Saturday, June 3, 2017

American Political Dénouement

Since the unexpected election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, I have been struggling to frame my thoughts on the matter. Plenty of others have already described the electoral strategies and polling errors that explain why the political prognosticators got their predictions so wrong, so there’s little for me to add there … though I was equally wrong. Instead, I keep returning to the concept of an historical inflection point—a point at which things begin to change more rapidly than usual, whether for better or for worse. Recognizing the beginning of this inflection point drove one of the most dramatic decisions of my life, so the remarks that follow will be both personal and historical.

While many commentators have explained the electoral results accurately enough, only a few have touched directly on some of the deeper social and cultural issues. These are historically and politically interesting, so I will add my comments to the record here before indulging in more personal and philosophical commentary. However, my interpretation is no doubt incomplete … and keep in mind that where I impute political motive, I do not imply malevolence. Political organisms are fundamentally amoral, but I assume that individual political actors are pursuing good intentions—even if their would-be leaders are in fact sociopaths.

First, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee orchestrated the most impressive propaganda assault in American history, if not in all of human history. As frightening as it was, I do have to confess my awe. In collusion with the predominantly “liberal” mainstream news media, the Democrats engineered Hillary Rodham Clinton’s nomination over the more populist Bernie Sanders and positioned the obviously unelectable Trump as her opponent from the Republican Party.

Once he had secured the Republican nomination, the media launched an all-out attack upon Trump’s character. Donald Trump is boorish and impolitic, but that doesn’t make him a racist or a sexist. The allegations and “news” stories that I examined collapsed under minimal scrutiny, though I remain ready to be convinced by solid evidence. Again, very little malevolence is implied … at least below management levels. Would-be journalists pursued salacious stories until their political biases were confirmed and no further. In short, their work was lazy and incompetent, but I have no doubt that they thought they were serving the common good.

Of course, that is the historical irony. The mainstream media exercised their greatest moment of influence just when they lost control of the public narrative. Even though they couldn’t sway the overall architecture of the electoral cycle, alternative media sources on both the political right and the political left could and did point out mainstream propaganda on countless occasions. Though this honesty didn’t change my own curmudgeonly vote, I’m quite sure it did influence many, many others.

Here, I must also note that no grand conspiracy was required. Both parties were simply acting in their own interests. The Clinton campaign worked hard to make sure that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be displaced by another upstart, and the left-leaning media wanted to actualize its vision for the arc of history. As the WikiLeaks releases showed, there was direct collusion to some extent, but general goals were shared regardless.

Second, political kinisthesis had its effect, if barely. Voters have been sorting themselves throughout the United States. “Liberals” have been migrating to the coastal and urban bastions of restrictive regulatory schemes, high tax burdens, and generous public welfare benefits. “Conservatives” have remained in or moved to the rural reaches of “flyover” country, where governments are a little less intrusive. These latter voters tipped enough of the right states in Trump’s favor to win him the Electoral College, even though Hillary won the more populous states.

I retreated from California partially in acknowledgement of this effect just over three years ago. While my adopted state of Washington also went to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has been losing ground in this arena, dropping 3.4 percentage points since AD2008. Other electoral results suggest political change, as well. For example, my county commission tipped from Democratic officers to “independents” this time around. Contrast this trend with California, where an even more dominant Democratic Party held onto its position or made moderate gains … and where the Republican Party lost 5.5 percentage points since the AD2012 Presidential contest.

This process is ongoing and may in fact accelerate in the coming years, as “conservative” cohorts of the baby-boom generation retire and migrate out of expensive “liberal” states. (I may have been ahead of the curve on this particular social surge.) The importation of left-leaning future voters has been exposed as the Democratic Party’s main countermeasure to this trend, but it will probably be stalled for at least the next four years. Even then, efforts to normalize illegal immigration have mostly affected states that the Democrats already control—but I will return to demographic transitions a little bit later.

My study of history has broadly focused on identifying causal relationships or their agents and their long-term social effects. This holistic examination of historical causation has given me the faintest glimmer of understanding for the historical forces and possibilities that act upon human civilizations. As usual, these are easier to recognize in hindsight, and no one has advanced a satisfactory theory of historical prediction to my knowledge, so what I attempt might best be described as metahistorical analysis.

At least, it is a means to understand why your initial prediction was wrong. What you thought would happen—or wanted to happen—just wasn’t historically possible. That’s where I was at the end of AD2013, when I made the decision to leave California. The historical model I was working to actualize collapsed. California was not going to become the state I needed it to be within my lifetime … or more importantly within my daughter’s lifetime.

The arc of American history had entered an inflection point. Therein, the possible outcomes became especially murky. Dramatic change comes out of inflection points. They can be times of glorious revolution or of horrific social disaster. We’re seeing the beginning of that now—and human civilization may lie in the balance.

Global historical trends may be better served in some future post, but as we emerge from the inflection point, they will all become relevant. The United States has merely been on the leading edge of Western history by some combination of luck and genius, becoming the bellwether of Enlightenment culture. If we Americans fail, the odds of Western civilization surviving the 21st century drop considerably, I suspect.

What did the election mean in this respect? Will President Trump and a Republican Congress tip us up the positive curve? Would a President Hillary Clinton have sent us down the negative curve? I don’t know. I expected terrible developments under a Clinton administration, but these also might have stoked the political will to make real positive change—or they might have literally destroyed the republic. The Trump years will avert any immediate disaster, I’m quite sure. We have at least a second chance to shore up the institutional safeguards that protect constitutional governance and individual opportunities and freedoms. However, if that fails to occur, I doubt the political will can ever again be rallied to fight for those values.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be—and there has been no shortage of jokes wondering about what’s happening on the “real” timeline. Impressive as it was, the collusion to put Hillary Clinton into the White House backfired. An honest election would have seen Bernie Sanders, championing progressive socialism for the nation, facing off against someone like Rand Paul, advocating for individual freedom and opportunity. Important issues would have been discussed … and the future of civilization would have been decided in an informed manner.

Instead … we called each other deplorable names.

What is historically possible? We’ve accomplished many great things in the 300 some years since the Enlightenment, and we’ve made some terrible mistakes. Some of these mistakes are obvious in retrospect (unnecessary wars, ethnic pogroms, and other episodes of unjustified violence). Others were more subtle, and some were metahistorical in nature, beyond the scope of individual or corporate actors to manage. For example, the direct political empowerment of women occurred almost as soon as it was historically possible, but the institutions of democratic governance built up by men over the last few thousand years were not designed for women’s different decision-making priorities and processes. Without adequate safeguards, a certain amount of social damage has resulted from this political transformation, affecting crime patterns, family cohesion, and perhaps even cultural survival. Again, little or no ill intent was involved. The sociological basis for human male and female behavioral differences had not been studied at the time of the universal suffrage movements, and the ongoing and almost religious refusal in some quarters to acknowledge that these differences even exist remains a significant part of the problem.

No one expected D. J. Trump to be elected, but his election moved us out of the inflection point—as would have Hillary Clinton’s. I was wrong. The political prognosticators were wrong. We all forgot the underrepresented demographic in American electoral politics. Right or wrong, we’ll be living with the consequences for at least several years to come. The question that remains is whether American political factions can still settle their differences peacefully in the long run.


  1. Do you still believe that candidate Trump was treated unfairly by the media, now that he has boldly come out as a Nazi sympathizer?

  2. Since the President said “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to what we hold dear as Americans,” I don’t see any indication that he has come out as a Nazi sympathizer. If that’s the impression you’ve gathered from media coverage of the Charlottesville debacle, then I would suggest that itself is evidence of continuing sloppy journalism and/or deliberate misrepresentation by mainstream news sources. Reasoned arguments will serve far better than hyperbolic name-calling.

    In other words, don’t be the little bear who cried Nazi.

  3. I see you were watching the news on Monday. Were you watching on Sunday and Tuesday? Because that is when our president, Donald J. Trump, came out as a Nazi sympathizer, in that he literally sympathized with Nazis. He blamed their terrorist attack on the "alt-left," and said that among their ranks were many "fine people." He gave, if not aid, then certainly comfort, to Nazis.
    And I do not call these people Nazis out of hyperbole or as an ad-hominem attack. I just don't know what else to call people who march under Nazi flags and chant Nazi slogans, in the stated cause of white supremacy

  4. Guess my attempt at a little levity failed.

    Anyway, the President said that “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Note that he referenced “both sides.” Though he had just criticized both the alt-right (“neo-Nazis”) protesters and the Antifa (“alt-left”) counter protesters for the violence, I’m sure he was allowing that not all participants had evil motives. Again, therefore, unless he is also a communist sympathizer, these remarks don’t make him a Nazi sympathizer, but you can read the transcript for yourself.

  5. I feel like you're the only one defining the two sides as communists vs Nazis. Everyone else is defining those sides as Nazis and their supporters vs everyone who opposes Nazis. So whereas it's fine to say there were "fine people" standing up to the Nazis, it's really not okay to say the same about the assorted Nazis, clansmen, and other white supremacists.
    And again, trying to place blame on "both sides" when one of those sides includes a dude committing vehicular manslaughter is pretty astonishing.
    Or look at it another way. David Duke and his ilk are very happy with President Trump's responses to the events in Charlottesville. I challenge you to find similar sentiments coming from Antifa or anyone on the left.

  6. These “alt-left” protestors aren’t just good little boys and girls opposing racism and fascism. Antifa is a far-left extremist group and decidedly anti-capitalist. Its masked members instigate violence and destroy property under Soviet flags, anarchist flags, and anarcho-communist flags. I think they’ve made their position pretty clear—just like the alt-right has now made its position clear by flying Nazi flags.

    Again, I’m sure some participants in these organizations were merely misguided. Until last week, I was still hearing insistence from certain quarters that the alt-right wasn’t specifically racist in ideology. I can see how a right-leaning person who felt alienated by modern “conservatism” or the Republican establishment might latch onto an alternative-right organization without realizing immediately that it was a neo-fascist movement. The same holds true for those duped by Antifa who then found themselves swept up in mob violence.

    It’s still unclear, but Antifa probably started the violence in Charlottesville, since its members had initiated violence during previous incidents. Nevertheless, the alt-righters were clearly prepared for a fight, and no one is claiming their innocence as far as I know. However, I do wonder what might have happened if the alt-right protest had simply been ignored or if the authorities had kept the groups separated rather than, apparently, forcing them together. One life at least might have been spared.

    As for David Duke, it looks like he got his comeuppance.

  7. You've gotten a bit lost in the weeds here. I think there's probably a good discussion to be had about Antifa, but that's not what I'm trying to do right now.
    Let's try looking at the big picture. We can all agree that Nazis are bad, right? They are so unquestionably evil that everyone's go-to vilification is to try to paint their opponents as Nazis, as you more-or-less pointed out. So it's a political slam dunk to come out and unequivocally say "Nazis are bad" when you have a member of a Nazi group murder an innocent counter-protester.
    But that's not what our president did.
    He came out the next day and blamed "many sides." It took a day of public outrage for him to give a statement condemning white supremacy, which he proceeded to shit all over just a day later with his "but what about the alt-left?" attempts at moral equivalency.
    I'll grant that there may be nuance to what happened in Charlottesville, but when it comes time to take a public stand against white supremacy, you check that nuance at the door in order to make a clear and definitive statement.

  8. Yeah, Nazis are bad. Confederates are bad. When you lose the wars, you usually get branded as the bad guy. Historical reality is always more complex, however.

    Other than perhaps “I resign,” I’m not sure what President Trump could say that would please an obviously and relentlessly hostile media. His initial remarks were not as thorough as I might have liked, but I took them, as he later described them himself, as meant to avoid snap judgments.

    Maybe he was pandering to his perceived base as well. With that thought, I will leave you with some criticism from my own political corner. Harsher than my own opinion … but somewhat more reasonable than accusing the President of sympathizing with Nazis …

  9. In response to "I'm not sure what [he] could say...":
    I don't think you're going to agree with me, because your premise is the that media is hostile and unfair to President Trump, whereas my premise is basically "no, they're not, and have you considered that perhaps his media coverage is predominately negative because he is a garbage person with no redeeming qualities?", BUT I already told you all he had to say: "Nazi are bad."
    Or he could have said exactly what he did say, without the "many sides" addendum. Literally no one would have had a problem with that.
    And I don't see for a second how you or anyone else can take that statement as "meant to avoid snap judgements." Assigning blame ("on many sides") requires a more complete understanding of the situation than merely condemning violence and bigotry in general until you have specifics in hand. Though again, no one is ever going to lose face by too prematurely or too strenuously opposing Nazis.

    As to the link, they're still committing the same mistake of moral equivalency that is so prevalent in the media right now. You can think two things are both bad without having to insist they are EQUALLY bad. And it's going to take a lot more than some property damage and assault for me to believe that the guys who say "Remember history's most famous genocide? We want to be like the guys who did that!" are somehow equivalent to the guys who say "We want to stop those first guys."

  10. The coverage of President Trump has been unrelentingly negative. Like his predecessors, he has done some good things and some bad, but it’s impossible for me to see this much negativity as fair and impartial.

    Back to the alt-right vs. Antifa … yes, there is moral equivalency. Antifa has been committing violence, and the alt-righters have been fighting back. Antifa appears to have started the fighting in Charlottesville as well. Again, the symbology of both sides is telling, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.

    The alt-right is racist or at least racialist as an organization. It advocates for a white homeland—which isn’t necessarily an illegitimate goal, even if it doesn’t appeal to our cosmopolitan sensibilities. What it hasn’t done is call for achieving its aims through violence … at least as far as I can determine.

    But that brings me back to the symbols both factions have chosen to employ. The alt-right has flown Nazi banners and Confederate flags. Antifa has used Soviet and anarcho-communist iconography. All of these symbols ally both organizations with the perpetrators of unjustified historical violence. The wars and pogroms of the 20th-century fascists killed millions … and the internal suppression and sheer idiocy of the 20th-century Communists killed many millions more.

    Both sides are wretched in their political philosophies, but one has consistently initiated conflict, openly called for violence, and regularly stated that it will achieve its goals “by any means necessary.” If anything, therefore, that puts Antifa lower on the moral hierarchy than a bunch of whining racists … so that is the actual context in which we find ourselves.

  11. Ok, I was trying to concentrate on the Trump thing, but this has descended into madness. That third paragraph of yours just took my breath away. Just no.

    Because yes, a white homeland is an illegitimate goal. They're not talking about establishing a whites-only space colony. They want that white-only homeland to be here. They want it to be the USA. Which gives lie to the following sentence, because how do you make arguably the most racially-integrated country on Earth a white homeland without a fuckload of violence?

    Like I don't see how you write this sentence: "but one has consistently initiated conflict, openly called for violence, and regularly stated that it will achieve its goals “by any means necessary.”" and have it be referring to Antifa but somehow not the Nazis. You're a student of history! Did you somehow fall on your head and forget WWII?

    Now if your argument is the people marching under Nazi flags chanting "blood and soil" are not, in fact, Nazis, and thus willful inheritors of the evils of that regime, then I don't even know what I'm doing here.

    My whole argument from the get-go has been based on the presumption that there can be no moral equivalency between the Nazis, who attempted world domination and succeeded in genocide, and those who oppose them,(to steal your own quote here) "by any means necessary." But here you are, leaning so far into it that you come out saying no, if anything Antifa are worse than fascists.

    I'm flabbergasted.

  12. Fascists are bad. Communists are bad. In my opinion. (Actually, I kind of like communists—thermodynamically illiterate as they are—but I loathe the communist parties who murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century.) Do you understand their commonality?

    I quite obviously oppose the idea of a white homeland spanning all of North America. However, the idea of any ethnic homeland is not illegitimate. In fact, it is the historical standard. Only in cosmopolitan, Western countries is “racial” diversity considered normal or beneficial.

    As I said previously, the symbolism chosen by groups like the alt-right or Antifa is telling. They lose legitimacy, in my opinion, by associating themselves with historical agents who murdered millions of people. I reject the alt-right, who fall within my political wing—however barely. I hope you would reject Antifa, who fall within your political wing—however barely.

  13. Ok, so this is the second time you've called Nazis or fascists bad, and the second time you've ruined it by not just stopping your paragraph right there. This is not a sentiment that requires equivocation. Why, for instance, do you insist on repeatedly bringing communism into the discussion? You seem intent on establish a moral and symbolic equivalency that frankly I don't think you even believe.

    I'm trying to find a way to make my point concise, so let's try this:

    There is a direct, unmistakable and universally-recognized connection between the swastika and the holocaust. Particularly when that swastika is found on the flag of Nazi Germany. If you walk beneath that banner, you declare yourself to be a proponent of genocide. If you walk beside those that bear that banner, you knowingly ally yourself with Nazis.

    The symbols used by Antifa are derived from relatively obscure communist and socialist groups whose primary commonality is violent opposition to fascism. They have no direct connection to the brutal regimes of the USSR, the PRC, et al. (regimes who's crimes, like it or not, are not as commonly known as those of Nazi Germany). Those who march as members of Antifa or merely by their side simply cannot be assumed to support the crimes of those nations.

    Look, you said it yourself, that you actually (kind of) like little "c" communists. I imagine it is your opinion that the death of millions is an inevitable consequence of their ideology, but you recognize the fact that they don't see it that way.

    So do you see the difference yet? Do you see why I find these attempts at moral equivalency so offensive? If not, let me remind you again what actually happened in Charlottesville. One group of people fought Nazis. Maybe they even threw the first punch, as you assume they did, and in any case their actions would qualify as assault. The other group (that would be the Nazis and their allies) also committed assault, and then topped it off with murder.

  14. They’re all bad, and I give none passes, regardless of whether their ideologies focused on specific enemies (ethnic groups) or abstract enemies (class groups). Rounding up, fascists killed 70 million people (if we blame them for all the deaths during the Second World War) in the 20th century. Communists killed 90 million, rounding down.