September 27, 2018

Unlike Thomas, Kavanaugh's nom taking place in social mood of vulnerability rather than normalcy

One difference between the attacks against Thomas and Kavanaugh is the social-cultural mood at the time. By the early 1990s, the mass hysteria over sexual predation was beginning to enter a skeptical phase -- after the unqualified panic of the second half of the 1980s, which included the date rape panic, the Satanic ritual abuse panic, and the daycare abuse panic.

In 2018, we are not quite yet into that skeptical phase, and in fact are in the unqualified panic phase, where people are open to believing the substantiated charges (Harvey Weinstein) as well as the unsubstantiated charges (Christine Ford).

An earlier post charted the phases of this cycle, showing how they map onto the phases of the cultural excitement cycle. There are three distinct phases -- manic, vulnerable, normalcy -- that last about 5 years each, for a cycle that repeats about every 15 years. This draws on "excitable system" models in biology, such as the activity level of a neuron.

During the manic, invincible phase, there is neither panic nor skepticism -- people are feeling invulnerable during a manic high. This is the late '60s, early '80s, late '90s, and early 2010s.

When the manic phase crashes into a refractory phase, people feel over-sensitive and therefore vulnerable. They're more likely to feel like predators are everywhere -- hence willing to believe any claim of predation -- and wanting to avoid them at all costs, but finding nowhere to hide. This is the early '70s, late '80s, early '00s, and late 2010s.

As the over-sensitivity wears off and the nervous system returns to a normal baseline of neither over-stimulated nor under-stimulated, people start to become skeptical about how vulnerable they truly were during the previous phase. Sure, we felt vulnerable, but we felt too vulnerable -- so much so that we believed all sorts of bogus charges. We let ourselves become gullible, and now that our emotional state has returned to baseline, we won't get suckered by far-out charges. This is the late '70s, early '90s, late 2000s, and by projection the early 2020s.

Thomas dodged a bullet by being nominated in the early '90s, once the backlash had begun against the sexual abuse hysteria of the late '80s. Roberts and Alito also dodged a bullet by being nominated in 2005, after the subsiding of the early 2000s outrage over sexual abuse (Catholic church revelations). All three were nominated during the return-to-normalcy, healthy dose of skepticism phase.

Gorsuch got nominated during the vulnerable phase, but before a widespread panic had exploded. He was nominated in January 2017 (and confirmed in April), whereas the Me Too movement broke out in October. His nomination did come after the constant accusations against Trump during the 2016 campaign season, but that was not a widespread zeitgeist -- just targeting one individual for clearly partisan reasons.

Kavanaugh's nomination falls not only during the vulnerable phase, but once the mass panic had clearly broken out. This heightening of the social mood is the main difference between his nomination and Gorsuch's, not any qualities about the individuals themselves.

Does anyone believe that if Gorsuch had been nominated after the Me Too phenomenon took off, he would face no accusations like the ones Kavanaugh is facing? Gorsuch does seem to be gay (white hair before age 50, silver before age 40, owing to homosexual degeneracy accelerating the physical deterioration process). So maybe the accusations would have been in the mold of those against Catholic priests or Bryan Singer. But still, something that resonated with the sex abuse panic that took off by fall 2017.

None of this means that Kavanaugh's confirmation will get blocked, although it does explain why it has been rockier than those of Thomas or Gorsuch, the two most comparable cases. And it explains why the majority of Americans came around to believing Thomas over Hill in 1991, but may (or may not) come to believe Ford over Kavanaugh in 2018.

Major political choices by the dominant coalition of a historical period do not reflexively respond to the short-term cycling of the social mood. Even if a majority of Americans currently believe the charges against Kavanaugh, will they still feel the same in a few years? No -- the mood will have shifted into the skeptical phase, after Me Too goes too far.

Is the dominant coalition going to give up a lifetime appointment to the highest court, based on the fleeting social mood? Don't count on it.

"But the GOP can nominate any other tool of the Reaganite orthodoxy, and still secure that lifetime appointment!"

Not as long as the social mood is vulnerable and overly credulous about predators being everywhere. The opposition would mount similar charges until the mood changes in a few years -- and the dominant coalition is not going to wait through years of constant obstruction. They will have to nip that in the bud, and confirm Kavanaugh despite it leaving a temporary bad taste in half of the country's mouths, based on the transitory social mood.

September 25, 2018

The counter-revolutionary distraction of character assassination -- against Thomas, Kavanaugh, or other Reaganites

At first it was mainly delusional liberals who were leading the charge against Kavanaugh, wielding their same ol' ineffective weapons from the arsenal of identity politics. But now that a good number of class-oriented realigners on the Left are joining the pile-on, all while the accusations have become increasingly risible, it's time to look at how pointless and self-defeating these strategies always are -- not only for their short-term failures, but their sapping of energy that could have been devoted to long-term and big-picture changes.

First, how about a quick reality check on the last time that liberals tried to derail a conservative Supreme Court nominee using flimsy allegations of sexual harassment? They failed abysmally when they came for Clarence Thomas in 1991, who has been safely implementing the Reaganite agenda ever since. And because their attacks were personal rather than collective, they resulted in no broader understanding, and no further escalation of goals.

In their framing, only this one individual was the problem, not the entire Reaganite judicial army -- and his disqualifications were said to be of a character nature, rather than stemming from the powerful and wealthy interests whose agenda he would be implementing. So, once his appointment was fait accompli, that was the end of that campaign by the opposition.

The dominant coalition of a historical era rarely has major problems in re-shaping society, across all branches of government, at all levels of government. That's what makes them the dominant coalition. The opposition struggles to achieve even small-scale victories, let alone to defend them against the incessant reactions by the relatively stronger dominant coalition. So, it was a no-brainer that GOP-appointed Thomas would get seated on the Supreme Court in the Reaganite era.

But that doesn't mean the opposition had no chance for advancing their goals -- provided that their attacks were of a collective and political nature, so that even if they failed to derail this particular appointment, they would have built support for blocking similar appointments who would enact a similar agenda, making victories possible in the medium or long term.

While the outcome of the character assassination against Thomas may have been uncertain back in 1991, when they first deployed the strategy, by 2018 it is no longer hypothetical -- it will fail just as spectacularly against Kavanaugh. At least with Thomas, the allegation was that he used his institutional role to get away with harassment of a structural underling. With Kavanaugh, he had no institutional role giving him leverage over the accusers -- just a high schooler or college kid of similar social standing as them. There's no institutional or structural critique behind the allegations against him, and therefore nothing political to be made of them.

Indeed, the liberals and Leftists who are chasing the short-term endorphin rush of piling on have already admitted that they are not seeking a broader change in the make-up of the Supreme Court, the agenda it would enact, the structural changes in society it would pursue, or anything like that.

They're saying, "Look, you Republicans could shit-can Kavanaugh and replace him with any one of a million other Reaganite clones, and it won't make a lick of difference to the outcome of upcoming Supreme Court cases. So please, just give us this one particular scalp, let us orgasm, and then we'll fall into a deep refractory-period slumber, while you appoint Kavanaugh's clone in his place. Deal?"

These are the pleas of a defeated, and defeatist, opposition. When we lose yet again, please just give us a consolation prize rather than total humiliation, and we'll go back to impotently whining instead of collectively organizing against your agenda. This is politics as therapeutic medication of individuals, not politics as wielding coalitional power to shape society.

And that's assuming they even get their scalp! When they do not, they will suffer greater depression from the cognitive dissonance of getting totally humiliated by the dominant coalition, without the innocuous consolation prize that they had so non-threateningly requested.

And yet, the outlook for the realignment of the Democrats -- or whatever party replaces them -- is not hopeless. The reactions to the allegations against Kavanaugh have been far less indulgent among the up-and-coming Congressional realigners like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, or DSA fellow traveler Julia Salazar who is headed to the NY State Senate. Refreshingly, Tulsi Gabbard's Twitter account has not issued a single response piling on against Kavanaugh, which she must see as largely a distraction from her big-picture efforts against corporate oligarchy and globalist militarism.

Sure, they don't approve of him being appointed, and they may have a few token responses against him on Twitter, but they're not singling him out for a scalp while saying go ahead and put any other Reaganite in his place. And they're not droning on and on about the identity politics issue of sexual misconduct among drunken teenagers -- but universal healthcare, ending the Pentagon's failed occupation of the whole world, and other issues relating to class and empire.

I don't read too many Leftist commentators on Twitter, but Briahna Joy Gray and Rania Khalek have also been relatively bored by the Kavanaugh pile-on, and have continued their long-term big-picture focus on class-and-empire issues.

It's hard not to notice that they're women of color, while the Leftists who are hooking MSNBC's Kavanaugh coverage straight into their veins are more likely white and male. (Sex seems more important than race here.) Will Menaker from Chapo Trap House, John Iadarola from The Young Turks, and sadly the Bernmeister himself. It's not a perfect correlation, but the difference is still pretty striking.

We understand why liberals of both sexes and all races are piling on -- libs don't care about fundamental change, and just want a small concession to make them feel less pathetic in their defeat.

But the Left should be rising above that. The fact that guys on the Left are still so drawn into the pile-on suggests a personal rather than collective motive -- they see Kavanaugh as the womanizing jerk from Hollywood movies who has monopolized the means of reproduction, leaving them sexually frustrated. Or if it turns out he was a virgin during his youth, he's still the smug preppy frat boy type who they have to engage with for male-male status competition, and they'd rather not have to compete on "stereotypically masculine" dimensions that frat boys are into.

They've been good at ignoring the distractions of Mueller-gate, having learned their lessons from the pointlessness of the Valerie Plame Affair. But now there's a more personal appeal to joining the powerless Centrist hysteria du jour -- venting about those fucking frat boys!

Whatever it is, Leftist guys need to get over it and help out their women with the big-picture work of realignment, instead of retreating into their comfy man-caves where they feed their personal spite addiction all day long.

Related posts:

Fight SCOTUS pick on populist grounds, not abortion or other liberal identity politics issues, especially since the Reaganite Supreme Court has enshrined abortion, flag-burning, pornography, and gay marriage -- all things that the Founding Fathers had intended to flourish, and that were originally sanctified in the Constitution. The Reaganites are libertarian experimentalists, not conservative traditionalists, so fear-mongering about them using the state to regulate personal choices has always been crying wolf, and normies tune it out by now.

Kavanaugh ruled in favor of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in union-busting campaign by management. There was a way to tie the individual record of Kavanaugh into the broader Reaganite agenda, and Trump's personal benefits from Kavanaugh's rulings, in a way that would call the president's bluff on being a working-class friendly Republican realigner.

September 7, 2018

Economic collapse, a catalyst for realignment that forges a new dominant coalition

To continue the series on parallels between now and just before the First Civil War, it's worth looking at the role played by the state of the economy in the transition from one political era to another.

Recall that the only time when there have been two -- rather than only one -- disjunctive, end-of-an-era terms before realignment was right before the Civil War. Pierce and Buchanan hailed from the dominant Jacksonian Democrats, before the Lincoln Republicans ushered in a whole new political era in 1861. Usually these frustrating, impotent, do-nothing phases of the cycle last only one term -- how much stagnation can the people, or more relevantly the elites, tolerate before a new dominant coalition is formed to shut down the crumbling old way and inaugurate a new way?

My hunch is that these realignments take twice as long to work out when the climate is so polarized on partisan lines, since realignment requires the old opposition party to steal away a large chunk of the old dominant party's electoral base, and more relevantly elite power sectors. If it's only temporarily winning them over, it's just a win for the opposition party -- not a realignment that makes them the ones who set the framework and dictate terms. It has to be a medium-to-long-term shift in allegiances.

That process is far more difficult on both sides when they are so polarized -- the chunk of the old dominant coalition that wants to break away hesitates because they'd be joining those scum from the other party, and the old opposition party cringes at accepting so large a chunk of those scum from the other party, giving them something big that they want, and sticking by them for the next several decades. Icky, disgusting defilement of our party's purity!

However, we have to be somewhat cautious since we only have one other period of intense polarization that we're comparing to the present. There could have been some other reason that the pre-Civil War disjunctive phase lasted two terms rather than just one, and that this cause will not happen in the current disjunctive phase, meaning the Reagan coalition will get kicked out for good in 2020 instead of 2024.

Since political coalitions form in order to advance the material interests of the sectors of society that use the party as their vehicle, we have to make economic factors central in the model of the rise and fall of political regimes. A widespread and severe economic collapse would shock the various elite sectors into re-evaluating their choice of coalition members, and the broad goals pushed by their parties.

Recessions and downturns happen more frequently than realignments of political coalitions, so they are not sufficient. Otherwise, we'd see major shake-ups every decade, when they only happen every 30 to 50 years. But looking over the history of economic collapses in America, it is a necessary condition for there to be a major economic panic, depression, or crisis to serve as a catalyst for realignment of coalitions.

I'm not going to go in-depth on the nature of each of these collapses, how they reflected and revealed the weaknesses of the dominant coalition's major goals, and how the elites (and people) felt as though only a major realignment of coalitions could end the crisis and usher in a whole new era of stability and prosperity. Right now I'm just going to list them, to establish their central role in breaking down the dominant coalition and inviting a new coalition to become dominant, before returning to the parallels between the First Civil War and today.

At the end of the Federalist era, there was the Panic of 1796-97 under Washington and Adams. In 1800, the Jeffersonian coalition took their place as the dominant party.

At the end of the Jeffersonian era, there was the Panic of 1825 under John Quincy Adams. In 1828, the Jacksonian coalition took their place.

At the end of the Jacksonian era, there was the Panic of 1857 under Buchanan. In 1860, the Lincoln coalition took their place.

At the end of the Lincoln era, there was the Panic of 1893 under Cleveland. He was an opposition Democrat president, so he didn't discredit the dominant Republican coalition, but it did discredit the laissez-faire framework of the Lincoln era, and forced the Republicans to realign under McKinley in 1896 toward the Progressive era.

At the end of the McKinley era, there was the Great Depression under Hoover. In 1932, the FDR coalition took their place.

At the end of the FDR era, there was the 1979 oil crisis and Early 1980s recession under Carter, as well as stagflation left over from the 1973 oil crisis and 1973-75 recession. In 1980, the Reagan coalition took their place.

So, perhaps the reason that the disjunctive phase of the Jacksonian era lasted two terms instead of one was because the first term, under Pierce, was not subjected to a major economic collapse that catalyzed a new coalition to replace Jacksonianism.

Economic downturns happen about once a decade, but not necessarily once every four years -- so Pierce dodged a bullet, and although the people and the elites were getting really fed up with the Jacksonians' extension of slavery (the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act), they didn't feel enough acute pain to get them angry enough to form a revolutionary coalition. The inevitable struck Buchanan, though, limiting him to be the last of the Jacksonians. If it had struck Pierce's term first, maybe the anti-slavery Republicans would have assumed dominant party status in 1856 instead of 1860.

We will soon be able to tell which of these two factors is more important, since there is a major collapse coming under Trump's term. It will not be a minor downturn that receives party-neutral blame -- during this end of the Reagan era, it will be seen as the culmination of their fundamental framework.

To wit: deregulation mania has allowed speculative bubbles to form time after time, "greed is good" has led to off-shoring our manufacturing sector to cheap labor colonies and left us with precious little productive capacity back home (and fewer taxes to collect from it), slashing taxes across the board has deprived the government of a way to pay for its programs, and the soaring military budget on behalf of permanent global occupation has sent the cost of those programs into the stratosphere.

We are not just facing the end of yet another speculative bubble (Tech Bubble 2.0), but a sovereign debt crisis. That's going to leave so ugly of a stain on the Reagan coalition that the power sectors of society will shake up their alliances, and suddenly a Bernie-style coalition will take the place of the Reaganites.

Perhaps agriculture will desert the GOP over tariffs / trade war, not to mention the colossal waste on the military occupation of the whole world that works wonders for the military and energy sectors of the Reagan coalition but leaves agribusiness out in the cold. (The farm-state Kochs are fairly anti-war, for being such powerful Reaganite players, and are also not in lockstep over the law-and-order authoritarianism that benefits the armed force sector of their coalition.)

Regardless of how it unfolds, we'll get to see how strong the role of economic collapse is, relative to hyper-polarization. If economic collapse is stronger, then the realignment will sweep in the Bernie revolution in 2020, after the widespread and severe recession coming under Trump. If it's secondary to the obstinacy of realignment per se, during a climate of intense partisan polarization, then not even a major economic collapse will shake up the coalitions by 2020, and it'll have to wait until 2024.

I wish we had more cases to examine, so we could resolve the ambiguity and make a clear prediction for the current era -- will the disjunctive phase last the usual one or the unusual two terms? Unfortunately, we are going to be the guinea pigs in this historical experiment.

September 2, 2018

Bernie band babe interviewed Ocasio-Cortez before it was cool

Intrigued by a recent Chapo Trap House interview with a member of indie rock group Parquet Courts, I decided to check up on what alternative music sounds like for the first time in awhile. One group that resonated with me is Sunflower Bean, and when I looked them up on Wikipedia, there's a picture of the lead singer interviewing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez "way back" in December 2017, before anyone in the corporate media even knew her name.

Here's a clip from Ocasio-Cortez's Twitter account, back before it got so popular:

Here is the full video. I detect a lot of near-footsie tension in that interview, after half-way through. Perhaps the title of this post could score an extra alliteration point with "bi-curious" Bernie band babe.

At any rate, below are two music videos by the band that came out around the time of the Ocasio-Cortez interview. Compared to their first album from a few years ago, this one is more normie-friendly, and broke into the top 40 on the UK albums chart.

Regarding one of the topics in the Chapo Trap House discussion, I appreciate the first song's blend of mainstream musical sensibilities and an overt Bernie-style political message. Re-alignment requires normalization of supposedly fringe positions -- only it turns out, they're not so fringe when people talk about them and discover how widely held they are.

I'd like to see bands like this play at Bernie rallies, especially if, like Sunflower Bean, they can draw in the Boomers as well as the Millennials, by sounding familiar to people raised on glam rock and Fleetwood Mac. Bernie's best campaign ad featured a timeless Simon and Garfunkel song, not some obscure dubstep song from 2009.