GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 24, 2018

Towards Permanence

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:17 am

President Trump’s (central, animating) concern for sovereignty, while certainly not aiming at the abolition of democracy, allows us to see the way there through the extinction of the Left that concern presupposes. Trump’s idea seems to be the simple one that governments should govern, i.e., oversee the interactions of a particular people located on a particular territory, which means those with responsibility should issue commands that should in turn be fulfilled; that is, there should be a commensurability between power and responsibility.  Accordingly, Trump targets three obstacles to such commensurability, which is to say three forms of interfering power that aim at introducing incommensurability between power and responsibility. The first is transnational corporate interests, which use economic power to blackmail and bribe politicians and impose policies on individual states and aim at breaking up coherent nations: i.e., globalism (supported by conservatives). The second is forms of political power that leverage the instruments of destabilization built into liberalism, such as equal rights, human rights, and judicial delay, the media, the academy (“civil society”) to short-circuit commands on their way to implementation: i.e., the political left. The third is insubordination within the state itself, within the vast extent of its permanent institutions, whose members outlast any particular government and therefore (quite reasonably) feel their expertise and long-term responsibility should override any “irresponsible” short-term, politically motivated, incompetent decisions made by mere elected officials: i.e., the “deep state,” or the “swamp.” This third element is, furthermore, the conduit through which the other two exercise their power, through regulatory capture, the circulation of information, the promise of lucrative jobs in the private sector, intimate connections between government, media and academy, and so on: Moldbug’s “Cathedral,” with its permanent Inquisition, in short. (Immigration, especially illegal immigration, is such a central concern because it brings together all three of these obstacles to sovereignty.)

I am one of those who credits Trump with being quite aware of this configuration and as having a plan and method for attacking it; at the very least, it’s worth working under the assumption that he does if for no other reason than that imagining the success of his plan and method provides us with a way of plotting out a particular path, within the liberal democratic order, towards the end of that order—towards, well, order. The way of controlling transnational economic interests is, in the first instance, simple: assuming state control over cross border economic activity through tariffs and trade agreements with individual countries (who are thereby encouraged to exercise similar power themselves), on the one hand, and closely regulating or even eliminating immigration, on the other. The problem with implementing and sustaining such policies, though, lies in the other two obstacles to sovereignty. The vast majority of Republicans still oppose Trump on “free trade” grounds, and those Republicans are amply rewarded by corporate interests within the revolving door system of moving from elected official to lobbyist—the implication of which is that the more established political figures, at least, need not fear losing elections, since plush jobs await them in the “private” sector. So, somehow, this system needs to be broken. It does not seem to me that Trump has a plan to do so directly, which would indeed be difficult: even campaign finance reform, which couldn’t get past these very Republicans couldn’t do anything about the revolving door, and past a certain point would be invalidated by the supreme Court, wouldn’t really work anyway (instead of giving money to politicians or political parties you give money to lobbying groups who groom and completely control candidates); while term limits might give lobbyists and their clients even more power over inexperienced and easily intimidated and bribed legislators. But the President doesn’t need much Congressional support to withdraw from existing trade agreements and make new ones—Trump’s relation to the GOP congress so far seems to be to just get as much as he can out of them.

It is also, needless to say, difficult to get at the “civil society” institutions directly. The decline and crisis of the media and academy should be accelerated and exacerbated, and Trump’s method of treating much of the media as, essentially, a combatant, which forces the media to respond in kind with increasing explicitness and shamelessness, is effective. Perhaps creative ways of using RICO statues could be employed at some point. The universities could be buried in lawsuits on various civil rights grounds (affirmative actions, restriction of free speech, etc.), harassed with DOE “instructions” that force administrators to confront faculty, students and donors in various ways. Grounds can be created for defunding particularly egregious examples, and then the threshold of “egregiousness” can be continually lowered. It’s risky, but the tech giants (for starters) can be pressured to offer their own training programs in math and the sciences for high school students in exchange, say, for a certain period of “apprenticeship,” thereby bypassing one of the university’s primary functions and putting them on the road to obsolescence. I don’t see any reason to assume that Trump or anyone in his circle has any of this in mind, but these kinds of measures follow from the mindset that seems natural to Trump and his team, which is to treat these institutions as “enemies of the American people”—moreover, Trump, if he gave it much thought, would probably be appalled at how ineffectively the schools and universities do much of what they are supposed to do. (And at how the universities have become an increasingly effective mechanism of wealth and technology transfer to China, and undoubtedly a conduit of much espionage as well.)

But there is a very clear and direct way to deal with the activist elements of “civil society” such as Antifa, BLM and the others—enforce the law. If the government enforces the law and insists (again, through the use of ruinous lawsuits, among other methods) that other institutions (like universities) follow their own rules, much of the sting of the left can be removed. This is very important to keep in mind: without constant, in-your-face lawbreaking and rule-breaking, the left is utterly ineffective. But this further means that neutralizing the third obstacle, insubordination within the state apparatus itself, is a very good way of netting the perpetrators of the other obstacles. Without powerful allies within the state apparatus, corporate and civil society defectors would be powerless. So, the entire problem, hypothetically at least, can be reduced to establishing a clear chain of command within those apparatuses, which also means expelling the traitorous elements. Easier said than done, but saying it is the first step towards doing it, and this is where I do think Trump is focusing his efforts. One way, for example, both corporate and leftist interests are “laundered” through the state is via the “leak” system uniting insubordinate state agents and media operatives (and through them the Democrat party and left more generally). Leaks are, of course, illegal, but also very difficult to stop, and are a very powerful weapon. The President institutes a new policy—strategically placed leaks gradually discredit it, suggesting it is based on lies, or corruption or incompetence, while the very fact of the leaks themselves seems to prove all this. At this point, I’m not sure it’s an exaggeration to say that the media is really nothing more than a leak delivery system, that is, does nothing more than convey the perspectives of dissident and power seeking elements of the state apparatus, especially the “intelligence community.”

To a certain extent, then, the entire problem of sovereignty can be concentrated in the power of the leak—at least in the US, right now. You can fire leakers, you can jail them, you can find out who they are and keep them out of the loop or use them for your own purposes, which is to confuse and humiliate your enemies in the media and elsewhere. It’s too soon to say for sure, but I think that Trump is doing all of the above—there hasn’t been much jailing yet, but that might be coming up pretty soon. On the really important issues, like Trump’s negotiations with North Korea, and whatever support he’s given to the Saudi-Israeli alliance to shut down Iranian influence in the region, there seem to have been no leaks. His Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, was not, of course, a big surprise but everyone seemed nevertheless to be left guessing, including some claiming to have “sources close to the President.” If Trump succeeds in shutting down this means of controlling the administration in power (the ongoing blackmail represented by the possibility of dropping devastating leaks at any time), the forms taken by anti-sovereignist efforts must become more explicit and hysterical, reverting to more overt forms of rule-breaking and self-discrediting accusations. And not only can those be suppressed, but in the process local jurisdictions supporting disorder can in turn be countered and disempowered. There really is nothing stopping Trump’s DOJ from arresting the mayors of “sanctuary cities” and governors of sanctuary states: this is what insurrection looks like. Always target law breaking and rule breaking, which means targeting the transgressions of the enforcers themselves: all sovereignist politics can be compassed by the imperative to guard the guardians. Targeting the swamp, then, gets you the most bang for your buck.

But it’s easy to see the problem here: this kind of systematic extirpation of anti-sovereign activities must be a long-term project. Even if Trump can keep this up and clean up much of the swamp in two terms, if he’s succeeded by a Democrat or even a normal Republican there’s no reason to think it all won’t be overturned, and a kinder, gentler policy towards the permanent state restored. And, furthermore, if he uses legal methods to harass and punish his enemies in the opposing party and opposing media, the succeeding government will do the same and put Trump’s people and the media that supported him in jail. And this very possibility will lead current supporters of Trump to hesitate in treating political criminality criminally, and it will lessen the constraints on the opposition, as they can just wait for their side to come back in—even if some unavoidable sacrifices must be accepted in the meantime. In other words, the transformation needs to be made as permanent as institutional transformations can be, which means that Trump would have to aim at making them permanent. But the only way Trump can do that is by producing a new breed of (mostly) men to run the state apparatus and transforming his voter base into something like a soldiery, with its own media and ultimately educational apparatus (either new ones or, for economy’s sake, a takeover of the old ones) making it capable of sticking a single unanimous middle finger to the blackmail and vendettas of the left. This is something that I see no indication Trump has given any thought to, but he has given some thought to an essential precondition of addressing it, which is downsizing considerably the American empire—with that empire being one important conduit of globalizing power sources. Once downsized (e.g., by removing American protection from Europe and East Asia and delegating to Middle East powers responsibility for policing the region), it will be almost impossible, short of a new war, to “upsize” again.

So, only some kind of increasingly unopposed government can produce the extinction event of the left, which is to say, dissolve the interlocking subversions of global, civil society and intra-state powers and identify and extirpate the shoots of any resurgence. We can see this from other states that are much further along the path than the US, who have the simultaneously more difficult and easier problem of combating US-originated sources of subversion. The best example today is Viktor Orban’s Hungary, which has simply refused to accept the EU-imposed refugee regime, and is capable of doing so in large part by keeping George Soros-affiliated organizations out of the country. Orban has been in power since 2010, and just won an election by a larger margin than the previous one (his margin is even larger if one includes the parties to his right). Why shouldn’t he be in power another 10 years or more? And if he is, shouldn’t he bequeath to his successors the absolute ban on both immigration and externally funded “civil society” organizations? In Israel, the left has been out of power for almost 20 years, and the Israelis have also realized that a key to making this permanent is sharply limiting externally funded “human rights” and other groups. Poland is perhaps on a similar route, and maybe even Erdogan in Turkey, in his own clumsy, lurching way. A virtuous circle might be at work here, as the elimination of outside, globalizing influences reduces the internal opposition to negligible status, leading to minimal conflict and increasingly trivial elections—perhaps the elections will ultimately become vestigial, or really just a way of keeping political leaders already working within a fairly narrow consensus honest. And then, who knows?

To return, then, to the American context, let’s say that the Republican majority gets a bit bigger in 2018 and then 2020. Starved of the oxygen generated by the stoppage of “leakage” (and other measures like breaking the backs of public employee unions) the Democrats further marginalize and destroy themselves. The media becomes increasingly irrelevant. With the immediate threat of Democratic takeover diminished, Trump can work harder on disciplining the GOP, replacing globalists with Trump-loyal nationalists. A 6-3 or 7-2 majority on the Supreme Court cuts that off as a vehicle of subversion. Elite money starts to flow toward the forces of order (why give money to ineffectual hysterics, especially ones who had the world at their feet and blew it?); right wingers or just normal people in the media and educational institutions start to feel safer as the left is deprived of its ability to carry out reprisals on dissidents and the insufficiently enthusiastic. A few election cycles down the road, what would there be to argue about, or vote about? Whether tariffs on China should be 20% or 25%? I think most people would be content to leave such decisions to the government—what energy there presently is in the electoral system is that generated by the desire to screw your enemies, stamp their faces in the dust, and perform a victory dance over their corpses. If the enemy-generating machine is shut down, that energy will be sucked out of the system. (Even more serious issues, like social security reform, could be dealt with reasonably and calmly under these conditions.) A big test of the success of this model is whether Trump is able to, more or less explicitly, choose his successor: that itself would create an important precedent.

There’s an important consideration here regarding “public discourse.” If stopping the leak system is the lynchpin, we have to accept that much of what we see reported in the media, or even announced by Trump or others in his administration, will be falsehoods, deceptions and misdirections. We can’t expect to be told that a particular leaking official, whose “information” turns up on the front page of the New York Times, was given a “barium meal.” We must trust where we can’t verify. If Trump sees most of the media as the enemy of the American people, he obviously feels no obligation to be truthful with it or provide it with any information unhelpful to his own agenda; we therefore have no reason to believe, without substantial supplemental confirmation, anything coming from it. We have to set aside our own tendencies to hysteria: Sessions is really deep state! Trump has staffed his administration with enemies! Why doesn’t he fire Mueller/Rosenstein/Wray/whomever! Not only is there no point to worrying about things we have no power over, but we must eliminate our own bad democratic habits, one of which is to imagine that our elected officials are at our beck and call and must take all of our anger and resentment and fantasizing seriously. If we prefer the sovereignist agenda to anything else imaginable now, then we should inhabit and enact it ourselves by being good soldiers and assuming that Trump has things in hand—how can we become worthy of the most expansive understanding of his purposes? In large part by acting illiberally and undemocratically, i.e., like adults.

I would like to give credit where credit is due and also direct any readers to a unique and always interesting source of information and analysis by acknowledging the indebtedness of some of my speculations here to Thomas Wictor’s twitter feed.

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