The election of 2016 will test whether virtù remains in the core of the American nation.
by Publius Decius Mus
And it really was a bombshell in conservative and, more generally, GOP circles.
Anton has a book that's due out on September 1, which in a sense updates that earlier essay in the context of the current election: The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return.
Today he gives a preview in a lengthy essay adapted from the book:
Is the leftist dream now within reach? If President Trump loses, we will find out.
By Michael Anton • August 28, 2020
The essay is, as I say, quite lengthy. What I want to do here is present Anton's essential argument. However, because Anton's writing is quite clear, what I've done is to work up a shorter version of the essay. To do that I've edited it and have also inserted a relatively few paraphrases within brackets that keep the argument moving along, even while condensing the argument. Where there are no brackets the words are all Anton's, but even within brackets I have striven to use Anton's own words (such as "deep state"). To see it all, especially the large portions that I've left out, follow the link.
One thing to be aware of as you read. I've emphasized repeatedly over the months since Bill Barr reappeared on the public stage that Barr's major commitment, the principle that explains all that he does and stands for, is the proper role of the Executive--meaning, the presidency. That commitment is what explains the unrestrained rage of the Neoliberal oligarchs who rule America against Barr--who is the most effective force standing between the oligarchs and the president who would make America great again.
Here we go:
“What happens if Trump loses?”
[The short answer] is: Much more of the same.
More of all the trends, policies, and practices that revolutionized American life in the 1960s, that enrich the ruling class and its foot soldiers at middle America’s expense, erode our natural and constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties, degrade our culture and its people, and dishonor our heritage and history. The war waged by those who hate America and Americans, who want to destroy the former and crush the latter, will go on.
[T]he experience of Trump’s first term reveals how weak the presidency really is—not just constitutionally and historically, but, above all, currently. [T]he reality, by now, should be obvious to everyone. Our government in no way functions according to the elevated words on the parchment, and President Trump does not control the executive branch. I say this not to disparage the president but only to state a plain fact.
I [saw] the beast [the Deep State] from the inside during my brief tenure in President Trump’s White House. [I]f anything changed from my time in the Bush Administration, it is that the deep state is vastly more powerful today than it was then, and vastly more willing to use its power—overtly—to flout, undermine, circumvent, and disobey presidential orders. Even, in many cases, to do the precise opposite of what they’ve been ordered.
But this essay is about what might happen should [Trump] lose.
The most plausible outcome would be a return to the “neoliberal” consensus and trajectory circa 2015. A more precise name might be “managerial leftist-libertarianism,” for this governing ideology is top-down, bureaucratic, and anti-democratic, committed to social engineering and grievance politics, while undermining virtue and promoting vice.
Neoliberalism elevates as a matter of “principle” the international over the national. [I]t looks forward to a time when such nuisances [as borders] finally are behind mankind forever.
Until that time, neoliberalism works to enforce the international neoliberal order—in particular the movement of capital, goods, and labor across borders in ways that benefit the transnational neoliberal ruling class. In practice, this amounts to widespread, close-knit cooperation between business and government—or what neoliberals euphemistically refer to as “public-private partnership.”
This benign-sounding phrase masks a darker reality. What it really describes is the use of state power to serve private ends, at private direction. Its proponents always leave out the little detail that big business is the senior partner.
Hence, without Trump, foreign policy will be further reoriented around securing trade, tax, and labor (“migration”) patterns and paradigms that benefit finance and big business. American conservatives have yet to grasp the reality that the majority of this country’s policies are oriented [to] benefit finance and big business.
The real power in the neoliberal order resides not with elected officials and “world leaders”. True power resides with their donors: the bankers, CEOs, financiers, and tech oligarchs. The end result is the same either way: economic globalism and financialization, consolidation of power in an ostensibly “meritocratic” but actually semi-hereditary class, livened up by social libertinism.
This consensus and the people who profit from it are still very much in charge of America today. They control everything: corporations, banks, tech firms, media (legacy and social), universities, primary and secondary schools, foundations, mainline religious organizations, and of course the entire federal bureaucracy. Is it any wonder, then, that it’s so hard for the president to govern against the neoliberal consensus?
The only top-tier power center the ruling class currently doesn’t have is the White House itself. If (or when) they get it back, the basic contours of the back-to-normal regime will look much as they did at the height of the Obama Administration—or, in hindsight, the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama Imperium: a high-low coalition against the middle in service of big tech, high finance, and woke capital.
Only More So
All of the “post-Cold War era” trends that Trump ran against and has opposed or sought to moderate will be intensified to bolster the international neoliberal order and enforce its edicts to facilitate the movement of capital, goods, and labor across borders in ways that benefit themselves.
The economy will become even more artificial and jury-rigged. Overall, the economy will become more techified, more financialized, more concentrated at the coasts, and more unequal. Expect the rich to get a lot richer and the middle class to disappear. Wages will fall.
COVID-19 has been a godsend to the oligarchs, who are licking their chops as one small business after another fails.
Since small businesses are one of the last redoubts of the middle class, expect what’s left of the middle class to shrink further. If it seems incredible—as it should—that financial markets are at or near all-time highs when GDP has plunged, unemployment reached levels not seen since the Great Depression, and our cities and towns have been repeatedly sacked, looted, and burned for three straight months, the biggest reason is the consolidation of corporate control over the economy.
Don’t expect big firms’ vastly increased power and wealth to trickle down to the little guy. Corporate America loves the so-called “gig economy,” a euphemism for “We don’t have to pay benefits!”
Beyond amnesty, there would be no pretense of enforcing any of our immigration laws.
It will also become much more difficult and more expensive to wall oneself off from the consequences, which means that the number, or at least the share, of “regime winners” who can afford “good” suburbs or private schools will shrink while the share of “losers” increases. As a result, native birthrates are likely to drop further, while pathologies such as addiction will increase and life expectancy will fall.
Government collusion with big business will intensify and expand. The “unpersoning” of dissenters will mimic what the government of China does through its “social credit system”: ranking people based on their opinions and then granting or limiting access to basic freedoms and services. This will be, and already is being, justified because it is done primarily by the private sector.
If you think we have mass surveillance already, just wait. The government and the tech companies already work hand-in-glove. More of that is coming, and on a bigger scale.
When the last checks on such collusion from the Trump Administration are gone, expect this joint censorship and oppression of dissent to increase by orders of magnitude. The Left finally has found a way around the First Amendment: consolidate all “speech” and public expression onto a handful of private-sector platforms run by oligarchs and staffed by wokerati. The Left knows it can count on the moronic, friendly-fire-spraying libertarians to sing that tune the loudest. Free speech as we have known it will not survive coming leftist rule.
The playbook is already being expanded to banking and credit. To be on the wrong side of elite-woke opinion increasingly is to find yourself locked out of the financial system.
There’s no reason to assume the oligarchs will limit these types of actions to speech and money. China already restricts travel for the disfavored.
Britain’s nationalized healthcare service now denies medical care to those deemed “racist, sexist, or homophobic.”
And every step of the way, the narrative’s reply to those who raise the alarm will be: That’s not happening, and it’s good that it is.
Not long ago, I thought the point of all this—aside from being punitive to enemies for the sheer pleasure of it—was to find the sweet spot between too much overt oppression, which might provoke a backlash, and too little, which might allow opposition to gather strength..
Reigning in the Mobs?
But signs of moderation, of magnanimity, of any recognition that “we won” and so can ease off are, to say the least, not common among the woke Left. And the extent to which the ruling class can control its foot soldiers has been very much called into question by the events of 2020.
Consider that New York City—the global neoliberal oligarchy’s unquestioned capital and home to, by far, the largest concentration of America’s elites—was sacked by mobs several times in the same week.
As businesses have remained closed, crime, disorder, and filth have surged. People have left and not returned. And not just from New York but from other ruling class citadels.
What does the ruling class gain from destroying its own cities? I’ve asked myself this a thousand times. I can’t come up with an answer. Is it that they want all this to happen or that they lack the will or ability to stop it?
The former possibility seems preposterous. But the fact that it’s not out of the question is suggested by the following data point. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, owns the Washington Post outright. He can, with a single phone call, make it publish, or not publish, anything he wants.
[T]he Post used to care about its home town. It doesn’t anymore.
The newspaper founded in Washington in 1877 speaks of all this out of three sides of its mouth: none of it is happening; all the protests are peaceful and justified; it’s good that America is finally getting the thrashing she deserves. Bezos could instantly turn off this endless destructive propaganda if he wanted to.
Whatever the answer, the fact that all this mayhem is happening now, and the ruling class can’t or won’t control it, more than suggests that a lot more of it will happen if Trump loses.
A Dark Age of White Noise
The ruling class has built a well-honed apparatus to inculcate docility in the people. Components include cheap, puerile mass entertainment, ubiquitous smartphones and social media, video games, porn, drugs, sportsball, and so on across the whole dreary panoply of lowest-common-denominator “culture” in the current year.
We should expect all this to increase. The ruling class’ recent and ongoing enthusiasm for marijuana legalization and its total indifference to the opioid epidemic suggest that they’re seeking to drug as many non-elites as they can out of any potential resistance. Combine these factors with leftism’s top-down, total control of thought, and the picture becomes bleak indeed.
The cherished and iconic works of our past are also threatened, in two ways. First, the movement that originated on campus more than a generation ago to get rid of core curricula and reinterpret in light of leftist orthodoxy those bits allowed to remain has borne fruit. We’ve now “educated” generations of students—even (especially) elite students—either 1) to have no familiarity with the Western canon; and/or 2) to despise it as inherently evil; or 3) to see it only through leftist lenses that make it seem as if it merely confirms current orthodoxy; or 4) to believe it was all “stolen” from other cultures. The result is that the whole Western tradition is at risk of atrophy, and even death, simply from ignorance and neglect.
As if that were not enough, the Left is starting to get even more actively hostile to the tradition. Certain elite intellectuals, led by Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Donna, have noticed that some young autodidacts have taken to reading the great books and listening to classical music. The elites see this as a threat.
The climate of acceptable opinion in this country—already very narrow—will constrict further still. The necessity for self-censorship will increase dramatically. Imagine TV screens playing CNN, volume cranked to 11, not just in airport waiting areas, but everywhere—forever.
In modern America, “anarcho-tyranny” [has replaced rule of law]: complete freedom—even exemption from the gravest laws—for the favored, maximum vindictive enforcement against the pettiest infractions by the disfavored.
Can you remember the last time anyone in Antifa was punished for anything?
I also remember, in pre-apocalypse New York City, Antifa goons getting into a fight—it’s hard to say who started it—with a group of men calling themselves the Proud Boys. Two Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison. No Antifa members were ever identified, much less charged with any crime, still much less tried or convicted. The real distinction here is that the Proud Boys are regime dissidents while Antifa thugs are ruling-class shock troops.
All that, though, was child’s play compared to the nightly horrors Antifa—and their BLM allies—have wreaked on America’s streets for three straight months with close to zero official attempt to rein them in, and often with officials cheering them on.
The fundamental right of self-defense—the bedrock foundation of all our other rights—increasingly is not honored if you’re a member of a disfavored group and your attacker is not.
Instead of enforcing the law and maintaining order, [our officials] encourage riots, refuse to enforce the law, and then leap into action only when a victim defends himself. This is not incompetence or misguided idealism; it is evil. Should it continue, it will lead either to the collapse of the country or to revolution.
Should Trump lose, the repowered thought police will greatly expand its “enemies list.”
The Left will seek to use this same combination of maximum megaphone volume and maximum federal zeal to target lawful gun owners using the alleged threat of “domestic terrorism” as a pretext.
It’s tempting to call this emerging America a “failed state,” but it isn’t really. The state is more than capable of acting on its own priorities, which emphatically include crushing known or suspected regime dissidents. Far from being incapable of enforcing the law, the state rather chooses which laws to enforce, and which not to enforce, and whom to exempt, in accordance with ruling class interests. That trend, too, will intensify.
The Wish List
All of this is easy enough to predict because it is either what the Left is already doing where it has the power, or what it says it wants to do.
With opposition eliminated or neutralized, the Left will gin up new enthusiasms with unprecedented zeal, which they will then impose nationwide with enforced pro forma approval, even to the point of requiring feigned enthusiasm. Gay marriage and transgenderism were just the beginnings. We may speculate as to what exactly they will choose next, but they’ll certainly pick something and force the wider society to accept it.
Everyone will have to wear the ribbon. Humiliation is part of the appeal. While most leftists tend to believe in the urgency of whatever cause they happen to be worked up over at the moment, their deepest satisfaction arises less from seeing what they call justice done than in watching the retrograde being forced to submit. It lets the bad guys know who’s boss. “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” Forcing you to call a woman a man, or vice versa, is all the more satisfying when those holding the gun to your head know you don’t really believe it.
Religious persecution necessarily will have to increase because much of what the Left is doing and wants to do directly contradicts the tenets of faith. We’ve already seen this with state orders forcing people to bake cakes for ceremonies that the bakers believe contradict their religion; we shall certainly see more of it, perhaps to the point where traditional Christianity will have to return to the catacombs.
There will be one major exception, however. A double standard will be ruthlessly enforced to allow Muslims (at least those who are regime allies) to do whatever they want in violation of leftist tenets. This is a reason to suspect polygamy might be the next leftist enthusiasm.
Other items on the wish list include ...
And finally, the granddaddy of them all: “reparations.” Long a fringe idea, it was revived by Ta-Nehisi Coates and recently endorsed by the venerable Brookings Institution, the premier “establishment,” “respectable,” “moderate” center-left think tank in the country.
It pains me to write that [the Constitution's] future is bleak.
The Constitution has been under explicit attack since the beginning of the Progressive Era, nearly 125 years ago. Those attacks exponentially intensified with the advent of 1960s leftism. They retreated a bit in the face of the Reagan and Gingrich counterattacks but are now back with a vengeance. If conservatives were to tally the score, we might take some consolation from the fact that from time to time we’ve been able to put points on the board. But we would also be forced to concede that we’ve been massively outscored, and that our losses are mounting and accelerating.
This situation has gotten considerably worse since I wrote that.
To cite only two examples: free speech is under attack as it never has been before. Right now, the battlefield is mostly social media sites, hence the attacks are publicly justified as legitimate acts by private businesses. [H]ow meaningful is the distinction between public and private speech when the modes of public discourse increasingly are concentrated in the private hands of the ruling class? Answer: also not much.
Consider also the incredible abuses of power from the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence community, and other agencies. Even with Trump in the White House, the administrative state still does whatever it wants while hampering the lawful directives of the elected chief executive.
The fate of the Constitution is also inseparable from demographic change. The only people in America who en masse still care about the Constitution and how it’s supposed to work are conservatives, whose numbers—in absolute terms and as a share of the population—are dwindling. The bluer an area is, the less purchase constitutional principle holds.
If present trends continue, the Constitution has no future. Neither its letter nor its spirit will be honored—either in ordinary circumstances or in the breach.
[P]olitics—in the sense of reasoned deliberation about common ends—will cease. Instead, “politics” will be further divided along two tracks: one visible, the other not.
The real ruling will take place “administratively. The cogs and lickspittles in the bureaucracy, led by a small elite in corporations, above all in Big Tech and finance, will determine all important policies, foreign and domestic. Congress will be a bigger joke than it already is. Even the presidency will get weaker, as Democrats tacitly admit by nominating a man obviously incapable of fulfilling his constitutional oath of office. They know where the real power lies, and they know that all the power centers in the country are theirs.
It will probably take the Republican donor class a while to realize that their party is no longer viable at the national level, but eventually they will figure it out. Then the party will die altogether.
The Democratic primaries will be the election. That is, to the extent that such contests actually are elections. It’s safer and more reasonable to assume they’ll increasingly be rigged, similar to the way the Democrats—twice—prevented Bernie Sanders from getting their party’s nomination.
To help us understand what’s coming, a more precise regime category exists: the elective monarchy, in which the true electors are not “the people” but a handful of horse-trading elites.
The fundamental question of every Democratic presidential primary season will simply be: Whose turn is it? The economy’s actual masters naturally will prefer to be more generous with offices than with money.
The “State of Exception”
With an (alleged) Biblical plague, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, and a three-month-long nationwide rolling riot that shows no signs of slowing down, you might find it hard to choose the worst aspect of 2020. Yet it may turn out to be none of these things.
In 2005, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben published the book State of Exception. The title refers to an old idea, traceable at least to the Roman dictatorship, which holds (to coin a phrase) that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.
Agamben argues that few, if any, countries—and virtually none in the West—have any such means anymore. And all the elites like it that way. Hence the “state of exception” has everywhere replaced the rule of law and is, de facto, the rule.
Nothing has made this clearer than the COVID-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, and other executive directives by governors and mayors who make no pretense of even consulting legislative bodies, much less going to the trouble of passing actual laws.
Americans initially were willing to go along because they feared that COVID-19 would turn out to be what the ruling class and the “experts” still lyingly insist that it is: a once-in-a-century plague primed to kill millions within months.
Will we ever get our liberties back? And if so, how many and to what extent? Agamben is not sanguine. He notes that emergency decrees often are formally lifted, but only after all necessary precedents have been set and new norms sink in. Then, all too often, the measures that were supposed to be “temporary” are later quietly written into ordinary legislation or regulation.
“The disproportionate reaction to something not too different from the normal influenzas that affect us every year is quite blatant,” Agamben wrote in February. “It is almost as if, with terrorism exhausted as a cause for exceptional measures, the invention of an epidemic offered the ideal pretext for scaling them up beyond any limitation.”
You may agree or disagree with Agamben’s assessment of COVID-19 as “not too different” from the flu. But one characteristic the COVID-19 panic shares with other “crises” cited to justify “extraordinary” measures is that doubt becomes disallowed, dissent censored and purged. It’s settled science!
Maybe. Though there are plenty of actual epidemiologists, other scientists, and doctors who disagree. Try finding their reasoned arguments on Google, Facebook, or Twitter. You can’t.
Joe Biden has already, more than once, threatened to impose a national lockdown and other mandates—if the “experts” say they’re required. But the relationship between alleged “expertise” and ruling class power is so yin-yang incestuous it’s impossible to say where one ends and the other begins.
A Limited Shelf Life?
It’s safe to assume that little, if any, of the above is out of reach if or when the Left finally achieves total dominance. They’ve already substantially built the regime they want. Is the structure 70 percent complete? Eighty? At any rate, it’s well over 50.
The fact that they’ve gotten this far more than suggests that their ambitions are realizable—for a time. But how long?
In the middle of the last century, Leo Strauss warned:
"We are now brought face to face with a tyranny which holds out the threat of becoming, thanks to the “conquest of nature” and in particular of human nature, what no earlier tyranny ever became: perpetual and universal. Confronted by the appalling alternative that man, or human thought, must be collectivized either by one stroke and without mercy or else by slow and gentle processes, we are forced to wonder how we could escape from this dilemma."
The specific regime to which Strauss referred lasted 72 years—a long time for a system so antithetical to human nature, but shorter than many historical tyrannies. The conquest of human nature to which Strauss referred appears to have evaded Communism’s grasp.
Will it be possible for our ruling class to exclude from all political power half or more of the population for even 27 years, much less 72?
Or is the leftist dream now within reach? Can the toxic brew of drugs and porn and tech and all the other tools the ruling class uses to pacify the citizenry and collectivize human thought achieve what the tyrannies of the last century could not?
If President Trump loses, we will find out.