Luck and fate in politics

by John Quiggin on January 16, 2021

There’s a lot of luck[1] in politics. If a handful of events had gone differently in 2016, we’d probably be discussing President Clinton’s second term right now. If the Brexit referendum had been held a few weeks earlier, Remain would probably have won, and David Cameron might still be PM. A few lucky breaks and Labor would have won the 2019 Australian election. And if things had gone slightly differently in Georgia (with the Repubs falling just short in the first round, then losing both runoffs), the prospects for a Biden Administration would be greatly worse than they are.

The first three of these events were unexpected wins for the Trumpist right. And while nobody much pays attention to Australia, the first two were interpreted by Trumpists as much more than lucky breaks. They fed a whole set of beliefs which built up to an expectation that, no matter how bad things looked, their side was destined (for a lot of Trumpists, divinely ordained) for victory.

It’s not surprising then, that Trump’s supporters expected victory in November, and were willing to believe, without any evidence that their victory had been stolen. But as it became more and more evident that the election results were not going to be overturned, cognitive dissonance started to set in. The options were to accept that, fairly or not, they had lost, or to embrace the apocalyptic vision of QAnon and the far right, manifested in the Capitol last week. From the polling evidence, it looks as if the Republican base split down the middle on this.

Now that the insurrection has failed, and Biden’s inauguration is about to take place, the choice gets even sharper. As those who rejected the election result and tried to overturn it are increasingly ostracised and increasingly forced to recant[2], there’s no middle ground between accepting defeat, at least this time around, and going all the way down the insurrectionist rabbit hole and into rightwing terrorism.

From the politics as usual viewpoint of someone like Mitch McConnell, the advisability of the first course of action is obvious. But to the extent that the energy of the Trumpists was built on faith in inevitable victory, that may be difficult to sustain[3].

As for rightwing terrorism, it’s bound to keep on happening. The history of events like the Beer Hall Putsch shows that clownish initial failure does not guarantee defeat (no inevitability, again). We have to hope that, having been directly and personally threatened by the terrorists, the Democrats won’t shrink from the responses necessary to suppress them and the Republicans won’t be willing to defend them.

fn1. My friend, fellow-economist and now politician Andrew Leigh has a great little book called The Luck of Politics It’s mostly about luck as it affects individual political careers, where the same point applies: a bit of good luck is often the difference between being revered and being reviled.

fn2. In this context, the coverage by the Washington Times is just as significant as the apology extracted from American Thinker. The story includes, as background, the observation that

Mr. Trump and some fellow Republicans pushed false claims and conspiracy theories to justify the election’s outcome prior to mobs of the president’s supporters raiding the U.S. Capitol last week, including baseless allegations involving Dominion and its machines.

Republicans will have to get used to reading this kind of thing, even in reliably rightwing media.

fn3. The 20th century debates within Marxism about the inevitability of socialism illustrate this, as do even older debates about predestination within Christianity. Logically, you might expect a belief in inevitability to discourage costly action (why work hard for a cause that is going to win anyway?), but in practice, the feeling of being on the winning side has always won out.

{ 84 comments }

1

Hidari 01.16.21 at 8:15 am

I agree with all of this, except this: ‘the Democrats won’t shrink from the responses necessary to suppress them and the Republicans won’t be willing to defend them’.

To be honest, it sorta gives me the chills. As you are probably aware, Washington currently is under complete lockdown by the military (as everyone now finds it convenient to forget the military is, and will be until Tuesday, noon, actually under the control of Donald Trump. So….yeah, there’s a bit of a problem there. But everyone seems determined to forget that basic fact. Likewise the unprecedented empowerment of the Feds ((and one assumes the CIA/NSA etc.). Again these agencies are currently under the control of…..Donald Trump. But let’s forget that).

Now, almost every journalist, apparently unaware of the issues or problems with this, has, when tweeting this, stated something like ‘This isn’t Baghdad!’ or ‘Scenes not from Khabul!’. Apparently unaware of what they are letting slip, and how dangerous this analogy is (you might want to ask the native inhabitants of those cities now ‘safe’ the Americans made their hometown).

The Army is literally calling the area under military occupation ‘The Green Zone’ (I’m not joking: https://twitter.com/mtracey/status/1350294354489995265/photo/1).
This does not precisely break posse comitatus, but it is definitely pushing at the frontiers of what is acceptable.

Trumpism in the form that we have known it, is simply dead. Biden will be brought into power on Tuesday, and it has been fairly obvious that this will happen since about March of this year (in lieu of some unforeseen and unforseeable event, this was pretty inevitable from that point on). QAnon is a batshit crazy conspiracy theory believed mainly by people with mental health issues. It’s not going to last. Trump won’t win in 2024, and it’s highly unlikely that he will even try (it’s pretty unlikely that he will even make the first steps towards that).

But the Democrats are in power, they have both Houses, and they are inheriting a situation where Americans are frightened and crying out for ‘strong leadership’ (to be fair, this is not particularly unusual for Americans). Journalists are already referring to this as 1/6 (in deliberate allusion to 9/11). Despite the crazy conspiracy theories flying about, the CIA and the NSA (and the higher echelons of the Armed Forces) are all strongly pro-Biden. These are the most anti-democratic forces in the United States (indeed, on Planet Earth). Luke Harding (the liar in chief for the Guardian) is already trying to spin this as a foreign attack (https://twitter.com/lukeharding1968/status/1350186187747696650), presumably necessitating military action at some point in the future. And what will anti-war protesters be called? ‘Domestic terrorsts’ one assumes.

The Trump appointed judges did not, in fact, have any loyalty to Trump. But they will be strongly against any perceived attacks on the American imperial state.

‘Following the …riot at the US Capitol, progressives and liberals have begun to mimic the calls for “law and order” of their conservative counterparts, even going as far as threatening to expand the “war on terror”. (This) fits neatly within the trajectory of attacks against civil liberties over the last two decades. A Biden administration with a 50-50 Senate will seek unity and compromise wherever it can find it, and oppressing political dissidents will be the glue that holds together Biden’s ability to govern.

A wide array of actors within the United States government have long predicted, and begun to prepare for, a new age of protests and political instability. In 2008 the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a research program aimed at understanding mass movements and how they spread. It included at least one project that conflated peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence” and deemed that they were worth studying alongside active terrorist organizations.’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/14/biden-protest-surveillance-repression

One only needs to ask some basic questions. There are deep structural issues in American society vis a vis the police and the African American community. Given that BLM began under Obama, will there be further BLM rallies? Arguably yes, and (as as in the summer) there may be violence.

We know what Biden thinks of BLM: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/black-lives-matter-biden-ignoring-demeaning

What do we think the response of the American State, now more openly imperial than ever before, might be?

Again, what about Extinction Rebellion, whose whole modus operandi is about breaking the law?

And finally: when the Democrats leave power (and they will, eventually) all these new powers and this new attitude will be just ‘lying on the shelf’ waiting for the Republicans to use them against the Left.

Use of phrases like ‘the terrorists’ also gives me the creeps. Again, in 10 years time or so, I can just imagine these very same phrases being used against the Left.

2

MisterMr 01.16.21 at 9:40 am

I think that the problem is not inevitability, but rather the feeling of being a majority.

Like, many leftists believe that they represent the majority, so that when the right wins the elections it is because the corporate media fed the people with lies etc.

The difference is that lefties have still the idea of the USSR in their mind, so they realize that they could go wrong, whereas the right for various reasons does not really believe that they could go wrong and go fascist, because historical fascism ended a lot of time ago, but also because rightists are cultural conservatives who tend to assume that everyone thinks like them, and so don’t realize their similarity to fascism because fascists look foreign.

If you believe you represent a majority you naturally believe you will win elections, and that when you start an insurrection against someone who “stole” your election the country will rally behind you.

The problem is that the “will of the people” is a feeble thing, that is often contradictory and changes with the wind, and therefore can only be determined through some formal procedure.

3

nastywoman 01.16.21 at 10:32 am

and as there is this theory – that with ”the accidental” – or should we say ”random” election of a confused Idiot as President”-
all ”actions” – (or politics?) became more or less ”random” – in the United States – with the exception of the overbearing emotion to:

”Burn the Whole Place Down”!

And we used to film at a few Trump Rallies – and each time before getting there –
we received a call -(from Germany) – saying:
”Y’all know – somebody might kill y’all – especially if you are being as ”frech” and nasty and use y’alls right of FREE SPEECH.

And each time I answered – that I’m aware of such a possibility – and each time I actually was pleasantly surprised – that I wasn’t dead after the Rally – or just beaten up by a Trumper – and that most of these ”Trumpers” – actually – were really nice and sweet – especially to a Blond from Germany?

BUT anywhoo – I – we NEVER would have gone to a ”real insurrection” –
NAH! –
and that’s why I also prefer the words ”random” or ”accidental” instead of the word:

”Luck”….

4

nastywoman 01.16.21 at 11:41 am

And just a… a ”random” correction of:
@”Despite the crazy conspiracy theories flying about, the CIA and the NSA (and the higher echelons of the Armed Forces) are all strongly pro-Biden”.

to:
Despite the crazy conspiracy theories flying about, the CIA and the NSA (and the higher echelons of the Armed Forces) and everybody ”sane” are all strongly pro-sanity.

And ”Trump” made that… – if the theory that ”Obama made Trump” is true:
By joking about Trumps utmost famous joke – that Obama was not born in the US and was not a US citizen.

Or wasn’t that a ”Trumpjoke” at all – and NOTHING was ”random” –
or ”accidental”
or ”luck” –
AT ALL?

5

Phil 01.16.21 at 11:48 am

Historical inevitability is an interesting one, as is the comparison (made by Christopher Hill among others) between Calvinist predestination and Marxist historical determinism. I don’t think it’s as simple as wanting to think you’re on the winning side; the logic in both cases is that your cause is inevitably going to triumph, but that when that day comes you want to have made your contribution. IOW you want to be part of the victory of the cause (seen from the future, when victory will have been inevitable) by being part of the fight for the cause (in the present, when victory looks uncertain).

This doesn’t quite describe either Trump’s own mentality or the QAnon mindset, though. Trump’s mentality is fatuous: he is a winner now and, er, that’s it. He and his supporters have always already won, he and they will always already be winners, and nothing can be allowed to interfere with this. (Hence the awfulness of the US’s Covid response, or rather the particular way in which it’s awful.) QAnon has a slightly more sophisticated temporality, but only slightly. It’s a conspiracy theory of the apocalyptic type – as well as the Protocols, think of Noel Pemberton-Billing’s Black Book; the logic is that a great revelation, and a great overturning, is (always) about to happen. I guess it’s a backstop for people who can’t quite summon the suspension of disbelief to buy the MAGA script that everything is already great; they avoid that level of cognitive dissonance by signing up for a perpetually-renewed supply of jam tomorrow.

I don’t think many people in Trumpist circles are thinking in terms of historical inevitability in the Calvinist / Hegelian sense, though – there’s not much “the arc of history bends towards MAGA” out there. Which is good, because it makes the Trumpist mentality that much harder to maintain – other than by going down the Q rabbit hole, as you say.

6

Tim Worstall 01.16.21 at 12:17 pm

Hmm, well:

“If the Brexit referendum had been held a few weeks earlier, Remain would probably have won,”

Not that I was involved with the campaign although I know many who were. If you know the date of an election then you run the campaign to peak at that date. Bit like playing football for 90 minutes (or, for those attuned, bringing on your second set of props around the 60 minutes mark in rugby).

@1 “the area under military occupation ‘The Green Zone’”

Not that people correcting me is unusual around here but I’ve some vague background memory that that’s what it means. The Baghdad derivation coming from the older meaning, where green zone is that area which is safe because it is under military occupation?

“Safe” obviously having an elasticity of meaning here.

7

BenK 01.16.21 at 1:14 pm

While you advocate ‘change the world’ for some causes, maybe consider applying that concept to how you deal with this situation – if you think that people will turn to terror because they are being ostracized and ‘de-platformed’ then perhaps you might consider whether radicalization is your ultimate goal?

8

BenK 01.16.21 at 1:16 pm

For Hidari; if you think those organizations were under Trump’s control for 4 years, you are mistaken. And if you think they will be under Biden or Harris… also mistaken.

9

nastywoman 01.16.21 at 1:24 pm

and to take it a bit more… seriously? –
how about going through ”teh problem” step by step as our Resident Trumper -(or should we call him ”Glenn”?) – has… provided.

First this thing with ”the (New) ‘Green Zone’ –
Don’t worry – as when the Crazy-Right-Wing-Racist-Science-And-Voting-Results- Deniers will behave at the Inauguration -(or hopefully not even show up in relevant numbers) the Army will be gone again –
And THEN! –
when the Crazy-Right-Wing-Racist-Science-And-Voting-Results-Deniers – will keep on behaving… decently there is no need to do all the stuff Trump used to do in silence his cries and opposition –

SO –
Don’t be afraid – Glenn’s of this World – as didn’t Biden just show with some very helpful
and reasonable –
and SANE –
policies that HELP is on the way –
EVEN!! –
for the utmost rambunctious children?

10

nastywoman 01.16.21 at 1:38 pm

AND
about probably the most important point:

”a situation where Americans are frightened and crying out for ‘strong leadership’ (to be fair, this is not particularly unusual for Americans)”.

In as HUUUGE of a Crisis – we are ALL facing – EVERYBODY in the world is crying for ”strong leadership” as if you don’t have a strong leader in a Pandemic far too many of your friends or family members are dying – and as I think – I mentioned a few times before – I have a really hard time understanding people –
who are in this crisis –
which turned my life completely up side down –
worry about… about something else –
than –
this… this ”crisis” –
which turned my life completely up side down?

11

Hidari 01.16.21 at 1:57 pm

Front page on the ‘liberal’ Guardian, big letters, at the top: Can Biden Make American Great Again?

12

oldster 01.16.21 at 2:37 pm

Hidari says,
“I agree with all of this….”

Hidari says,
“Biden will be brought into power on Tuesday, and it has been fairly obvious that this will happen since about March of this year (in lieu of some unforeseen and unforseeable event, this was pretty inevitable from that point on).”

If you think Biden’s inauguration is inevitable, and has been inevitable since March (!!?!?), then you do not agree with the central premise of JQ’s post, or 90% of it’s contents.

JQ’s post says: it isn’t inevitable. It never was inevitable. It required a thousand, a million lucky breaks, and will require some more lucky breaks before Tuesday.

Your claim that Biden’s election was obviously inevitable from last March is just further evidence that you have no understanding of American politics, at all. You are living in a bizarro fantasy land.

But your claiming it on this thread, after what JQ wrote, and then claiming that you agree with him, is evidence that you are incapable of basic reading comprehension.

13

nastywoman 01.16.21 at 2:58 pm

while – still – I can’t get it out of my head –
this:

”Posted Live From the Inferno
By Jerry Saltz

Incredible pictures streamed out of Washington, D.C., on January 6. Staggering, depressing, laughably birdbrained images of self-styled revolutionaries, QAnon crackpots, Wall Street types in baseball caps and flak jackets, paranoids, cultists, grandmas, goons, Oath Keepers, burnouts, paintball guerrillas, conspiracy theorists, retirees, and stay-at-home alt-right dads armed with spears, guns, and tasers. Many of these were photographs taken of the mob by the mob. We saw videos made by news crews and rioters alike. All showed us an ocean of mostly white people in red hats surging up to and inside the U.S. Capitol Building, crashing through windows, beating (or taking selfies with) police, and calling for the deaths of members of the U.S. government.

After Trump finished his speech at his “Save America” rally last week, I turned off the TV. But the danger in the air made me turn it back on. I started scrolling through social media and right-wing sites, and the images flooded in. No one pictured attacking the Capitol appeared to have the slightest fear of repercussions. Some carried “This Is Our 1776” signs. I saw videos of people falling while trying to scale walls; some seemed to spray their own cohorts with mace, while others carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags were shoved down by compatriots with the same flag. It was like watching a dog eating its own feces, a clown act, and an actual insurrection all at once. Together, these images are some of the scariest and stupidest I have ever seen.

They’re also unsurprising in the extreme.

As an older person, I recognize in the pictures something that has been here my whole life, something familiar: a look in the mob’s faces that I saw on TV as I watched MLK march not far from my childhood home in the Chicago suburb of Cicero in 1966. Back then, I watched white Americans who looked just like my neighbors screaming, consumed, animalistic, archaic. I turned away from the TV and saw the same look on my stepmother’s face. My stepbrothers said King should be shot. I later saw it firsthand in the summer of 1968, when I took the subway to protests in Chicago’s Grant Park. It was in the faces of the policemen and later in those of Chicago machine politicians. The pictures from the January 6 mob are not pictures of the underdog.

As an art critic, I take a step back to access the deeper contents of these strange images. In the pictures of that day, I see totemism, tribal warfare, incompetence, half-madness, vengeance, white privilege, rage, cruelty. These pictures are what would happen if Facebook became flesh. These are people all speaking at once to everyone else, all claiming that their facts are real and everyone else’s are fake. This gives the pictures a new kind of uncanniness — the group mind doing old things in new languages while sharing a single nervous system. As primary documents, they are intimate. Scrolling through, we storm the Capitol barricades with the red-hatted mob; we surge forward, make our way up and down stairwells, get lost. We hear the laughing, the chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” the members of the mob asking where the bathrooms are. On Parler and Newsmax, I watched invaders watching themselves on their own social-media platforms. The feedback loop was astonishing and insane, the moment transformed into a sort of collective far-right group portrait.

I also notice what we don’t see in them: Trump. He watched the riot unfold the same way the rest of us did, onscreen. These pictures show the crowd finally on its own, acting as one, with no constraints and almost no authority in sight.

What other images have ever looked this way? Fellini gave us crazed carnivals of decadence, ugliness, barbarism, and corpulence. I flash on history paintings of vast armies clashing; on January 6, the crowd donned vivid red, a deluded Trumpist army laying siege to a building, all while carrying flags and banners. Bosch pictured mindless insanity in hell: people endlessly spurting bats from their asses, being stabbed for all eternity, gripped, sickened souls. Here, I see a crowd of political cannibals, feeding on one another’s obsessions.

Follower of Hieronymus Bosch, Christ in Limbo, 1450–1516. Photo: Public Domain

I am reminded of three earlier photographs that stood in for an entire event or era and changed it: Nick Ut’s 1972 photograph of the naked 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, screaming and running after she and her village in Vietnam were napalmed by American bombers; David Jackson’s 1955 image of the battered body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, murdered by white men; and John Filo’s 1970 image of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio, screaming over the body of 20-year-old Jeffrey Miller after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State.

The difference in these new pictures, however, is sadly telling. In fact, we are already seeing that exact perversion of the “meaning” of these images in the herculean effort being made by elected Republican representatives and all of right-wing media to twist these pictures into things that they are not: the regretful expression of only a few, an exercise in free speech. The rioters themselves seem to think that they are the burning girl, the murdered boy, the crying woman. These new pictures are unlike those older pictures in another way too: People are already shrugging them off. The older pictures still burn.

The riot at the Capitol wasn’t America’s first rendezvous with destiny in this century: The other, of course, was September 11, 2001. Both events gave us something tragic and unimagined, unfolding in the span of only a few hours and watched in real time around the world. But the images and events of January 6 are, once again, not the same.

The images of the fallen towers were abstract: Death was seen in the absence of bodies, the missing buildings. We saw only smoke, fire, ash, a ruined skyline. This abstraction made it possible for authorities to interpret those photos any way they wanted and then pin the blame elsewhere, starting what has now been nearly 20 years of war. The pictures from September 11 seemed to show annihilation, an invading force from outside — an archaic force slamming into modern politics. In these new pictures, that demonic force is us”.

14

Omega Centauri 01.16.21 at 4:53 pm

I worry about potentially horrible luck/timing for Biden wrt COVID. IMO we are about to lose the race against the viral-mutations:
https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-new-strain-how-bad-is-it
The CDC is now issuing warnings against this happening.
So if this epidemic spirals out of control, because our vaccinations are running a couple of months behind where we need to be, people may start believing that Trump did better against COVID than Biden. (As totally crazy as that sounds, many would fall for it).

MrMister@2. The rightwing considers Hitler to have been leftwing, because the word Socialism was in the party name. So they dismiss Facism as being a left-wing pheonema.

15

Hidari 01.16.21 at 7:30 pm

I love how I keep on making correct predictions and then get called insane for doing so.

16

Colin Danby 01.16.21 at 8:11 pm

I’ll recommend this:

https://acoup.blog/2021/01/15/miscellanea-insurrections-ancient-and-modern-and-also-meet-the-academicats/

re (1) understanding insurrections and (2) grasping that this is very far from over.

For historical perspective Isaac Chotiner’s interview with Rick Perlstein

https://t.co/7fQwIiKrF2?amp=1

may be helpful especially for readers outside the U.S. He situates this event in

“… the reactionary minoritarianism behind the Constitutional Convention and the South saying, “We’re not going to be part of this deal unless we put rules into place to guarantee that we have a veto power over the rest of the country deciding slavery is wrong.” Throughout the nineteenth century the South in various ways was trying to extend that logic, devolving into the force of arms when the parliamentary part of that project failed. We see that kind of reactionary minoritarianism in, for example, a rule within the Democratic Party that, until 1936, you had to have two-thirds of the delegates to be a Presidential nominee. That was the South’s veto, the white-supremacy veto.

“And then, with the civil-rights movement, when you began to see this challenge to white supremacy, one of the things that happened is that reactionary minoritarianism devolved again into force of arms, which basically happens every time. And then you get the fact that the Republican Party makes a conscious decision to nominate an anti-civil-rights Presidential candidate [Barry Goldwater] in 1964. You see, basically, this project of making sure that the reactionary part of America has operational control, whether they’re in the majority or not, and whenever that seems to be under threat, we see more and more hysteria, more and more conspiracy theories, more and more violence. So, in that sense, it’s the apotheosis of something we’ve seen since the founding.”

The interview also has some sage remarks on civilian-military relations.

17

Jason Weidner 01.16.21 at 9:23 pm

The belief in the US that Democrats only win by fraud has been a mantra of the right for decades.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/15/opinion/voter-fraud-capitol-attack.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

18

CHETAN R MURTHY 01.16.21 at 9:57 pm

News at 2pm PT: Known Trumpist Hidari throws predictable scorn at Democrats. In other news, dog bites man. Video at 11.

19

MisterMr 01.16.21 at 10:10 pm

@Omega Centauri 14

After the defeat of fascism in WW2, lefties blamed fascism on the right, as a form of late stage capitalism, while righties blamed it on the left, as a statist and therefore more or less socialist ideology.
For various reasons I think the lefties are right and the righties are wrong.

But, being italian, I met and spoke to many people who were actual fascists in the time of Mussolini, and I can tell you they were pretty normal people, not the crazies you see in movies about WW2.
I think amercans, and perhaps younger generations in Italy too, lack this perspective, so that “fascist” became a pejorative only term, not a descriptor of nationalist or ultra-nationalist beliefs.
In addition, natonalist ideologies have this characteristic, that if one says “make America great again” and the other says “make China great again” they think they are on opposite sides, even tough from the outside they both are nationalists.

So I think that it is difficult for many americans to see that Mussolini policy was, basically, “make Italy great again”, mostly because they identify with the USA and not with Italy, and only in a minor way because they think that Mussolini was a sort of lefty.

20

Omega Centauri 01.16.21 at 10:29 pm

I don’t think QAnon followers are insane. Probably a bit more than naive about epistemology. I read an article a couple months back -unfortunately I don’t have a link. It was by an online-game expert. He was very impressed with the sophisticated design. Telling a ridiculous theory to your next victim rarely works. Instead they get the user to look for certain clues, and they follow the breadcrumb trail and make a “discovery” which they now make theirs -because they discovered it -all by their loneselves so-they-think. Then more breadcrumbs appear, leading the victim further down the rabbit hole.

He thought it had to have been created by a very well funded group of experts. We all have our ideas about the likely outfits with the expertise and motivation to do so may be located.

21

CHETAN R MURTHY 01.16.21 at 10:53 pm

Omega Centauri: Given that these mRNA vaccines can be re-jiggered in days-to-weeks, I suspect that what’ll happen is, the FDA will decide it’s worth just rolling the dice and making the changes, sending out the doses. No, it’s not great. It’s really, really not great. But that’ll be what happens. Lordy I hope we get lucky.

22

CHETAN R MURTHY 01.17.21 at 1:57 am

MisterMr: I think it was “Big Media” Matt Yglesias, who coined the phrase “Red State World”, back in those halcyon days when the only polities we destabilized and destroyed were those with brown people in them [oh, snap! same as ours!] But seriously, he pointed out that the people in Af-Pak, or Iraq, or Iran, who were so religiously conservative, so nationalist, weren’t so different from own Evangelicals Talibangelicals …. and that really, the rise of “red-staters” in one country naturally led to their rise in countries the were attacked by the first band of red-staters.

It’s a Red-State World; we’re just living in it.

Sigh. Imagine what it’ll be like when the climate-change migrations start in earnest.[1]

[1] reputable scientists believe that the roots of Syria’s unrest/revolution/civil war/carnage are in droughts due to climate change.

23

nastywoman 01.17.21 at 3:14 am

@
”I love how I keep on making correct predictions and then get called insane for doing so”.

”Take this ‘impeachment’ attempt. Remember, the media created story is that Trump is a ‘Fascist dictator’ and that he attempted a coup and etc. Pelosi, (sorry to repeat this point, but it’s important) who knows Trump well, was given the option of immediately proceeding with impeachment on Friday and her attitude was ‘Naaah I can’t really be bothered, let’s do it after the weekend’. Would she behave like that if she definitely believed that Trump was a Nazi who had just tried to seize power and turn the United States into a dictatorship?

And now we find that instead of proceeding with impeachment, she has written to Mike Pence, giving him 24 hours to respond, asking him to invoke the 25th.

So this is just more delaying tactics. Pelosi and the Democrats are frantically denying it, but what they are in fact trying to do is to waste time until Trump leaves office

Trump will probably not even be impeached

Noe will he be impeached after he leaves office

Enjoy the impeachment! It will be a spectacle

In the unlikely event that anyone losing their shit about yesterday’s farce is serious

Asserting that Donald Trump is a fascist-like dictator threatening the previously sturdy foundations of U.S. democracy has been a virtual requirement over the last four years to obtain entrance to cable news Green Rooms, sinecures as mainstream newspaper columnists, and popularity in faculty lounges. Yet it has proven to be a preposterous farce”

and NOW it has been proven that ”it has proven to be a preposterous farce”
is a – preposterous lie…

24

nastywoman 01.17.21 at 3:31 am

And I forgot –
I put out some… ”breadcrumbs” in order that everybody here can follow them –
as doesn’t following breadcrumbs always lead to… to ”the truth”?

https://youtu.be/BnzXMRkBjMY

25

bad Jim 01.17.21 at 4:57 am

Omega Centauri, I’ve got your link right here.

Apophenia is : “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”

It goes on to detail how the effort put into puzzle-solving strengthens the conviction of the game players, and ends with

How easy is it to live in a fantasy world?

Pretty easy actually. Love, civilization, honor, good/evil, religion, money, etc. What is real and what is a fiction that we have created and agreed to live as if they existed? Maybe you don’t believe your religion is a fiction, but what about everyone else’s? Are they all equally real?

26

Alan White 01.17.21 at 5:39 am

I completely agree about the role of luck in all life, especially my own:

https://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2016/02/asymmetrical-luck.html

But when it comes to trends of political power and such, luck can be confined and managed to an extent by events that may at first seem minor, but in the long haul are major, such as the abandonment of the FCC fairness doctrine in 1987, resulting in Limbaugh, FOX “News”, etc. A mind as they say is a terrible thing to waste, but tens of millions of minds so wasted give us where we are today.

27

bad Jim 01.17.21 at 6:25 am

Wow! Real time moderation!

The family text channel (doesn’t everyone have one of these?) has been pretty wild for months. The last couple of days have been kid and dog vids, but a recent thread has involved investing. My brothers are Tesla enthusiasts; I push back, rather gently insinuating that the stock may be over-valued. I should mention that I am by far the wealthiest member of the family.

I texted that the secret to my success was being incredibly lucky and living with my mother. Not one of the replies addressed the incredible luck.

The recipe is opportunity plus skill plus work. Most hard-working people don’t get rich. Skills are not evenly distributed; my particular constellation of abilities were in no small part the result of my well-educated parents and my state’s (then) generously financed schools. So, mostly luck.

28

Tim Worstall 01.17.21 at 8:10 am

@11 “Front page on the ‘liberal’ Guardian, big letters, at the top: Can Biden Make American Great Again?”

Pretty good example of Betteridge’s Law.

29

MisterMr 01.17.21 at 9:11 am

@Chetan R Murthy 22

I agree.

30

nastywoman 01.17.21 at 9:43 am

And every since Glenn Greenwald wrote that Obama was just like Bush –
“the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)” – became my favourite game…
BUT just on teh Intertubes –
while in reality we focused on the Archaeology of ideas and objects.

31

nastywoman 01.17.21 at 11:40 am

and this:

”BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — War-like imagery has begun spreading in Republican circles after the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters, with some elected officials and party leaders rejecting pleas to tone down rhetoric calling for a second civil war.

In northwestern Wisconsin, the chairman of the St. Croix County Republican Party was forced to resign Friday after refusing for a week after the siege to remove an online post urging followers to “prepare for war.” The incoming chairwoman of the Michigan GOP and her husband, a state lawmaker, have joined a conservative social media site created after the Capitol riot where the possibility of civil war is a topic.

Phil Reynolds, a member of the GOP central committee in California’s Santa Clara County, appeared to urge insurrectionists on social media during the Jan. 6 attack, declaring on Facebook: “The war has begun. Citizens take arms! Drumroll please….. Civil War or No Civil War?”

The heightened rhetoric mimics language far-right extremists and white supremacists have used for years, and it follows a year of civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer and its links to systemic racism. Some leftists have used similar language, which Republicans have likened to advocating a new civil war.

The post-Floyd demonstrations prompted governments and corporations alike to reevaluate, leading to the removal of Confederate symbols across the South and the retirement of racially insensitive brands.

Then on Jan. 6, demonstrators stoked by Trump’s false claims that he won the 2020 election brought symbols of the Old South to the siege of the Capitol, carrying Confederate flags inside and even erecting a wooden gallows with a noose outside the building.

Democrats say the uptick in war talk isn’t accidental. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Trump began putting his supporters in the frame of mind to make the opening charge years ago and is “capable of starting a civil war.”

“Since his first day in office, this president has spent four years abusing his power, lying, embracing authoritarianism (and) radicalizing his supporters against democracy,” she said in arguing for impeachment. “This corruption poisoned the minds of his supporters, inciting them to willingly join with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and paramilitary extremists in a siege of the United State Capitol building, the very seat of American democracy.”

There are parallels between now and the run-up to the Civil War, including a fractious national election that ended with presidents — Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Joe Biden in 2020 — who millions rejected as illegitimate victors, said Nina Silber, co-president of the Society of Civil War Historians.

Lincoln won the Electoral College but came away with only a plurality of the popular vote in a four-way race. Biden won the popular vote by 7 million over Trump and defeated him decisively in the Electoral College, 306 to 232. Dozens of lawsuits by Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the results failed, some of them turned away by federal judges Trump himself nominated. Then-Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department could find no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the election’s outcome.

While the same geographic split doesn’t exist today as when the Civil War started in 1861 and there is no mass preparation for all-out conflict, Silber said white anger and resentment fueled both eras.

“At the time of the Civil War, this took the form of Southern white men angry at the idea that the federal government would interfere with their right to own Black slaves. Today, I think this takes the form of white people who believe that Black and brown people are making gains, or getting special treatment, at their expense,” Silber, who teaches at Boston University, said in an email interview.

Just as happened generations ago, partisans are using strident words and images to define the other side — not just for policies with which they disagree but as evil, said George Rable, a retired historian at the University of Alabama.

“I think both then and now, we need to worry about the unanticipated consequences of overheated rhetoric and emotions,” he said. “Secessionists then hardly anticipated such a bloody civil war, and their opponents often underestimated the depth of secessionist sentiment in a number of states.”

State Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican who represents the same area as Lincoln did in the state legislature, condemned the attack on the Capitol during a speech on the Illinois House floor and urged more Republicans to speak up.

“If you’re not stepping up and denouncing this, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, I don’t have a place for you …,” Butler said. “The favorite son of this city was murdered because of a civil war as he was president. I’m not going to see a civil war on my watch, I can tell you that.”

The question is whether those stoking the war talk can be controlled by the more moderate elements within the party, or whether they will become the dominant voice.

Randy Voepel, a state Assemblyman in California, backtracked after referencing an earlier war — the American Revolution — in a Jan. 9 San Diego Union-Tribune article: “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny. Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in on January 20th.”

More than three dozen veterans and officials have called for Voepel to be expelled from office. He has since revised his war-like rhetoric with a condemnation of the “violence and lawlessness” at the Capitol and a call for healing.

The other California Republican, Reynolds, said he has no plans to step down from his local party position. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wasn’t trying to incite violence with his “war has begun” rhetoric, but simply reporting what he saw on television: “My statement was that this can’t happen. I was condemning it with my words. It was taken out of context,” he said.

Democratic state Assemblyman Evan Low isn’t buying it. He called for Reynolds’ resignation, telling the Chronicle that the man he has known for two decades was “a genuine and warm human being” but was radicalized by Trump’s “poison and lies.”

In Missouri, state GOP Chairwoman Jean Evans had enough of the war talk. She resigned after she was barraged by calls from Trump supporters, some of whom demanded a military coup to keep Trump in office “no matter what it takes.”

“There’s a lot of good Republicans right now who totally disagree with what’s going on,” she told KMOX. “It’s been very scary and frightening and un-American from my perspective, and definitely not part of the conservative party I embrace.”

Andrew Hitt, the Republican chairman in Wisconsin, faced off against the St. Croix County party without initial success, describing the call to war as an “ill-chosen phrase” and urging its removal.

Despite his plea and those of Democrats and a Republican sheriff, the post remained defiantly in place until a week after the Capitol attack. The website went dark Wednesday without explanation, and the county GOP chairman, John Kraft, resigned on Friday. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Silber, the Civil War historian, said she is worried the attack on the Capitol wasn’t the last stand for enraged Trump supporters.

“I think we can see how well-organized right-wing militia groups have become and how well armed they are, and that makes for an extremely explosive situation,” she said. “I don’t know if that would be ‘war’ in the technical sense, but there could be an extended period of violent attacks.”

32

nastywoman 01.17.21 at 3:10 pm

and this:

”Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Trump’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Trump era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Trump’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Trump”.

33

Orange Watch 01.17.21 at 4:51 pm

To chime in with some of the above, QAnon is not “believed mainly by people with mental health issues” – it’s best viewed as a Christian cult of the Millennialist variety. It’s not clear if it will survive post-Trump, but signs point to yes – it may metastasize, but most of its core elements pre-dated QAnon. It also has been shown to be very efficient at rapidly radicalizing people – the above “QAnon as a collaborative game” article did a good job of outlining a lot of reasons why. As it’s Millennialist, it’s not surprising that its adherents skew somewhat poorer than the more mainstream MAGA crowd – these aren’t people who are afraid of losing what they have as the above-average-income MAGA people tend to be, they’re people who are looking for an explanation for why they’re suffering and hope for that to change. The most depressing part is that QAnon directs their ire in the right general direction (elites conspiring to maintain a hierarchical status quo that denies the masses a fair share of possible prosperity) but then offers fantastical easy answers that let them avoid questioning basic tenets of civic religion, meritocracy myths, and capitalism. It’s one of the reasons that QAnon has had as much success spreading overseas as it has, and it’s further cause to think it’s not going to vanish with Trump. It has a body count, and should not be breezily dismissed. Its adherents need de-radicalized, and lazily writing them off as mentally ill people who should be ignored is, in addition to being incredibly callous towards something that is destroying lives and families, thoroughly reckless.

34

hix 01.17.21 at 6:24 pm

“I don’t think QAnon followers are insane. ”
Partly depends on how you define insane. The clinical definitions are pretty generous towards mass delusions. According to those most definitely are sane. Some however, sure ain’t sane even by the most generous definition. And those I really feel sorry for. When someone with an acute psychosis starts to go on a mass shooting spree because he thinks his victims are part of the democrats/deep state child molester ring, the reporting is predictable. Some will just emphasize how he’s a racist white supremacist murderer anyway, and others will want to lock away everyone with a psychosis. None of them would be true. First as a general rule, those who like to cut healthcare and let everyone have guns would be to blame of course. On a second level, it would be people like Trump etc… that encourage that madness. Clinical mad people still do less mad things when they are in a saner environment.

35

Cranky Observer 01.17.21 at 6:48 pm

= = = the abandonment of the FCC fairness doctrine in 1987, resulting in = = =

[spoiler alert: US-specific point] The justification for the FCC Fairness Doctrine vs the First Amendment as that the airwaves were a limited resource and it was easy to generate interference with other users, so public regulation was required. Cable systems were not a limited resource: AT&T [1] was testing cable transmission in 3 cities in 1970 that had the capability to simulcast 600 channels or more with 1960s-era analog technology. There was never going to be a fairness doctrine for cable systems, and once the action on news and sports started moving to cable there were plenty of radio stations available and it would have become increasingly hard to justify the Doctrine there as well.

[1] alternate universe proposal: AT&T is successful in rolling out cable to large numbers of USians in the 1970s-early 1980s under common carrier regulation, rather than the free-for-all that occurred post-Greene

36

Tm 01.17.21 at 8:30 pm

One hundred one years ago, in February 1919, the Bavarian prime minister, Kurt Eisner, was murdered by a right wing extremist. He had been a Jewish-German socialist, anti-nationalist, and leader of the November revolution and had been on his way to tender his resignation after losing the first Parliamentary election. In the ensuing chaos, the revolutionary left decided to seize power and proclaimed the Munich Soviet Republic (Räterepublik), which had next to no support outside the city and was quickly put down by reactionary forces, resulting in a campaign of right wing terror killing hundreds. Several Räterepublik leaders were tried and executed, among them Eugen Leviné, a Communist, who in court, after being condemned to death, famously stated: “Wir Kommunisten sind alle Tote auf Urlaub”, we Communists are dead people on vacation. He may have believed that Communism would ultimately prevail but he was under no illusion that it would happen in his lifetime.

In 1923, the hitherto unknown political clown Adolf Hitler attempted another failed coup in Munich. His punishment was a slap on the wrist, to be precise, nine months of prison, during which he found the time to write an unhinged book full of crazy conspiracy theories that nevertheless contained everything anybody needed to know about the man’s later realized intentions. Needless to say, nobody took the man and his nonsense book seriously at the time.

In 1922, Jewish-German Mathematician Emil Julius Gumbel published a quantitative study of political murder in the Weimar Republic, proving that more than 90% of political murders had been committed by rightists who nevertheless in most cases went unpunished or received light prison terms, while the handful of leftist political crimes were prosecuted relentlessly, often by the death penalty.

Leviné and his comrades consciously risked their lives for the cause they believed in, well aware that the chances of success were slim. Fast forward to Washington 2021. The Trumpist insurgents, of course, had no intention of risking anything. They expected impunity and were surprised by the widespread condemnation of their acts. Their expectation of getting away with a violent coup attempt wasn’t entirely unreasonable,
as the events bear out. Different country, different time, but certain things apparently never change.

Gumbel btw was one of the most hated intellectuals of the time. He risked his life just by publishing statistics about right wing terror and state collusion. Well before the Nazis came to power, the political atmosphere became increasingly hateful and he lost his professorship in Heidelberg in 1932. Which may have saved his life because he managed to emigrate to Paris and in 1940 to the USA.

JQ is correct that historical events are contingent, not deterministic. But that means that politics is the art of making desirable outcomes more likely and undesirables ones, less. Trump’s rise to power was not “luck” or “chance”, it was made possible by specific political actors who, due to a flawed political analysis, made the undesirable outcome of a Trump presidency more likely. The question now is whether these actors will finally be forced to recognize these errors and learn from them.

Judging by this tweet from Jacobin Magazine (not a parody), chances of that happening aren’t all that great:

“The riot at the Capitol on Wednesday was a symptom of right-wing weakness, not power. The real danger isn’t a MAGA coup, but a restoration of the neoliberal status quo that produced the nightmare of Trump and his minions.”
https://twitter.com/LemieuxLGM/status/1348396052353744904

Here we have the farcical return of social fascism theory from the Weimar era Communists: the real enemy isn’t fascism, it’s social democracy/liberalism.

Note: I’ll abstain from posting wikipedia links but if you are interested, you can find English articles on all persons mentioned. Regarding Gumbel, good accounts are https://www.tum.de/en/studinews/issue-052013/show/article/34188/ (in English) and https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/moerderische-statistik-gewalt-von-rechts.1310.de.html?dram:article_id=345863.

37

Tm 01.17.21 at 8:38 pm

Regarding QAnon, don’t miss this portrait:
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/01/cletus-on-the-upper-east-side

And for a really good video reconstruction of the events at the Capitol:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2021/01/16/video-timeline-capitol-siege/

38

Tm 01.17.21 at 9:27 pm

Orange 33: “As it’s Millennialist, it’s not surprising that its adherents skew somewhat poorer than the more mainstream MAGA crowd … they’re people who are looking for an explanation for why they’re suffering and hope for that to change.”

Do you have any evidence for that claim that Q-freaks are poorer “suffering” folks? It seems to me that if somebody believes that certain political opponents are secret child molesters who need to be brought to justice, that has absolutely nothing to do with economic anxiety. Psychologically, there seems to be a need to feel morally superior, not a desire to improve one’s economic condition.

Interestingly, Lauren Boebert, the QAnon face in Congress, is a restaurant owner. That is just N=1 but it makes sense, the petite bourgeoisie has been known to be particularly susceptible to authoritarian cults at least since Erich Fromm’s studies. His classic Escape From Freedom (1941) is still the best analysis of Trumpism that I am aware of and I recommend everybody to go read the book NOWow, especially the last chapters Psychology of Nazism and Freedom and Democracy. I recently sent excerpts from the book to some friends, without comment, and everybody was convinced that this was a book about Trump. I will post some excerpts here when I get to it to show you what I mean.

39

Tm 01.17.21 at 9:49 pm

[P.S. the murder of Eisner happened 102 years ago, not 101. Yesss, it’s finally 2021! Apology]

40

SusanC 01.17.21 at 10:40 pm

Most psych textbooks take the line that false beliefs shared by a group of people (cults, religions, conspiracy theories) are a fundamentally different phenomenon from psychoses (not shared); they might have different causes.

I think there is something to this distinction. On the other hand, some of the postings on the net give me cause to doubt. There are cases of a person being committed to a psychiatric hospital, and when they are released a few weeks later sharing their ideas with their friends in the online conspiracy theory forums. This runs completely counter to the standard model of psychosis. There is possibly some empirical research that could be done here.

41

steven t johnson 01.18.21 at 3:52 pm

Cranky Observer@35 wrote “…the FCC Fairness Doctrine vs the First Amendment…”
Yes, well, the first amendment does assume that freedom of the press for anyone who owns a press is quite sufficient for any society. Given the relatively low barriers to entry into the newspaper business quite a few businessmen could exercise this freedom. Since this isn’t true for broadcast frequencies, framing the Fairness Doctrine as an attack on freedom of the press, rather than a duty for the broadcast press, is more prejudicial than enlightening.

” Cable systems were not a limited resource: AT&T [1] was testing cable transmission in 3 cities in 1970 that had the capability to simulcast 600 channels or more with 1960s-era analog technology.” It is entirely unclear to me how cable systems are not a limited resource, for the same reasons a land line telephone networks are not an unlimited resource. (Indeed, even cellular telephone networks are not an unlimited resource, which is why most of the giant telecommunications phone systems have gaps in coverage.)

The availability of channels on a cable system is an entirely separate question. There are reasons why there is no selection of AFL-CIO/Scientology/Lubavitcher/Democratic Party/Harvard University/NOW/QAnon/Jehovah’s Witness/CFR/Elks Club/etc. etc. etc. channels available on the cable systems. All cable systems will bundle channels and bundling means there is not an unlimited resource, neither literally nor any reasonable practical equivalent thereof.

“…once the action on news and sports started moving to cable there were plenty of radio stations available and it would have become increasingly hard to justify the Doctrine there as well.” The bit about plenty of radio stations strikes me as nonsense. Unlimited freedom for owners of radio stations to play politics is all very nice for libertarians. Although I doubt John Quiggin, for one, would be so bold as to say that all monopolies (including natural monopolies) should be regulated because unregulated monopolies lead distort capital accumlation which leads to long run evil consequences to the welfare of the society at large. (Yes, libertarians center their case on property rights.) But “unlimited” cable channels have not resulted in a widespread dispersion of sports. Blacked out games in your local market, anyone?

“[1] alternate universe proposal: AT&T is successful in rolling out cable to large numbers of USians in the 1970s-early 1980s under common carrier regulation, rather than the free-for-all that occurred post-Greene” I do not understand why someone who sees the Fairness Doctrine as an infringement of freedom of the press would regard common carrier regulation as any less an infringement on the rights of those who owned cable systems, AT&T or others.

Even less plausible is the view of telecommunications as a “free-for-all” given the persistent trend towards massive concentration and centralization. I suppose you could imagine Fox News was a response to market pressure by viewers desperate for Foxism. But it seems to me things like Fox News are better viewed as investments in building a certain kind of audience. News and political advertising as venues for public discourse are not about getting ratings but about selling advertising. Supposedly unlimited cable/internet or not, it is not clear that such sales by a handful of telecommunications systems should not be regulated, barring a reverence for property rights.

42

lurker 01.18.21 at 6:02 pm

@Tm, 36
There’s a (AFAIK quite reputable) historian, Ralf Georg Reuth, who identifies one member of the funeral cortege photographed and filmed at Eisler’s funeral as Adolf Hitler, who was, apparently, a loyal supporter of the Bavarian Soviet republic while it lasted and represented his company in the regimental Soldiers’ Soviet. He later, for obvious reasons, reinvented his past to match his new politics, and before Reuth, no-one though to look him up in the records. So in addition to all else, Hitler was a turncoat.

43

CHETAN R MURTHY 01.18.21 at 8:22 pm

lurker: I thought it was established history, that Hitler had started off as a bit of a Socialist, and was sent by the police to attend and inform on NSDAP meetings? And that … well, y’know, he got convinced by what he heard there? So, an informer, a stool-pigeon ?

44

William Timberman 01.18.21 at 9:34 pm

Tm@36 (01.17.21 at 8:30 pm)

Here we have the farcical return of social fascism theory from the Weimar era Communists: the real enemy isn’t fascism, it’s social democracy/liberalism.

Making social democracy the enemy of true socialism certainly sounds like an ideological absurdity in the modern context, and no doubt it was one at the time. History’s not been kind to what seems to me nevertheless to have been a perfectly plausible theoretical dispute waged by a group of earnest, if relatively insignificant activists reacting to the ghastly stresses of early industrial capitalism. They can hardly be blamed for not seeing how poorly their ideas would scale. For God’s sake, did any of us see the sanity-rattling effects of Facebook or Twitter coming? Whoopee, Universal Democracy! didn’t scale nearly as well as we expected, nor did Omigod, Total Government Surveillance!

Social democracy and neoliberalism aren’t equivalent, Tm, but they are related, in the sense that neoliberalism is the clearest demonstration we’ve had to date of the reasons why the Marxist critique of social democracy was not simply a naive attempt to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Social democracies, even those with parliamentary majorities (I’d go so far as to say especially those with parliamentary majorities), are inherently weak. They cannot defend themselves against the predators among us who, when all else fails, can always blow the trumpet of xenophobia.

What should be as obvious to us good modern social democrats as it was to Marx, is that the Koch brothers of the world, not to mention the Jamie Dimons, will always find a way round our precious delusions about “equal justice under the law.” (Dear, sweet Joe Biden. Does anyone reading this blog actually think that he or the DNC have any idea why people whose great grandparents were yellow dog Democrats are now carrying Trump banners up the Capitol steps? Can nobody in Washington read German?)

But enough. The problem of the corruptions of power, of the subversion of good faith efforts to make human society less savage, won’t be solved any time soon, here or elsewhere. That’s the point of the Jacobin tweet, I think, at least if we’re willing to be charitable. If, in the end, social democracy can offer us only what Brecht once called die gerechte Verteilung der überirdischen Güter then we really should be more charitable to our hardcore Marxist allies. Talk more, sneer less. It’s a start.

45

J-D 01.19.21 at 10:45 am

Making social democracy the enemy of true socialism certainly sounds like an ideological absurdity in the modern context, and no doubt it was one at the time. History’s not been kind to what seems to me nevertheless to have been a perfectly plausible theoretical dispute waged by a group of earnest, if relatively insignificant activists reacting to the ghastly stresses of early industrial capitalism.

The Weimar-era KPD was not a group of relatively insignificant activists. Their position was an ideological absurdity, though, you’re right about that; but then, if you recognise that it was an ideological absurdity, how can you describe it as perfectly plausible?

Talk more, sneer less. It’s a start.

So what you’re suggesting, then, is that we should do as you say, not as you do?

46

Tm 01.19.21 at 11:22 am

WT 44: The position of the Weimar era Communists (at least before Stalinization) was far less unreasonable than that of Jacobin etc. today. That is of course because in the 100 years since, we are supposed to have learned from historical knowledge and experience that wasn’t yet accessible to those Communists. Their motivations and positions and strategies were to some extent understandable. The November Revolution had been aborted, the old elites were mostly left intact, the Weimar Republic was deeply flawed. It’s not hard to sympathize with the KPD’s disdain for the SPD after their betrayal of the revolution. The expectation that destroying the (relatively liberal) republic would naturally lead to socialism was of course nonsense even at the time (*) but it is only in retrospect that we know the full extent of that catastrophic misjudgment. After the fall of the Republic, the Communist Party was the first to be outlawed, its leaders murdered or sent to concentration camps.

What is depressing is that a fraction of the modern left, having the benefit of hindsight, is determined to make similar mistakes.

(*) There is much to admire about the revolutionary experiment undertaken in Munich and its couragous leaders but, for Chrissake, there had just been a Parliamentary election in which the parties of the radical left had been crushed (Eisner’s party, the USPD, had received 2.5%!). What were they thinking, playing revolution with so little popular support? During the Weimar period, electoral support for the KPD hovered around 10-15%.

47

Hidari 01.19.21 at 4:01 pm

@28

Over the next few years the Guardian is going to run a lot of stories which begin ‘Can the Democrats….?’ and ‘Will Biden….?’ all of which will illustrate Betteridge’s Law.

48

steven t johnson 01.19.21 at 9:24 pm

I remember long, long ago when I was a boy reading an article (from the Saturday Evening Post? which seems impossible but floats up from the depths anyhow,) about roughly the same topic, that complained the women’s march on Versailles to bring the royal family to Paris could have been rained out. Even then it didn’t take me too long to realize that if the historical date had been rainy, a women’s march could have taken place on another day, as they couldn’t plausibly all be rainy.

In other words, despite the indisputable role of chance, luck in the course of events, the question is, are there some sort of regularities, produced by some thing we might call historical forces, to borrow a term from physics, that produce not random outcomes, but historical trends. Random walks don’t tend to go so far from where they start. And certain kinds of reactionary projects, like monarchism or chattel slavery or the abolition of woman suffrage, seem somehow to have the odds against them, which is peculiar if everything boils down to luck and there is no fate. I doubt that’s quite what Quiggin means to imply in the OP…but perhaps it is the regular, not the random, that should be the explanandum.

Possibly lurking behind the discussion is an image of science as predictions falsified by experiment, or possibly as logical deductioin from empirically measured premises. Thus, if there is an irreducible element of chance, scientific history, or any science of man, is nonsense.

This sort of thing strikes me as corrupt ideologically motivated obscurantism. Epistemological skepticism is in my judgment always ultimately about justifying reactionary projects. Professional philosophers of science, with their reverence for the fine print, will happily claim that Popper is just another respected philosopher but not the last word. But like compatibilism, in ordinary life, the fine print doesn’t matter, it just lies around in philosophy journals only professionals can access.

In 1919, the social democrats allied with the Freikorps to crush socialists with violence, including the murders of leading socialists. To be crude, the difference between social democrats and communists is obvious: Social democrats murder communists. There is an enthralling Netflix series called Babylon Berlin which opens with the Social Democrats shooting down Communist demonstraters on May Day of 1929.

So, in addition to the ancient history of Luxemburg and Liebknecht beting beaten to death a long, long, long, long ten years before, there was an object lesson: It only takes one to quarrel, but it takes two to make peace. Trotsky, who was always sure of his ability to find the right formula and tactic, may have been equally sure that if he was running things again, he would have found the right way to unite the Social Democrats and the Communists to prevent von Schleicher and von Papen from persuading von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor. I’m not so certain Trotsky’s word is enough to absolve the Social Democrats and lay the blame entirely on the theory of social fascism. And by the way, Bruening of Zentrum had been ruling by decree, so the question, what Weimar democracy? is rather more pointed than acknowledged.

Lastly, and no doubt least, I have no idea why anyone would be sure that hardcore Marxists, aka tankies or neotankies, are the ones who are belittling the insurrection. It seems to me the people with strange ideas about the Deep State or the totalitarianism of Big Tech, especially social media but also Big Pharma or the PMC (Professional Managerial Class) not the capitalist class are the true enemies. This stuff strikes me as exactly the kind of nonsense put out by people totally opposed to hard-core Marxism, who share with the Democrats and the Republicans and Trump an absolute rejection of hard-core Marxism.

49

William Timberman 01.20.21 at 1:00 am

@J-D, Tm

steven t johnson has the historical right of it here, I’m afraid. There just isn’t any sure way to reason in advance with the forces of history. You pays your political capital — to the extent that you understands it — and you takes your choice. Sometimes you end up face down in a ditch even before the issue is ever truly joined, sometimes you end up among the Trummerfrauen, with only the vaguest inkling of what it was all about in the first place. Occasionally you survive to write an die Nachgeborenen, or establish and ordain the Marshall Plan and the Strategic Air Command.

So, okay, what have we really learned in the 100 years since Liebknecht and Luxemburg stumbled into martyrdom, and the SPD traded its birthright for a mess of nationalist pottage? Are we talking a modest reasonableness here, or sclerosis? One might be forgiven for thinking that the ship has been righted, and that we shouldn’t mess with it the way Jacobin would have us do, but I doubt even Francis Fukuyama believes that suppressing the antithesis is a foolproof guarantee that the dialectic will never trouble us again.

Did neoliberalism and the managerial class successfully navigate the end of the Pax Americana, and lead us not into temptation, but into a peaceful multipolar world order? In a word, no. Are we wrong to think that instead they gave us casino capitalism, the rustbelt, and in their zeal to eradicate anything to the left of the managerial class, the idiocracy of Trump? I think we could come reasonably close to making that case. No one wants us to, of course, who stands to lose from anything like a necessary and sufficient reform of the status quo. Sadly, this often seems to include, if not exactly everyone, almost everyone I get to talk to.

Still, we persist. I’m old, so my persistence is of less consequence than it used to be, but I do, nevertheless, make my tithe to the DSA, not the DNC, and reckon that Bhaskar Sunkara is underrated. Best I can manage under the circumstances.

50

SusanC 01.20.21 at 10:07 am

A lucky streak is going to end sometime (“With probability 1” you’ll say in some pedantic contexts, where you know there is a non-empty but probability zero set of outcomes where it doesn’t).

If there was going to be a riot when the lucky streak ran out, then the exact timing of the riot was down to chance, but that there was a riot, at some point, was not down to chance.

I seem to recall there’s an article by Slavoj Zizek on alternate history SF?

(The current situation has something of the flavour of a Harry Turtledove novel where the Confederacy wins in 2021 due to the senate not being evacuated quickly enough. See “How Few Remain” etc. And no, I don’t think the insurrection isn’t had a chance of suceeding)

51

Tm 01.20.21 at 11:19 am

stj 48: “To be crude, the difference between social democrats and communists is obvious: Social democrats murder communists.”

That is indeed a way of being crude considering how many social democrats as well as anarchists and other leftist dissenters were murdered by communists. Heck, there is no question that more comunists were murdered by fellow communists than by social democrats.

“I’m not so certain Trotsky’s word is enough to absolve the Social Democrats”

I for one have no intention of absolving the Social Democrats, or anybody else, of their historical mistakes and crimes. I’m modestly suggesting that we (as leftists, as liberals, as anti-fascists) should try not to repeat those same mistakes.

52

lurker 01.20.21 at 12:39 pm

‘It only takes one to quarrel, but it takes two to make peace. Trotsky, who was always sure of his ability to find the right formula and tactic, may have been equally sure that if he was running things again, he would have found the right way to unite the Social Democrats and the Communists to prevent von Schleicher and von Papen from persuading von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor.’
In November 1932 the SDP won 121 seats and the Communists 100. More than the Nazis (196) but not a majority (293 or more needed). So Trotsky would need to unite the Social Democrats, the Communists, the (Catholic) Centre (70 seats) and the Liberals (5), at least. A fragile and unlikely coalition, facing a right united in their hostility. How long before it falls and Hitler gets his chance?

53

Orange Watch 01.20.21 at 10:23 pm

Tm@38:

Do you have any evidence for that claim that Q-freaks are poorer “suffering” folks? It seems to me that if somebody believes that certain political opponents are secret child molesters who need to be brought to justice, that has absolutely nothing to do with economic anxiety. Psychologically, there seems to be a need to feel morally superior, not a desire to improve one’s economic condition.

You’re falling victim to confirmation bias and trying to cram all your political opponents into pre-defined categories with well-honed arguments prepared to dispatch them. This has nothing to do with “economic anxiety”, which is what typically attracts the petit bourgeoisie to right-wing authoritarianism. What it has to do with – and this is widely accepted in analysis of conspiratorial thinking – is that one of , if not the, most powerful attractions conspiracies hold is a way to explain powerlessness and feeling out of control of your own life. I.e., it’s not the person’s fault: it’s unseen entities working together to ruin their life. This isn’t about moral superiority, and if you think it is you really don’t have a good understanding of what QAnon is. It’s about making a frightening, confusing world make sense again – it’s explaining why good people suffer and bad people get away with things. QAnon does not believe most of the US are evil monsters – they believe several hundred thousand Americans are evil monsters and puppetmasters. It’s not about economic anxiety – that’s typically the realm of people who feel they have something to lose and some control over the system that they fear to lose; again, the bourgeoisie, petit et grand. While QAnon – like most conspiracy theories – cuts across all social classes (5-10% of the US has been estimated to believe some or all its tenets), it skews more towards the bottom end of the spectrum than MAGA writ large. That was – and is – a relative claim, not the absolute one you turned it into.

I’m not going to even try to satisfy your demand for proof of the above. If you have no background in this area, it’s not hard to find as it’s pretty basic in terms of analyzing conspiratorial thinking. You’re an adult who’s capable of doing simple research even if you’d prefer to draw sweeping conclusions that support your predetermined conclusions from N=1 – particularly when the N=1 you’ve chosen as representative is someone who could fly to DC in the middle of the week, let alone on a private jet. If you want everyone to be rigorous and well-cited at all times, you probably should hold yourself to the same standard.

54

Tm 01.21.21 at 8:29 am

OW 53: Please tone down that sneer. I didn’t sneer at you either. Your specific claim was that Q-freaks “skew somewhat poorer” and I asked whether you have evidence for that claim.

“one of , if not the, most powerful attractions conspiracies hold is a way to explain powerlessness and feeling out of control of your own life”

Yes, I’m familiar with that concept. After all I quoted Erich Fromm in the very comment you are taking issue with. And that concept is fully consistent with the craving for moral superiority I mentioned. Fromm opens his study with a discussion of the reformation and Calvinist doctrine and it is no coincidence that evangelical fundamentalism is so strongly involved in present day US right wing extremism. (I don’t have tome to go deeper into this right now.)

55

J-D 01.21.21 at 9:15 am

@J-D, Tm

steven t johnson has the historical right of it here, I’m afraid.

I don’t read steven t johnson’s comments, and as a result I’m not going to understand the meaning of your comment that begins with this remark unless you explain what it is that you think steven t johnson is right about. There’s no reason why you should care whether I understand your comment, but you did address it to me directly, and that’s why I’m drawing the point to your attention.

56

Tm 01.21.21 at 9:59 am

In related news: Jacobin author thinks that QAnon, “a true Rainbow Coalition”, “are correct about a lot of things” (spoiler: the “lot of things” they are “correct about” is the existence of a “pedophilic cabal”). No parody. Just incredible.

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/01/the-great-awankening

57

William Timberman 01.21.21 at 2:08 pm

J-D @ 55

I don’t read steven t johnson’s comments, and as a result I’m not going to understand the meaning of your comment that begins with this remark unless you explain what it is that you think steven t johnson is right about.

Well, if you don’t read his comments, there must be a reason. If the reason is that you haven’t found them worth your time, then you’ll probably come to the same conclusion about mine. Which, in the greater scheme of things, is probably as it should be.

One other thing, though. I’m happy to concede that whether or not the leadership of the KPD could rightly be called an insignificant group of activists depends on one’s perspective. Early on in this cataclysm we’ve been describing, they looked powerful enough. From my perspective, the street level characterization of their potential as a mass movement as depicted in Berlin Alexanderplatz, although somewhat romanticized, is probably accurate enough. In any event, Döblin was there, and I was not.

In the broader view, though, the backing of those who controlled the means of production went a long way toward making the NSDAP, rather than the KPD, the party of the working class. The Comintern was simply in no position to match resources with them. Similar events played out in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe. So, as an old SDSer (Students for a Democratic Society, not Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, just so’s there’s no confusion.) who still thinks the Port Huron Statement was a pretty good idea, I rate them insignificant in their effects on the outcome of the left/right battles of the 30s, not in the lingering influence of their ideas.

The left has always had the same enemies, and being able to outsmart them has rarely helped us much when it comes down to the inevitable power struggle. In that sense, the radical left of 1918 in Germany did turn out to be insignificant, as have I and my comrades of 1968. It’s a long war, though, and whatever happened during our own time in the trenches,we’ve no reason to regret the part we played in it. As insignificances go, I believe ours was very much worth pursuing. Presumably theirs was too, else why would I be here?

58

Tm 01.21.21 at 2:28 pm

WT 49: “Did neoliberalism and the managerial class successfully navigate the end of the Pax Americana, and lead us not into temptation, but into a peaceful multipolar world order?”

To be honest, that isn’t the kind of question I think worth asking. And phraseology like “managerial class” strikes me as a bit of an insult to Marx considering the context of this thread.

59

Tm 01.21.21 at 4:01 pm

WT 57: “the backing of those who controlled the means of production went a long way toward making the NSDAP, rather than the KPD, the party of the working class.”

The KPD was never the party of the working class, it ran always second to the SPD, although with an upward tendency. Between 1924 and 1932, SPD and KPD together always received 35 to 40% of the national vote. Even in March 1933, 30% voted for the left. There was not during the Weimar era a significant movement from the parties of the working class to the NSDAP. (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstagswahl_M%C3%A4rz_1933)

I’m beginning to suspect though that I misunderstand the purpose of WT’s comments. My naive reading is that they propose an account of historical reality but probably I’m missing something.

60

William Timberman 01.21.21 at 6:03 pm

Tm. @ 59

Your reading is hardly naive, and you’re certainly not missing very much. What I’m proposing is less than an account, and very much less than a justification of historical reality. Rather I’m trying to emphasize how many more threads there are in that reality than there are in narratives such as yours —- or mine, for that matter — that purport to make some general sense of it.

When I say managerial class, I’m not insulting Marx, not in the context of this thread or any other. What I’m looking at, with a somewhat jaundiced eye, to be sure, is the evolution of the international economic and political order in the post-industrial age as examined most recently by Hobsbawm and Slobodian. Not from any great height, mind you, but from the much less exalted perspective of a kid who wanted to know why everyone around him seemed to think that getting his ass shot off in a global war to defend the ill-gotten gains of colonialism was not only the only path to an honorable manhood, but a sacred duty as well.

We all awaken in different beds, to be sure, and ideology is a fickle mistress at the best of times, but I do think that there’s enough pathology in people who are sure they know where the outer boundaries of reason lie not to trust them to patrol them.

61

J-D 01.21.21 at 10:59 pm

Well, if you don’t read his comments, there must be a reason. If the reason is that you haven’t found them worth your time,

Yes, that’s the one, but …

then you’ll probably come to the same conclusion about mine.

… it doesn’t follow that because steven t johnson’s comments aren’t worth my time, yours aren’t either. There are several people whose comments I don’t read because I have learned that it’s not worth my time, but it doesn’t follow that I read no comments because none of them are worth my time; the contrary is the case.

I’m happy to concede that whether or not the leadership of the KPD could rightly be called an insignificant group of activists depends on one’s perspective.

Happy or not, you’re wrong about that: it does not depend on one’s perspective.

From my perspective, the street level characterization of their potential as a mass movement as depicted in Berlin Alexanderplatz, although somewhat romanticized, is probably accurate enough. In any event, Döblin was there, and I was not.

Again, this means nothing to me, because I haven’t read Berlin Alexanderplatz (was I right to guess that it’s a book, and Döblin its author?).In the broader view, though, the backing of those who controlled the means of production went a long way toward making the NSDAP, rather than the KPD, the party of the working class.The assertion that the NSDAP, rather than the KPD (or any other party) was the party of the working class has not been justified. How many votes each party received in successive elections is a matter of record; how many of each party’s votes came from the working class is not.

So, as an old SDSer (Students for a Democratic Society, not Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, just so’s there’s no confusion.) who still thinks the Port Huron Statement was a pretty good idea

That’s still another example of something that means nothing to me, in this case because I haven’t read the Port Huron Statement…. I rate them insignificant in their effects on the outcome of the left/right battles of the 30s, …But your rating is not justified. It is a gross error to suppose that losers never have any effect on outcomes and that only winners do.

The left has always had the same enemies, and being able to outsmart them has rarely helped us much when it comes down to the inevitable power struggle. In that sense, the radical left of 1918 in Germany did turn out to be insignificant, as have I and my comrades of 1968. It’s a long war, though, and whatever happened during our own time in the trenches,we’ve no reason to regret the part we played in it. As insignificances go, I believe ours was very much worth pursuing.

In itself, failure/loss is no proof of error. For the KPD, thinking that the tactic of collaborating with the Nazis against the SPD could be justified was an error, and a gross one.

Presumably theirs was too, else why would I be here?

Now that’s a question I can answer. You see, when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much …

62

J-D 01.21.21 at 11:05 pm

What I’m looking at, with a somewhat jaundiced eye, to be sure, is the evolution of the international economic and political order in the post-industrial age as examined most recently by Hobsbawm and Slobodian. Not from any great height, mind you, but from the much less exalted perspective of a kid who wanted to know why everyone around him seemed to think that getting his ass shot off in a global war to defend the ill-gotten gains of colonialism was not only the only path to an honorable manhood, but a sacred duty as well.

If you asked yourself ‘Why do people around me think it’s the path of honour and a sacred duty to get shot in a war to defend the ill-gotten gains of colonialism?’ I would say that was a good question; but if you have any kind of answer, even a partial one, your comments give no indication of it.

63

William Timberman 01.22.21 at 1:24 am

J-D @ 61/62

Stalinism, as usual, has been muddying the waters here. I’ve been referring all along to the pre-1925 KPD, of course. Once Thälmann stuck his oar in, the identities of who represented the working class and who didn’t were of little real interest to anyone above the rank of corporal. As I’ve already said, this maneuvering was more or less the name of the game in the European politics of the 1930s–proxy wars of a kind less familiar to us now than those of the Cold War. To be honest, it baffles me that we didn’t recognize the latter for what they were, given that they arrived so promptly in 1947, even before all the remaining consequences of the 1930s had been decently interred.

Interestingly, these proxy wars were mimicked in embarrassingly comic opera fashion in the 1960s, as anyone who was a member of the SDS or their European equivalents at the time could tell you. I have vivid memories of sitting on folding chairs in the damp cinder block basements of community centers or empty university classrooms back then, listening to emissaries from the CPUSA or SWP explaining at great length to us earnest cherubs of the New Left precisely how one recognized pre-revolutionary conditions. Sigh…. Green as we were then, we definitely weren’t that green.

Nothing for you to bother yourself about, of course. Just trying to keep the dog-eared edges of the leftist error archives all squared up for the next go-round with the forces of reaction.

64

lurker 01.22.21 at 10:30 am

‘There was not during the Weimar era a significant movement from the parties of the working class to the NSDAP.’ Tm, 59
The two big demographics least likely to support the Nazis were the organized working class and the Catholics. The SDP, the KPD and the Catholic parties (the Centre and the Bavarians) kept their base, as long as there were free elections.
Of course there were working class Nazis, but they did not come from the left, they came from the not-literally-Nazi right. All these guys needed was swastikas on their arms and they’d fit right in: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-2006-0329-504,_Reichstagswahl,_Propaganda_der_DNVP.jpg

65

William Timberman 01.22.21 at 5:08 pm

This squabble over what the voting tallies revealed about which — if any — party represented the German working class pre 1933 is pretty much all my fault, and I apologize for the consternation I seem to have caused.

When I said that those who controlled the means of production were partly responsible for making the NSDAP the party of the working class, I meant it to be an ironic observation. Given the audience, I should probably taken a little more straightforward approach. (Irony is dead, after all. It’s only the battle scars of us old curmudgeons on the left that makes us shy away from assisting in the funerary preparations.) Anyway, in more detail, my view of the matter goes something like this:

a) In times of stress, the powerful in first world societies prefer the right to the left, and direct their support accordingly. This was as true of Trump, at least initially, as it was of Hitler, but we comfort ourselves with the thought that our institutions are more resilient, and our times are not as dire. So far that has proven to be true. Will it still be true four years from now, or even two years from now?

b) The Bolsheviks, most especially Stalin, considered control of European left parties to be essential to their geopolitical interests.(Which was probably not as paranoid a goal as it might seem, given that they were still embroiled in fending off the White insurrection and its Western supporters.) If one is seeking a motive for the Comintern’s poisonous meddling in the affairs of all German parties of the left from 1918 on, there seems no reason to look any further.

c) The SPD was preoccupied with its own internal schism over the war, and was no longer the undivided voice of working class interests, if indeed it ever had been.

d) After the Hindenburg intervention, the Reichstag fire, and more particularly after the passage of the second Gleichschaltungsgesetz, there was arguably only one working class party in Germany, regardless of the private allegiances of individuals. And no, the responsibility for this outcome wasn’t directly or entirely attributable to the paranoia of plutocrats, but they were definitely a significant part of the unholy alliance that was responsible.

The moral of this story seems simple enough to me: the center, including so-called social democratic parties invariably seeks to protect itself from the right, and the cheapest way to do this is to betray the genuine interests of the left. In desperate times this may mean making a Hawley or even a Quisling out of yourself. In times of relative stability, it’s generally safe to remain a Clinton.

66

Tm 01.22.21 at 7:14 pm

WT 65: I’m tempted to ask whether you really categorize Trumpist extremists like Hawley as belonging to the center respectively the social democrats, but I should probably just let it go. I probably should just accept that I’m simply unable to decode your jargon, and leave it there.

67

Orange Watch 01.22.21 at 9:09 pm

Tm@54:
Please tone down that sneer. I didn’t sneer at you either.

You absolutely did. It’s your MO. You sneer at the simpletons, rubes, and bald-faced liars who believe the ridiculous things you’d not stoop to believe consistently. Setting aside obvious examples like “QAnon freaks”, your next comment was another citation of LGM, a site whose entire traffic model is 2-minute hates and openly sneering both left and right from the center, and whose prior article you linked was unironically and unexceptionally titled “Cletus on the Upper East Side”. That same comment terminated with the statement “Incredible. No parody.” Your prior comments included sweeping generalizations about how people to your left cram everything into pre-existing pigeonholes re: the right vs. the center, and conclusions that everyone to your left are self-righteously delusional. Your proof? N=1 articles and your prior assumptions. I’ll note you carefully avoided responding to the part of my comment where I observed you were treating a cherrypicked N=1 as representative. The fact that you preceded your paragraph of riffing on that with “N=1, but…” makes it worse, not better, BTW. It shows that you know why you shouldn’t do what you proceeded to do, and gives you rhetorical cover if you get called on it… but the thing to do with small sample sizes is to not draw conclusions from them. Your 58 is a comment whose whole substance is dismissing a question as not worth asking and “insulting” based on vague invocations of tone. Your 59 coyly describes someone you disagree with as not attempting to describe historical reality.

You were, and are, sneering, but you don’t hold yourself to the same standard so your sneering doesn’t count – much as your very-selective demands for citations. At this point, taking your weaponized calls for rigorous citation or civility seriously is feeding a meta-concern-troll.

68

William Timberman 01.22.21 at 10:21 pm

TM @66

Yes, that might for the best. I am curious, though, given his pedigree and curriculum vitae, when and why you think he became a Trumpist extremist. Looking at the record, you could be forgiven for concluding he’s not likely to be a social democrat, but would you have figured him for a fascist collaborator?

As long as we’re considering metamorphoses, have a look at LBJ, the greatest American social democrat of our era. How come, do you suppose, he felt he needed to gift his enemies on the right with a colonial war? What do you make of Bill and Hillary, modest social democrats — by Arkansas standards, anyway. What in the name of Moloch does Bill’s welfare reform, or Hillary’s savagery toward the Honduran left have to do with the ideals of social democracy? If we skip over to Germany and look at the modern SPD’s support for Hartz IV,we could easily make the same observation From my perspective, given social democrats like these, one might as well be a communist, assuming one is going to be a leftist at all..

You say the left is stupid to take positions that keep them from winning elections. The truth is, the beautifully reasonable with all deliberate speed folks, modest social democrats absolutely included, have led us to where we are today. Are they happy now? Is anyone?

69

J-D 01.22.21 at 10:46 pm

As I’ve already said, this maneuvering was more or less the name of the game in the European politics of the 1930s–proxy wars of a kind less familiar to us now than those of the Cold War.

This is meaningless without an explanation of who it is that are supposed to have been proxies and who it is that they are supposed to have been proxies for.

Interestingly, these proxy wars were mimicked in embarrassingly comic opera fashion in the 1960s, as anyone who was a member of the SDS or their European equivalents at the time could tell you. I have vivid memories of sitting on folding chairs in the damp cinder block basements of community centers or empty university classrooms back then, listening to emissaries from the CPUSA or SWP explaining at great length to us earnest cherubs of the New Left precisely how one recognized pre-revolutionary conditions. Sigh…. Green as we were then, we definitely weren’t that green.

I am familiar, not from personal experience but from reading, with the idea of tiny groups fantasising about their predestined future as leaders of a mighty revolution. However, the Weimar KPD was not such a tiny group: it had a tenth of the vote.

In times of stress, the powerful in first world societies prefer the right to the left, and direct their support accordingly.

And not just in times of stress, but how is this more than a truism?

After the Hindenburg intervention, the Reichstag fire, and more particularly after the passage of the second Gleichschaltungsgesetz, there was arguably only one working class party in Germany, regardless of the private allegiances of individuals.

When there is only one party, there can be no more than one working-class party, but how is that more than a truism?

The moral of this story seems simple enough to me: the center, including so-called social democratic parties invariably seeks to protect itself from the right, and the cheapest way to do this is to betray the genuine interests of the left. In desperate times this may mean making a Hawley or even a Quisling out of yourself. In times of relative stability, it’s generally safe to remain a Clinton.

The leaders of the Weimar SPD did not become quislings, and no good purpose is served by this kind of traduction.

70

nastywoman 01.23.21 at 7:19 am

and about:

„Wer hat uns verraten? Sozialdemokraten!“
there is this book from Lothar Machtan:

„Kaisersturz. Vom Scheitern im Herzen der Macht“
I can highly recommend as it corrects the Legend that the SPD habe bei der Novemberrevolution 1918 vor 100 Jahren einen echten sozialistischen Umsturz verhindert.

71

Tm 01.23.21 at 2:06 pm

OW 67: If you think that LGM blog titles are „unironic“ when the often masterful irony is one of the main reasons why people read and enjoy that blog, well there’s probably nothing I can do to help you. And specifically that post that you mention (which I didn’t even link to btw) is obviously ironic, obviously exposing the narrative that Trumpism only exists among low income rural rubes. If you let your hatred for them libs get into the way of understanding that straightforward message, really that should give you pause.

I thought we (I mean the CT community) had gotten back to being able to have decent, civil, and sometimes even interesting debates around here. I regretfully realize that I was wrong.

72

Tm 01.23.21 at 2:21 pm

WT 68: If you wish to be a communist, that is fine with me. I never said otherwise. However if you claim to be a communist but by your words and actions de facto give support to fascists, I will call you out; and if you claim to be a centrist or a liberal or a conservative and de facto support fascists, I will call you out. See the guiding principle here?

J-D 61 and 69, agree completely.

[That probably was my last post on this thread.]

73

CHETAN R MURTHY 01.23.21 at 3:41 pm

WT @ 68:

LBJ: Read The Best and the Brightest. And you will find that LBJ kept prosecuting that colonial war that was left like an unwanted bequest from his predecessor, JFK, b/c he didn’t think he could stop without losing credibility, and he wanted that credibility for his social reforms at home. He deliberately sacrificed Vietnamese/Cambodian/Laotian lives, for American social reform. Yes: it’s horrible. But it isn’t so simple, is it?

Clinton: You’re young, aren’t you? Don’t remember the 80s? The DLC? The Dems had lost 5 of the previous 6 Presidential elections. And so, what did they do? THEY MOVED TO THE RIGHT. Because the first rule of politics is: if you aren’t elected, you can’t govern; if you can’t govern, you’re useless. So get elected. That’s the first rule: get elected. So they did what they thought they had to do: moved right. And yes, they had to betray a bunch of downtrodden folks. But it was clear at the time, that that was the only choice: the country was still moving rightward, and what were Dems to do?

Take some pointless moral stance and achieve -nothing-?

In the immortal words of KRS-1: maybe open your mind a put a book in it?

74

William Timberman 01.23.21 at 7:34 pm

CHETAN R MURTHY @ 73

Yes, at 77, I suppose I’m young. What that has to do with the nature of our disagreement, I’m not entirely sure. I’m aware that many of the commenters on this blog think that stasis is the surest sign of rationality in politics — the slow boring of hard boards, and all that. A significant number of those same commenters also argue that progress is being made, however slowly, and that people of my political persuasion should take more care not to upset the applecart. In 1968, it was You fools, all you did was get Nixon elected. What I’m hearing now isn’t a lot different.

I disagreed then, and I disagree now. While the Democratic Party in the US continues doing its utmost to snatch defeat from the jaws of its occasional victories, I say this: if you aren’t afraid to lose in the short run, and use the loss to sharpen your arguments, then you’re just part of the enemy’s baggage train.

In my more cynical moments, I also wonder at how rarely these putatively moderate positions are taken in good faith. (For the record, I don’t think that was true of LBJ. I agree with Halperin’s assessment — and yours — about honesty of his political calculations. Nevertheless I disagree that his was the wisest course possible at the time).

In the case of those Democrats, however, who are consistent in warning us that unless they behave like Republicans, they’ll never be able to govern, and we’ll all suffer for it, I wonder if it’s really the people’s suffering that’s motivating them, rather than the size of the rewards they’ll personally reap from their demonstrations of docility once they leave office. Whose ox is being gored? is a always a legitimate question when listening to a politician’s rhetoric. As I look back to 1992-2000, for example, the most charitable thing I can find to say about the Clintons is that they both did their damndest to make sure that come what may, it was never going to be their ox that got itself gored.

As for pointless moral stances, There’s Gandhi’s First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win, or Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, and then there’s the observation that in the face of a threatened putsch by at least half of the Republican Party, Biden, like Obama, is still pursuing the chimera of national unity.

So no, you can’t govern if you can’t elected, but there’s also little point in getting elected if you can’t accomplish what is needful once you do.

75

William Timberman 01.23.21 at 7:44 pm

Let’s try that again, shall we:

Unless you’re prepared to lose in the short run, and use the loss to sharpen your arguments, then you’re just part of the enemy’s baggage train.

There, that’s better’

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William Timberman 01.23.21 at 8:02 pm

Sigh…and this correction, if I may:

I agree with Halberstam’s assessment — and yours — about honesty of his political calculations.

That’s it, then. I’m done.

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J-D 01.24.21 at 12:23 am

I am curious, though, given his pedigree and curriculum vitae, when and why you think he became a Trumpist extremist. Looking at the record, you could be forgiven for concluding he’s not likely to be a social democrat, but would you have figured him for a fascist collaborator?

There’s nothing particularly surprising about a Republican politician supporting a Republican President: that’s the default. (There’s nothing hugely surprising about a Republican politician violating the default and opposing a Republican President, but it’s by far less common.)

I made a quick check on Josh Hawley’s biographical details on Wikipedia but found nothing that stood out as relevant to this discussion. Was there something particular you had in mind? (It is Josh who’s under discussion, isn’t it?)

As long as we’re considering metamorphoses, have a look at LBJ, the greatest American social democrat of our era. How come, do you suppose, he felt he needed to gift his enemies on the right with a colonial war? What do you make of Bill and Hillary, modest social democrats — by Arkansas standards, anyway. What in the name of Moloch does Bill’s welfare reform, or Hillary’s savagery toward the Honduran left have to do with the ideals of social democracy?

Those are interesting questions. I don’t know the answers. Do you have suggestions? I notice that Chetan R Murthy does.

If we skip over to Germany and look at the modern SPD’s support for Hartz IV,we could easily make the same observation From my perspective, given social democrats like these, one might as well be a communist, assuming one is going to be a leftist at all..

In Germany voting for communists has (at least since Weimar times) done no harm, but it’s also done no good, whereas voting for social democrats, while it may have done some harm, has done more good than harm. The same is true in many countries.

It’s true that there are some places where voting for communists has done some good: Kerala, for example. Each situation has to be evaluated individually.

You say the left is stupid to take positions that keep them from winning elections. The truth is, the beautifully reasonable with all deliberate speed folks, modest social democrats absolutely included, have led us to where we are today. Are they happy now? Is anyone?

I’m pretty sure some people are happy now. Do you know nobody who is happy?

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J-D 01.24.21 at 10:19 am

if you aren’t afraid to lose in the short run, and use the loss to sharpen your arguments, then you’re just part of the enemy’s baggage train.

Loss doesn’t sharpen arguments.

For the record, I don’t think that was true of LBJ. I agree with Halperin’s assessment — and yours — about honesty of his political calculations. Nevertheless I disagree that his was the wisest course possible at the time

If you’re right that Lyndon calculated wrongly, it’s not clear what more general conclusion you think that observation supports.

In the case of those Democrats, however, who are consistent in warning us that unless they behave like Republicans, they’ll never be able to govern, and we’ll all suffer for it

There are no Democrats who say ‘we have to be no different from Republicans’, and there never have been.

As I look back to 1992-2000, for example, the most charitable thing I can find to say about the Clintons is that they both did their damndest to make sure that come what may, it was never going to be their ox that got itself gored.

In plain language, is it your opinion that Bill, as President, did no good at all?

As for pointless moral stances, There’s Gandhi’s First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win

No, there isn’t. He didn’t say that. But even if he had, that wouldn’t make it true: sometimes when they fight you, you lose.

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William Timberman 01.24.21 at 2:28 pm

J-D @ 77

I’m pretty sure some people are happy now. Do you know nobody who is happy?

You say you haven’t heard of Döblin, but I’m guessing you probably have heard of Brecht:

<

blockquote> Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn/Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende/Hat die furchtbare Nachricht/Nur noch nicht empfangen.

And now I really am out of here. Thanks for all the fish….

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steven t johnson 01.24.21 at 3:28 pm

Reverting to the OP’s theme of luck vs. fate, to repeat, perhaps the regular should be the explanandum, not the chance. Denying history makes any sense is equivalent to claiming things that happen now just happen and there’s no making sense of it. It’s the Bret Devereaux problem, then, you can’t understand the past if you don’t understand the present.

In the particular example of the rise of Hitler, I am reminded of the “controversy” between Henry Ashby Turner and David Abraham. Of course neither are available in my public library. Turner’s books on Hitler’s rise to power, German big business and Nazis and General Motors and Nazis are $15, $15 and $40 respectively, from Amazon. Abraham’s book on Weimar’s demise is $14 from Amazon. Turner of course is the adherent of the luck school (aka “shit happens.”)

Now these may be trivial sums for lots of people, but not for the pennywise. In looking to see if the investment was worth it, a little googling brought up an obituary for Turner, which spoke of his “famously exacting standards” for his graduate students, though alleviated by his “warmth” for those who measured up. I’m afraid I read this as a wry acknowledgement that Turner built his career by sweating his graduate students but delivered a career boost after they served their time at hard labor.

The case for Hitler, for one, as a product of chance rather than historical forces, apparently was made in his book about January 1933. Why, one asks, is Hitler’s rise to power a matter of a month? The only reason I can think of is the sound rhetorical/legal trial principle of asking only the right questions to present your case. The consensus I gather is that Turner proved conclusively that big business favored the German People’s Party and the German National People’s Party until the March 1933 election, which is presumably refutation of Abraham.

Given the critical importance of the March 1933 election, which was about getting the passage of the Enabling Act (the chancellor’s right to rule by decree, whereas Bruening relied on von Hindenburg, if I understand correctly.) this does not actually make the case that big business wasn’t essential to Hitler’s rise, it refutes it. The March 1933 election was the one that mattered for establishing the dictatorship. To argue big business didn’t support Hitler was to argue that big business was against the misuse of the Reichstag fire for a red scare, was against the intimidation in the election campaign, against the purge of KPD delegates, against the intimidation of the SDP delegates to get the Enabling Act passed.

The years long rampant bias in law enforcement cosseting right wing violence, the Black Reichswehr, the general support of right-wing politics in the form of the aforesaid German People’s Party and the German National People’s Party (this one had its own paramilitary, the Stahlhelm,) were to be sure merely support for reactionary policies, the cultivation of the political milieu in which the Nazi Party merely grew. Big business did not oppose these. Even these were forms only of indirect support leading to the eventual emergence of the Nazi Party to dictatorship, support it was. These were the regularities, for years, that needed to be explained, not the incidental details of precisely how Hitler became Chancellor.

The study on General Motors uses internal documents to show GM was dissatisfied with the political interference from the Nazi government and often felt pushed around. Given how unlikely it is that any study of internal documents would show that any corporation is entirely satisfied and is pleased about how it pushes around the government, it is not even clear how this is even the right kind of evidence to honestly address the thesis.

Again, it is entirely unclear how a study of January 1933, or a campaign finance study that confirms big business support in the absolutely critical election of 1933 refutes Abraham’s arguments. I suppose it is barely possible that Turner has been unfortunate in the presentation of his ideas, which may actually present substantive arguments rather than a lawyer’s case…but I’m not investing in Turner. It is possible for work to meet the canons of scholarship, the standards of the academy yet be fundamentally worthless. My favorite example is the Dunning school, but there are others.

As to Abraham, who argued ” Analysing the conflicts within and between organised industrial and agricultural forces in Germany as well as those between capital and labour, the author shows how these conflicts made it impossible for a coherent political force to emerge to hold the democratic republic together and how, after a period of costly cooperation with labour, and faced with unacceptable alternatives, Germany’s elites found unity in a dictatorship that removed the working class from politics and obliged the dominant classes to abdicate all but their economic interests.”

The obituary also spoke of the “whispered calumnies” against Turner for his brave stand for scholarship in attacking Abraham, whose first edition has misquotations and misattributions. Turner, who died at a ripe old age full of dishonors I suspect deserved every one of them.

As to some of the byplay in the comments, the claim that the issue’s relevance to today has to do with not repeating the same mistakes? The implicit claim Communists slaughtered the Social Democrats when they cursed Germany with slavery in 1945 just like Bela Kun murdered all the Social Democrats in Hungary in 1919 or the Bolsheviks revolted against the SRs and demanded the Mensheviks deny Dan and Tseretelli be excluded from any proposed unity government and a Bolshevik activist shot Martov, and the Social Democrats were excluded in the central European countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia after WWII…well, such bad behavior is indeed deplorable.

It is a little shocking to ask what exactly the social fascist theory contributed to the Nazi rise to power. Two years after the Prussian Social Democrats were killing May Day demonstrators in 1929, the KPD called for a no vote on a referendum on the Prussian government, even though the Nazis had initiated it. The referendum failed, so it is unclear how this actually mattered. (The claim is that the vote totals suggested most KPD members ignored the party leadership’s call for a “No.”) I don’t know of any actual facts that suggest the social fascist theory led to Nazi victory at any time.

It appears that Trotsky’s united front tactics were supposed to 1)drive the Nazis off the streets by uniting SDP and KPD militants to “win” against the SA. and 2)…actually I’m a little vague on that. For the first, the police were basically on the fascists’ side and sweeping the streets clean would have been perceived as a direct assault on law and order, on national security, I suspect. And for the second, it is not clear that the SDP would have been open to any programmatic unity that didn’t include the Zentrum, for one. (Lurker’s comment above suggests that purely electoral politics would have demanded this.) Again, I’m not at all sure that the KPD is to blame and and the SDP isn’t.

The real objection to social fascism appears to be that the KPD wasn’t committed to suppressing its program to enlist workers in defense of the Weimar democracy, It was the very existence of the KPD that was the SDP’s real objection. Again, as the corpses of Liebknecht and Luxemburg suggest, this was a real and powerful problem not necessarily resolved by an article by Trotsky. Insofar as the school that holds the Nazis were just mostly a tragic fluke but any cause was solely the recalcitrance of the Communists in provoking street fighting etc. and undermining democracy…well, the implication that a Communist Party that subordinated itself to the bourgeois democracy would preserve said democracy.

Of course this policy was tried. It was called the Popular Front, which failed in France and failed in Spain and failed in the international version called “collective security.” When someone makes so bold as to talk about remembering the lessons of history but means the dubious idea the theory of social fascism caused Hitler in favor of ignoring the failures of the program they implicitly commend, one does have to wonder whether the arguments are made in good faith.

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William Timberman 01.24.21 at 6:49 pm

Steven t johnson @ 80

A tip of the hat to il miglior fabbro. That is all.

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J-D 01.25.21 at 4:34 am

Das arglose Wort ist töricht. Eine glatte Stirn/Deutet auf Unempfindlichkeit hin. Der Lachende/Hat die furchtbare Nachricht/Nur noch nicht empfangen.

A universal truth should not be mistaken for a contingent product of specific political choices.

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Tm 01.25.21 at 8:32 am

Considering the amount of virtual ink spilled by STJ and WT in their quest to make the reformist left responsible for all the ills of the world (*), I find it remarkable what they have not had the spine to respond to:

“Heck, there is no question that more comunists were murdered by fellow communists than by social democrats.” (51)

There is no shortage of historic errors made by reformist leftists when in power, and there is no shortage of historic errors made by communist/revolutionary leftists when in power. Providing a cherry-picked list of such errors committed by one particular side, without historical context and political analysis, is a weak argumentative strategy, it can only impress people with little grasp of history. What interests me is still what can be learned from the mistakes of our forebears. And probably Gandhi has said something about this, if not then surely somebody has made up a quote to the effect that not acknowledging the mistakes of your own side weakens you because it prevents you from learning.

(*) WT 68: “the beautifully reasonable with all deliberate speed folks, modest social democrats absolutely included, have led us to where we are today.”

A beautiful expression of the Universal Murc’s Law: it is only the left liberals that have driven history and “have led us to where we are today”. The communists, the conservatives, nationalists, assorted reactionaries, fascists, etc. etc. somehow all have had no impact on history whatsoever. Remarkable. Almost flattering.

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Tm 01.25.21 at 8:48 am

Since the question of Hawley’s political evolution has been raised (for no good reason btw), perhaps this is helpful:

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/01/josh-hawleys-mentors-shocked-to-discover-he-is-what-hes-always-been

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