreans and does not seem to be standard narrative yet. I just bring it up because it related to the claims made by both China and Korea about the histories of the two nations.

The issue is a lot of this history is contested and murky, but Yanbian Prefecture, which is an ethnic Korean autonomous zone, parts  Jilin and Andong provinces as a whole were parts of both Gojoseon, Goguryeo, and Joseon. Meaning China rules over parts of what would have been considered Korea now and has for hundreds of years, and that parts of the ancestor states of Korea had been vassals or partly ruled by the Han, Mongolians, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. The relationship however to EITHER the modern state of China or the modern state of South Korea is very unclear.

In short, the history here is complicated and contested, and Trump stepped into a row about national sovereignty very few people understand with contested nationalist versions of history on both the Chinese and Korean side and little continuity between these ancient states and the modern ones that house these cultures.

If you are going to attack Trump on this, you need to understand that he was a) just reporting what Xi said, b) what Xi said is controversial but c) the histories here are so complicated that the contention really does revolve about the way history is USED for the political precent.

The Hill would be advised not to make cheap political points in this because of both its complication and the implications for contemporary politics in East Asia.

(Note: I am amateur historian and lived in Korea, I have some grasp of Korean and some knowledge of Chinese, but the historiography is both contested and complicated, so if you feel like I misrepresented something, say so. I also know my tendency to refer to China(s) and Korea(s) because of the discontinuity of the states and the shifts in culture may bother some people. I really don’t know how to talk cultures that have nation-states now but nations and dynasties, etc., that represented those peoples has changed so completely so many times.)

The Spectre of Culture (Wars)

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That’s because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today’s reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn’t to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.

— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

This book was written before the economic down and the explicit shift on both the left, which had been heading this way explicitly since the late 1960s, and the right, which had had done it in coded language only since 1980s but became explicit about towards the end of the Bush administration, moved into one would, with the condescending vague hope, the “late” phase of the culture war.

Now, I don’t think we need to rebuild the “progressive” coalition like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, but I do essentially agree with them.  In lieu  of any thing like a mass movement, we are left with spectacle around campuses.  This has happened over and over again as people effected directly by economic and policing politics do not have the leisure to maintain mass protests, and the protests move to places where people do, campuses.  To talk in liberal terminology here, this moves from a site of lesser privilege to a site of more privileged, even if intersectional oppressions abound.

In the communist movement, the key point of the abolition of “value” is that value was generated by working class.  There ability to change society was not their status as victims, although they clearly were, peasants were also victims, but as Marx noted, all peasants revolts could generally achieve was just replacing the old ruling class with themselves.  They did not have the power to end what produced the need for feudal or even an agrarian capitalist society.  It was the proletariat’s power that had as the people who made the stuff that society ran on that made them the subject of change. Not their victimhood.

So why is identity victim so popular and why is there a race for even the objectively powerful to claim it?  Victimhood is a quicker proxy for group cohesion than symbolic kinship.  Symbolic kinship is what enabled tribal societies to expand blood bonds through rituals of inclusion, adoption, etc.  Marriage, replacing the labor of lost members of the tribe, or even suing for peace made this possible.  In fact, as Marshall Sahlins pointed out, while sociobiology and some branches of evolutionary psychology had assumed reproduction, sexuality, and tribal determined kinship,  the evidence is that its inverted even in hunter gather societies.  However, a quicker, albeit much less stable, was to generate a “political” body was victimization.  It generates the other to define the tribe.

IF you view culture as two things, the habits of a society to organize around its own reproduction as a whole (which is, in some ways, a codification of economic and familial relations) and as the means to govern conflicts within that unit without explicit or even implicit violence, you can see that culture develops from these two impulses.  Culture wars would naturally accord when patterns of life dissolve, which capitalism after the world wars has clearly done even in the most “developed” countries for both good and ill.

Furthermore, in moments without political clarity and where prior oppressions have made other forms of social life more distrusted, and there is no-to-little-mechanism to organize by class in terms, victimhood as a cultural politics would be innately appealing. Think about the shift from the Black Power movement to the Rainbow coalition to focus in social justice on structural oppression.  All three movements actually shared a view of structural racism beyond individual bigotry, and all three moments acknowledged the horrendous victimization of the African diaspora and other people termed “black” in the Americas and from European colonialism.  However, the focus from power to integration to justice moves the focus of agency.

As middle class and working class “white” (read rural and suburban, which gets coded for white) life does decline as wealth becomes urban and even more highly centralized and uneven, the mantel of victimhood is claimed, and it is made to deliberately mirror that other identity movements.  Whiteness becomes defined as, instead of a lack of identity as it was seen in most of twentieth century, as a besieged but substantive identity, as you see pop up in the rhetoric around the alt-right.

In a different time, this does resemble fascists movements claim of victimhood.  Something that we forget about all three of the major European fascist movements and the Klan.  So it can be serious as death politically when a dominant social group does pick up the rhetoric of victimization. However, in the “first as tragedy, then farce” way, things degenerated quickly.

Berkeley, for reasons having to do with both the free speech movement and the birth of the new left, has taken on weird symbolism.  In a way, it has become a manifestation of our dreams of internet culture.  The shouting and burning away of Milo recently was a spectacle for both the so-called “alt-light” and antifa movement to appear to matter.  However, it did nothing but boast his book sells and maybe stop a doxing, which is a small victory. The neoconservative and religious right finding Milo’s complicated stance on teen-adult relationships between gay men, a stance that many of the radical left actually share with him, is what had is book deal ended and lost him a media outlet.  The prior Berkeley moment was a spectacle, but it was all light, no head.

So again, things move to Berkeley when the Alt-right decided to make it ground zero for a gay pride style protest.  Caitlin Johnstone says in her article, I Think We Can Safely Say The American Culture War Has Been Taken As Far As It Can Go,

Okay, that’s it. That’s as far as the American culture war can possibly be taken. When you’ve got people dressed as superheroes brawling with people dressed as ninjas over who’s got the better warmongering neocon politicians in Washington, you’ve taken this idiotic game to its most ridiculous possible extreme. These Berkeley demonstrations where right-wingers who think America is one COEXIST bumper sticker away from full-fledged Marxism gather to have fist fights with lefties who see Adolph Hitler’s face on every mammal without a Tumblr account have taken the artificial dichotomy created and promulgated by America’s ruling elites and made it so cartoonishly exaggerated that it’s lost all shape and meaning outside of “hey look at me!” social media vanity politics.

If you haven’t been following (and I would not blame you if you have not), there was yet another pro-Trump demonstration in the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley, California yesterday, which was once again met with counter protests from masked “antifascists”, and which once again turned violent. This happened because people who voted for Trump last year are tired of being painted as racist Nazis by the people who voted for Clinton, so some of them have been staging the conservative equivalent of a gay pride parade to let everyone know that they’re out and they’re not ashamed. The people who voted for Clinton, meanwhile, have been brainwashed by corporate media into believing that their nation is being taken over by fascist bigots, so when they saw what they were being told was a rally for white nationalists and neo-Nazis assembling in their neighborhood, they came itching for a fight. Tempers flared and fists flew.

I’m not calling for this behavior to stop, for the record; if a bunch of bored internet denizens want to get together and break their hand bones on each other’s skulls with poorly-thrown punches in order to feel something, that’s fine by me. I just think it’s worth drawing attention to how ridiculous this whole thing is getting. Because some rich people and their politicians figured out that rural Americans have different fears than urban Americans and that these fears can be used to keep voters fighting each other instead of demanding a just and equitable society, you’ve now got guys dressing up like Captain America running around breaking sticks over the heads of dreadlocked black bloc liberal arts majors in one of the most expensive parts of the wealthiest nation on earth.”

This in a moment where Trumps politics are shifting. He is going back to the normie neoconservative foreign policy hawking that has defined Republicans. Partly because it clears the charges of being a Russian stooge, in a new liberal quasi-McCarthyism, while not substanceless, does seem to be going to a paranoid style of politics liberals in the past avoided.  The fact that these manifestations of internet debates on radical political cultures have come to substitute for the work that needs to be done in the US.

This farce may be an indication that things are actually darker than anyone realizes, but what looms is not mass radical movements. This is not Rome in 1931.  IF fascism was defined by total mobilization, then this is inverse.  It’s demobilization, depoliticization, and the decline of the energy of the politics around victimhood.  There is such a thing as a tragifarce.

The Koreas

So there are some predictable developments in regards to 대한민국 (ROK), my old temporary home, and this goes into why I don’t freak out every time anyone does anything stupid in regards to 조선민주주의인민공화국 (DPRK). I prefer the Korean names because there are actually implications and differences in the use of names, you will notice that if you transliterated the names, you notice North Korea claims to be a continuation of a different state than the South. Anyway, I am going to talk about recent events.

The test, predictably, failed, and this is probably why China was not as worried as they could be. Getting rid of Kim Jong Un is not a particularly high priority as a rabid buffer state is still a buffer state unless those claws get too sharp. A friend of mine sees this as another sign of US decline, but while the US power projection is declining, it also remains true that a rival hegemonic power doesn’t emerge because the candidates aren’t there. China is powerful, but has a severely slowed economy (although still faster than the developed ones, but people who know anything about growth patterns in economics shouldn’t be surprised by that), Russia has a GDP of Italy and while it does have some serious ordinance, its ambitions seem to be purely regional to Eastern Europe despite a lot of the bluster. It hits harder militarily than its economy lets on, make no mistake, but Putin’s concerns are limited to limiting NATO and keeping a Sunni block developing towards his Southern border. Europe leaders is a major power but still sees its bread buttered mostly in sync with the US even if individual countries oppose specific military action. BRICS never could correlate around united interests because honestly they don’t clearly have united interests.

Always, but particularly now, the basics of political life and geo-political life are practical.

That said, these would be intractable wars with no chance of actual success for the US even if the US narrowly “won” them.   While a lot of the apocalypse mongering is overdone,  this could still be nasty if handled in a bellicose manner.

So, like the Roman Empire after the 3rd century, that decline may go awhile without anything really emerging to rival it. Furthermore, my normal response applies: capitalism does loom and it is clearly shifting modes.  Trump’s return to neoconservative brands of “realpolitik” as opposed to other, even conservative, forms is likely good for no one.

So South Koreans aren’t freak out just like I learned not to while I was there, but there are concerns. The likelihood of cyberwar being the reason for failure is really low. In event of a war, Russian and DPRK both use those older methods because they are less hackable. They would, however, still almost instantly lose in such a missal war but only after doing massive damage Japan or Hawai. This is a bargaining table and there is very little the US can do unless it wants to use an ICBM itself. This puts South Korea and Japan in a shit situation, but Japan wants to re-militarize and has the technology now.

So while these developments aren’t good, and could be of the apocalyptic variety; honestly, they aren’t likely to be.The idea that any individual actor is that irrational in the prisoner’s dilemma is low, and there is an explicit method to DPRK’s madness. Bellicose rhetoric for their nationalist interior which, honestly, has moved from communism proper to a kind of racial mythology since the end of the Soviet Union in particular (read the Cleanest Race on this and also learn about the LACK of de-Nazification of Asia. Blood race came into Korea from Japan which got it from Germany and mixed with clan tendencies and political isolation in a fairly unique way, and this was specifically used to build DPRK’s self-understanding from probably the 1970s forward).

A lot of the future of the ROK depends on the the upcoming election, now that daughter of the former dictator and really weirdly scandal ridden Park administration is over, it’s time for a change. A change that is willing to do some complicated negotiations between China, Japan, and the US. Moon Jae-in make be able to return Korea’s Democratic party to same status after the Roh Moo-hyun’s suicide and the collapse of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives in Korea have been split between Protestants, represented by Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party and Buddhists represented by Park Geun-hye and Liberty Korea (which split from Lee’s Grand National Party), although it’s important to know that Park was completely secular with cultural ties to Buddhists and Catholics (like Roh Moo-hyun actually). Lee was seen as Korea’s slightly more moderate George Bush whereas there is little US analogue to Park (although maybe Trump in time).

Given that Japan is scrambling jets now to deal with China, not the DPRK, things are about to get complicated.

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Week 3, Day 2: Rove Vs. Bannon, The Tale of Two Enemies.

I was, perhaps, too curt about the how serious Steve Bannon is compared to the who most of the liberal and even neoconservative press portray him as being.  You don’t fight a media mogul with mind like Otto Von Bismark like he is a caricature from American History X. Bannon may or may not be a racialist, he definitely doesn’t have problems of Richard Spencer. Indeed, the mainstream media realizing that Richard Spencer exists has been a boon for Radix as they keep trotting him out to scare liberals into not trying to play politics with the GOP.  From what I can’t see why liberals are having so much trouble with this, but this gives Steve Bannon cover:  Bannon is not an alt-rightist a la Spencer, and only tried to wrestle the brand away from Spencer as a way of conveying mystique.  Furthermore, Spencer himself had forgone that brand in favor of Radix several years ago out of differences with some of the bloggers.  People outside of /pol/ or readers of the most dark and obscure corners of American Conservative and Taki Magazine probably have no idea of this history or how they are playing into it.

When Steven Bannon says he wants that dark power, he isn’t kidding, and Bill Kristols and liberal bloggers of the world are giving it to him. Even the National Review is on watch.  When the Daily Kos and the National Review agree on something, people take notice, but often for the wrong reasons.  Bannon isn’t wrong that making Dick Cheney and Karl Rove names progressives used to scare their children to sleep at the end of Bush era and the beginning of Obama’s presidency was a source of real political power for both Cheney and Rove. So you respond by him saying that by giving it him?  The DailyKos is literally giving Bannon what he wants:

Hurrah for honesty, at least. Even Dick Cheney, who certainly inhabited the dark side, didn’t—at least publicly—praise Satan. Bannon could have mentioned some others imbued with the darkness-is-good vibe: Silvio Berlusconi, Augusto Pinochet, Francisco Franco. But that would have been too honest.

Indeed, in fact, by listing Berlusconi in the same league as Pinochet and Franco, they are try giving Bannon and Berlusconi (and by proxy Trump) more power. After all, Pinochet and Franco successfully used left and liberal idiocy against itself and buried their opposition: literally. Bannon would love for the American public to think he can do that, because if they think that, he can.

The National Review is smarter, but still doesn’t see the irony, when Tuttle says, “The problem is not whether Bannon himself subscribes to a noxious strain of political nuttery; it’s that his de facto endorsement of it enables it to spread and to claim legitimacy.”  The National Review is also spreading the message of that nuttery by looking  like elitists denouncing it, and making Bannon look like the sane option who is just a Machiavelli using tendencies of degenerated capitalist democracy against itself.

This is where the contrast with Karl Rove really comes in, while Karl Rove was a Machiavelli. He didn’t have the vision or real focus of Bannon. Rove was a political operative who wanted a generation’s long GOP dominance for a New American Century.  A century that was just an extension of the post-war American dominance.  It was Reagan’s America, but also Kennedy’s America. Rove used Kennedy’s model for tax cuts, encouraged mild flirtation with direct stimulus, and saw how to get aging boomers out to vote against social norms of changing since the 1960s. Yet, while in the seeming blinkered vision of US politics, this was only extending the tactics of the Boomers into another generation:  a bit of Kennedy, a bit of Nixon, and a large dose of Reagan.

Bannon makes Rove look positively myopic. Rove’s permeant GOP majority was generational, and would just extent the current out 40s years. Bannon is talking, and has been talking, in terms of epochs going back to World War 2.  Yes, his sensationalist media seems like the worse excesses of the Drudge Report, and its support for the GOP in the Bush 43’s Presidencies, but Breibart under Bannon was playing a much longer came that Breibart under Breibart. Don’t believe me?  Read the speech Bannon had linked to Buzzfeed: 

And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Now, what I mean by that specifically: I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: One is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief.

I see that every day. I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

Bannon is mixing capitalism with Catholic social teaching in a way that resembles a Nationalist form of Post-Keynesianism. Deficit spending priming the pop on investment within a polity, currency manipulation maintaining that, and lots of infrastructure investment being made. Even after that infrastructure is non-productive. If that resembles Peron’s Argentina or China, it is important to remember that most of respectable non-neoliberal left believes the same thing. Bannon has swept their own policies out from under them.

Furthermore, is Bannon wrong about his analysis of post-World War II “West”? He is right, for example, that Christendom more than race defines its borders. Iranians are caucasians after all. He is right that secular capitalism and Islamism have worked together to accidentally create ISIS. What Bannon does though is combines Paleo-conservatism and neoconservatism while rebuking both:

They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a “river of blood” if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad. And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.

The language mirrors the New American century, but the goal absolutely does not. Bannon agrees with Elizabeth Warren about the problems of Goldman Saches, and he should know, he worked there. Bannon agrees with Putin about the decline of the West and the decline of Christendom, and he agrees with Marxists that the middle class was under attack by large global powers. There is a reason a why people in both old centers of power are afraid of him, and some of it is his nationalism, but others is that he has found a mixture to show them all as empty and use parts of all of their rhetoric.

If Rove’s ambition of a generational GOP majority in congress, Bannon’s is more akin to František Palacký than James Carvel. Trump may be cheeto Benito form of Huey Long, but Bannon is far, far more serious. Continue to make him into a caricature, he’s already told you he’s fine with that.

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: 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.

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.