Salvo 04.26.2024 8 minutes

The Bad Hand

Man playing poker in dark room at night

America’s blindness to the source of our decline is the fundamental problem we face.

It is never a surprise to discover malevolent people, who are found at all levels of society, among the elite. The temptation is to ascribe America’s decline to malevolence, and to conclude on that basis that the cure—the only possible cure—is to excise the malevolent and replace them with good guys. 

Incompetence, too, is to be found at all levels. Increasingly, incompetents occupy the upper reaches—perhaps the product of malign designs, but, if the cries of the elite are taken seriously, more often out of a sincerely held belief that justice in some way demands it. Here the tempting judgment is that the incompetent are the bums who must be thrown out, replaced in this case not by the pure of heart but the pure of talent. 

Given the spiritual weight of our experience with decline, and the high stakes of impending collapse the imagination presents to us, we feel the further inclination to combine our longings for a restoration of morally and operationally good government into a single vision of goodness: amidst the present crisis, competence is tantamount to morality; the air traffic controller who keeps the planes from crashing into each other is a greater do-gooder than the activist ethicist. 

Whatever the merits of these intersecting approaches to confronting our unenviable condition, another angle must be considered. Right now—for many reasons, not all of which reduce to malevolence or incompetence—the United States has an especially bad hand to play. However bad at morals or bad at their jobs our governing class may be, America’s hand might be even worse—so bad, perhaps, that our elites may have correctly concluded that revealing and belaboring how bad it is will pose a greater threat to their continued rule than the low quality of their rule itself. 

Maybe so, many might think, but isn’t America’s bad hand so much the result of our bad elites that we are simply forced to return to the judgment that they alone are the problem and must be dealt with accordingly? I think this all too comforting and an easy way out, especially considering how vague are the prospective plans to swiftly remove all these bad elites from power. Focusing on them distracts us from our own responsibility—our own culpability. 

This is a hard medicine, but like most, it feels better after you swallow. For America’s decline over the past quarter-century is clearly connected in a fundamental respect to the colossal mistake shared between the people and the elite, the governing and the governed, when it came to our collective imaginings of our technology-fueled future. 

Our shared belief was very simple. America was the most powerful nation in the world because Americans became the very biggest dreamers of the very best dreams. We reached that pinnacle due to our creation and mastery of technologies that enabled us to manifest those dreams quickly and broadcast them even more quickly across and throughout the whole world. Because technological progress is incremental, linear, cumulative, and accelerating, according to our shared belief, we had reached a point where we could and ought to be trusted—and could and ought to trust ourselves—to consummate our benign world rule through ever more globalized and globalizing communication technologies. When we did this by innovating digital tech, we pretty much all believed that the result would obviously be the consolidation and perfection of the Americanization of the world. 

Our whole organized socioeconomic apparatus expanded into the twenty-first century on this basis: financially, militarily, in entertainment, commerce, culture, politics, and policy. The question was not whether this apparatus would become increasingly algorithmic and automated but who among us would be at the controls—in other words, who would be the founding governors of this newly founded form of governance. 

The answer to that question arose from a certain kind of algorithm that had arisen already in America out of the ashes of World War II. Coming out of that conflict, only the Soviet Union and the United States held any authoritative pretense to global leadership. This was a problem for the European empires, what few remained, and as they staggered out of the rubble their empires swiftly fell. The Cold War was not simply a direct conflict between the superpowers, who had become rival “poles” of a new world order; as is well known, it was a war of proxies, which largely played out in the “postcolonial” world left behind by imploded imperial Europe. 

Steve Sailer once described this war as a conflict for control of the global Left. But in what sense was that true? The answer is that the Cold War put both superpowers in the position of needing to locate and operationalize a sudden, massive advantage, something which would “change the game” and provide a decisive edge against the other in the fight for world control.

Due to the victorious Allies wiping the far-Right political entities of the Axis off the face of the earth, the only remaining place to find that sudden, massive advantage was in the postcolonial zone, where Mutually Assured Destruction did not apply, and where vast human and material resources lay ready to activate on a global scale. For perhaps obvious reasons, the prevailing ideological environment in the postcolonial zone was leftist. 

And as leftists of the time knew well, that dynamic was defined by an inescapably racial valence. Two white superpowers were fighting over who could add the black and brown peoples to their pole; whoever imbalanced the “frozen” conflict in this manner would throw the bipolar post-war world off its new “axis” and achieve unitary mastery of the planet. In such a world, logically speaking, there would only be one politics, a leftist politics, the definition of which would belong to the planetary victor. 

Viewed in this way, it is not so hard to see how and why the Mideast became a zone of persistent, metastasizing violence. But even so, the USSR did collapse, and the globalizing United States more or less won over the black and brown peoples to its definition of leftism and its form of world order. 

Unfortunately, a world controller’s work is never over. It became clear, during the global post-Cold War backlash against globalization itself, that mere inclusion was not enough, and global governance would be illegitimate, no matter how algorithmic or automated, unless black and brown peoples were put into not only leading but founding roles. And that wasn’t all. Women, too, would have to be activated in a new way, radically transformed into co-founders of the new regime and its model citizens or subjects: the future, in short, would be female. 

For a brief period in the early days of digital dominance, this massive overhaul appeared to be working better than not. But the underlying assumption at the heart of Americans’ shared belief about their dreams and their technology—their powers of imagination and calculation—came back to bite globalized “turbo” America, right at the brink of its apparent triumph. The human members of the new post-white, post-male governing apparatus were no longer alone. 

Suddenly, the digital entities themselves—more and more of them each day, visibly and invisibly filling up the world—had a seat, many, many seats, in fact, at the new Round Table. “Anything boys can do, girls can do better” morphed at breakneck speed into “anything girls can do, borgs can do better.” More and more of America’s most brilliant technologists began to understand that the bots themselves held a stronger claim to perfecting the new regime than the meatspace beneficiaries of DEI. 

America had successfully reestablished itself as a global government with a founding generation of transformed women and elevated black and brown people. But just at that moment, the uncanny question burst in: could digital technology itself be compelled to accept a submissive role in that regime? “Ordinary” (working-to-middle-class white) Americans had already begun to revolt against the disincarnation of their lives, jobs, and communities at the hands of runaway technologization, an insult added to the injury of what was formalized as institutional wokeness. Now, the nightmarish prospect arose of “women and minorities” also revolting against the technology designed to complete the global American system. 

And that’s not all. While America had to begin shifting its attention away from perfecting the system abroad to fighting out the internal contradictions at home, other major powers, acquiring their own increasingly independent digital capabilities, began to use their technological sovereignty to resist and repel neo-Americanization in all its forms, opting instead for undemocratic systems competently run by commanding “Eurasian” (white and yellow) males. 

All these developments were utterly unforeseen by American elites, who conditioned the American people not to foresee them either, but rather their opposites. 

It is this fundamental problem, this blindsiding based on bogus primitives, that underlies America’s journey every step of the way from sole pre-digital superpower to declining power in a multipolar, digitized world. This is the essence of America’s bad hand. 

How is such a hand to be played? We have all borne witness to the struggles of the “uniparty”—a coalition born of America’s great misapprehension and strengthened by the severity of the problem it caused—to figure out a workable answer. 

It’s a hard, quite possibly unsolvable, problem! And this is what we must bear in mind as we try to assess where we are as a country and a people and what we are supposed to make of our governing elite and do with it. How to take up that task, we’ll consider in a subsequent essay.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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