August 27, 2020

Delayed party realignment and the new crises of 2020

Nothing fundamentally has changed in my assessment of the 2020 election and beyond, from the analysis I did mostly in 2018 and '19 (navigate through those archives on the right). And I will continue to ignore the 24-hour news cycle and the unstructured "takes" of social media platforms.

But it's worth a post now, with Biden having formally wrapped up the Democrat nomination, and with sufficient time to assess the aftermath of the new crises this year -- the central bank printing trillions more dollars to bail out imploding markets, the coronavirus pandemic, and the angry liberal riots.

I'll split this into two posts: this one on the failed realignment of the Trump admin, and the new crises of 2020; another on the upcoming election, and near-term prospects for realignment under the non-Republican party (the Democrats or a new 2nd party that replaces them).

* * *

Starting with Peter Turchin's model of polarization cycles, the best analogy to the present is the 1850s, leading up to the Civil War. And using Stephen Skowronek's model of political regime cycles, we're specifically in 1856. I still think this will be like that particular disjunctive phase, which was hyper-polarized and lasted more than one administration (Democrats Pierce followed by Buchanan, before realignment under the Lincoln GOP), compared to the other less polarized eras where disjunctive phases only lasted for one (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Hoover, and Carter). Polarization retards realignment, whereby political coalitions are shaken up and blocs from one party defect long-term to another party.

The current era is the Reaganite era, with the GOP as dominant party and Democrats as the opposition. Trump is a disjunctive president from the dominant party, threatening to up-end the consensus, and even delivering on some of that promise, although severely limited by trying to accomplish this within the party that has derived the greatest benefits from the consensus -- having created it.

A few cases where Trump has acted decisively against the Reaganite orthodoxy, despite largely failing to fulfill his 2016 campaign promises to realign the system: personal diplomacy to normalize relations with North Korea, jailbreaking thousands of (largely black) non-violent federal prisoners, and imposing some level of tariffs on some goods from some countries.

It's not possible to say one way or the other whether his increased welfare policies in response to the pandemic are unusual, since no other president in the Reagan era has had their orthodoxy tested by such a crippling pandemic. Maybe Reagan or the Bushes would have supported what Trump has done (unemployment benefits, eviction moratorium, student debt deferment, etc.), in the hopes of not crashing the economy. Maybe they would not have. But still worth noting that he didn't promote Social Darwinism, as the neoliberal consensus would seem to have demanded.

But like the last disjunctive president, Carter, Trump has overseen an administration that has mostly extended the life of the moribund status quo. Carter campaigned on ending the New Deal, and did deregulate a few sectors, but also oversaw the creation of two federal bureaucracies (the Education and Energy departments).

Trump's foreign policy has been belligerent toward the Russian sphere of influence, increased the number of NATO members (Montenegro), sent tens of thousands of Americans back into Afghanistan, invaded and indefinitely occupied northeastern Syria, returned to punitive sanctions and now outright assassination against Iran, failed in yet another coup against a social democrat Latin American state (Venezuela / Guaido), and so on and so forth.

The trade deficit has exploded under Trump, as de-industrialization of the economy continues apace. NAFTA remains in place, albeit re-branded, and so does the similar policy with China (PNTR). More iconic American manufacturers are now making their products in China, including former hold-outs like Pendleton Woolen Mills of Portland, Oregon. Funny, I haven't seen a single angry liberal rioter in Portland with a sign decrying the further destruction of good-paying manufacturing jobs for the local working class after Pendleton recently began making their clothing in China. ("Um, wow, xenophobic much?")

Trump has also overseen an explosion in the other form of the elites substituting cheap foreign labor for well-paid domestic workers -- immigration, which is literally off-the-charts compared to even Obama (it got so bad they needed to expand the scale of the y-axis). That's both legal and illegal. Not a single brick of The Wall will be laid.

To compensate for the destruction of the industrial economy, and to fund the never-profitable military's occupation of the entire world, the central bank has resumed printing money by the trillions. Unlike the boogeyman of "helicopter money," this gets laundered through the upper tiers of the finance pyramid until it stops trickling down past the professional-managerial class who make up the top 10-20%. This is not only the liberal yuppies in make-work tech firms during a stock market bubble, but also the conservative yuppies in make-work defense contracting firms during a military-spending bubble.

Accordingly, the state's fiscal health has deteriorated rapidly under Trump, with the national debt surging from $20 to $25 trillion, a huge amount absolutely, as well as a 25% increase in just four years. This continues the trend begun at the dawn of the Reagan revolution, which reversed America's status as a creditor nation -- not a debtor nation -- during the New Deal era.

And the public physical infrastructure and social services founded during the New Deal continue to decay, notwithstanding the unusual coronavirus protections.

* * *

All three of the major crises of 2020 point to the delay of realignment until at least the next election. Rather than spur responses from either side that would require shaking up the status quo, these crises have all been met with the same ol', same ol' from both sides.

Regarding the imploding economy and the sole solution of the central bank printing trillions to hand out to the elites, neither side is demanding a re-industrialization of the economy, which is the only sustainable source of funding for a modern society. Nor is either side demanding a radical de-scaling of the failing American empire, which will always be a gigantic drain on our fiscal health. Each side is hoping to print as much money as possible for elite bailouts while in office -- quantitative easing rounds 1-2-3 under Obama, QE infinity under Trump -- and hope that the cascading failures of this policy will strike when the other side is in power.

The coronavirus pandemic was the fault of open borders and global interconnectedness. At first, neither side wanted to impose travel restrictions, quarantines, or mask policies. The Republicans did not want these public health measures because they would diminish GDP growth for the near-term, and they are over-optimizers who want as much growth as possible at every moment. But the Democrats rejected these measures as well, albeit for liberal reasons -- travel bans are xenophobic, quarantines hinder the leisure / lifestyle striving of the urban professional class, and masks create a social-cultural climate of fear and stigma, which is worse than whatever material harm may be caused by a pandemic.

These two responses are no different from the '90s era of neoliberal consolidation, whether from the Gingrich revolution GOP or the Democrat crusaders for political correctness (now called wokeness). A realignment movement would have promoted public health over private profits, and material welfare over puritanical thought control. Neither side can even manage to take palliative measures like governmental distribution of masks for free on a regular schedule, let alone require that they be manufactured in America. All the costs and responsibilities have been burdened onto the individual citizen, which explains the failure to solve a collective problem like a pandemic, which requires a top-down state response.

Then there are the angry liberal riots of the summer. The response from both sides has been an extension of the neoliberal era's abdication of stewardship by the elites, and the socializing of costs and privatizing of benefits. Namely, let rioters destroy the cities, let the citizens eat cake, and do not allow police or military to come in harm's way to defend the public -- but make sure the police and military still collect publicly funded incomes, pensions, authority, respect, status, etc.

In the wielding of authority and force against riots, the Trump admin has been little different from the Obama admin, who also had to deal with BLM and other riots, mass shootings, cop killings, and the like, during 2015 and especially 2016. A hypothetical Biden admin would not do much different either, based on the Obama admin's record, and the Democrats' rhetorical support or at least rationalization of the riots this year.

A realigning non-Republican would have to come out in support of sending in federal troops to quell pointless destruction across multiple major and minor cities. The realignment angle to shake up the political coalitions would be something like, "You don't have to think that cops are infallible, and you can demonstrate against them -- but when you start burning down cities to no higher effect, leaving downtowns boarded up for months after the fact, we will send in teams of men with guns to protect the public welfare. We will not allow violent thugs to appoint themselves as a new unofficial police force, since they are unaccountable to a public that did not elect, appoint, or fund them."

That would be similar to the New Deal era, when the state was strong and elites were unified. During the last peak of civil unrest, in the late '60s and early '70s, both the Johnson and Nixon administrations cracked skulls and threw rioters in jail to limit the scale of destruction. With a weakened deregulatory state like we have today, though, we can expect a more open-ended path of destruction in the near-term. There were major riots in L.A. in the early '90s under Bush Sr., and he did manage to send in federal troops. But they were not nationwide like the peaks circa 1970 and 2020, and in any case the early '90s were not as far along the course of neoliberalization as we are today, so the state was still capable of doing something to protect the public.

* * *

One final point of clarification: the police themselves, as a collective entity, are to blame for their lack of involvement in quelling the riots. Conservatives love nothing more than to blame dickless liberal Democrat mayors for "giving stand-down orders," but the police don't have to obey those orders if they wanted to perform their supposed societal function of protecting the public from violent anarchy. The police union could organize a strike, surround city hall, or issue a polite statement of mutiny and dare the dickless liberal Democrat mayor to ruin himself by cracking down on, or withholding pay-checks from, cops who are only trying to put out an open-ended conflagration. A stand-down order is just a wink-and-nod among two elite entities that neither will be risking their own lives in order to protect the public, who pays their salaries and respects their authority.

That happened at the national level when Trump tried to get some disjunctive work done in shrinking our military's global footprint, by decreasing the numbers in Afghanistan. He also ran on this issue, both in general and specifically about Afghanistan. Instead, the military elites told him to go fuck himself, and we're sending tens of thousands of Americans back into Afghanistan, just to show the so-called Commander-in-chief who really calls the shots about the global military occupation. Trump had no leverage to strike back with, so he got over-ruled.

Mayors are even weaker than presidents, so there's no reason the police couldn't do the same thing to over-rule them and deploy their members to quell the riots. Or the federal military, for that matter. They had no problem over-ruling the president, surely they can over-rule a mayor. But the military's goals are directed toward expanding their sphere of influence, and that means focusing on foreign lands that are up for grabs, rather than the core nation that has long been solidly within the Pentagon's sphere of influence.

That's another case of conservatives being exasperated rather than figuring out what's going on. E.g., "Why do we send so many troops to patrol terrorists in Afghanistan, and we can't even send a few to patrol domestic terrorists like Antifa and BLM in our own cities?" Duh, because the military would not expand its sphere of influence by deploying troops within the core nation. Conservatives still refuse to de-sacralize the sectors of society that control their political party -- manufacturers, military / police / armed force, energy, and agriculture. They won't view the military as a collective entity with its own interests, forms of leverage, etc., that conflict with the interests and leverage of other sectors of society, including the general public. Same goes for the police, at a smaller scale.

They're not "the good guys" or "defenders of America," they are the promoters of a course of action that will maintain and expand their own institution's collective welfare. The Republican military cartel is no different in that respect from Democrat cartels like tech, finance, or media / entertainment.

The key change that we see today, compared to the good ol' days of the New Deal, is that the elites of all sectors in society have gradually switched from mutualism and occasional altruism -- taking risks, perhaps literally putting themselves in harm's way, to benefit the general public -- to parasitism, where they take from the public but provide little to nothing in return.


  1. Nostalgia from the New Wave Era:

  2. Spraying on Antaeus today, thinking of a Chanel socialist of eastern Med origin...


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