Robert Downey Jr.’s failures in Doolittle are the failures of American film today.
How did we get here—and how will it end?
Understanding what drives the revolution that is destroying the American republic gives insight into how the 2020 election’s results may impact its course. Its practical question—who rules?—is historically familiar. But any revolution’s quarrels and stakes obscure the question: to what end? Our revolution is by the ruling class—a revolution from above. Crushing obstacles to its growing oligarchic rule is the proximate purpose.
But the logic that drives the revolution aims at civilization itself.
What follows describes how far along its path that logic has taken America, and where it might take us in the future depending on the election’s outcome.
Aristotle, in Book 5 of the Politics, describes how revolutions kill regimes (such as America’s) that balance the contrasting interests of ordinary people with those of the wealthy, of officials, and of other prominent persons. As the balance between any complex regime’s components shifts over time, the system may seamlessly transform into unmixed democracy, oligarchy, or some kind of monarchy. The revolution may be barely perceptible—providing that those who impose themselves, whether from above or below, do so without adding insult to injury.
But, if the party that takes power thereby destroys the friendship that had bound the several parts, even trifling incidents can spiral into all-consuming violence. Thucydides’ account of the revolution that destroyed Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War is prototypical. The French revolution, the Spanish civil war, and countless others echo it. Today, the oligarchic transformation of America’s republic is turning violent. Aristotle, however, points out that oligarchies born of violent revolution tend to succumb to the very violence that births them, quickly degenerating into some kind of tyranny or one-man rule. Restoration of anything like the original constitutional regime is most unlikely.
The U.S. Constitution had codified as fine a balance between the powers of the Many, the Few, and the One as Aristotle may have imagined by arming the federal government’s components, the States, and ordinary citizens (via the first ten Amendments as well as elections) with means to maintain the balance. Its authors, however, were under no illusions about the efficacy of “parchment barriers” to prevent interests from coalescing into factions against the common good. During the 19th century, interests and opinions in the South and the North coalesced into antagonistic ruling classes that fought the century’s bloodiest war. In the 20th, the notion that good government proceeds from scientific expertise, as well as the growing identity between big business and government, fostered the growth of a single nationwide Progressive ruling class. Between the 1930s and the early 21st century, the centralization of administrative power in this class’s hands did much to transform the American republic established in 1776-89 into an oligarchy.
Progressive Oligarchy in America
The ruling class was able to transform America’s constitutional regime because its collective partisanship bridged the divisions between the federal government’s parts, the states, as well as between public and private power.
In America as everywhere else, government regulation of business meant the twains’ coalescence. From the very first, the blurring of lines between public and private—the focus of government on distributing tasks and rewards—shifted decision-making from citizens who merely vote to the administrative system’s “stakeholders.” This reorganization of liberal societies was first codified in Italy’s 1926 Corporation Law as Fascism’s defining feature. Before WWII every Western country, America included (in FDR’s New Deal), had adopted a version thereof. In 1942 Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, a neo-Marxist analysis, described this oligarchy as the necessary consequence of modernity.
In America, however, this oligarchy fit Aristotle’s (or Marx’s) mostly economic criteria only superficially. Yes, as we will see below, its power always very much involved the growing identity between government power and private wealth, and hence on restricting access to wealth to the politically connected. But as the decades passed, it became ever clearer that membership in the U.S. ruling class depends primarily on sharing the right socio-political opinions.
The European tradition of government by experts reaches back beyond Napoleon and Hegel to royal techno-bureaucrats. Being essentially amoral, it treats transgressors as merely ignorant. It may punish them as rebellious, but not as bad people. That is why the fascists, who were part of that tradition, never made it as totalitarians. People—especially the Church—remained free to voice different opinions so long as they refrained from outright opposition. America’s growing oligarchy, however, always had a moralistic, puritan streak that indicts dissenters as bad people. More and more, America’s ruling class, shaped and serviced by an increasingly uniform pretend-meritocratic educational system, claimed for itself monopoly access to truth and goodness, and made moral as well as technical-intellectual contempt for the rest of Americans into their identity’s chief element. That, along with administrative and material power, made our ruling class the gatekeeper to all manner of goods.
Progressivism’s foundational proposition—that the American way of life suffers from excessive freedom and insufficient latitude for experts to lead each into doing what is best for all—is the intellectual basis of the oligarchy’s ever-increasing size, wealth, and power. The theme that the USA was ill-conceived in 1776-89 and must be re-conceived has resounded from Woodrow Wilson’s Congressional Government (1885) to the campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Joseph Biden: “listen to the scientists!” The criticism’s main point has been constant: America’s original conception validated the people’s right to live as they please, and made it hard to marshal them for Progressive purposes.
But the Progressive critique adds a moral basis: the American people’s indulgence of their preferences—private ease and comfort, focus on families, religious observance, patriotism—has made for every secular sin imaginable: racism, sexism, greed, etc. Because most Americans are racist, sexist, un-appreciative of real virtue or refinement (these are somehow rolled together), because these Americans resist knuckling under to their betters, America is a sick society that needs to be punished and to have its noxious freedoms reformed.
Hence, the revolution that created the American oligarchy—illiterate contemporary Marxists notwithstanding—has nothing in common with Karl Marx’s original democratic (in the Aristotelian sense) conception “from below” (e.g. his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme) other than “overthrowing the pillars of the house.” Ours is the Party-centered oligarchic revolution from above that Lenin outlined in What Is to Be Done? (1902). This Leninism is the template of the Soviet and every other Communist regime, bar none. In our revolution, too, everything—always and everywhere—is about the Party.
Upbuilding the Ruling Class
The moral class critique from above was always implicit. It largely stayed in the background of the campaigns for social improvement into which Progressives have led the American people ever since the 1930s, and especially since the 1960s. The ruling class chided Americans for insufficient commitment to education, to well-being for the poor and disadvantaged, to a healthy natural environment, and to public health, as well as for oppressing women, and, above all, for racism. The campaigns for remedying these conditions have been based on propositions advanced by the most highly-credentialed persons in America—experts certified by the U.S. government, whom the media treated as truth-telling scientists, their opponents as enemies of the people.
But each and all of these campaigns produced mostly the ostensible objectives’ opposites while increasing the numbers of the oligarchy’s members and their wealth and power, endowing them with socio-political clienteles as well as with levers for manipulating them. As its members’ powers grew, they developed a taste for disdaining independent Americans and acquired whips for punishing them.
In 1950, Americans at all levels of government spent 2% of GDP on K-12 education and 0.37% on higher education. In our time we spend 4.4% on K-12 and 1.9% on higher education, of a GDP that is about ten times as large. By any measure, the increases have been huge. These were supposed to uplift Americans intellectually and (maybe) morally. But they have dumbed down the nation to the point of mass illiteracy at the bottom and, at the top, created herds of ignorant, haughty, debt-ridden college graduates, fit only to enforce government edicts against Americans they despise. But the money also built up and entitled a class of monied, entitled, self-indulgent educrats—mostly administrators. U.S. college towns nowadays are islands of luxury, ease, and hate. They act as the ruling class’s gatekeepers.
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir had reminded Americans to preserve our country’s beauty and bounty for all. But beginning in the 1960s the ruling class started using conservation as an excuse for restricting the public living on and profiting from the land, even their own properties. This resulted in big developers, regulators, politicians and lawyers making fortunes while preserving the privacy and increasing the value of places where they themselves live. (Now they want to outlaw building new single-family homes anywhere.) They also reaped billions from subsidies for “renewable energy” by flogging possible correlation—without evidence of cause—between CO2 and “global warming.” All others have suffered.
In 1965, the Census counted some 40 million people as “poor”—roughly the same number as today. Over the succeeding half-century, the Federal government has spent some $22 trillion to lift people out of poverty. Had that money been divided evenly between all the poor, each would have been a millionaire. Instead, the War on Poverty swelled and solidified America’s underclass. Because the government paid to support women with children so long as they were not married, marriage and family cohesion declined. With only about one in eight black children growing to adulthood with two married parents, the black community and America as a whole are beset by a self-perpetuating flow of dysfunctional youth. This led to the long-term imprisonment of more than a million people. Prisons became an industry. But the war on poverty enriched countless contractors, consultants and members of the “helping professions.”
These initiatives are scams. Whatever else they have done, they have increased the number of people whose livelihoods depend on government. Since 1965, the number of direct employees has more than doubled to 22 million, and their pay exceeds that of persons who actually perform services that people want. The city of San Francisco, for example, employs 19,000 persons whom it pays more than $150,000 yearly. This does not count the countless government contractors, or the advantages for some and disadvantages for everyone else that government power combined with corporate power conveys. In short, whatever else these initiatives have done, they surely have created a lot of patronage.
The Little Law That Ate the Constitution
One initiative, sold as the pursuit of justice for black Americans, has empowered the U.S. ruling class with power that transcends money. More than all the other campaigns combined, it has fueled its members’ sense of entitlement to rule fellow citizens it deems moral inferiors. That sweet, heady sense—not any love for blacks—is what drives it.
Into the 1960s, the states of the former Confederacy had imposed segregation to racially separate accommodations. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court had approved them so long as they were “equal.” In fact, most of what states had reserved for Negroes was grossly inferior. The longstanding campaign for “civil rights” had rallied the country against this obvious negation of the 14th amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws.” But as liberals fought state-imposed racial segregation, they had come to equate justice with the forcible imposition of racial integration resulting from countless personal choices. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed state-directed segregation, also gave impetus to all manner of efforts to re-form society by legal-administrative force.
The decision itself eliminated any chance that this could be done in a disinterested manner. It was not based on the plain, unequivocal meaning of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws.” Back in 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan had dissented from Plessy, arguing that any state establishment of racial preference whatever, regardless of its character or intention, violates those words. But Thurgood Marshall based his decision on “science”—that is, on the variable opinions of the credentialed class. A sociologist by the name of Kenneth Clark claimed he had proven that Negro children could feel and learn normally only in a racially mixed environment. (The “black is beautiful” movement began countering this immediately.) Quickly, “scientific” conventional wisdom made “benign” or “remedial discrimination” by race official U.S. government policy.
The Brown decision’s reliance on “science” also confused legally established segregation with the segregation that results from personal choices. This confusion was the basis for Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in “public accommodations” on the basis of race. Thenceforth, Civil rights law was no longer about removing legal barriers to personal choices. It had begun forcing personal choices. The Supreme Court’s approval of the law as a mere regulation of interstate commerce was thin pretense. The Act turned out to be the little law that ate the Constitution and poisoned American society.
It was passed primarily by Republican votes. Democrats, seeing the empowerment of a historic Republican constituency in the South as potential disaster, scrambled to avert it by out-pandering Republicans, while describing any reticence on their part as racial animosity and ascribing whatever ailed Negroes to the Republicans’ racism. Quickly, the dynamics of politics turned “civil rights” into a ruinous socioeconomic scam.
Howard W. Smith, segregationist Democrat of Virginia, best foresaw the scam’s size. Bitterly, to ensure that the law’s logic would roil the lives of its sponsors as it was roiling his constituents’, Smith, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ powerful Rules Committee, added language that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex. The list of supposedly invidious discriminations that the Act (as amended) thus prohibits never stopped growing—age, all manner of disabilities, sexual orientation, etc. In the Act’s lengthening legal shadow, even speech that some may construe as insufficiently hostile to discriminatory “anti-discrimination” has become punishable civilly as well as criminally. Thus, willy-nilly, the Act established what U.S. law quickly recognized as “protected categories” of persons. This negates the American republic’s bedrock: “all men are created equal.” It invited whoever perceives himself disadvantaged or dishonored to construe himself part of such a category and to invite the government to discriminate against his foe. As government joined in some people’s quarrels against others, government became fomenter and partisan in endless strife.
Race (and sex, etc.) is yet another set of excuses for transferring power to the ruling class. The oligarchy is no more concerned about race than it is about education, or environmentalism, or sex, or anything else. It is about yet more discretionary power in the hands of its members, for whom not all blacks (or women, or whatevers) are to be advantaged—only the ones who serve ruling class purposes. In education, employment, and personnel management, co-opting compatible, non-threatening colleagues is the objective. As Joseph Biden put it succinctly: if you don’t vote for him, “you ain’t black.” A ruling class of ever-decreasing quality is a result.
Members and hangers-on who receive privileges, however, are a small number compared with the ruling class’s clients. Breaking down their client’s resistance to the revolution of the ruling class requires inducing them to share in the revolution’s logic of hate for its targets. This in turn requires control over channels of communication. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are indispensable for this. But creating and maintaining a sense of identity between oligarchs and the client mobs is possible mostly because of the latter’s gullibility.
The Logic of Hate
I noted that this revolution’s logic leads to no logical end. That is because “the logic that drives each turn of our revolutionary spiral is Progressive Americans’ inherently insatiable desire to exercise their superiority over those they deem inferior.” Its force, I observed, “comes not from the substance of the Progressives’ demands,” but rather “from that which moves, changes, and multiplies their demands without end. That is the Progressives’ affirmation of superior worth, to be pursued by exercising dominance: superior identity affirmed via the inferior’s humiliation.” Affirmation of one’s own superiority by punishing inferiors is an addictive pleasure. It requires ever stronger, purer doses of infliction, and is inherently beyond satisfaction.
In short, the Progressive ruling class’s intensifying efforts to oppress those they imagine to be their inferiors is not reversible. It is far less a choice of policy than it is the consequence of its awakening to its own identity—awakening to the powers and privileges to which they imagine their superior worth entitles them. It is awakening to its deep resentment—indeed, to hate—for whoever does not submit preemptively.
Let there be no doubt: the ruling class’s focus on Donald Trump has been incidental. America’s potentates do not fear one pudgy orange-haired septuagenarian. They fear the millions of Americans whom they loathe, who voted for Trump, who gave his party control of House and Senate, and who will surely vote for folks these potentates really should fear.
America’s oligarchic transformation had proceeded smoothly for decades because the ruling class had taken care not to add insult to injury. But as time passed, its arbitrariness and contempt increasingly tried the patience of ordinary people who practiced constitutional restraint.
During the 2008 financial panic, however, as the Progressive, bipartisan ruling class scrambled incompetently to save itself and its clients’ assets, it fatefully flaunted its united contempt for the rest of Americans. Republican president George W. Bush, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, the overwhelming majority of Republican politicians and institutions, and the literati from the Nation to the (post-Buckley) National Review were of identical minds with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Democrat politicians and institutions regarding measures to be taken—to which three fourths of the public objected, to no avail. United, this ruling class scoffed at popular opposition.
Insult having awakened substantial numbers of Americans to the injuries being inflicted on them, they looked to push back.
That began a cycle of recrimination which laid bare and accentuated the differences that had been growing between America’s rulers and ruled. At the time, I wrote that
The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners—nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who hath created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity.
The people who killed one another in 1861-65 respected each other as individuals and shared standards of truth, justice, and civility. But as our ruling class put the rest of America beyond the proverbial pale, what remained of friendship among the American republic’s components drained away.
By 2016, most Americans preferred either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders over ruling-class candidates for president. And of course, they increasingly despised one another. In short, the popular basis for constitutional restraint had ceased to exist on all sides. But mostly the ruling class, unaccustomed to outright opposition to its presumption of authority, deemed the voters’ recalcitrance to be illegitimate. That began the revolution’s active phase.
At that time, I wrote that, regardless of who won the upcoming election, the United States of America had crossed the threshold of a revolution, and that though no one could know how that would end, we could be sure only that the peaceful American way of life we had known could never return. Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s victory in the election would merely have channeled the revolution onto different courses. We would look back on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as relics from an age of moderation.
Events since 2016 have surprised because of the ever-increasing speed with which this revolution’s logic has unfolded. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 suggestion that Donald Trump might refuse to accept losing the election seemed a speck of gratuitous campaign mud. Even if Trump had lost and been so minded, his recalcitrance could not have amounted to anything. No one imagined, however, that the Democratic Party—the party of government, of the entertainment industry, of the educational establishment, of the judiciary, of corporate America, the party of the ruling class—that this party, having lost the 2016 elections, would refuse to accept popular rejection and launch a full-court “Resistance” against the voters who had rejected them. But that is what happened.
A parenthetical note is needed to square politics’ perversion of language with reality. The word “resistance” does describe what the ruling class did vis-à-vis the 2016 election’s results. But the impression that the ruling class was resisting some kind of onslaught is the reverse of reality. In fact, the election’s outcome had resulted from the general population’s resistance to the ruling class further solidifying its oligarchy. Hence the self-described “Resistance” was but a continuation of its longstanding oligarchic revolution.
The oligarchy’s offensive to forcibly disable the voters began as a mere protest against—and explanation and excuse for—the 2016 elections’ outcome. But, as its identity unfolded according its logic of hate, one thing led to another.
Official and unofficial ruling class confluence in the Resistance turned the Democratic National Committee’s July 2016 throwaway lie that the Russians had hacked its emails into a four-year national convulsion about Trump’s alleged conspiracy with Putin. Ruling class judges sustained every act of opposition to the Trump administration. Thousands of identical voices in major media echoed every charge, every insinuation, nonstop, unquestioned. The Resistance made it official ruling class policy that Trump and his voters’ “racism” and a host of other wrongdoings made them, personally, illegitimate. In 2016 Hillary Clinton had tentatively called her opponents “deplorables.” By 2018 the ruling class had effectively placed the “deplorables” outside the protection of the laws. In any confrontation, the ruling class deemed these presumed white supremacists in the wrong, systemically. By 2020 they could be fired for a trifle, set upon on the streets, and prosecuted on suspicion of bad attitudes, even for defending themselves.
This happened because the Resistance rallied the ruling class’s every part to mutually supporting efforts. Nothing encourages, amplifies, and seemingly justifies extreme sentiments as does being part of a unanimous chorus, a crowd, a mob. Success supercharges them. The Resistance fostered in the ruling class’s members the sense that they were more right, more superior, and more entitled than they had ever imagined. It made millions of people feel bigger, and better about themselves than they ever had.
Ruling class violence started on inauguration day 2017 and grew unceasingly, at first an ominous background to all manner of bureaucratic, oligarchic, and media attacks on the election’s winners. But note well that the black-clad burners and looters were the very opposite of a proletariat and that, Marxist rhetoric aside, they never attacked the wealthy or the powerful—not Wall Street, nor major corporations, certainly not any government, never mind Google, Facebook, or Twitter, America’s most powerful monopolies, or corporate officials. Instead, they received financial contributions from these sources. The violent ones were as troops in the service of the powerful, out to crush the spirit of rebellious subjects. Some Marxists!
The 2018 elections tested the Resistance’s tactical efficacy. Had the Democratic Party failed to recapture the House of Representatives, the ruling class might have sought some sort of modus vivendi. Instead, the Democrats took the House. Did any reasonable person imagine that they would not use every last bit of its legitimate authority and much more to push the Resistance to a higher level?
Reiterating the ruling class’s efforts to cower potential Trump voters since 2016 is superfluous. Countless voices indicted and convicted Trump of every misdeed imaginable, largely uncontradicted. And yet, as 2019 ended, the U.S. economy’s vibrancy, and the incompetence with which the ruling class had waged a Resistance that had grown tiresome, made it quite likely that Trump would be re-elected—and maybe even that somewhat roused Republicans would retake full control of Congress.
Then came COVID-19 and the riots.
“Intersectionality” Beats Conspiracy
The full story of the COVID-19 pandemic and of the riots that followed is yet to be told and is beyond our scope. The readiness and ease with which the ruling class turned these events into something like a coup d’état might lead one to imagine a vast conspiracy. But no conspiracy could have accomplished so thoroughly what the ruling class’s single-mindedness did. It illustrates the power of a hate so shared among diverse groups that each acts pursuant to it, more coherently than they would have were a general staff to have coordinated them.
Yes, in January 2017 Dr. Anthony Fauci had ruminated publicly about how the next epidemic to hit America could redound to Trump’s disadvantage. Independently, other ruling class figures went on the record to the same effect. Yet none could have known precisely how such an epidemic might hit. When it did, they exploited it, at first tentatively, but following the logic that already possessed them. Yet they were able to do it only with Trump’s help.
In January 2020, when COVID hit and Trump cut off travel from China and Europe, the ruling class predictably indicted him for racist excess. Fauci and the CDC claimed that the virus was not particularly contagious to humans, and Democrat officials urged people to attend big gatherings. After contagion became obvious the media, following Fauci, did not apologize for their errors. Instead, they spread estimates that the virus would kill some two million Americans, that U.S. hospitals would be overwhelmed, and insisted that Trump urge Americans to avoid contact with one another “to slow the spread and flatten the curve” of infections. No one suggested that any measures available might stop the virus. Trump took that step—unnecessary, but possibly politically analgesic.
As of this point in mid-March, nothing extraordinary had yet changed the balance of power in America. But then Trump let himself be persuaded to extend the suggestion of “lockdown” indefinitely, subject to such conditions as the CDC might make for “reopening.”
Thus, having made “lockdowns” his own, did Trump largely disempower himself, enabling and legitimizing the ruling class’s seizure of powers that are reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Subsequently, the entire ruling class—the media (especially the social media giants), every officeholder, politician, and publicist associated with the Democratic party, and corporate America—took upon itself powers over the American people such as not even Woodrow Wilson had wielded in World War I. Foremost of these is exclusion of criticism of itself from public circulation. Banning church services and other voluntary organizations, interactions among neighbors, as well as closing small businesses reduced communications of whatever the ruling class might decide largely to one-way, top-down conveyance.
Thus did the oligarchy manage to convince the public to let it treat a virus the infection/fatality rate of which (circa 0.01%) is either equal to or lower than that of the average of seasonal influenzas, as if it were the plague. Worse that, for the sake of public health, the public should acquiesce in restrictions—such as quarantining uninfected persons and staying indoors—that reverse the logic of quarantine.
The ruling class use of COVID-19 is medical nonsense. But the “lockdowns” made perfect political sense because they disadvantaged primarily the sort of people who vote conservative. The lockdowns also made ordinary people more economically dependent on government, while enriching those best connected with it.
Most remarkable has been the unbroken consistency with which every part of the ruling class’s entourage joined the campaign while piggybacking its own priorities to it—to the complaisance of all the others. That is the meaning of “intersectionality.” Teachers’ unions, for example, conditioned returning to the classroom on the government banning charter schools; Black Lives Matter (BLM) claimed that “White Racism” must be treated as another public health menace. All other components supported them. All signified solidarity by demanding that all Americans wear masks outdoors, and that those who don’t be jailed. Meanwhile, they insisted that persons convicted of rape, robbery, and murder be released. The world turned upside down.
The riots that began depopulating America’s major cities in late May are intersectionality’s apotheosis. Since blacks commit homicides at five times and other violent crimes at three times the rate of whites, confrontations between black criminals and police are quotidian. Violent reactions to such confrontations are common. Any number of personalities and organizations, mostly black, have made fortunes and careers exploiting them, e.g. New York’s Al Sharpton. Increasingly since 2013 BLM has become the most prominent of these, founded as a project of a hardline Communist organization based in Cuba and funded lavishly and unaccountably by a high percentage of America’s major corporations. Its stated goals of protecting the black community against police brutality notwithstanding, it functions to mobilize black voters on the Democratic Party’s behalf. Along with Antifa, an organization of violent Marxists and anarchists, BLM organized the physical side of the ruling class’s campaign of intimidation against the American people.
The patently counterfactual claim that months of burning, looting and personal attacks by mobs professionally armed, marshaled, and effectively authorized are “mostly peaceful protests” doubly serves the ruling class by warning the victims that they are alone, can expect no help, and that even resenting the mobs is culpable.
Yet the riots may be intersectionality’s downfall because ordering people to tell each other things they know are not true is the most hazardous of political power grabs.
A New Regime?
In 2020, the ruling class imposes itself by Democratic officials’ arbitrary regulations as well as by all manner of corporate restrictions on dissent. Demanding that people apologize for their whiteness and show other signs of submission on pain of being fired have become routine. In 2016 it would have been difficult to imagine the 2020 level of ruling class presumption, virulence and violence. In 2020, violent bands roam America’s cities with official complaisance, acting as the ruling class’s officious enforcers of powers without logical end.
Thus, acting in the name of public health and social justice, the ruling class effectively repealed the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Freedom of religion? Filling churches and synagogues, celebrating baptisms, weddings and funerals can now land you in jail. Freedom of speech? On the contrary. You may now be punished for failing to declare what is ordered of you, even if you don’t believe it, or even for failing to attend a political re-education session or by not showing due deference therein. Freedom of assembly? Only for those on the ruling class side. Property? If you forcibly defend it against the mob, Democrat-controlled states will jail you. They will also prosecute you for defending your life.
None of this was done by laws passed by elected representatives. All was done by all manner of officials’ and bureaucrats’ edicts, and discretionary actions supported by the media and corporations. Leaderless, the American people by and large obeyed a regime that had become an oligarchy served by thousands of its clients, eager to hurt opponents financially, socially, and physically.
The Other Side
The major question overhanging our revolution is how all this has affected the Right side of American society. Since recognizing that the ruling class’s oligarchy surrounded them circa 2008, they sought to keep it at bay. In 2010 their Tea Parties elected the most heavily Republican Congress in a generation. But the Republicans they elected mostly joined the ruling class. Rather than voting for one of them—Mitt Romney for president in 2012—many stayed home.
Then in 2016, sensing that the barbarians were at the gates, they gave short shrift to whoever would not denounce Republicans as harshly as Democrats and elected the loudest denouncer, Donald Trump. By 2020, Trump notwithstanding, the barbarians had proved to be the gatekeepers. They cowed the deplorables, punished them to convince them that they are evil and isolated, deprived them of normal social intercourse, and made them dependent on media that pushed politically correct reality down their masked throats.
The deplorables are angry. But so what?
Why have conservatives mostly obeyed perverted authority? Did the ruling class succeed? Is the revolution over? A minority seem to believe that example may lead leftists once again to recognize their opponents’ equal rights. In short, they are conservatives who yearn to preserve something already gone. They are not yet revolutionaries for their own cause.
Most have felt sandbagged by Donald Trump’s and the Republican Party’s verbally combative but toothless reaction to the oligarchic revolution. They waited in vain for them to use the active and passive devices available to any president or house of Congress to deprive the ruling class of its government-derived powers: commanding and prohibiting, funding and defunding, hiring, firing, rewarding and punishing, accrediting and discrediting to punish violations of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, of basic civil rights. Instead, these officials largely gave the oligarchic regime a pass. Private persons cannot easily defend themselves while their own officials don’t. Now they no longer care what the Trump administration’s calculations might have been.
Today, the oligarchy’s impositions pursuant to the COVID-19 epidemic and the riots that followed removed conservatives’ equivocations by forcing millions bereft of protection to look beyond conventional leadership and categories. They have made existential choices, voiced mostly to family and friends but increasingly evidenced by action.
Millions moved out of cities and Democrat-ruled states, and millions more wished to do so. Yet more people clogged the roads out into mask-less America as for breaths of fresh air. Countless persons whose jobs or careers had been wrecked have been forced to look for ways to live the rest of their lives. The majority of Americans having been accused of racism, etc., and sensing that the powers-that-be stacked the deck against them, look upon the powers-that-be as enemies.
No one could know for sure how much the empowered oligarchy had cowered ordinary people’s resentment or inflamed it. The fact that some two thirds of respondents told pollsters that they are afraid publicly to voice their views suggests much.
Whatever may happen, it is safe to say that, on the Right side of American life, conventional conservatism is dead, as is political moderation.
2020: Who You Gonna Believe?
The 2020 election is the first of the ways in which these changes will manifest themselves. The election, regardless of its outcome, cannot by itself diminish the oligarchy’s hold on America’s institutions nor alter the revolution’s driving logic, nor extinguish the rest of America’s commitments to itself, nor return America to what had been normalcy.
When the American people vote on November 3, they—like the proverbial husband who walks in on wife in flagrante—will choose whether to believe what they are told or what their senses tell them.
The ubiquity, depth, and vehemence of the ruling class’s denigration of Donald Trump is such as to render superfluous any detailing thereof. Suffice it to note that not a day in four years has gone by without the news media hyperventilating or ruminating on some allegation of Trump’s wrongdoing or wrongbeing. For what? Again, the list of subjects is so exhaustive that it is easier to note that there is hardly any mortal transgression of which he has not been accused. Suffice it to say that, to the extent one depends on the media’s narrative, one cannot help but believe that Donald Trump is the enemy of all good things, that nothing he has done has been any good, that he is responsible for all that is bad.
Nor has the media forgone any occasion to protect, foster, and embellish narratives in support of each and every member of the “intersectional” coalition and to shut out or denigrate alternatives thereto. It labels as false and/or as “hate speech” facts and arguments that counteract its narratives. Since the ruling class can be certain of the media’s unquestioning support, it need not worry about truth.
For example, do physicians in America and around the world use hydroxychloroquine successfully against the COVID-19 virus? Yes, correct—but banished as if it were false because it is politically incorrect. Riots, arson, and looting are leading so many to relocate from America’s major cities as to cause urban vacancies and a house-building boom in the country? Fact. But politically incorrect fact, indeed, racist. Repeat: “mostly peaceful protests, mostly peaceful protests.”
To win the 2020 election, the oligarchy deployed all its forces and staked its legitimacy, whole. It cannot imagine losing them. Yet, win or lose, the election changed American politics in a way not entirely friendly to the oligarchy.
For the ruling class, the electoral problem is that the intersectional coalition’s actions and demands have made far too explicit that crushing Donald Trump is only incidentally its objective—that crushing the spirit of independence in America’s “deplorable” population is its essential objective. How many Americans are willing to join the privileged ones in confessing their neighbors’ sins in exchange for the hope of being counted as “allies” of the folks doing the real oppressing rather than among the real oppressed? How many are happy that their company’s H.R. department now decides promotions, demotions and firings regardless of professional competence? Do most Americans really believe that the authorities ought to have the powers they exhibited during the COVID affair, and do they see the “mostly peaceful protests” as part of a brighter future for themselves?
Since 2016 the ruling class have had the luxury of acting as if the deplorables were lifeless punching bags. On November 3 they will find out to what extent that may not be so. Its leaders have already discovered that their “intersectional” entourages are not entirely controllable. After the election, the politicians bidding for leadership of conservatives will make Trump look like milquetoast. As the ruling class tries to suppress them, it will also have to deal with uncontrollable allies, whose violence will spur the conservatives to fiercer resistance.
Revolution has already undone the regime established in 1776-89. The election’s alternative outcomes will strongly affect how it moves America toward a new regime.
What If the Rulers Win?
Victory for the Democratic Party is a recipe for violent strife.
The lack of moral-political authority at the head of the ruling class has been arguably the most important and least remarked fact of public life in 21st-century America. Most visibly since 2008, its leaders have led primarily by pulling rank—denigrating ordinary Americans and calling attention to their own elevated stations in government and society—and by courting the coalition of groups driven by intersectional hate.
After an electoral victory, these leaders—the elected officials, the deep state bureaucrats, the corporate and finance chiefs, the educrats, etc.—will be able to wield power to the extent of the losers’ complaisance and their ability to satisfy the intersectionals’ ambitions and hates. Moderating and meshing these contrasting requirements would be hard even for exceptionally astute and potent persons. But neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris has talent, personal following, or moral authority. Hence, the winners would be hostages to the war that their own activists would wage against the rest of America, and to the deplorables’ resistance.
For most ruling class notables, enjoying and parceling out victory’s prerogatives is the revolution’s point. They would prefer to suppress the deplorables while minimizing disruption of the economy and avoiding violence. For these chiefs, rubbing the deplorables’ faces in excrement is mostly an instrument of conflict. But for the intersectionals, it is the revolution’s very objective, its driving logic. For them, vengeance is electoral victory’s foremost prerogative. Determined as the chiefs may be that the intersectional tail must not wag the revolutionary dog, the fact is that each and every part of the intersectional coalition sees itself as the dog.
For their part the deplorables would not accept the legitimacy of the Left’s victory in 2020 any more than the Left accepted the Right’s victory in 2016. Why should they? Lacking any hope of federal protection, they would retrench behind such state, local, and private means of resistance as they may have, while they sought effective national leadership. Sensing that disobedience to the point of violence had become the only effective means of defense, they would respond to challenges with force. The revolution’s logic would play out in a series of confrontations, and the revolution’s next stage would depend on these confrontations’ outcomes.
Understanding these confrontations requires reconsidering what happened in America after 2016, and especially in 2020. Elected officials of the Left acted as laws unto themselves regardless of federal law, according to the principle “stop me if you can.” The Trump administration’s passivity validated their decisions. All manner of bureaucrats, corporate officials, and employees—indeed anyone who wielded any kind of authority—came to believe that they had the right and duty to police, to command, and to punish whoever offended their sensibilities.
This phenomenon recalls social practice in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany, etc. The sense of arbitrary authority over the regime’s outlawed enemies is a hallmark of totalitarianism. The alleged offenses matter little and the truth not at all. Even after accusations prove to be hoaxes, the narrative’s usefulness and being on the right side is all that matters. The Right was slow to learn that lesson. But learn it they did.
Intersectional groups exist regarding each and every facet of life to make as much trouble as they can for whoever differs from them. Following the Left’s victory in 2020, attorneys general, agency potentates, mayors, and corporate officials who are part of or partial to these groups would see it as more to their advantage than ever to act against deplorables: investigations to harass, lawsuits to bankrupt, arrests to defame, seizures of property, firings, cancelings, restraining orders, custody of children…there is no limit to how people can be hurt by willful uses of power.
As the intersectional groups were swollen by recruits during the post-2016 period, their adherents became more independent as they became more radical. All of the above surely augurs assaults on deplorables increasingly pervasive, unpredictable, and violent. It also leaves the deplorables no alternative but to respond in kind.
In sum, the Right is likely to emulate the Left’s 2016-20 Resistance to the best of its abilities and limits of its powers. And since a fully empowered Left is likely to be far more kinetic in its response to Resistance than Trump had been, violent clashes would be inevitable.
At all levels, officials of red states are the deplorables’ first line of defense. And indeed, during the post-2016 period some such officials used tactics similar to their leftist homologues: refusing to enforce dictates from above, and declaring their jurisdictions “sanctuaries” for one or another’s causes. Correctly, they judged that just as the Trump administration was not going to send the army to California to enforce immigration laws, nobody was going to send force majeure to their jurisdictions to govern in their stead.
Were the Left to win in 2020, that assumption would be tested. Every U.S. agency has a SWAT team. The Biden/Harris administration’s appointees would surely want to use them to crush resistance to any number of edicts. Among the most interesting questions concerning such an administration is the extent to which it would try to restrain its members from major confrontations with red states and with private groups of Deplorables.
Though the material balance of forces would be heavily weighted on the Left’s side, it would not prejudge the outcomes simply because government agents are unaccustomed to opposition—check-collectors rather than heroes willing to suffer harm for a cause. Believing in nothing, they are unlikely to go beyond initial skirmishes into guerrilla war against an armed population fighting for a way of life.
Yet there is no doubt that such an administration would lack the power as well as the inclination to restrain the manifold pent-up acts of vengeance that its empowered, energized base would unleash on the deplorables in countless instances. Some have suggested that such an administration could tame that base by offering sinecures in exchange for calm, and that only a lack of money would limit its ability to buy it. But it is doubtful that money would extinguish the taste for raw force to which so many had become accustomed in 2020. Hence, violent confrontations, all over the country, would be virtually certain.
Where these confrontations led would depend on how the Right side of American life organized itself politically after Trump’s defeat. The 2016 Republican primaries’ unambiguous lesson was the voters’ wholesale rejection of the Republican Party’s establishment. Two candidates out of seventeen, Trump and Cruz, were serious alternatives because they ran against both Parties. Nothing that has happened since then, or that would happen were Trump to be defeated in 2020, would make establishment Republicans any less disgusting to deplorable voters.
In short, American politics’ Right side will be looking for leaders eager to do unto the Left what the Left has been doing to them, for leaders who organize effective resistance, and who offer a prospect for saving their constituents’ way of life.
Necessarily, the race for leadership would center on the besieged deplorables’ plight. This would mean organizing nationwide measures such as tax strikes and other actions to protest or cripple major administration decisions. It would also mean nationalizing opposition to local instances of injustice, perhaps interposing conservative elected officials between citizens targeted by injustice and their tormentors. It would mean fostering and leading campaigns of civil disobedience.
After 2016 the Left had pretended to be frightened of populism. It would be incumbent on whoever would lead the Right side of American life after 2020 to give them real reasons to fear it.
Since to lead is to show the way, contenders for leadership must frankly distinguish what is possible and what is no longer so. They would have to acknowledge the extent to which a half century of ruling class dominance has reduced the proportion of people who believe that “all men are created equal” and that none may rule another except by reasoned persuasion. Hence, now, they would have to start from the fact that republican life is possible only among these Americans, and not possible with people insensible to all manner of freedom.
To avoid having the left’s priorities forced on them and eschewing desire to force anything on the Left, to avoid a civil war of which the armed forces must be the arbiter, they would ask their voters to support plans for so de-centralizing government—that is, for a much-expanded federalism—as to guarantee their right to live the kinds of lives that other Americans are no longer willing or able to live.
If, in the event of the Left’s victory in the 2020 election the Right does not come up with such leadership, the ruling class’s inability to control the inevitable clashes between the intersectionals and the Deplorables really is likely to lead to a civil war that only the military can end. That might end the revolution on the usual terms: right is the interest of the stronger.
What if They Lose?
Donald Trump’s reelection would reduce the intersectionals’ confidence a bit and give the Right side of American life a bit more leeway as it chooses new leadership. In this slightly calmer atmosphere, the beginning of the 2024 election cycle would open a host of possibilities.
But it would not end our revolution any more than the ruling class’s victory would. The revolution’s essentials would remain and its logic would continue to unfold. The ruling class, having failed peaceably and hence firmly to establish oligarchy, remains pressed by the deplorables on one side and its chosen intersectional instruments on the other. It dares not try dismounting the tiger it rides.
The deplorables tried in 2016 to call into being a Party to relieve the ruling class’s oppression and, Trump notwithstanding, ended up oppressed by the intersectionals more than they ever imagined. In 2020, despite Trump, only these are stronger than four years earlier. But the intersectionals’ power is an expression of the ruling class—and in 2020 the ruling class, its enormous power over money and institutions notwithstanding, lacks energy and legitimacy of its own and must borrow them from the intersectionals. Trump’s reelection raises no obstacles to their aggrandizement that did not exist the previous day. Virtually without obstacles under Trump I, that aggrandizement would continue under Trump II.
After election day 2020 Trump, even victorious, is a spent force. From the day he declared his candidacy until some time in 2018 he embodied the Deplorables’ hopes for salvation. Thereafter until the 2020 election, he embodied the certainty that his defeat would mean the choice between subjection and war.
Few if any of his voters deluded themselves that his second term would be better than his first, during which they had lost more of their country than in the previous half century. But the deplorables’ fate is tied to Donald Trump—until election day 2020. The morning after the 2020 election, the deplorables’ agenda resets to 2016, with the vital difference of urgency. Yes, the deplorables need a political vehicle of their own for the future. But, most urgently, they need national focus and organization to guard their freedoms today. That means instantly searching for new leadership, and urgently getting behind it.
Donald Trump having vaccinated the deplorables against what Theodore Roosevelt used to call “the unbridled tongue and the unready hand,” candidates for leadership of the Right side of American life will have to present themselves by actually leading their fellow Deplorables effectively to resist and reverse what officious and official policy by potentates high and low are doing, and have done, to foul so much of American life.
There is no substantive difference between the sort of leadership that the deplorables will demand in the wake of Trump’s reelection from what they would have demanded after his defeat. The problems are the same. In either case they would have to lead protests, lawsuits, boycotts, campaigns for legislation, for legitimizing or delegitimizing all manner of potentates, as well as explaining how to reestablish the American way of life on a sound basis for those who want to live it. The difference would lie in circumstances. In the wake of electoral defeat, the Left’s more energetic and widespread acts of oppression would effectively set the Right’s defensive agenda. But having won at the polls and having a nominally friendly administration, the deplorables’ leaders would have the luxury of picking their fights with strategic consistency.
The revolution long since destroyed the original American republic in the minds, hearts, and habits of a critical mass of citizens. They neither want nor are any longer able to live as Americans had lived until so recently. Loudly, they declare that the rest of us are racists, etc., unworthy of self-government. No one can undo that. Chances are against the undoing happening on its own. The longer we pretend to live under precisely the same laws, the likelier we will end up killing one another. We must not do that. And yet regional differences notwithstanding, we are mostly intermingled. Sorting ourselves into compatible groups is part of the American genius and tradition. More of that has been happening and more will happen yet. If we want to live in peace, as we should, we must contrive to agree to disagree to accommodate peace.
The greatest benefit that would come from the Left’s defeat in the 2020 election is the possibility that it may become possible to convince the ruling class, if not the intersectionals, that such accommodation is the best deal they can get. But the intersectionals are violent enemies—who must be dealt with as such. Fortunately, there are more spoiled children among them than heroes.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
Detractors of nationalism indulge in dreamcasting over statesmanship.