We have flirted with disaster before. Now we must avert it.
A Tyranny Perpetual and Universal?
Is the leftist dream now within reach? If President Trump loses, we will find out.
This essay originally appeared in American Greatness.—Eds.
After “Is 2020 another ‘Flight 93 election?’” the question I most often hear is “What happens if Trump loses?”
The answer to the first question, unfortunately, is yes, but more so.
The tl;dr summary of the answer to the second 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 on those who self-identify as Americans, and only as Americans, who love their country despite its flaws—who are certain in their bones that its strengths and glories vastly outweigh its historic and present shortcomings—waged by those who hate America and Americans, who want to destroy the former and crush the latter, will go on.
Two important questions are whether that war will intensify or abate and whether it might abate overtly but intensify covertly. Those questions will be explored in what follows.
First, though, a necessary caveat. A tiresome, sophistic, bad-faith, and inevitable rejoinder to my argument will go something like this: “Trump is the president; therefore, you guys are in charge; this ‘ruling class’ of whom you speak includes him, and you. So you’re lying and contradicting yourself when you criticize an alleged ‘ruling class’ running the country in ways you don’t like.”
No. The only accurate statement in the above summary is “Trump is the president.” And thank God for that; we’d be much worse off if he weren’t.
But the experience of Trump’s first term reveals how weak the presidency really is—not just constitutionally and historically, but, above all, currently. We know the enumerated powers the president is supposed to have, and also those the other branches of government are supposed to have, and not have. The Constitution and other fundamental charters of our liberties—the “parchment”—spell all that out. We also know what the “org chart” of the federal government looks like on paper: a “unitary executive” with an alphabet soup of agencies reporting to the president and therefore, in theory, responsive to his directives.
But the 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. No doubt, he has done his best. I doubt that anyone else could have done better. But while facing a near-universal rebellion from every power center in our society, emphatically including the agencies he was elected to lead, naturally he has found it very difficult to make the federal bureaucracy do what he tells it to do.
That difficulty has astonished even me. I worked in the federal bureaucracy for the first four years of the first George W. Bush Administration. I saw from the inside how the permanent government or administrative state or “deep state” or whatever you want to call it undermined a president with whom they mostly agreed. I knew in advance that, were Donald Trump to win the 2016 election, the effort to undercut him from within would dwarf what happened to Bush. For unlike the 43rd president, who merely held a few opinions unpopular with the deep state, the 45th ran on a program of almost complete repudiation of ruling class dogma and practice.
And yet I vastly underestimated how bad the “resistance” would be. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies would try to frame the president with a phony “crime,” launch a pointless two-year investigation over a fraud, then impeach him over the timing of foreign aid payments, all the while lying daily to the American public.
I also saw, again, the beast from the inside during my brief tenure in President Trump’s White House. Given classification and nondisclosure requirements, I can’t say much about that. But I can say this: if 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.
So we should not gripe about the things not done in President Trump’s first term. We should rather be grateful for all the things he got done—and hope he can do more in a second term.
But this essay is about what might happen should he 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. But that’s something of a mouthful, and “neoliberal,” for better or worse, has gained widespread acceptance.
Neoliberalism elevates as a matter of “principle” the international over the national; it rejects the latter as narrow, particular, cramped, even bigoted, and celebrates the former as cosmopolitan and enlightened. Neoliberalism is (for now) forced to tolerate nations and borders as unfortunate and unhelpful obstacles but it looks forward to a time when such nuisances finally are behind mankind forever.
Until that time, neoliberalism works to warp state power into instruments whose primary mission is not to secure the well-being or interests of individual peoples or nations but instead 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—who could object to “cooperation,” to government and business “solving problems” together?—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, for instance, without Trump, foreign policy—that quintessentially public function, to “provide for the common defense”—will be further reoriented around securing trade, tax, and labor (“migration”) patterns and paradigms that benefit finance and big business. American conservatives, still fighting “government regulation” as if America were stuck in Groundhog Day 1981, have yet to grasp the reality that the majority of this country’s policies are oriented around securing trade, tax, and labor (“migration”) regimes that benefit finance and big business.
The real power in the neoliberal order resides not with elected (or appointed) officials and “world leaders”; they—or most of them—are a servant class. True power resides with their donors: the bankers, CEOs, financiers, and tech oligarchs—some of whom occasionally run for and win office, but most of whom, most of the time, are content to buy off those who do. 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. They also control, in all but the very reddest counties and municipalities, local governments and agencies. 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. The sanctification of immigration, the glorification of “free” trade, jingoistic celebration of constabulary use of force in parts of the world most Americans can’t even name: expect lots more of all that.
“Getting back to normal” will also require the ruling class’ propaganda apparatus to amp into overdrive on all the alleged “failures” of the Trump interregnum. Getting out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which even Hillary Clinton had disavowed by 2016)? Disaster! Played right into the hands of China and alienated our allies! Blaming China for the coronavirus? Another disaster! Racist and xenophobic and alienated a key trading partner!
Surface consistency is not a strong suit of America’s contemporary propagandists. There is, however, an underlying consistency: any statement that serves the interests of the ruling class and hurts Trump and his supporters is good. Period.
Hence expect to hear endless denunciations of Trump’s renegotiated trade deals as catastrophic—and inconsequential. Similarly, on immigration, the narrative will be: Trump’s racist xenophobia was a racist overreaction to a nonproblem—that crippled our economy by depriving it of desperately needed workers…when the unemployment rate was over 15 percent. On foreign policy, the line already is: Trump’s recklessness risked calamitous war—while he recklessly pulled American troops out of combat zones in Syria and Afghanistan and tried to negotiate a peace deal with North Korea.
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. The ruling class will get right back to elevating the international over the national while tolerating the national only insofar as state power is used 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. We shall test supposed iron laws of economic gravity—for instance, whether it’s possible to maintain a fiat currency indefinitely with endless money printing and whether the dollar can long maintain its global reserve status. The longer the rigging goes on, the more rigging will be required.
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, leaving Americans with no choice but to spend whatever money they have with corporate behemoths.
Since small businesses are one of the last redoubts of the middle class (owing to the disappearance, via outsourcing and immigration, of middle-income American jobs at big companies), 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!” Employer-provided healthcare will disappear for all but the most senior executives, a trend that, in turn, will make some form of socialized medicine inevitable. Quality of care will fall for all but the people at the very top who can buy out of the government system. Eventually, however, even their care will decline, since there will no longer be enough money in the system to keep medical innovation going.
On Trump’s big three—immigration, trade, and war—America will be back to the status quo ante, and then well beyond.
Biden has already promised to amnesty every illegal immigrant currently in the country. According to a 2018 Yale study, that’s at least 22 million people—all of whom, under America’s idiotic immigration laws, immediately would be eligible to bring over relatives in the name of “family reunification.” If each newly minted American brings over just one relative, that’s another 20 million new immigrants in Biden’s first term alone. And nothing in the law would stop people from bringing over more than one. Most sponsor several.
Such an amnesty, once the Democratic machine got everyone registered to vote, would tip many purple states permanently blue. That’s the whole point. After that, the electoral map would become impossible for Republicans ever to win the presidency again. Which is also the point.
Beyond amnesty, there would be no pretense of enforcing any of our immigration laws. We’ve already seen entire communities become demographically overwhelmed in the space of a decade or two. That will keep happening, but on a much wider scale.
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.
On trade, the government will revert to its customary practice of enacting policy to further enrich the rich, no matter the consequences for the middle and working classes. On war, the particulars are harder to foresee since it’s never been clear (at least not to me) what the ruling class gets out of endless, pointless, winless conflict. But they certainly have an affinity for it, which means we should expect more, with all the attendant negative consequences: more death, more of the nation’s wealth sunk in wasteful adventures, the continued erosion of the military, and the further squandering of our national pride, international prestige, and many of our best young men.
Government collusion with big business, especially tech and finance, and the ceding to corporations of vast swaths of territory that the state used to occupy exclusively will intensify and expand. The “un-personing” of dissenters will mimic what the government of China does through its “social credit system”: ranking people based on their opinions—and wokerati opinion of them—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, whether by for-profit businesses that lock people out of entire sectors or “nonprofits” such as the odious Southern Poverty Law Center that identify targets.
If you think we have mass surveillance already, just wait. The government and the tech companies already work hand-in-glove, the latter helping the former in exchange for favorable tax, regulatory, and immigration treatment. 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; let them do whatever they want and when anyone complains, reply that “these are private companies that can run their businesses however they want; you don’t have to use their platforms and if you don’t like it, start your own.” 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—as our founders insisted was the natural bedrock of political rights, without which self-government is impossible—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: no bank account, no credit card, no ability to get a loan, or pay a mortgage. Pay cash? The move to a “cashless society”—purely to prevent drug lords and Russian spies from laundering money, you understand—will obviate that option right quick.
There’s no reason to assume the oligarchs will limit these types of actions to speech and money. Why would they? Especially when the woke vanguard consistently will clamor for more action and insist that any company that does business with “racists” is complicit in evil—“racist” being defined as anyone who hasn’t bent the knee. China already restricts travel for the disfavored. Why wouldn’t U.S. airlines? Car rental companies? Dealerships are independent, but they also depend on the big automakers for their stock. And, anyway, who can possibly buy a car if he can’t get a job or a bank account?
Britain’s nationalized healthcare service now denies medical care to those deemed “racist, sexist, or homophobic.” What’s to stop the wokerati from pressuring America’s patchwork of public and private healthcare providers to do the same? And why stop there? Why should “racists” even be allowed to buy food? That is, assuming they can even earn the money to pay for it. But that problem can probably be taken care of by denying the bad guys credit or debit cards and phasing out cash.
Isolation, loneliness, desperation, addiction, and suicide all will increase as ostracization condemns heretic after heretic to a sort of internal exile. The most vocally strident among the Left will call the resulting deaths just deserts; the rest will brush them off as perhaps sad, but the direct consequence of bad choices or bad natures. “That racist had it coming.”
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. You’re a paranoid lunatic for even suggesting that censorship, de-platforming, or un-personing are problems—and also a racist who deserves it.
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. To expand firings, un-personings, bank lockouts, and the like too rapidly might raise alarms; kept at the creeping level, they serve to keep most of red America locked into the blue system and thus dependent. A bit of caution thus would seem to serve ruling-class interests.
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. The NYPD—the largest, best-equipped, and most competent police force in the country—stood by and did nothing. Granted, they likely were ordered to stand down by the mayor or had no confidence that if they took necessary action, the political leadership would back them up. But the result is the same.
The rescue, reordering, and rebuilding of New York City since the early 1990s arguably is the greatest political and public policy success story of the last generation. Beginning with the feckless John Lindsay, who became mayor in 1965, cynical and/or deluded elites decided to make the city a Petri dish for all their idiotic social experiments including but not limited to: extreme leniency, reduced policing, neglect of basic services and public spaces, and steadfast refusal to do anything about quality of life. All while punishing taxpaying and order-supporting citizens and businesses. Crime soared, the city crumbled, decent people fled.
It took 30 years to raise New York back from that hell—and then the fools who run it, tacitly backed by the grandees who live in the world’s most expensive apartments, gave it all back to the forces of evil in a matter of months. As Machiavelli said of the Venetians, at the battle of Vailà, they “lost in one day what they had acquired with such toil and trouble over eight hundred years.”
The only difference is that this time the city appears to be worse. 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 such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington. Chicago seems to be sacked every other week. Minneapolis was sacked yet again just this week. That’s before you even mention the dramatic surge in shootings and killings in all these cities. In all such cases—and many others—the political leadership in these places eggs on the mob, refuses to enforce the law or even call for calm, and immediately releases without bail the few people caught committing crimes.
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. The Post has always been a liberal rag. But it was never so brazenly anti-American, so shamelessly dishonest, so unreservedly dedicated to racial grievance-mongering. It used to be able to call a riot a riot and not resort to ridiculous euphemisms like “mostly peaceful” to describe rampant street violence.
Above all, the Post used to care about its home town. It doesn’t anymore. The District of Columbia, into which I must occasionally (and reluctantly) venture, is a shell of what it was just months ago. For the span of several weeks, there was a riot roughly every night. Businesses everywhere are now closed—and not just from COVID-19. Windows everywhere are boarded up. Graffiti, much of if revolutionary, covers seemingly every square inch of vertical space. The streets are deserted. To the extent that you see anyone, chances are above 50% it’s a vagrant. At the few restaurants that remain open, thanks to outdoor seating, diners are as likely as not to be accosted by bullhorn-wielding anarchists. The town has a post-apocalyptic feel. (As, I am reliably informed, do Manhattan and San Francisco.)
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. Does he not want to? Or is he not paying attention? Maybe not living in the District, he hasn’t noticed the extent of the Post’s recklessness and dishonesty. Has he also not noticed the similar destruction of his own home town of Seattle, and the role played in that destruction by the national media, of which he is one of the topmost moguls? Bezos did not become the world’s richest man by being stupid. Does he somehow believe that all this is good—for him?
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 times are already quite vapid; very little (if anything) of lasting merit has been produced in literature, philosophy, music, film, or the other arts in several decades. The trend seems to be getting worse.
But at least we still have that older stuff to fall back on, right? Not necessarily. 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. That last one, of course, is a bald-faced lie, but one that at least implicitly concedes there’s something valuable in the tradition. But the point is never made to spur anyone to actually read the books, rather only to validate in-group confidence. My people, and not yours, did that, hence we are great and you are not. 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. There are serious calls not merely to police how the canon is taught but to attack and even censor its “misuse” by “bad actors” who use it to challenge the narrative.
It may not be long before Amazon, which has virtual control of the entire book market, stops selling the classics altogether. Or perhaps a new industry will arise to bowdlerize them of all non-woke teachings. The worst-case scenario, which doesn’t yet feel imminent but which cannot be ruled out, is that eventually such books get banned.
Far more likely—and quite imminent in a world where Elizabeth Warren’s nine-year-old trans friend gets to pick the Secretary of Education—is a time in which all the institutions that teach the canon, and the scholars who write about it seriously, will be attacked over petty and invented infractions. The real purpose of those attacks will be to silence those scholars and eventually shutter their institutions.
The climate of acceptable opinion in this country—already very narrow—will constrict further still. The necessity for self-censorship will increase dramatically. The core function of the narrative will remain telling you what to think—and more important what not to think—but its message will get even more tendentious, hateful, omnipresent, and so, so much louder. Imagine TV screens playing CNN, volume cranked to 11, not just in airport waiting areas, but everywhere—forever.
In modern America, hypocrisy and double standards aren’t merely part of the business climate; they’re endemic to the whole society. Former Heritage Foundation scholar and Washington Times writer Sam Francis dubbed this system “anarcho-tyranny”: complete freedom—even exemption from the gravest laws—for the favored, maximum vindictive enforcement against the pettiest infractions by the disfavored.
Rarely has an analysis been so vindicated by events. Even before the 1619 Riots began in May, anarcho-tyranny was already the de facto
law of the land. Can you remember the last time anyone in Antifa was punished for anything? I can’t. But I do remember community college adjunct philosophy professor and Antifa thug Eric Clanton walloping three people on the head with a five-pound iron bike lock—and the Alameda County, California district attorney letting him go with probation.
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. Although no one was seriously injured, the NYPD expended significant time and resources tracking down the Proud Boys, but none whatsoever looking for any Antifa figures involved. 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. At most, the incident was a mutually idiotic brawl for which only one side was punished. 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. Examples—from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to Governors Gavin Newsom, Andrew Cuomo, and Tim Walz, to Mayors Bill de Blasio, Eric Garcetti, Lori Lightfoot, Jenny Durkan, Ted Wheeler, and Jacob Frey—are too numerous to catalog fully. The latest atrocity came from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who, the instant a career criminal wanted on an active warrant was shot while resisting arrest and, it appears, reaching into his car for a knife, took to Twitter to fire up the mob. His state’s fourth-largest city has burned every night since. It took him days to make even a token appeal for calm.
Then consider the fates of those not destroying America in the name of “social justice.” This story is still “developing” as they say, but as of Friday, August 28, a young man who appears to have had a Molotov cocktail thrown at him, a loaded pistol pointed at his face, and his head bashed with a skateboard after being chased by three Antifa thugs is currently in jail on a charge of first-degree murder.
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.
Our officials—at least in all the Democratic Party-controlled state and local governments—operate in the precise opposite way that they are supposed to. Instead of enforcing the law and maintaining order, they 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.
To return to more prosaic matters, should Trump lose, the repowered thought police will greatly expand its “enemies list.” Those deemed “dangerous” by the wokerati will be dogged by authorities. Any suspected dissident not as scrupulous as Caesar’s wife in his every interaction with the state will get the book thrown at him for minor, technical infractions of some law, executive order, or administrative rule. As the poor sucker is hauled away in cuffs by a heavily armed team of feds in windbreakers, CNN and MSNBC reporters—tipped off in advance to get it all on camera—will intone that this “dangerous white supremacist” with “ties to neo-Nazi groups” was “planning attacks.” Months or years later, after being held without bail, the unfortunate target will be convicted of something like mail fraud and given the maximum sentence.
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. “Red flag” programs operated by public-private cooperation will identify “potential terrorists” and the like who, to the extent that they don’t suffer the fate described above, will at the very least have their guns seized. The future of the Second Amendment in the coming leftist regime is hardly any brighter than that of the First.
Meanwhile, other, much larger violations of the law will go unpunished, so long as the perpetrators are from “protected classes.” This is another of those assertions that many will wish to dismiss as paranoid. Yet even before the 2020 riots, we had already seen tremendous pressure from the Left for “criminal justice reform”—meaning leniency for the favored—and Soros-backed leftist “law enforcement officials” being elected all over the country.
Need evidence that going soft on crime is high on the agenda? Consider how, early in the COVID-19 panic, leftist pols prioritized letting criminals out of jail, ostensibly because they were at risk of infection. The real reason, though, is explained by Rahm Emanuel’s famous exhortation to his comrades to “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Governors, mayors, district attorneys, police chiefs, and sheriffs in blue zones across the country simply followed hizzoner’s advice and did what they always wanted to do anyway but hitherto could, or dared, not. Emboldened by the crisis, drunk with power, and half-convinced that a scared population wasn’t paying attention, they let the bad guys go. They got away with it, and they’ll make the policy permanent once they have lasting power.
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.
The lessons of California and New York show that when leftists no longer face opposition, they do whatever they want—or try to. The problem (for them, for now) is that they still face opposition from the red elements still extant in the federal government, from red states, and from red communities in their own states. Once the whole country has gone blue, though, things will be…different.
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. Here’s one guess: forcible removal of children from parents who resist their kid’s demand to get on puberty blockers. At first, silence will be acceptable—barely—but over time the Left will insist on affirmative demonstrations of approval for whatever it is they dreamed up yesterday and now insist is an eternal, inviolable principle.
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. That, and the constant invention of new hysterias keep deplorables off-balance and on the defensive.
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. Leftism is incoherent in many ways, but it’s clear on its priorities, and on the intersectionality pillar, Muslims rank very high—perhaps not at the tippy-top, but high enough to be exempt from leftist religious persecution, which will be directed only at Christians and Orthodox Jews. This is a reason to suspect polygamy might be the next leftist enthusiasm.
Other items on the wish list include abolishing ICE, not just halting the construction of Trump’s border wall but tearing down sections already built before Trump’s inauguration, and extending Medicare to the entire population—including all current and prospective illegal immigrants. Then there’s the “Green New Deal,” which would ban air travel by 2030 (at least for those of us who can’t afford private jets or have access to government planes) and eliminate the parts of America’s energy sector that actually generate power.
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. Brookings scholars tend to be overrepresented in Democratic administrations and the ideas they get behind tend to become policy. So when Brookings backs reparations, you can be pretty sure that once the Democrats are back in office, reparations will happen.
Nothing gets a conservative’s patriotic blood up more than effusive praise of the United States Constitution. God knows, I love it too—at least as much as any of them do.
Which is why it pains me to write that its future is bleak. To do what the Left wants to do will require riding roughshod over our sacred parchment—even more than we’ve already been doing.
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.
I take the liberty of quoting myself, from the “Restatement on Flight 93” (originally published on September 13, 2016), because the words remain apt and I can’t think of a better way to make the point:
For now, let’s just ask ourselves two questions. First, how do the mechanics of government, as written in the Constitution, differ from current practice? Second, how well is the Bill of Rights observed? As to the first, we do still have those three branches of government mentioned. But we also have a fourth, hidden in plain sight within the executive, namely the bureaucracy or administrative state. It both usurps legislative power and uses executive power in an unaccountable way. Congress does not use its own powers but meekly defers to the executive and to the bureaucracy. The executive [at least when Democrats are in power] does whatever it wants. The judiciary also usurps legislative and, when it’s really feeling its oats, executive power through the use of consent decrees and the like. And that’s just the feds—before we even get to the relationship between the feds and the states. As to the second, can you think of a single amendment among the Bill of Rights that is not routinely violated—with the acquiescence and approval of the Left? I can’t.
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. “The First Amendment doesn’t cover the private sector; property rights mean they can do what they want!” Leave aside the extent to which the ruling class cares about property rights for property not their own (answer: not much); how 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.
When it comes to freedom of association, the government arm of the ruling class is absolutely ruthless in declaring everything a “public accommodation” so that freedom effectively becomes nonexistent. But when half a dozen (or fewer) big tech companies take over the means of disseminating speech and ideas—oh, no! That’s not a public accommodation! Those are private firms and the rights of private firms are sacrosanct! As if this were not enough, take a look at how free speech polls these days: the younger the demographic, the less support one sees.
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. So long as their targets are in the disfavored party, they can spy on American citizens—up to and including presidential candidates—lie to and entrap public officials, extort plea deals from the innocent, and leak highly classified information for political purposes. (This is, needless to say, a very partial list.) They get away with all this scot-free: no punishment, no correction, no rebuke. They not only pay no price for shredding the Constitution and violating myriad statutes, but they are also lionized: the entire media and commentariat cheer them on. The fix is in, and has been for some time, but we still pretend we live in the age of Eliot Ness, the incorruptible G-man.
The fate of the Constitution is also inseparable from demographic change. Just as the least conservative and Republican areas of the country are the most foreign-born, so are such areas the places where the Constitution is least honored and operative. Lest someone object, “It’s not about race!” I agree: whites themselves are sharply divided about the merits of the Constitution. A plurality at least, and all of the elite, despise constitutional limits. 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.
Not only will none of the Constitution’s guarantees be upheld nor any of its limits respected, but the document itself will be increasingly denounced as a hateful tool of racist oppression, a relic of a benighted, evil past best left on the ash heap of history. That judgment is already the norm in academia and elite intellectual circles. And the history of the past 50 years shows that the Left is extremely effective at ensuring that every fringe, radical idea to emerge from academia becomes mainstream. How many times have we scoffed at some academic insanity, only to see it become federal law 10 or 20 years later? Ivy League law professors explicitly argue in the pages of the New York Times that the Constitution is evil and has to go. We already don’t govern ourselves according to its letter as a matter of practice. How long before what is today de facto becomes de jure? And even if it doesn’t, what difference would that make?
To give new practices a veneer of continuity, in the manner of Augustus Caesar insisting he was just another senator, the more the ruling class departs from the letter and spirit of the Constitution, the more they will (at least for a while) pledge ever-greater fealty to both. Which in practice will mean only one thing: they will still hold elections every two, four, and six years, and the terms of office will remain the same length. These are, for the average American, still uncrossable lines and also impossible to fudge.
But politics—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,” as described in detail in chapters two and three of my book (buy it!). 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.
But there is a certain cast of person who likes the trappings of office, and such persons will jockey for who gets which jobs when. There likely will still be general as well as primary elections, but only the latter will matter. The former will be mere formalities, as are gubernatorial contests in California and New York. 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. After that, the party will become, for a few election cycles at least, what it is in New York and California: the plaything of billionaires who want to run for chief executive without the bother of a primary. All of them will lose. 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. Insurgency, outsider candidacies may still be attempted for a few cycles, but they’ll get nowhere and pretty soon outsiders with anything on the ball will stop trying. We are, in a sense, headed back to the era of the “smoke-filled room”—though naturally there will be no smoke, unless it’s from pot.
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. Historical examples include the Western Roman Empire (where hereditary succession was the exception to the rule), the Mamluk Sultanate, the Papacy, and the Communist regimes of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. The grandees of the Democratic Party will get together every eight years (needless to say, no president will ever be denied reelection again) and decide who gets to “run.” That person, facing no or merely token opposition, gets the big chair.
The fundamental question of every Democratic presidential primary season will simply be: Whose turn is it? That question will be asked in two senses: 1) which particular luminary gets to sit in the Oval Office for the next eight years? and 2) which group gets to reap the honors for a while?
The ideal—the plan—will be to keep the globalization gravy train rolling by sharing the spoils “more equitably,” “spoils” in this case being both offices and remuneration (and, given the way our system now works, the former is the surest path to the latter). The economy’s actual masters naturally will prefer to be more generous with offices than with money.
As for those quadrennial November contests, we’ll still go through the formality of elections, but for show—like senate votes in imperial Rome. The less consequential elections become, the more our elites will insist on their sacrosanct significance. The mere fact of holding elections will become ipso facto proof that the regime is “democratic” and therefore legitimate.
This is another thing New America’s rulers will share in common with their Communist forebears: the yearning for a veneer of democratic legitimacy. Near the end of the Cold War, columnist Charles Krauthammer coined the term “Tirana Index”—after Tirana, Albania, where tyrant Enver Hoxha once “won” an “election” 1,627,959 to one—which holds that “the higher the score rolled up by the ruling party in elections, the more tyrannous the regime.” The wonder is not that Hoxha won, nor even his margin of victory, but that he felt obligated to stage the sham in the first place.
I don’t expect our coming overlords to rig our elections that badly; they won’t need to.
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.
Of course, sometimes extraordinary times do require extraordinary measures—e.g., the American Revolution. The problem, of which ancient thinkers and jurists were well aware, is that there are always people wishing to proclaim any and every time “extraordinary” so they can grant themselves extraordinary powers which they resist ever giving up. The Roman solution was to limit a dictator’s term to six months and to enforce a strong political-cultural norm that the sooner a dictator surrendered his office, the more honor he gained. Whatever the precise solution, for law and liberty to endure, some means has to be found to deal with extraordinary moments without permanent recourse to lawless power.
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. They just decree what they want, and that’s that.
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. By now it’s obvious that this virus is not that. But the “state of exception” remains.
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. Even if they aren’t, an inured and cowed populace finds it hard to muster the will to fight back. Which is the point.
“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. He’s not an epidemiologist—then again, likely neither are you. 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.
Whatever COVID-19 is, its effects so far in no way justify the measures taken allegedly to stop it. One can be excused for wondering if the real purpose of those measures is to stop us. From doing what?
In any case, in the event of a Trump loss, expect more. 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. Do the “experts” want to lock us down and rely on their allies in the halls of power to do the dirty work? Or do the powerful use the “experts” to justify what they want to do anyway? Is it both? Does it matter?
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% 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.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.