Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Explaining Trump, the culture wars, and the political realignment.  §

American policy went off course beginning with Reagan. Starting then, the nation’s elite, in connection with the leadership infrastructures of both parties, began to exploit dearly-held culture, the most tender sentiments, and the most basic needs in order to serve their most unpopular policy goals. They became the extortion elites, on both sides. Starting then, this was the new set of offers to the common American:

  • Democrats: “We can keep you fed and housed. But only if you let us destroy your culture, traditions, beliefs, and families in favor of our utopian, individualist society.”
  • Republicans: We can preserve your culture, traditions, beliefs, and families. But only if you give us all of your money and future earnings and agree to risk living on the street.”

Both sides essentially imagined that they could blackmail the public with abandon thanks to the rottenness of the deal that the other party was offering, and we have seen a tremendous political realignment since Reagan that is now reaching its apex: cultural and economic elites into whichever of the two parties matched their biases best, and rank-and-file working Americans out of the political system and mainstream of public discourse entirely.

In short, the public was not blind to the rottenness of either deal. They have long understood that two different crime families engaged in inverse protection rackets—and that are mirror images of each other—are engaged in promising to let them survive in alternate and woefully incomplete ways, at the cost of personal and community destruction.

Worse still, as the public has wavered between accepting the deal offered by one or the other racket in hopes of gaining protection from the other mafia in each case, it has discovered that neither crime family will actually provide such protection from the other on a day-to-day basis, as they had promised. So in fact there is no choice to either abandon culture, traditions, and beliefs or to abandon food and shelter, but in fact the public is destined to be squeezed by both mafias until everything they value is lost including hope itself, and the elites will control it all—all of culture, all of family, all of community, all of the money, and all of the choices—as is a protection racket’s wont.

And so the public feels increasingly compelled to do whatever they can, however irrational it may seem, to fight two crime families at once, at the risk of losing everything—their identities and selves and their ability to merely subsist.

— § —

Toward the end, what the public has experienced is even a loss of basic predictability. Not only are the deals bad, but the norms of social functioning, everyday interactions, and common economic behaviors have been neutered by such an extent by both of these mafias that the public can’t even think tactically about how to fight these two crime families.

This is by design; both parties have believed that all norms have to go to buttress the success of their crime operations, as is common for crime families.

But predictability is the basic enabler of society; it is the philosophical basis of the social contract, which seeks to make some things predictable so that it remains in the interest of society’s members to join the contract and to behave predictably themselves.

This predictability for the common person has disappeared. Who will I meet in the bathroom? Will my church and community as I know it be there tomorrow, or will they sanctioned out of existence? What does this offer of employment or do the terms of this loan really entail, regardless of what is printed on the contract? Will I have a home in a year? What will this politician do?

There remains no basis on which the average person can intelligently make almost any choice. He no longer knows how to act in his own interest; he is sure only that whatever he does at any level of his life, from talking to a neighbor to voting in the booth to purchasing a basic durable household good, it will cheat him somehow, behave in precisely whatever way he didn’t forsee (and that is detrimental to him either culturally or economically) thanks to one or the other group of elites.

It is a world of unforseen and catastrophic consequences in which the average person feels hamstrung.

Both parties use “justice” as code for “we’ll change norms so that all who are so empowered can do what they want,” Democrats meaning socially and Republicans meaning economically, and neither adding the asterisked small print that reads in part: “We realize that the list of those who are so empowered includes only our party elite.”

From the party perspective, elites have failed to realize that the “battle against injustice” that each is fighting (Democratic elites “social” injustice, and Republican elites “equitability” injustice) amounts to a battle against the existing social order. Injustice as a concept implies that the old social order must radically change, and a radical change in the old social order is, in fact, the destruction of predictability and thus, in at least some measure, the existing social contract.

— § —

And so into this melee Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders step. Trump in particular is offering the launch of, and savvy protection by, a new crime family (rather than a new public, which was the Sanders promise; it is possible that the public is now so emasculated that it is not convinced of its own ability to fight the mafias, even as a movement).

Trump: “I can keep you fed and housed and preserve your culture, traditions, beliefs, and families. But only if you give up on America and its aspirational ideals as you have known them. I can restore predictability. But only if you give up on larger questions of justice.”

Having dealt so long with the other two mafias in the neighborhood, and feeling much the worse for wear and in precarious waters indeed, much of the public is only too happy to embrace this new crime family with open arms and to take what decades ago might have seemed to be an unacceptable deal—in hopes that it might be able to turn back the other two rackets and their thugs.

The public has heard that this particular new syndicate has operated somewhere else before and was ruthless indeed—very good at skirting norms, applying the thumbscrews, and playing a street-smart brand of mob warfare. Just the thing. This new crime family may just have a shot at protecting them from the other two, who they’ve come to realize want nothing but their blood in the end.

In other words, at the end of their rope and facing what they see as destruction, many in the pubic are willing to give this new protection racket the benefit of the doubt. They’ve seen the “protection” that the other two have to offer, and want no part those deals any longer. They’ve been helpless to hide from the other two mafias for far too long and see no other choice, despite the fact that in a more merciful world they’d find a way to extricate themselves from protection rackets entirely and live more equanimitous lives.