Asymmetric belief in authority

Most people on the mainstream center-to-left spectrum have been successfully trained, to respond to the paralysis of this Congress, by parroting the names “Manchin and Sinema.” Supposedly Democrats are soundly for change—even in the US Senate 96% of them want to do something!—and all the responsibility for obstruction lies with the Evil Bobbsey Twins plus all the Republicans.

There are multiple reasons why this excuse is unsatisfactory, and I will note some others below. But first, I want to revisit something I have posted about here, before.

If you take them at their word (and in this regard I believe that we should) then Democratic elites genuinely believe that Mike Pence, alone, could via some sleight of hand with note cards have literally made Donald Trump the president for 2021-24. They may also profess that this act would have violated the rules, yet the degree of alarm in references to that prospect, combined with other patterns, convinces me: they really believe that one (lame duck) authority figure could have declared that down is up, and obliged the rest of society to stand on its head.

Yet these same Democrats profess that Senate President Harris and Senate Majority Leader Schumer are essentially powerless observers. Their hands are tied.

Say what you like, but this is an extremely asymmetric belief in authority.

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Nonsense, BS and outright lies

Today marks three years since the US House asserted its completely valid right to examine Donald Trump’s tax returns. Despite which, those returns remain locked in a vault even after America elected a U.S. House, U.S. Senate and president purportedly committed to oversight and accountability.

This seems like a good day to survey the degree of dishonesty which prevails generally even within the “responsible” portion of US politics, at this point.

I don’t imagine that this is really a new phenomenon, but we’re now years into perma-crisis; did that shock anyone into shaping up? Not a bit of it.

One can insist that there’s a continuum from reasonable errors, through nonsense, bullshit, and denial, to outright lies. On February 6, 2021, when Representative Marcy Kaptur proclaimed that “Our union remains strong. Our democracy may bend, but it will never break,” maybe that was just nonsense. Maybe it was a reasonable error when Nancy Pelosi said obtaining Trump’s tax returns would be “one of the first things we’d do” if voters gave Democrats a House majority.

But at some point, the volume and consistency of statements which don’t fit reality is just too much for positioning on the continuum to matter very much.

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Journalists get it, partly

Friday’s “The Morning” e-mail from The New York Times is interesting for how it mixes up a flicker of “getting it” with plenty of the ordinary obtuse fare.

Much of the e-mail carries on the braindead political “analysis” which was a big inspiration for my book Nemesis. German Lopez writes an extensive e-mail about “why Biden is unpopular,” walking backward through the past year and a half of covid and covid policy, without ever considering

  • The obvious question of what, exactly, “unpopular” is being defined against; voters have rapidly turned against every president for decades, and more significantly they punish the president’s party consistently, even when presidential approval is much more favorable than Biden’s.
  • To the extent that presidential popularity is variable, at all, could disdain for Biden have anything to do with the fact that even mainstream journalism is so relentlessly affixed to narratives of scandal and (Democratic) failure that the result wildly misleads people about reality?
  • “Analysis” mostly just makes up its premises of what’s supposed to move public opinion and how. From month to month, “The Morning” tells us that Democrats are disappointing the public because of Afghanistan, no because of covid, actually it’s the economy, and they’re out of touch with public fears of “CRT,” etc. The claim, in Friday’s email, that the Biden administration committed itself to firm promises about freedom from covid also seems suspiciously unfamiliar to me as a fairly regular reader of “The Morning.” It feels like “truthiness.”
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Europe, America, problems, and scale

Yesterday was local elections day in the United Kingdom, and today was analyze-the-results day.

First of all, I find it charming how the coverage I’ve looked at—admittedly national coverage, mostly from The Guardian—disregards actual local conditions and individual candidates and approaches the results entirely as a proxy referendum on the national parties/leaders.

Naturally I perceive eerie echoes of American politics, as I usually do with British politics. Before and since Thursday’s UK local elections, they felt particularly like America’s 2018 midterms. On Wednesday, one person forecast that voters would thump Britain’s party of the right but only about as much as the head of government’s party usually experiences—rather than any extra punishment for Boris Johnson’s shameless lying, scheming, and abuses of power. Oh, much like (I realized a few years later) US voters did in 2018?

Today’s coverage and analysis has featured a wide range of interpretations, from “disaster for the Conservatives” to “entirely inadequate results for Labour.” Like here in 2018, though, the picture improved for the center-left party as more result came in. There is of course the fact that these local elections don’t actually impact the UK’s national government, but the truth is that America’s 2018 “blue wave”* didn’t really do so either. (Republicans kept control of the Senate, ignored the Democratic House, and basically carried right on as before.)

Despite the similarities, however, in combination with the recent French presidential election I feel like a sense of scale is really important and often missing when comparing America’s political travails to “peer countries.”

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Nemesis, or, The World of Yesterday

The book which I titled Nemesis is, at its core, about a simple idea. For three decades, a recurring vote against the sitting president’s party has been a very powerful influence within American politics, even as the culture mostly carries on as though this influence doesn’t exist.

The point of Nemesis, I suppose, is that the narratives about American politics have become badly misaligned with what’s actually going on. After setting out the case that this nemesis vote exists, and is best explained as a big vote against the sitting president’s party—rather than as a trivial thumb on the scale, or as big votes in response to policies or issues or events—the book explores what preceded this destructive force, how that old system broke down, what’s actually going on now, and what options exist now.

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This is America now

My attempted political book Nemesis (to be shared soon) has multiple themes, but a big one might be summarized as “This is America, now.”

This is not a phase, a spell, an anomaly, or a fight with some thing which can be decisively won by the America of inclusive democracy and other liberal ideals.

It’s pure hallucinatory delusion to maintain, at this point, that “in November of 2020 … We saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, the light is still a little further off”* but we will get there.

We are not “passing through a tunnel” or any other metaphor for temporary deviation from a safe normal which we can get back to.

This is America.

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Three-line program

It just becomes more and more and more difficult to take American political debate and processes seriously. As I have written, real changes are occurring, mostly dire, and I take those very seriously. But these are so detached from most of the rhetoric and rituals which just carry on.

I am reminded of this xkcd:

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Social Networks & Corrosion

This has been an interesting “quiet” week. Wednesday morning I created a mastodon account and have scarcely been on Twitter, since, which is a huge change to my information diet and online interaction.

We’ll see what happens, although even if this megalomaniac’s plan to buy Twitter for the trolls falls through, I don’t think I ought to go back to old habits like nothing happened. I have experienced two ridiculous account lockdowns in the past couple of years, both of which also emphasized how much of an addiction that hell site is. Twitter absolutely has added value to my life, also, but all of that rests on a very unstable foundation when one oligarch can just declare that he will take over and there’s really no recourse.

I feel like it’s disappointing but revealing how many users will not merely carry on, but imagine that their acceptance of an even more toxic Twitter is somehow an act of defiance. This week I saw multiple people, whose attitude toward a Musk makeover of Twitter is as negative as my own, post something to the effect that “but whatever, won’t drive me away, I obviously have a high tolerance for toxicity so ha ha.”

I’m reminded of Notes from the Underground: “My liver is bad, well—let it get worse!”

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Rebuilding

Brooke Binkowski seems to Get It, including the fact that “This bullshit is not cutting it.” Her suggestions include:

  • we need to truly ask ourselves what we want from our country and our leadership and especially our media.
  • we need a new Constitution and a new flag and new borders
  • big social sites need to be recognized as their own forms of nation-states
  • We need more responsive local leaders and better funded newsrooms, and everyone needs to understand the power of weaponized narratives. None of this is “just happening”
  • I advocate for unionization, mutual aid, and other expressions of solidarity, because that’s what we need the most at this time and that is what we are lacking

I don’t know that a meaningful “perfect complete program of reform” exists, but the above is a much better start than the bullshit from the obsolete liberalism which just will not respond to a challenge which demands different tools.

The pretense of functioning, legitimate authority in America is really just ridiculous at this point. I could go into some recent events but, really, it’s just playing-out of what various people have seen in motion for years. From Eric Sandy writing that “the brakes are cut,” to my own scribbled note that “the crash is going to accelerate” (along with plenty of other writing to that effect) to the random person up the street who put “it will get much worse” in the apartment window in autumn 2020 to plenty of others… 

Yet the band plays on. Parts continue grinding away within the broken machine.

The concept of a reverse “first they ignore you” seems increasingly relevant: First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

The Empire never ended

“The Empire never ended” is a phrase which recurs throughout Philip K. Dick’s surreal testament/novel VALIS. Like the novel itself, the phrase has stuck with me; in the novel it refers primarily to the Roman Empire and discontinuity with the flow of time, but I at any rate also inferred a broader reference to futility and fatalism.

Whether or to what extent that was the author’s intent, it occurred to me this week that both significances are compatible with the actual persistence of the Roman Empire in the 21st century.

This struck me especially when I looked at a Wikipedia page, about the French parliament, which displayed an ornamented fasces labeled “Emblem of the French Republic.” Now, Wikipedia’s entry for the fasces itself traces this back through Roman civilization to Greek and Etruscan origins, which I will presume is historically sound. But that doesn’t exactly falsify the sense of such continuity, across millennia, as to suggest that the Empire never ended.

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