The Beer Hall Putsch

On Sept. 13, I wrote this in my 2020 campaign/election/events diary:

Seems real likelihood that future is either

1. beerhall putsch

2. reichstag fire

My thinking was that Trump appeared to be on the way to rejection by voters, and would plainly attempt to sabotage democracy in some way; it might end up a failed farce(Beer Hall Putsch) like many Trump projects or it might deliver America wholly into authoritarianism (Reichstag fire).

I hesitated to give any public expression to this thought, owing to anxiety about which event was in the making. That hesitation continued after the election, even once it seemed pretty firm that Biden had met the conditions to “win.” The relevant institutional machinery is full of trapdoors, after all, and while Trump’s efforts to reject democracy have been a farce, pratfalls on an unsafe set can still be unsafe.

Eventually, I realized that oh, huh, then this is America’s Beer Hall Putsch, and would be even if somehow it were to “succeed.” The real story is that our situation is that far gone, it wouldn’t take much for even a halfassed-farce coup to succeed.

I have written down many what-happened, what-now thoughts during the past week, but the general theme of “what is there, really, to do about any of this” delays writing about most of them. One worth mentioning though is that the Trump campaign’s endless barrage of frivolous lawsuits seems, even in losing, to demonstrate the decrepit weakness of our systems.

These brazen attempts to throw out ballots, weeks after an election, are failing again and again in a direct sense. They are, as many have noted, nonetheless succeeding in feeding a disinformation propaganda campaign to convince millions that Trump actually won (and succeeding as fundraising pitch too). But just as significant as the ways in which the side of sabotage and disinformation are succeeding, I think, is the way in which the side of legitimate functional society is failing. The lawsuits are junk, and they keep getting rejected, but they also keep getting to clog up courts and use the judicial system as a stage for toxic coup cosplay anyway.

I’m not convinced that this commitment to deliberative due process no matter the cost is either a strength or completely necessary. I don’t know the intricate details of sanctions or disbarment, but the fact that this much plain as day bullshit and abuse is permitted, for so long, seems to reveal a system that is just too dependent on reasonableness/shame/etc., and is simply and fundamentally open to abuse by an organized effort from persons who don’t honor those concepts.

That’s America, at this point. People, institutions, culture are all stumped for a genuinely effective response to this scale of brazen, sustained lying and abuse. So people, institutions, and culture mostly just try to carry on without any effective response. Carry on pushing on a rope, being vexed when it doesn’t work, and hoping that the next try will work better.

To use another metaphor, America’s systems of information, politics and government are riddled with malware. The prevailing response from America’s defenders is “we’ll just route around the bad sectors, for now, and gradually use the good code that’s still left to debug the rest.” But the remaining good code scarcely even constitutes a working platform, at this point, and the malware infections are still spreading.

“Making it work anyway” is a fantasy.

I concluded some time back that the next president matters, mostly because his identity is going to determine whether or not America’s government actively commits a lot more atrocities in the near future. For this reason I believe it was worth effort to get Biden into office, and I’m glad that the efforts met every legitimate test.

But after this, what now? Every day is an extended Beer Hall Putsch, and even presuming it fails, my memory will persist of how very possible its direct success was—to say nothing of how possible it will be that a Reichstag fire event will succeed in the decade ahead.

What use is that awareness? I don’t believe that in practical terms it’s possible to “organize” out of every problem. Organizing out of these problems seems beyond even hypothetical possibility, given how little anything seems to respond to information or experience. Institutions and cultures, at least at this point in the life of this country, seem unfit for the challenges facing us—and unable to adapt even at the pace of events, let alone ahead of it.

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