Monday, November 21, 2016
President Trump: The Unknown Unknowns
by Omar Ali
Trump has been elected President. Having participated in a week-long social media freakout to deal with this shock (a fact I did not recognize about myself until a couple of days ago), I have some thoughts and I would like to put them out so that I can be enlightened by feedback. It is the only way to learn.
Very qualified people have written some good pieces already about the why and the how. I am posting links to them below, along with some random thoughts about the articles. They are not the whole story (what is?) but I think all these articles are must reads. My own comments are more like invitations to tell me off, or tell me more...
After these links and comments, I sum up my own thoughts and end with some questions.
You are still crying wolf, from Slate Star Codex. (I don't think Trump is particularly racist or sexist (relative to most 70 year old males, of any ethnicity) and he is obviously socially liberal compared to traditional Republicans. But the possibility is there that this shallow man (more or less socially liberal, a conman, ignorant) will be manipulated by his newfound advisers into disasters (initially abroad) that could have endless branching and mutating unintended consequences here and abroad. That could be a truly transformative crisis... Racism and the rise of the KKK (real and imagined) are small potatoes compared to the storms that could potentially be unleashed in the world... Muslims, being intimately connected to the worldwide crisis in very direct ways, will likely face the consequences within the USA too; but the crucial point is that the whole shitstorm is likely to proceed along tracks that are occasionally parallel, but mostly completely unconnected with the identitarian postmarxist postmodern worldview that dominates the elite Eurocentric Left today... Incidentally, if the ordure does hit the fan (I hope it does not, i hope the much-maligned current world order survives or at least, has a soft landing), then Blacks and Latinos, like other citizens, will fight for America. I suspect that the fantasy worldview that emphasizes supranational and subnational identities well above national ones will prove very flimsy; flimsier even than "class solidarity" proved to be in the first world war...the elite Left's freakout about the KKK and the coming age of Jim Crow is not completely wrong, but misses the biggest threats and their likely consequences. Which is not to say that no connection can be made between racism and the international order, but the race-obsessed post-truth glasses of the new postmarxist Left do get them into endless wrong turns and dead-ends in terms of priorities to be tackled.
I personally think Muslims are pretty much the only group who are actually likely to face government actions that will target entire groups for the real or imaginary behavior of some of them. And the mainstream Democratic party, the ACLU, Americans who believe in the constitution and the rule of law, and fair-minded Republicans will all be needed by them in order to help protect them against excesses. In terms of race, minorities will likely face law-enforcement excesses (as they do today, but these could increase). Occasional public confrontations (some very nasty), as well as indirect effects, arguable effects and fake effects are all possible, but they are not the main plan, or the main threat.
Meanwhile, there is also a mainstream Republican majority that has many longstanding Republican projects ready to go (tax cuts for the rich, supreme court appointments, Medicare privatization, benefit cutbacks, more prisons and prosecutors, renewed marijuana enforcement?) that will be painful for poor people and excessively nice to rich people. But world changing crises, if any, are more likely to start abroad)
The End of Identity Liberalism. NYT (Mark Lilla) (the "prediction" tone of the headline is misleading. It is not going to end. It may not be in power in the federal or state governments, but this meme-complex is fully entrenched in universities and among liberal intellectuals and they will only double down now that Trump has won. EVERYONE is doubling down on their favorite agenda, these people will double down on theirs. And because fear is such a powerful motivator, they will get even more traction in their own constituency. In war, lines harden, people have to tribalize. We will have to line up with all the liberals talking about the "pefrormativity of Whiteness" and suchlike because they will be OUR tribe. We will have no choice. War has it's rules.
Stephen Bannon Speaks (this is my own blog post, which has links to two long pieces about Stephen Bannon; he describes himself as wishing to be the Thomas Cromwell of the age. Leaving aside the minor detail that Thomas Cromwell was beheaded by the King he served, I see where he is coming from; Cromwell’s historic achievements were real and lasting. My impression (and I am not a historian, so I look forward to being corrected) is that he smashed and grabbed all the monasteries and materially ended the domination of the Catholic church in England. He improved the administration, promoted the Protestant reformation in England and left England a stronger kingdom than it was when he became its dominant minister… before he was finally beheaded by his beheading-friendly king. Not being a supporter of Trump, I hope Bannon is not 10% as successful or as talented as Cromwell was)
Trump Country, and Trump Supporters (from Mother Jones) (the usual supporters of the modern Republican party: richer people, evangelicals, small business owners, all voted for Trump more or less as usual, this is about the new supporters he mobilized and the old supporters he mobilized for his candidacy versus traditional Republicans. It is well worth reading, a great work of ethnography.. though no attempt is made at drawing any deeper lessons. Since it was published in Mother Jones, the deeper lessons may be left-leaning for most readers, but I can also see people drawing the lessons Bannon is preaching (TBF, some of them are left wing too)..I suspect both (mainstream Left AND Bannonism) are likely to be wrong. So we are still waiting for the pieces about what to do next. No one intelligent seems to think that Trump can fix their problem, so what happens next? Some people will say that there is no solution for a lot of these people...a callous way of putting it would be that they will die of poor health, drug abuse and violent crime, kept away from gated communities by armed guards and drones. But who will live in those communities and under what code of life will they live? Will most of humanity find a new and relatively comfortable equilibrium? a better equilibrium? Or maybe there is no deeper pattern. One foot in front of the other...)
The Right Way to Resist Trump. NYT. Luigi Zingales. (This article is good, but it seems unlikely that the Democrats will be able to stay off super-elite liberal issues and freakouts. Trump's own mistakes, infighting within his team, and the iron hand of the market (aka economics, a voodoo science about which nobody knows much) may ruin his administration so much that he will lose to whatever choice the Dems make next time, but I do have my doubts about the Democrats switching to some new "on-message" message that people like this columnist would approve of... During the campaign we heard about how Trump is easily manipulated into biting at every story that he should just leave well alone...well, that applies to the Democrats in spades. And Trump seems to know this and he will relentlessly use this fact to create fake controversies about some Broadway musical or some bathroom labeling issue, where the entire liberal media will be against him and the Nixonian silent majority will think "those liberal elites really ARE idiots" and so on....it will be a horrible four years (I still hope, not 8)
To sum up, I think we had a close election; one that the Democrats could have won, in spite of all of Trump's newly mobilized voters because he also had such huge negatives. But as it is, they did not win. Relatively contingent events probably played a part in their loss (Comey), but that should not obscure the fact that something huge has happened on the Republican side. A trash-talking socially liberal outsider, with a reputation as a conman (or at a minimum, a shady businessman, which is pretty much the same thing) took over the Republican party in the face of near-total establishment disapproval and then generated enough excitement in his core constituency (disaffected White people, rich and poor) to win a US general election. And he did this in spite of being rejected by almost every traditional newspaper and media outlet in the country (even at Fox, some hosts were ambivalent). And he did so with an unconventional campaign that relied on voter excitement and (frequently negative) media coverage rather than on the kind of professional political operation that has characterized all recent American presidential campaigns. This is an event worth paying attention to.
But having taken him seriously, we still have what his own chief strategist calls "a perfect vessel", waiting to be filled. But with what? Partisan commentary almost necessarily has to try and freak-out their support base for or against the incoming administration, and may be grossly exaggerated. But there are some grounds for thinking it may not be business as usual. My preference is clearly for business as usual (because I tend towards the belief that change will happen anyway, but it is better if it happens slowly and imperceptibly; of course, this is not how providence sometimes operates, so real life can and does deviate from my personal desires) so I personally will be relatively at ease if Trump turns out to be mostly talk; relying on distractions and culture wars to keep his constituency from noticing that nothing has changed for the better in their life, in short, just another modestly corrupt Republican administration; consistent in serving the short-term interests of the "top 1%" , willing to damage the long term interests of America (and the world at large) if it means more profits in the short term, and more than likely, losing the next election. Hopefully without terminally tarnishing the dignity and gravitas of the office of President.
It may turn out this way. Which will be unpleasant, but life will go on until the next election and then perhaps the next (modestly corrupt) Democratic administration. Such is the best case scenario. And I hope this less than exciting outcome does come to be.
But suppose it is not business as usual? Then I am looking for insights about two scenarios:
1. World War Z. The big changes will start abroad in this scenario, and most will probably be unintended. We will soon have a National security adviser who thinks that war against Islamism (or as he prefers to call it, Islam) is the defining feature of the world today. Without getting into any long discussion of whether this is true or not, look at it this way: there is no competing Islamic civilization out there in terms of unity, material progress or military strength. Even if we imagine (as Islamists sometimes do) that superior fellow-feeling and social organization (a patriarchal but otherwise egalitarian religion, resistant to culture-destroying postmodern memes; their view, not mine) means that they win in the long term, even Islamists recognize that in the short or medium term this "victory" involves getting invaded by competing infidel powers with better artillery and missiles.
So let us imagine Flynn has his way. What would such a war look like? His views are frequently incoherent and it is by no means clear where they will end up. e.g. he seems to regard IRAN (not Pakistan, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the big three Sunni hopes) as the main threat and regards Russia as both threat and ally. There is just no rational way to predict what happens next based on these reported views... The US would presumably want to smash any and all Islamic counties that don't cooperate, but isn't it then a given that China, Russia and the US would also compete against each other in this new "scramble for Africa" (the Muslim world being only one order of magnitude more capable than Africa, while the big three are several orders of magnitude more materially capable than any Muslim country)? Who will line up on what side? Will it be mostly covert, low intensity warfare or will things spin out of control (the "scramble for Africa" being followed by World War One)? What about India? Japan? Latin America? The Baltics? Poland? Ukraine? This is a very complex system. Start a disturbance at a few critical points and the transitions can become totally unpredictable.
Think about it this way and it is easy to reach the comforting conclusion that this scenario is so nightmarish that "saner heads will prevail". The current international order will survive. I certainly hope so, but then again, that is probably what many sane people thought in 1913. I look forward to your thoughts.
2. From Dawn to Decadence...to collapse?
The amazing rise of Western civilization and its steadily increasing dominance of the globe in the last 500 years have given it an aura of inevitability and permanence. Not in terms of particular nationalities (particular powers rise and fall), but in terms of intellectual paradigms and visions of reality. But alongside this dominance are well established currents of doubt, pessimism and rejection, from Ivan Illych to Dugin (and even, in a way, Bannon). I am not including the currently fashionable postmarxist postmodern current in Western universities, with its rejection of tradition, authority and "dead White males" and its glorification of identity politics and not so critical "critical studies". This current seems just the next (last?) stage within the Western tradition itself; more a sign of its bankruptcy than the vision of an alternative (simply put, because it's major themes seem to have such tangential,incidental, and minimal, contact with actual biology, history, culture or science). Anyway, without getting too far into this potentially book-length debate , suppose this really is terminal decadence, then what comes next?
The unknown unknowns get really interesting at that point.
I, of course, have no good idea about what comes next. But who does? I await your suggestions about reading material 😊
Meanwhile, a few random videos that have little or no connection with one election and one president.. (the first one in particular does not imply complete agreement with his detailed views; mostly I posted it for his questions 😊 )
Posted by omar at 12:20 AM | Permalink