This is a moment of high passion and righteous calls for justice. Good time also to think about the history of advances in rights, and the outcomes of previous movements – so we can incorporate lessons about strategy – and make sure this justice energy isn’t wasted, coopted or thwarted, by evil but politically skillful gamesmanship.

Sadly, many people who consider themselves ‘serious’ opponents of the right have worked very hard not to learn anything at all from the last disastrous election. Trump is not a Russian plot – no intelligence service would ever recruit someone so completely unstable, unreliable and unpredictable. The Russians definitely do enjoy watching him damage the national interest and take a giant dump all over the American brand, in the eyes of the world, but to suggest he is controlled by them is like saying George Soros is in steering control of every charity group to which he has ever donated money.

This class of ideas is a common, but still silly and paranoid form of tribalist thinking I’ve addressed before.

What Trump is, especially to almost all politically and historically interested people outside of America, is the most completely American president there has ever been. Some Americans love to use him to point out things they don’t like about their nation, as if they started just recently – but what makes this fellow unique is not his malicious intentions, for which there are long precedents, but only that he is a really transparent liar, and so naturally boastful that he frequently forgets when he is supposed to be lying, for the sake of national security, and just calls out secret evil policy directly.

And not only is he shockingly honest about very old games that Americans traditionally prefer to lie to themselves about – he is also the exact sort of personality the CIA has so often installed in foreign countries by force or trickery, when their democracy was getting too close to representing the interests of the people who elected them, instead of the interests of American and trans-national corporations.

If there was (and/or is) a populist coup in Washington, it wasn’t via facebook, and it wasn’t an evil Russian plot.

Many observers around the world assume instead that it was something a lot more like some small Wall Street club, inspired by the still unrepudiated Dulles brothers and Kissinger, who got together and decided it was time to try a little taste of Condor at home.


  1. I do believe there are parallels between the ideological thinking behind 1968 Democratic convention and today’s black lives matter protests – but the latter are also anti-Trump protests. The current administration’s general corruption, lack of basic decency, and negligence around covid are significant contributing factors. Yes people can be self-destructively self-indulgent, and yes this can make them less able to articulate credible analysis, or to mobilize responsibly around credible programs; but I also think there is something to be said for an unequivocal repudiation of the path Trumpism represents.

    It also occurs to me that we often don’t see much clear analysis of the real implications of political values for countries. Especially in the US, the oscillation between parties, both in terms of power and in dialectics, produces the sense of a stable status quo, that is largely natural and inevitable. Of course, it’s absurdly contrived, and the fact that political values serve as a sort of emotional crutch for so many enables that. How do you break through, when you know that so many of even your own fellow citizens are deaf to your appeals? Many thousands of mostly young men died in that year alone in the war. Although you’re indisputably more well versed in the history than I am, I’m not sure that Humphrey was as vehement in his opposition to the war as you think. Counterfactuals – if X condition had been fulfilled, then Y would have followed – and politics don’t mix. People want tangible results, preferably in-line with their lofty principles, especially when it’s from their affiliations. And they react bitterly when they aren’t delivered, especially when it seems their loyalty is being exploited. Pragmatism has its limits.

    At the same time, it’s clear that political processes are carefully managed to placate many internal forces that are in conflict, so that they don’t become more destructive to the basic functionality of society – the status quo. We always see that strict adherence to the highest virtues, without being cognizant of a highly complex context, could bring about intolerable outcomes. So there’s that tension between principle and application.

    • Wow – again, two absolutely superb and multi-layer commentaries – thank you hugely, even where you contradict, you flatter me by close attention!

      I actually think there are very big differences between the complex tumult of 1968 and the protests of today. Without wishing to sound (or be) snotty, there is a vast weight of profound thought and speech on the record from that time – historic speeches and ambitions both. More noise now, much less signal (though there was certainly a chaos of voices then, also). What is definitely similar is the danger of using collective anger as an organizing and motivating lever – recklessness follows closely behind, and this is a force canny people are good at using to thwart even the reasonable aims of the righteously angry (provocateur heaven).

      Yes, the extent to which most people think of politics in sports terms is very disheartening. If it really does all come down to logos, compromise – even on progressive ideas like a popular front, may remain unworkable. Breaking down old reflexes and replacing them with mental work and moral responsibility is never especially popular (Jimmy Carter’s famous “Tighten our belts” speech is among the most moral and honest messages ever delivered by a sitting president – and it doomed him utterly).

      About counterfactuals, I disagree – but only in a very limited way. Many like to pretend utopias were narrowly averted again and again – not me. That being said, we can be sure that Humphrey would have continued the war on poverty (of which he was a key architect) – and this policy remains one of the most effective programs ever undertaken to address systemic poverty – studied to this day. Also, he would not have started the war on drugs, because the targets of that war were segments of his key electorate!

      Nixon settled with North Vietnam on the exact same terms that Kissinger told the North Vietnamese not to accept at the Paris talks in 1968! Five more years not only of war, but of the paranoiac-steered state actively conspiring against the citizenry, foreign and domestic.

      Likewise – there is no evidence Carter would have disrupted the far-sighted California emissions plans (demanding electric vehicle offerings by 1990) – and thus SUVs would have remained (punitively taxed) commercial vehicles only, and the atmosphere would be considerably less screwed (and we’d all be a good deal less habituated to screwing it).

      Contrary to popular sentiment, I am certain Al Gore would have done sweet bugger all on the environment (he was the point-man who effectively scuppered Kyoto, after all), though no doubt he would have made pleasant noises there, to put as many people back to sleep as possible. It is also likely that he would have made an even bigger mess in Afghanistan (hard to imagine I know, but military competence is not a democratic trait). But there is no way at all he would have invaded Iraq – so there wouldn’t have ever been an ISIS, or a cheap way to destabilize Syria and sell billions in weapons by wrecking the lives of millions – specific (though also incalculable) evils actually can be attributed to noxious personalities.

      The question of which influences are brought to bear, and what ‘status quo’ is being sought is indeed crucial – and almost never discussed except in hyperbolic partisan terms (from which once again, compromise is unlikely). I have read distressingly compelling arguments for political and even cultural mediocrity, as necessary antidotes to otherwise unhinged human aspirations. Consumerism may actually be our minimal pacifier! ;o) (It definitely sucks – and we are all definitely sucking on it, like it or not).

      The need/ want distinction, capability of restraint and ratio of duty and defiance is the exact spot where the boomers (yes, imprecise, but clear) represent a stark inflection point. I wish I could convey to you how weird it was to read the hilarious satyrical concept of “The revolution of lowered expectations” in the early eighties, in Robert Anton Wilson books. It was so clear that we had so many potential solutions – but forty years later we still lack the will, and the senses of community, duty and sacrifice which seem to have been present in most civilizations which did impressive things.

      Here’s a very tricky point, upon which I do welcome your challenge (but assure you I am also self-challenging, in my usual masochistically rigorous way) – to discuss the distinct and still problematic new conception of role within society – especially the transition from citizen to consumer, isn’t actually a moral or emotional point. It can’t help sounding that way, because of the quantities we’re talking about. But it wasn’t ever a bunch of nasty people saying “Lets party and eat the whole world, then save the stock market with our mass pension investments at the expense of our own children’s working future.” They didn’t think any of those things – they just didn’t notice the real and important negative consequences of their own demographically unstoppable pursuit of advantage. In a similar way, you and I share some particular and unusual insights and capabilities as working-class intellectuals, which are in part borne of our long poverty. We ain’t angels, we’ve just been tempered extra long and hot.
      Honestly – I have yet to meet anyone with serious will or patience, who didn’t truly NEED it! ;o)

      Everybody comes by everything honestly – that’s one of the most frustrating things about the world. That does not mean that what people make of it all is of equal weight, but we can only effectively argue from within their scope of witness, which usually requires us to broaden our own (one of the best completely self-interested benefits to selfless anti-tribalist outreach, is how much better we understand our own positions, as we learn others). Mind you – this insight goes back to Socrates – nothing new (even if still very fertile stuff).

      I remain convinced that what we now think of as individualism has a lot more to do with consumerism and the childish lusts it constantly arouses than we are able to see, while we are still soaking in these disruptive soups so inescapably. This is not another variation on that all too common judgement of contempt on “Sucker them” who respond robotically to bad programming – I fully include myself. Even when we see and fight it actively, we still have to figure out some way to swim in the damned stuff. Capitalism requires us to evolve septic gills!

      I know I’m still failing to hit some of your excellent points – but it’s getting late so I’ll close with one last notion. There is “where we want to get” – a clearly articulated and generally inspiring goal-state. Crafting this beauty is a big project, and it can’t be theory only – must fly well and lift many! But there is also the question of what tools will we need to build this whatever the heck we finally come up with? (When we are desperate enough to finally believe we need to compromise, in order to survive?)

      Tools are important – including friendships, and new insights which can help us understand what others are really saying (instead of just reacting to their word-patterns with our favourite patterns), and help us put our own aspirations on the terms most likely to make sense to them – it all helps.

      Patience, will, humility and intellectual honesty also crucial, as is a driving quest (without which, our new information flow becomes too stagnant). So I’d have to say you are doing beautifully (always bearing in mind that on the venerable and yet no less absurd prophetic path, many of our finest victories are pyrrhic) – or at very in that headshaking category of “Damn I HATE it when I’m right!” ;o)

      Cheers, man. Thank you sincerely for you thoughtful engagement. Love and hugs too.

  2. I appreciate how you tackle the question of the responsibilities of our privilege as citizens in a modern, affluent society – and how it can be so difficult to foster a wide recognition of that responsibility, largely because of that privilege. I’m a bit wary of arguments about the alleged decadence of boomers, despite a multitude of examples of just that, in rather pathological form. (Such as that book about boomers, A Generation of Sociopaths.) It’s easy to blame the “successful” in a pathological system. Instead I often think about how people across the socioeconomic, cultural, educational etc. spectrum (i.e. people from all walks of life) are so to speak complicit in some of the system’s worst excesses. And then consider why no one seems able to articulate their awareness of that. Hope springs eternal.

    It isn’t wrong to dream big, to work hard, to be acquisitive, to pursue and celebrate independence – nor is it wrong to not be intellectuals like us, perfectly content with minimal material possessions – but previous generations knew the difference between a “need” and a “want”. The ability to make this distinction has been obliterated by a succession of factors, particularly, in the eyes of some, when it comes to the boomers. There used to be many sources of social stability that aren’t with us anymore. Such stabilizers included the traditional family (including marriage and extended family bonds), conventional shared morality, relative cultural homogeneity, stronger religious norms (embodied and enforced by church / clergy as well as fellow community members), and a relatively slower rate of change in many relevant respects.

    The practical question I keep coming back to is, can we articulate the minimal material conditions for a good life, and then work to implement those conditions on the widest scale possible? It’s obvious to me that this only has a chance of working if an extraordinary percentage of the global population gets on the same page, in terms of its priorities, channels of credible information, media, politics, science / engineering, and in many respects cultural morality. Is the secular west leading by example in terms of a society that is responsible (non-wasteful, and intellectually honest) and equitable? Perhaps not. We have a lot of great media and educational institutions producing the impression of principled, intellectual rigor regarding “the issues of the day” (in a sense they construct those issues); but our ingenuity is focused toward typical capitalist-colonial exploits rather than sustainability. A corollary of this is that the concept of equity is badly misrepresented in modern discourse, as a reiteration of naïve, homogenizing entitlement – one of the paradoxes of “representation”.

    The term “boomer” is thrown around a lot, and not always in helpful or illuminating ways. If we’re talking about a strain of relatively affluent (by today’s standards) white North Americans, relatively blessed with the social and financial capital to achieve independence, we should be clear about that. We should also be careful to restrain our vitriol regarding their alleged dereliction of duty, our righteous indignation at a perceived betrayal, although I too am frustrated and angry to see, in full relief, the missed opportunities for a more meaningful, ethical life and society. It’s also a pitiful manifestation of mediocrity.

    But not mediocrity in the sense of a failure to compete – quite the opposite. It’s mediocrity in the sense of a failure to hold ourselves to a higher standard. The blind, unthinking drive to compete is a symptom of detachment, of cynicism and hopelessness. It pits “the individual” against “society”, a false dichotomy which really means putting individuals in boxes and pitting society against itself. It introduces self-indulgent, mythologizing narratives about human progress that are entirely and provably false. (I wonder if whining about “family values” can repair that level of communal ignorance. A lot of intact families reproduce that toxicity, and a lot of people from broken homes are mindful and grateful members of society.)

    Individualism, as an ideological construct, did not exist for much of human history. But people who were able to be as serious and practical as they were open-hearted, good-humored and imaginative made meaningful sacrifices – and that is how progress was made. (With basically zero assurance of recognition or reward, materially or socially. Doing the right thing for its own sake is an investment in the rational and decent person in all of us.) Today, along with the aforementioned loss of previous social bonds and the ascendancy of competitive individualism, we have a pervasive sense of entitlement held by many, that we might say is a continuation of the lamentable selfishness of the boomers, which some have deemed sociopathic. Trumpism is a good embodiment of what I’m talking about, with he himself being, in the eyes of many, an articulation of western supremacy in all its arbitrary, unapologetic individuality.

    Now obviously, reactionary forms of ideological western supremacy that endorse an ethno-state or unjust military interventions are condemnable. But there are sincere commentators who acknowledge the virtues of western societies – the things that made them the best places to live for many over the last century or so – and sincerely worry about their erosion. Unfortunately, such commentators also often miss the mark when enumerating those societies’ vices, tending to bemoan things like “the loss of family values” (code for “women earning money”) or chastising arrogant leftists while justifying right-wing violence. In any case, there’s zero question we have our work cut out for us working out our internal problems, even in our enlightened, high-tech age. The question is, can we acknowledge the importance of meaningful sacrifice – the most important of all being the willingness to live among those you don’t agree with – or are we going to keep doubling-down on the hollow consolations of rugged individualism and moral absolutism?

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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