19.7.17

EMERGENCE IS MESSY.

Before the Black Swan took wing, Joshua Mitchell of Politico considered the foundations of Donald Trump's appeal. Put simply, "The post-1989 world order is unraveling. "If you listen closely to Trump, you’ll hear a direct repudiation of the system of globalization and identity politics that has defined the world order since the Cold War."

To an extent, that's what happens to a coalition when it has achieved some of its goals, and cannot agree on what remains to be done.  And, for all the anguish in the conservative coalition about popular culture and renegade universities, the Soviet Bloc is not, and National Affairs neither implies nor is implied by Washington Consensus.
For a time, the three GOP factions were able to form an alliance against Communism abroad and against Progressivism at home. But after the Cold War ended, Communism withered and the culture wars were lost, there has been very little to keep the partnership together. And if it hadn’t been Trump, sooner or later someone else was going to come along and reveal the Republican Party’s inner fault lines. Trump alone might have been the catalyst, but the different factions of the GOP who quickly split over him were more than happy to oblige.
But some of what came after the Wall came down was that which was in place, whether what was in place had any evolutionary advantage or not.  Every agency that was standing at the time the Iron Curtain rusted out claimed some credit: the financial sector, the international institutions, the technocracy.  But each of those agencies emerged out of the victory in World War II with purposes idiosyncratic to those circumstances, and each of them might have been of less use once the tensions remaining from that victory, namely the Cold War, relaxed.
[A]gainst the backdrop of post-1989 ideas, the Trump campaign does indeed have a nascent coherence. “Globalization” and “identity politics” are a remarkable configuration of ideas, which have sustained America, and much of the rest of the world, since 1989. With a historical eye—dating back to the formal acceptance of the state-system with the treaty of Westphalia in 1648—we see what is so remarkable about this configuration: It presumes that sovereignty rests not with the state, but with supra-national organizations—NAFTA, WTO, the U.N., the EU, the IMF, etc.—and with subnational sovereign sites that we name with the term “identity.” So inscribed in our post-1989 vernacular is the idea of “identity” that we can scarcely imagine ourselves without reference to our racial, gender, ethnic, national, religious and/or tribal “identity.” Once, we aspired to be citizens who abided by the rule of law prescribed within a territory; now we have sovereign “identities,” and wander aimlessly in a world without borders, with our gadgets in hand to distract us, and our polemics in mind to repudiate the disbelievers.

What, exactly, is the flaw with this remarkable post-1989 configuration of ideas? When you start thinking in terms of management by global elites at the trans-state level and homeless selves at the substate level that seek, but never really find, comfort in their “identities,” the consequences are significant: Slow growth rates (propped up by debt-financing) and isolated citizens who lose interest in building a world together. Then of course, there’s the rampant crony-capitalism that arises when, in the name of eliminating “global risk” and providing various forms of “security,” the collusion between ever-growing state bureaucracies and behemoth global corporations creates a permanent class of winners and losers. Hence, the huge disparities of wealth we see in the world today.

The post-1989 order of things fails to recognize that the state matters, and engaged citizens matter. The state is the largest possible unit of organization that allows for the political liberty and economic improvement of its citizens, in the long term. This arrangement entails competition, risk, success and failure. But it does lead to growth, citizen-involvement, and if not a full measure of happiness, then at least the satisfactions that competence and merit matter.
I'd quibble that there's more to the past nearly thirty years of change than the wealth disparities. Fewer people have to make do on the equivalent of a dollar a day these days.  "The world attained the first Millennium Development Goal target—to cut the 1990 poverty rate in half by 2015—five years ahead of schedule, in 2010." That improvement in living standards in the developing world, however,  was a Marshallian improvement, and gadgets in hand or polemics are scant comfort to, for example, U. S. citizens who might genuinely be enjoying higher living standards at the same time that they have lost ground to neighbors who are relatively even better off.

That's no way to maintain confidence in the existing institutions, even if the institutions are still doing what they had emerged to do.  In The Federalist, Ben Domenech sees that loss of confidence.
Trust for unions, the justice system, big business, Congress and the media are in single digits.

This decline didn’t happen overnight – it began with Watergate and Vietnam and continued through the financial crisis and Iraq. Real failures undermined confidence in the capacity of elite institutions to do good and in their capability to represent the interests of the people. Now working and middle class Americans are reasserting themselves against a bipartisan political and cultural establishment utterly discredited due to their record of failure.

The list is familiar to you by now: 9/11. Iraq. Katrina. Congressional corruption. Financial meltdown. Bank bailouts. Failed stimulus. A health care mess. Stagnant wages. Rising distrust. Diminished hopes. 16 years of promises from Republicans and Democrats alike that failed to live up to what people wanted. This distrust was earned.

Through it all, the elites were looking out for the interests of people other than those they were elected to serve. It is no accident that Donald Trump broke with elite bipartisan consensus on the issues of immigration, trade, and foreign policy. In each of these arenas elite consensus views were favored by the donor class, by big business, and by party leadership to the exclusion of others.
But perhaps even this Deep Analysis is misguidedly focussed on the elites, and their disconnect with the Rest of the People.  James Fallows has been exploring the blue highways and his most recent dispatch suggests the outcome of the election, elsewhere than the presidency, is business as usual.
Fewer than one in three felt that good ideas were coming from national institutions. These results also underscore the sense my wife and I took unmistakably from our visits: that city by city, and at the level of politics where people’s judgments are based on direct observation rather than media-fueled fear, Americans still trust democratic processes and observe long-respected norms. As I argued in a cover story last year, most American communities still manage to compromise, invest and innovate, make long-term plans.
Perhaps, though, that's the point!  There's a "Just Leave Us Alone" strand to each element of the rainbow coalition, after all, and the fears and conceits and six-point programs of the Administrative State aren't that relevant.

Here's an intriguing Andrew Bacevich essay that recognizes the hubris of the existing institutions, all claiming victory.
Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated.  Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation.  Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family.  Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations -- marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth -- became passé. The concept of a transcendent common good, which during the Cold War had taken a backseat to national security, now took a backseat to maximizing individual choice and autonomy.

Finally, as a complement to these themes, in the realm of governance, the end of the Cold War cemented the status of the president as quasi-deity.  In the Age of Great Expectations, the myth of the president as a deliverer from (or, in the eyes of critics, the ultimate perpetrator of) evil flourished.  In the solar system of American politics, the man in the White House increasingly became the sun around which everything seemed to orbit.  By comparison, nothing else much mattered.

From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up short.  Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped “race for the White House,” another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation.  From one election cycle to the next, these campaigns became longer and more expensive, drearier and yet ever more circus-like.  No matter.  During the Age of Great Expectations, the reflexive tendency to see the president as the ultimate guarantor of American abundance, security, and freedom remained sacrosanct.
I suppose it's too much to ask of a Common Dreams writer to raise the possibility that it required a Ronald Reagan to terminate the Evil Empire.  Let alone that, once the Evil Empire crumbled, the urgency of National Consensus and Collective Action and all the rest was not present.  And somehow the Republic survived President Clinton's "bridge to the 21st century" and President Bush's "axis of evil" and President Obama's "Hope and Change" and the case for the President-Deliverer weakened.

Thus did an anticipated Age of Great Expectations become an Age of Unwelcome Surprises.  Perhaps, though, for the political class, the most unwelcome of surprises was that the small platoons of civil society Mr Fallows encountered on his travels were getting their work done without succour from Panem, er, Washington City. I submit, dear reader, that he's not contemplating sufficient alternatives.
Given the atrophy of old-line media with their quaint regard for truth, the addictive strength of social media and their unprecedented capacity to spread lies, and the cynicism of modern politics, will we ever be able to accurately match image with reality? The answer to that question will determine the answer to another: whether this election will be a dire but survivable challenge to American institutions or an irreversible step toward something else.
Where the institutions are no longer productive, that irreversible step toward something else is mutation. Whether selection or adaptation follows is left as an exercise.

Mr Domenech wrote his essay before the election returns, and he's on point.  "Our elite leadership class sowed the wind, and Donald Trump is the whirlwind they reaped."  That might be too simple a cause, but it's a pardonable lapse for the people who happened to be guiding the civil society Truman and Churchill had bequeathed them to attribute the failure of the Evil Empire to their own Good Works.

Mr Mitchell also posted before the presidential results.  Six months after inauguration, time to take stock?
The Very White Progressives who run the Democratic Party have an abiding interest in the latter narrative, because holding on to support of entire identity groups helps them win elections. But I do not think it can be successful much longer, in part because it is predicated on the continual growth of government, which only the debt-financing can support. Our debt-financed binge is over, or it will be soon. The canary in the coal mine—now starting to sing—is the African-American community, which has, as a whole, been betrayed by a Democratic Party that promises through government largesse that its burden shall be eased. Over the past half-century nothing has been further from the truth, especially in high-density inner-city regions. While it receives little media attention, there are African-Americans who are dubious about the arrangement by which the Democratic Party expects them to abide. A simultaneously serious and humorous example of this is the long train of videos posted on YouTube by “Diamond and Silk.” To be sure, the current polls show that Trump has abysmal ratings among minorities. If he wins the election, he will have to succeed in convincing them that he offers an alternative to permanent government assistance and identity politics consciousness-raising that, in the end, does them little good; and that through the alternative he offers there is a hope of assimilation into the middle class. A tall order, to be sure.
I have to wonder how an off-the cuff remark, "Let Obamacare fail" will play as a credible commitment to ending permanent government assistance or as swearing off the debt-financed binge.  But there it is.

Emergence is messy.

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