Good Friday Morning, especially to Joe Biden’s outreach team who decided that Biden playing the song Despacito with his phone into a mic was the best way to court Hispanic voters. It’s like Donald Trump’s outreach using a taco bowl (Hall of Fame tweet) and Hilary Clinton’s earnest use of the pop hit “Fight Song” had a baby and produced that moment with Biden. Just a bunch of lying-dog-faced-pony-soldiers if you ask me.
Here’s your polling factoid of the week:
82% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans support single-payer healthcare when told that Obama supports it. When instead told that Trump supports it, Dem support drop to 46% and Rep support increase to 44%. #FactsfromOpen (15 of 100)
I borderline want to see that political fight just to experience it. But also not, since it shows Trump could pretty easily bring about Medicare-for-All. Here’s your second important number as we charge towards the election: the RealClearPolitics average has dropped to a +5.8 point Biden lead. FiveThirtyEight’s poll average, which “controls for house effect,” has it at Biden +6.6. And ever bit those numbers tighten up, the more mail-in/absentee ballot spoilage becomes an issue. We’re seeing some signs of that in North Carolina already. These are red flags to monitor moving forward.
This week we’re touching on the ideas of Marxist-Leninist heightening of contradictions and how Trump and elite panic follow those contradictions. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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How events determine our truth – The Conservative Institute.
Woodward’s book forgets the Great Elite Panic over COVID-19 – The Conservative Institute.
How Trump heightens contradictions and causes elite panic.
Thanks to Amazon, I received the release day copy of Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Rage.” I’ll get out my full thoughts on the book later when I’ve had a chance to finish it. What struck me when I opened up it up and skimmed around to get a feel for it was Woodward’s headline quotes. These lines provide the name for the book, “Rage.”
Trump: “I bring rage out. I do bring rage out. I always have. I don’t if that’s an asset or a liability, but whatever it is, I do.”
Woodward: “This is when you said to us: ‘I bring out rage in people, I bring rage out. I always have. I don’t know if it’s an asset or a liability. But whatever it is, I do.’ Is that true?“
Trump: “Yes. Sometimes. I do more things than other people are able to get done. And that, sometimes, can make my opponents unhappy. They view me differently than they view other presidents. A lot of other presidents that you’ve covered didn’t get a lot done, Bob.“
These quotes stuck out. First, Trump is prescient about himself and his role in politics. He understands the volatile role he plays and, on some level, relishes it. But second, it reminded me of a Marxist-Leninist idea: heightening or sharpening the contradictions. After mulling it over, Trump fulfills a similar role, albeit it has nothing to do with capitalism; it’s all cultural, religious, or spiritual.
Marx and the sharpening of contradictions.
Before explaining that, though, let’s take a step back and make sure we’re on the same page on what contradictions mean.
A quick and dirty explainer on the Marxist concept of contradiction is this: Marx believed capitalism contained within it the seeds of its own destruction. As Marx and his followers saw, capitalism caused everyone to be in constant competition for all resources on earth. That competition led to greater conflict and inequalities. The results of those inequalities and constant strife would lead to growing class resentment. Eventually, the contradictions of what capitalism promised versus the resulting reality of conflict would lead to a revolutionary break.
Marx based his theory on history. He claimed specific laws existed, which determined the course of history, and we’d eventually reach this point in history naturally. A good Marxist sits and waits for the glorious revolution like a saint waiting on Christ’s return.
But what if you don’t want to wait? What if you want the revolution to arrive faster? Suppose you already know what causes these contradictions to exist and progress. Why not speed them up and force the end of history to arrive early? There’s no god controlling these laws, just the response of humanity. That’s what Lenin believed he could do:
The enlightener believes in the present course of social development, because he fails to observe its inherent contradictions. The Narodnik fears the present course of social development, because he is already aware of these contradictions. The “disciple” [of dialectical materialism] believes in the present course of social development, because he sees the only earnest hope of a better future in the full development of these contradictions. The first and last trends therefore strive to support, accelerate, facilitate development along the present path, to remove all obstacles which hamper this development and retard it.
If you turn up the boiling water real fast, the revolutionary frog jumps out quickly. Sometimes the Marxist goal isn’t to get rid of capitalism. It’s the opposite. You want to release capitalism to run wild and free, so it implodes faster. Marxists focus agitating those contradictions to the point of bringing the grand revolution to fruition. The more agitated a populace is with the intrinsic failures of capitalism, it’s believed, the faster the revolution arrives.
That theory is why many Marxists hated things like Roosevelt’s New Deal. They saw him as saving the United States and capitalism and extending its life. If allowed to run its course, they expected capitalism to implode or lead to mass war. Needless to say, that theory failed historically. And in the great standoff against the United States, the reverse happened (especially under Reagan): the United States ended up heightening the contradictions of communism and showing how far behind the Soviets were falling. The revolution came, but it was the American interpretation of liberal democratic capitalism, which Marx couldn’t foresee, that delivered the death blow.
America’s capitalist victory over communism was so thorough, Francis Fukuyama correctly argued in “The End of History and the Last Man.,” that all debates were over. We know what the highest form of government is now. And while we continue to face many problems, we still won. America was, ironically, the most successful outcome of the great agitation/contradictions of Marxist-Leninism. People say that Marx turned Hegel and history on its head. Fukuyama and America flipped history back upright held up the first place trophy (For a continuation of this line of thought, see a recent essay, “Why Fukuyama was right all along.”).
Returning to Trump, he’s fulfilling a similar agitation role to our current status in history. People joke about Trump Derangement Syndrome, or on the flip side, being a MAGA-head. But it’s not just support or opposition. It’s the widening gyre of Yeat’s poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
In Protestant Evangelical circles, the name for this is the black getting blacker and the white whiter, spiritually speaking. Shades of gray are allowed by no one, on any topic, at any time. But it’s not just about having the right ideas or beliefs; you have to care about those tenets with extreme intensity. Trump identifies it as rage, which is true of his opposition. But the loyalty to Trump on the right is equally as intense in its passion.
And these forces on both sides of Trump are accelerating. The changes happening in both political parties are accelerating. The extremism in both parties is accelerating, and 2020 alone has heightened contradictions everywhere. We have people shooting each other in the streets, or ambushing police and shooting them where they sit, as happened in LA County (and then chanting for their death). The question is whether or not there’s enough steam here to cause a rupture, and on that, I don’t know.
Elite panic on culture.
But while I don’t know, others think they do know. Our cultural elites have spent the better part of the pandemic and the Trump administration in utter panic. James Meigs described this phenomenon with elites relating to natural disasters and epidemics:
When authorities believe their own citizens will become dangerous, they begin to focus on controlling the public, rather than on addressing the disaster itself. They clamp down on information, restrict freedom of movement, and devote unnecessary energy to enforcing laws they assume are about to be broken. These strategies don’t just waste resources, one study notes; they also “undermine the public’s capacity for resilient behaviors.” In other words, nervous officials can actively impede the ordinary people trying to help themselves and their neighbors.
We’ve unquestionably seen that with COVID-19 (Nashville’s elites straight up lied). Part of the reason Trump “downplayed” the virus early on was to help prevent a run on things like PPE and other supplies. It didn’t work. Because people believed the government was lying or downplaying everything, they scrambled to hunker down with all the supplies they purchase. But, as Jonah Goldberg points out, elite panic can go beyond natural disasters; it can include culture:
We’ve seen quite a bit of this during the pandemic. But I think [James Meigs’s] observations have broader applications. I think we’re in the midst of what could be called a “cultural disaster.” I don’t mean this in the apocalyptic sense, I mean it descriptively. Social media, the rapidity of change in sexual mores and norms, the long tail of our racial past, the surplus of overeducated workers, automation—the list goes on and on. These forces have rolled over existing institutions like a hurricane, uprooting homes and churches, and sending them downstream on floodwaters. It’s worth remembering that every upsurgence in populism in American history came at a time of disruption—economic, technological, or both.
The response from many elites—at times including myself—has been a version of the panic Meigs describes. National elites, senators, talk show hosts, pundits, authors, movie stars, and others think that the rebuilding effort must be led from above, usually from Washington. And just as Meigs describes during earthquakes, they think they know better than the people on the ground how to adapt and fix things. They clamp down on information by only telling one side of a story, usually with ample exaggeration and fear-mongering. What better way to control the untrustworthy masses?
When it comes to Trump, the media has played this part to a T. At every turn, they speak in panicked terms about the dangers of every facet of the Trump administration. Even though during the Obama administration, it was as if Obama took the national press out on a snipe hunt during his scandals.
In terms of Trump, elites are engaged in magnitudes of panic that we’ve not witnessed in a long time. Trump has so heightened the contradictions of our moment, and so thoroughly destroyed notions of what American politics is, that it’s been four years of non-stop panic for elites.
That’s not to say Trump has done bad things in his time; he has. But he’s also done plenty good. It’s not hyperbole to say that Trump has literally brought peace to the Middle East with the normalization of relations between Israel and a growing list of countries. Several media outlets ignored the news entirely, even though it’s the most significant development in decades. CNN covered it but was “angry” about the “lack of social distancing” and “masks” at an outdoor event.
You can straight-up hate Trump. But you have to give him his due on this story. It’s massive. And suppose he gets Saudi Arabia to do the same, as is reported. In that case, it’s a complete remaking of the middle east that puts us in a better position over there than we’ve been in literally decades. He’s flipped the disastrous Iran Deal and placed the US in the role of isolating Iran and protecting Israel in the process. The brightest foreign policy minds of the past 30-40 years couldn’t pull this off; everyone in the Obama administration thought it impossible. All the experts predicted that Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem would lead to a region’s breakdown. 2016 John Kerry looks the worst, claiming it was a hard reality that what Trump did couldn’t happen.
My point here is this: Trump is half-right when he says he brings out a rage in people. Trump is an intensifier of everything happening in America right now. And with events intensifying, the elites are panicking more than ever.
Where does this lead? Honestly, I don’t know. I know it’s catchy to say we’re on the verge of another Civil War, which seems off to me. But the increasing intensity of our moment does not appear to be abating. If it doesn’t stop, we need to ask where we end up. Or, how do we end up resolving the heightened contradictions of our moment? If you can correctly square that circle, without panicking like elites, then you’ve got a path forward.
Links of the week
Trump’s Path to Victory – Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics
Chris Rock Tried to Warn Us: In a candid interview, the comic discusses America’s summer of strife, Trump, blackface and his dramatic turn in the new season of “Fargo.” – Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times Magazine
‘Republicans Pounce’ Coverage Is Toxic to Government Accountability – Jim Geraghty, National Review
EXCLUSIVE: Education Department opens investigation into Princeton University after president deems racism ’embedded’ in the school – Tiana Lowe, The Washington Examiner
Misleading headlines about dead teachers drum up fears about in-person schooling – Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner
‘Dr. Phosphine’ and the Possibility of Life on Venus: Scientists found hints of alien life floating in Venus’s atmosphere by focusing on a long-ignored, simple compound: phosphine. – Sarah Scoles, Wired
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Struggling CNN Just Starts Stealing Headlines From The Babylon Bee – The Babylon Bee
Woman Putting on Jeans Like an Ancient Artifact – Reductress
Thanks for reading!