Thursday, November 17, 2016

The End of the End of History

Hardly anyone now remembers Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, the 1992 publication that argued that the 20th Century had been, in effect, a massive, bloody, melodramatic argument over the question "what is the best way to govern human polities and organize human economic activities?" and that the collapse of the Soviet Empire proved that liberal democracy and free-market capitalism were the answers.

Well, of course Mr. Fukuyama ended up walking that back a bit. But I think that we, especially here in the United States, still see Fukuyama's End of History as durable and desirable endpoints for society as well as the inevitable and immutable state of American society.

It might be well to consider, however, that perhaps the arc of history is bending a trifle, and not - at least, not for those of us who see both of those (in one form or another...) as, at the very least, preferable to autocracy - towards the End that Mr. Fukuyama - and many of us - hoped to see.

In Turkey the now-president-for-life has effectively become an autocrat. The Philippines - admittedly never exactly a global ideal of political stability - appears to be heading towards autocracy under Duarte. Poland has made a fairly hard turn towards some sort - there appears to be a disagreement as to whether this turn is harder-left or harder-right - of authoritarian rule. An outright neo-fascist has a considerably-less-than-zero chance of being elected President of the Fifth French Republic in 2017. Russia was never anything but an autocracy but has now abandoned even the pretense of being anything but a dictatorship; the romantic in me almost wishes that Trump's pal Putin would quit kidding around and become Tsar Vladimir the First.

And, speaking of Il Douche, arguably the United States has elected as President a man who has made some very autocratic statements on the stump (and elsewhere...) and who has appointed an openly white nationalist his "primary advisor".

Since 11/9/16 I have been hearing quite a bit of tut-tutting about the actual authoritarian content of the inside of President-elect's tangerine-combover and a fair bit of "there-there" at my raised hackles over the likely changes to come. I'm hearing about "veto points" and "the durability of democratic institutions" and "waiting for Trump to show his hand".

All of which sounds very reasonable.

It probably sounded reasonable in the general headquarters of the French Army in April of 1940.

But one of the first rules I learned when assessing military intelligence is to attempt to determine "What is the enemy's most dangerous course of action?" Because that would be the move that had the potential to utterly overset you. Other attacks might be dangerous, or do damage...but the real danger was that action that could completely unhinge your defenses, as the mounted attack through the Ardennes and the breakthrough at Sedan did to France the following May.

We the People tend to think of ourselves as a "democracy", a "republic" because that has been our default setting for generations. We like to think that we are immune to this sudden burst of authoritarian rule. But, you'll note, that the places that are getting (or are likely to get) autocrats thought (or think) that they had or have strong democratic institutions. And, in many cases, those institutions "remain". They just don't work anymore.

We've watched for years as the state Republican parties suppress the votes of anyone not likely to vote GOP. About 24% of the U.S. public has now elected a man whose entire public life has been a squalling tantrum of greed and thin-skinned anger, usually expressed in litigation. Now, of course, Trump has all the resources of a nation-state to pursue his vendetti, assuming that he doesn't change his thin-skin or his spots.

One difficulty with trying to assess what the incoming Administration's "most dangerous course of action" for liberalism and the America founded in the New Deal of the Thirties is assessing the difference between policy and political danger.

To me, as a child of that New Deal America, the policies pursued by Trump's Republican cronies in Congress are a fearful danger. People like Paul Ryan have had a boner for destroying the social safety net that is visible from space. The probability is overwhelmingly good that a Ryan-controlled House will send a President Trump bills that will attempt to throw Social Security to the Wall Street wolves (oh, and how is YOUR 401K these days..?) and voucherize Medicare represents to me the insane likelihood of returning America;s social fabric to 1930. Old people will be impoverished - not the genteel poverty of Social Security but the deadly poverty of the Depression - sicken and die. People unable to work because of injury or illness, physical or mental, will have no recourse but to hope for private charity or relatives probably themselves living precariously.

We look to have some sort of climate-change "skeptic" idiot in charge of our national environmental policy. Wall Street regulation - never the strictest under Obama - appears to be going to turned over to the Bank of America. The Trump cabinet so far is populated by some of the wingiest nuts in the wingnut basket, people who never met a public thing they didn't want to deregulate, privatize, sell off, or monetize.

And there are no "checks and balances" on all of this. The GOP controls the White House, Congress, and will soon have the Supreme Court back.

It's like an Ann Coulter wet dream, and I can't imagine anything more dangerous to the America I grew up in than that.

(Also, eeeew).

Because, like a sort of vindictive and petty tribe of Bourbons, the GOP has become the Party that learns nothing yet never forgets a slight. Still smarting from the public's loathing of their feudal politics and ridiculously-plutocratic "economics" they forget what a turbulent, dangerous place the United States was prior to the long capital-labor peace won by the New Deal.

Riots, strikes...troops sent into the mills, bomb-throwing "anarchists" under every bed, soldiers gassing Bonus Marchers, strikers and scabs and Pinkertons battling in the streets and frightened editorials about rage and revolt and anarchy in every newspaper. Remember that that cunning old aristo FDR didn't give pensions to the proles because he loved them. He gave them because knew that if he didn't ameliorate the miseries of vulture capitalism the bad examples of Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy stood as beacons for those who thought that the ends of hanging bankers from every lamppost justified the means of revolution.

So, to me, this Trumpist indifference to the GOP desire for a return to the oligarchic rule and the Dickensian capitalism of 1929 is, indeed, the "most dangerous course of action" that must needs be mobilized against. I have a hard time imagining anything more dangerous.

But Dan Nexon can.
"...the thing about institutions — domestic or international — is that you often don’t realize until too late that they’ve changed beyond recognition. Or how fragile they are until they collapse. The other thing about democratic norms and institutions is once they break, they’re very hard to put back together. What is true domestically is doubly true internationally.

In other words, we can change policies. If you’re a libertarian, you can hope to undo Trump’s likely military budgets. If you’re a liberal, you can rebuild the welfare state. If you’re a conservative, you can push for balanced budgets. Climate is a bigger problem—because major reversals now could make meeting optimistic targets very, very hard—but even here environmentalists can live to fight another day.

But if we lose our institutions, we are in serious trouble. Often, the United States has played the “White Knight” pushing democratization. What country can play that role for the United States if we head towards a hybrid regime? What all of this means seems to me quite clear: We should hope for the best—that Trump is a successful President who tames his worst impulses and receives wise council—but prepare for the worst.

That means building a broad political coalition with one goal: keeping these institutions alive. Doing so requires setting aside policy differences (in fact, on routine policy matters I see no problem with Democrats and country-first Republicans working with Trump). It requires putting country over party. And it requires doing this because of something basic we know about creeping authoritarianism and hybrid regimes—the strongest force for democracy is a united opposition; divide-and-rule tactics are the first resort of the autocrat."
So is the bigger danger not the destruction of the Paris Agreement and a massive federal coal subsidy, or the zeroing-out of the OSHA budget...but, rather, the institutionalization of the FBI as the D.B. Norton Motor Corps for the personal use of President Trump in hunting down and destroying people who are mean to him on Twitter, or the end of NATO?

This whole "most dangerous course of action" thing is beginning to look more complex than I originally thought.

I will say this, though; I still contend that the time is now to begin. We need to take the potential autocrat at his word. The Turks did not. The Filipinos did not. The French, apparently, will not. And as the Russians could tell them; once the autocrat is in charge resistance is futile. Russia never had the chance we have, Turkey seems to have lost what chance they had.

We have not, but the example of all this dictatorship should be like a firebell in the night for us who have no love for our country, as flawed, as much of an oligarchy as it is already, to go even further down that easy path to the Rule of One.

For by the time the sound of tank engines is heard in the forest, it's too late.


mike said...

FDChief -

As Trump Appointee Bannon 5he neofascist says: “Anger is a Good thing . . . if you’re Fighting to Take this Country Back”

That works both ways. We should adopt it as our motto.

FDChief said...

As I said in the previous post, what makes me so furious is the blank, stomp-down, pure-D bone stupid. If these moron Trumpsters had foisted this low-rent Mussolini on us the hold off some shattering Evil it'd have been one thing. But to give us this dope and a government of loopy wingnuts pining for 1929, angry crackers, and wannabe Crusaders because they were opressed having to press 1 for English and send wedding gifts to homos? To elect this transparent grifter and bellowing man-sized infant because somewhere some Negro was getting a government check or some tramp was getting her womb vacuumed?

Say what ill you want to about slavery at least it was a huge moral problem. This is kicking our nation in the balls because your Bud Light wasn't cold enough...

Fuck but THAT pisses me off.