Late in the evening yesterday Matt Taibbi published at Zerohedge the beginning of his new article: The Prophet Of The Trump Era. Taibbi's full article is, as usual, behind a paywall, and I certainly don't begrudge him a reward for his labors. However, I'm not willing to pay, so I'm working off the Zerohedge come-on.
Taibbi is riffing off the ideas of Martin Gurri. He describes Gurri as "the former CIA analyst of open news sources." I'm not sure how descriptive that really is of Gurri's past employment. Gurri himself says he "is a former CIA analyst specializing in the relationship of politics and global media," which raises flags.
I'll say this right up front: I'm not much of a fan of "analysts," nor of their increasing roles in the Intelligence Community. Think back through the Russia Hoax and attendant hoaxes and you'll see "analysts" constantly popping up. As far as I've been able to determine over the years the role of the analyst is to parrot the Conventional Wisdom. The CW is acquired at mainstream institutions of higher education and through the MSM. That means that the CW is filtered through varying degrees of a Lib/Prog perspective.
In that regard Gurri doesn't disappoint. Checking around on the internet he appears to be depressingly shallow in most respects. I specify "depressingly" because, after all, he spent a career with the CIA studying "the relationship of politics and global media" without apparently learning much of anything beyond the CW.
To give you a brief example of just how shallow he can be ...
Right after the January 6 Event Gurri wrote this for Discourse Magazine:
In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, an uninspiring Joe Biden may be just what we need
And, yes, the article is really as shallow as the title/subtitle suggests. Gurri thinks Zhou Baiden has an opportunity to restore "calm and quiet" to America. Here's how Gurri begins:
Donald Trump is conducting the most shameless and disgraceful departure from office in our nation’s history. That is bad news for the country. It is, however, good news for Joe Biden, the incoming president. He has been handed an opportunity he would do well to exploit.
We should suffer no illusions about what we have in Biden. He was a middling politician in his prime, which was a long time ago, and can be said to be one of those ambitious people devoid of vision, who enter politics to be someone rather than to do something. He served in the Senate for 36 years without distinction but also without disgrace. At his best, Biden conveys a sense of middle-class solidarity with the public. At his worst, he has engaged in bizarre behavior, like plagiarizing passages of a speech from a British Labour Party official, of all things.
Obviously Gurri hasn't been paying much attention to events in politics and the global media over the last four years of the nation's history. Russia Hoax? Ukraine Hoax? Chinese money? What shame and disgrace? As for events a bit deeper in Zhou's past, such as the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, Gurri draws a complete blank there, too.
So, what does Gurri think "normalcy" in America would be?
What does a return to normalcy mean? ... after the events of Jan. 6 on Capitol Hill, we have a good idea of what it means. Or at least we know how it must begin: with the excision of Donald Trump from American politics. I am on record as saying that Trump is a symptom of a far deeper sickness. That remains entirely true and should be kept in mind by the new administration as it inches toward its definition of normalcy. Sometimes, however, you have to treat the symptoms before you can cure the disease. Call it political triage.
The way I read that, YOU--you Trump voters--are the "deeper sickness". Gurri wants to cure YOU, but for now he'll settle with addressing the symptoms--meaning, Trump--and get to YOU later. How would a self described "free speech fundamentalist" go about that? I guess by having the Zhou Baiden and Corporate America act in concert:
If the objective is to cleanse our politics, then Trump shouldn’t be impeached or tried for incompetence or prosecuted, all of which would reward him with the thing he loves most—attention at the highest levels—and would allow him to play the victim as well. Instead, he should be placed inside a cone of silence. With regard to reporting his statements or responding to them, he should be banished to the netherworld of American politics, where he can abide as a minor deity to QAnon and the lunatic fringe.
Last week Twitter blocked him permanently. If Facebook does the same, so be it. I am a fundamentalist on freedom of speech, but this is a punishment for incitement, not a ban on opinion. In any case, given the vastness of the information sphere, he will find a way to communicate—only not with us.
"Tried for incompetence?" See what I mean about analysts? They don't need to know much of anything. Imagine a federal Intel bureaucracy staffed with people like this, working away for decades, agreeing with one another in their Interagency echo chamber and learning nothing. That's pretty much where we are. Anyway, imagine how disappointed Gurri must be around right now.
Now, fast forward just a month or so and Gurri, having vented his spleen, tries to wipe the foam from his lips and offer a bit of sober analysis. It's still relatively shallow, but it's what passes for "analysis" in the circles that he's moved in throughout his life. This next article raises the issues that attracted Taibbi and is actually a summary of the theme that Gurri developed into a book back in 2018: The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium. Here's the article:
You'll also see that some of these ideas are ones that we've been discussing here. Here's a chunk. Try to get past some of the idiocies for now:
The great predicament of our moment in history is the collapse of the public’s trust in democratic institutions. That collapse is long-running, well-established, and catastrophic. Every corner of our fractured political landscape feels compelled to express, vociferously, its anger and repudiation. The default rhetorical posture of the web has become the rant.
At the extremes, there has been real violence. Black Lives Matter militants rampaged in our urban centers because they claimed to feel oppressed by the systemic racism of American society. QAnon protesters violated the Capitol building in Washington because they believed the electoral process was a fraud. Lives were lost in these incidents. ...
In his essay “Classical Liberals in a Polarized Age,” Kevin Vallier suggests that the crisis of trust hasn’t received the attention it deserves. That is certainly true, but not for lack of scholars who have tried to make sense of it. Yuval Levin, for one, has found the hemorrhage of trust to be largely deserved. The institutions, Levin writes, were once “formative” – they molded the character and discipline of those who inhabited them – but are now “performative” – mere platforms for elite self-expression and the promotion of personal brands. The military, which still manages to imbue its members with a code of conduct as well as functional skills, has retained the highest levels of trust among the public.
I accept Levin’s description of the decadence of the institutions, and I have tried to explain it in terms of their maladaptation to a radically transformed information environment.
The great institutions of the twenty-first century – government, political parties, media – received their shape in the twentieth. That was the heyday of the top-down, I-talk-you-listen model of organizing humanity – and this model could be accepted as legitimate only so long as it enjoyed a semi-monopoly over information in every domain. The elites at the top of the pyramid talked, certain that nobody would talk back. They promised utopia and asked to be judged on their intentions, not their performance.
The digital tsunami has simply swept away the legitimacy of this model. The storm of information has reduced the institutions to theatrical stages, and the political class is utterly demoralized as the public, in their hundreds of millions, not only talks but screams back its opposition on every question. The public’s disenchantment with the institutions may be compared to modern science’s disenchantment of the world of fairies and goblins. The collapse in trust, at the deepest level, is the falling away of an old faith.
First some brief comments. Gurri's portrait of the two antagonistic sides in the streets is ludicrously out of touch with reality. The Blue Anon notion that QAnon is an actual movement or organization capable of pulling off the January 6 Event--where to begin? Then Yuval Levin--still living in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the military was still respected and our "democratic institutions" instilled a deserved trust and performed a character building function--uh, Congress, the courts? Those were the days, right?
As for the "digital tsunami" of information sweeping away the supposed legitimacy of top down rule, for any student of US history since WW2 the reality is far more complicated. Moreover, the legitimacy of our institutions has been seen to be steadily eroding for most of those seven decades. The real question, as it seems to me, is: When did disillusion with the direction in which America has been heading reach some sort of identifiable, critical mass? For those of us who can remember the Reagan Revolution, I think that point can be identified as 1968. That was when my proud Adlai Stevenson liberal parents made the switch. From then on Reagan Dems were simply looking for a standard bearer. Ronnie provided that, for a time. The rise of Talk Radio and Fox News provided more widespread alternative forums. The discontent was always there--remember Newt and 1994?--and it was always growing.
The nugget of truth in Gurri's reference to the "digital tsunami" is this. The vast flood of information has made truth widely available for those who are willing to undertake the filtering process. That flood is relentless and much harder to ignore--and it's coming at us at an exponentially faster pace than talk radio or Fox could hope to do. The result is fewer people on the sidelines, more people on the playing field. The Trump era is most properly the point in time when we, the public--but especially the rulers--realized just how much things have changed in terms of availability of information and the ability to push back. In the face of this development, what is a top-down ruling class to do?
Now, that finally brings us back to Taibbi, and what he saw of value in Gurri's ideas. Taibbi's argument is that he saw this coming back in 2015, when he was covering the Republican primaries. All the CW was being set on its ear by Trump:
I entered Martin Gurri’s world on August 1, 2015. Though I hadn’t read The Revolt of the Public, at the time a little-known book by the former CIA analyst of open news sources, I hit a disorienting moment of a type he’d described in his opening chapter. ...
Gurri’s book is about how popular uprisings are triggered by collapses of faith in traditional hierarchies of power. I felt such a collapse that day in Waterloo, Iowa, covering the Republican presidential primary. The first debate was five days away and the man expected to occupy center stage, Donald Trump, held a seemingly inexplicable six-point lead.
Nobody who had been schooled in the CW of American politics could figure this out. How could Trump be dominating when the whole focus of the Establishment of American Society was on taking him down?
I sat in the park discussing Trump’s stubborn grasp on the lead with another reporter, an Iowan. “It’s amazing,” he said, shaking his head. “We’re beating the shit out of the guy, and he just won’t die.” He compared it to a nightmare, where you stab an attacking monster over and over, and nothing happens.
That's a nightmare for the ruling class, but not so much for the rest of us who finally had some hope that our voices could be heard and that our votes would count when non-voters became motivated. The digital tsunami meant that the people who thought they could bank on fooling enough of us enough of the time no longer were able to hide the seamy underside of American political reality.
Taibbi concludes (at Zerohedge):
The thesis of The Revolt of the Public is that traditional centralized powers are losing — have lost — authority, in large part because of the demystifying effect of the Internet. The information explosion undermined the elite monopoly on truth, exposing long-concealed flaws. Many analysts had noted the disruptive power of the Internet, but what made Gurri unique is that he also predicted with depressingly humorous accuracy how traditional hierarchies would respond to this challenge: in a delusional, ham-fisted, authoritarian manner that would only confirm the worst suspicions of the public, accelerating the inevitable throw-the-bums-out campaigns.
We're about to find out if Gurri--who claims not to do predictions--may be a prophet after all. Certainly the Zhou Baiden regime is ignoring any pretense of returning America to anything most Americans would recognize as "normalcy." Instead the Dems and their Corporate proxies are doubling down on their "delusional, ham fisted, authoritarian" tactics.