history, the real world today

Six asides on the USA 2020 election

This long post contains my reflections on the election in America. There are six reflections:

  • One. The folly of forecasts: my confession
  • Two. The Presidency is determined not by broadcast anchors, but by Constitutional procedure
  • Three. The pending legitimation crisis.
  • Four. Our deformed, barren political society
  • Five. The post-democratic society
  • Six. Heaven is high and the emperor is far away

Since it is a long post I am breaking the drafting and the posting over two days. There will be some updates and corrections. Please comment if you wish.

One. The folly of forecasts: my confession

My prediction of the result of the USA election turns out to be part right, part wrong, and part yet to be decided.

I predicted Trump would defy the polls and win. This prediction was part right and part to be decided. The polls and data pseudo-scientists, like 538’s Nate Silver, were marvellously, possibly malignly, wrong. 2020 has been a bad year for modellers, forecasters and statisticians, now known as data dudes. There was no blue wave. There was rather a strange red wave with a deep under-current. Driven by a tempest, this wave has brought to shore all the struggling, surviving sailors of a capsized, altered conservative ship – a Republican Senate (just), a more Republican House, more Republican state legislatures, the end of calls to pack the Supreme Court – but the under-current of distaste for Trump’s character and the rip of information warfare by Big Media and Big Tech may have drowned its captain.

We don’t know yet whether that captain waving desperately in the waters will drown or will make it to shore. Whether Trump or Biden has won will need to be determined by electoral, legal and constitutional procedure, institutions and actors. No media “decision desk” makes that call. No celebrity journalist or statistician decides that.

But it does seem likely now that either Biden (most likely) or Trump will only win, at least on the first electoral count, by a whisker and after litigation. And certainly in my updated prediction – the fall of the American Brezhnev, following the shocking revelations of the corruption of family Biden, I over-estimated the anticipated fade of Biden’s support.

I also did not pay attention to the minor but arguably decisive Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen. Jorgensen received about 1 to 1.5 per cent of the vote. If 70 per cent of his vote had gone to Trump, the following states would be clearly in Trump’s camp: Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Perhaps the never Trump republican vote was decisive after all?

But still there were things I did get right – even far away as an antipodean observer, who tries to see the whole playing field, not just watch one team’s champion or boo Punch at the pantomime. The reasons I gave were:

“The riots will alienate suburban voters. Black Lives Matter will scare off Latino, Indian and Asian American voters. Enough Black voters will despise the chains of condescension imposed by the DNC elite. The travesty of the Democratic party presenting a candidate too far past his prime, who has too many questions about his character and the corruption of family Biden, will dismay independent voters. The pandemic will wane, and treatments will appear as salvation. And the deceit of the liberal media establishment will trap them again in their own illusions. Biden’s polls are already failing, if they can even be relied upon. I suspect they will spiral down, even in the storm of events – domestic terror and international instability – we are likely to steer through in the months to November.”

The Burning Archive, 30 August 2020

There is clearly a realignment and a cultural reassembly going on in America, and perhaps in my own remote society in the South Pacific. It is a motile kaleidoscope. It is time for forecasters and the commentariat to stop performing for the cameras, to cease their premature proclamations on the unknown, and to open their lying eyes.

Two. The Presidency is determined not by broadcast anchors, but by Constitutional procedure

The Claremont Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation foresaw most accurately in its 79 Days Report the chaotic battlefield we are glimpsing through the fog of information war. A group of Constitutional scholars and other experts imagined what could happen, given the unusual conditions, divided opinions and institutional weaknesses underlying this election.

“Due to the political stoking of fears of contracting COVID-19, a massive push has been made, mostly by the left, to encourage voting by mail. This significantly alters the calculus on Election Day and completely upends the postelection period. Most states and local election officials aren’t prepared to process, validate, and count large number of mail-in ballots. In five swing states (totaling 68 Electoral College votes)—Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—no mail-in ballots may be counted before Election Day (Nevada’s legislature changed election law to allow early mail-in ballot counting in August). Since reports indicate a far greater interest in voting by mail for Democrats than Republicans, it’s likely that President Trump will be winning these states by large margins on Election Day, only to see that margin shrink in the days and weeks after Election Day.”

Claremont Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation, 79 Days Report (2020), p. 1

Whether there were in fact frauds or other irregularities will need to be determined, but the systemic weaknesses of America’s electoral administration have clearly set up a test of the Republic’s constitution. There are widespread reports of irregularities of large numbers of votes, and a recent Supreme Court decision on 6 or 7 November requiring separate counting of late ballots in Pennsylvania. I respect the views of conservative blogger, Rod Dreher, who writes of his own guilt in succumbing to a belief cascade about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war:

“Do I believe vote fraud might have occurred in this election? Of course it might have. Where we have solid reason to suspect it, we should dispatch a phalanx of Republican lawyers to challenge it in court. But Donald Trump is exactly the kind of man who would make reckless, inflammatory allegations — and has done so. I have walked this walk before, and it leads nowhere good. Let’s be patient, and let the lawyers do their work.”

Rod Dreher, Disintegration Nation, Rod Dreher blog (6 November 2020) at American Conservative

But one can hardly expect Trump to go down without testing the results in the court of disputed returns. After all, his opponent in 2016 still considers that election outcome “stolen,” despite never testing it in the courts and the result being much clearer, much cleaner and much more quickly apparent. It was because of Trump’s capacity and willingness to fight and disrupt the norms of the gridlocked Washington system that he was popular and elected in the first place. Then his opponents – from all points along the spectrum – spent three or more years denouncing his legitimacy and seeking his impeachment on the basis of misinformation they created (the RussiaGate hoax) and seeking investigation of corruption they were party to (UkraineGate). As Joe might say in response to claims Trump is destroying democracy by asking the courts to check election law has been complied with – C’mon Man!

One of the scenarios the 79 Days Report gamed out is precisely the circumstance we face:

“An ambiguous result, with several states’ final election results delayed and subject to intense court fights resulting in a struggle right up to the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress where the Electors’ ballots are unsealed. Uncertainty could extend even beyond this as decisions for both the presidency and vice presidency are battled out in Congress and before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Claremont Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation, 79 Days Report (2020), p. 2

The report made seven predictions on the political struggle arising from this scenario.

1. The winner would not be known on election night. True.

2. The report predicted many mail-in ballots may be hard to check “as
systems have not been prepared to process the ballots and count them while tremendous pressure will be brought to bear to bypass safeguards against fraud and produce results.” True, though we are in the fog of claim and counter-claim right now.

3. The American legal system would be “up to the task” of adjudicating disputes. Too early to tell.

4. Unrest will occur, and flames will be fanned by media, loss of trust, foreign powers, and the efforts of Big Tech and the media to shape and suppress the news. True, if not yet acute.

5. Risks of “international adventurism by the PRC and Russia. Doubtful so far. Almost certainly a Russophobic phantasm about Russia; something to watch for China.

6. Critically: “If the contest doesn’t produce a majority (50% +1) of the votes of seated Electors by Jan. 6, there are clearly established Constitutional procedures to determine a victor.” Yet to be seen, but this seems a likely possibility. People need to await the outcomes of recounts and courts of disputed returns.

7. Finally, there are two large uncertainties at the late stage of a contested election that may sorely test the American Constitution and Republic. These difficult dramas will be profoundly difficult, and are worth quoting at length”

  • “Each house determines the final election results of its membership. This
    means that the Democratic majority in the U.S. House might decide not to seat duly elected Republican Members so as to prevent the Republicans from holding a 26-seat majority in the state delegations in the event that state delegations, each with one vote per state, are used to determine the President in the event that no candidate has the needed absolute majority of seated Electors’ votes. Given that the majority’s power to determine the membership of the body, House or Senate, is absolute, the sole check on the use of this absolute political power is the potentially dire consequences of its abuse.
  • Should the results be undetermined through Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, the Succession Act would suggest that the Speaker of the House would become President. Should the results be undetermined through Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, the Succession Act would suggest that the Speaker of the House would become acting President until one is determined and, if the House cannot decide, then elevating the Vice President, even if selected out of the Senate.”

In short, we should all stop expecting an answer tomorrow morning, and we should all wake up to the severity of the test of the American republic, and the real possibility that its Constitution, institutions and actors may not withstand the test without many casualties. This may end up being the most contested election since 1876, and may begin a new settlement of the political civil war that began with Trump’s nomination.

As I wrote, half-wrong (Trump will win), half-right (the American republic will fail) in August:

“have the Democratic political elite truly espoused the Devil’s totalitarian creed that was articulated by Hilary Clinton when she claimed that Biden “should not concede under any circumstances?” Perhaps the prediction in 2020 may be that Trump will win, and the American republic may fail.”

Burning Archive 30 August 2020

Three. The pending legitimation crisis

And if it does fail, how might it fail?

And if it does fail, what will be the consequences of this failure?

Will this republic in distress, which was once the “leader of the free world” and the fountainhead of democracy, be to democracy worldwide as a rotting head is to a spoiled and corrupted fish?

Is this gloom just catastrophising? Aren’t we heading back to norms and normality, and getting rid of the bright and bad orange glare that is blinding Libertas in the darkness? Let us pencil in some chiaroscuro, some dark thoughts first, then some glimmers of light.

  1. How might the American Republic fail?

Well, for starters, just maybe some electoral fraud or malfeasance has happened. It is certainly not proven, but history tells us it cannot be discounted – even very recent history. And there is plenty of smelly fish at this market. What if a court finds there is some substance to one or more of these claims, and suddenly Washington has a problem.

Then, evidence of electoral interference might appear. After all, a few bad Russian-funded facebook memes were blamed for four years for rigging the last election, and led to withholding legitimacy from Trump and licence for political actors – in politics and the media – to pursue the McCarthyite RussiaGate hoax down a spiral of hysterical nonsense. After all, back in 2015 the yet to be Trump Deranged press could still report that “Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated.” If so, then what arguments challenging the legitimacy of the President and the election might arise from the astonishing audacity of Big Tech in 2020? It was they, not Vladimir Putin, this year who suppressed news, banned the paper founded by Alexander Hamilton, blocked countless elected, celebrity and ordinary voices, and used Facebook and Twitter as censors with all the integrity of the Union of Soviet Writers.

Perhaps fraud, irregular procedure and interference were minor and inconsequential. But what if evidence emerges in coming days that proves it to be systemic, deliberate and decisive. Today many journalists and political actors mock Trump for his allegation that the Democrat machine – with Big Money, Big Media, Big Tech – is stealing the election. It is a shameful, shambolic stain on democracy, they say. But if evidence emerges that it is true – and surely there is prima facie evidence to investigate – will the they bite their tongues and freeze their minds, just as their mockery of Trump for his claim that “they spied on my campaign” proved, contrary to the journalists’ specious first draft of history, to be a documented archived fact. And if the media and the left and the right and a centre that just wants it all to go away together all decide to live in lies, the republic will fail.

Then, the stress of this contested election may overwhelm the legal system, the constitutional system and the frail actors within them. They will need to make their way calmly through the procedures, outlined in the Claremont/TPP’ 79 Days Report. Yet the Republic has rarely tested these procedures that were devised in the 18th and 19th century, and not for a 24/7 world of relentless high-tech information warfare. They may break, and the Republic may fail.

Recriminations within the parties may undermine the capacity of the political actors to go through the constitutional process or to navigate the tensions of this new political equilibrium. Already we are seeing fights within the Democratic Party about their disappointing results, and the distractions of the squad, with Ocasio-Cortez collecting a hit list of “Trump sycophants. Already we have seen Trump’s son and other loyalists lashing out and threatening Republicans who might go soft on conceding.

Order may breakdown. Unrest may descend into violence and then into open conflict. My darkest fears of mid-year – cultural revolution, induced insurrection, colour revolution, wild dissent, acts of extremism or just unsafe streets – could all lead to the failure of the Republic.

On the other hand, I respect the views of Niall Ferguson and H.R. McMaster that perhaps this result – a weakened Presidency without Trump’s erratic disruption and a divided government with a cautious Republican Senate, all based on a large, increased voter turnout that rebuked the woke Left – might be the best of all possible outcomes.

But it is a starting position, and not an outcome. I doubt the gerontocratic political elite of America can really navigate the stormy waters of the difficulties to come in this damaged ship of state. Joe Biden is 78, and has had a 47 year track record of dithering, glad-handling, and misjudgement. He is likely corrupt and compromised, and clearly in cognitive decline. He has demonstrated throughout the election campaign no capacity to persuade, and has shown a penchant for getting tired and flustered when challenged or posed difficult questions. He claims to be a unifier; but a few car honks outside his rally provoke him to act like Bad Grandpa yelling at the neighbouring chumps to get off his lawn. On the porch with him are 80 year-old Nancy Pelosi and 78 year-old Mitch McConnell.

How will they respond if China moves into Taiwan in the week before Christmas? As Niall Ferguson wrote in Joe Biden could end up being a wartime President, the conflict over access to superconductors from Taiwan for Huawei (and the 5G network) is an existential threat for the Chinese regime, and could readily provoke military escalation. Democrats have a long tradition, despite all the rhetoric of peace and domestic rebuilding, of rushing into endless wars. So we may see the clash of Empires in the middle of messy, contested American Presidential handover to the Bourbon Restoration (they who “have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing”) of the American Imperial War Faction Emperor with the shaky hands and wandering mind. As Ferguson wrote:

“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” is a line from Virgil, usually translated as “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” I feel the same way about Democrats when they make uplifting speeches full of promises about billions (sorry, make that trillions) of dollars to be spent on public health, education, health care and infrastructure. If there is one man I can readily imagine—inadvertently, of course, and with the best of intentions and the most uplifting of rhetoric—turning Cold War II into World War III, it is the self-anointed heir of FDR, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

If a rickety Republic in the shaky, stained hands of a Bourbon Restoration is forced to fight a war with its rising imperial rival, who many American citizens believe have compromised its President-elect, then that American Republic may fail.

2. What will be the consequences of this failure?

In August I wondered if the unrest in America would lead to civil war, fragmentation or collapse. I guess the republic could also endure or muddle through or even be renewed. There seems no realistic prospect of Creepy Joe Biden singing some political healing.

All the people delighted that Trump is finally done ought to stop a moment and listen to the phrases of the people who suspect and fear that an election, a democracy, a republic, a way of life have been stolen from them in the darkness of the morning of Wednesday 4 November. I have heard the phrase “the stab in the back” and references to compliant republicans urging Trump to go quietly as the “surrender caucus.” People say they have been “red-pilled” by Trump and will not go back to “Vulture capitalism.” Others believe the two-party system has failed. Some believe the left-right or red-blue paradigm has collapsed.

Elections have consequences. True, but only if the governing actors and institutions are capable of executing matters of consequence. Rigged elections – or even more so, colour revolution elections – have deeper, more troubling consequences, regardless of the over-estimated manipulative capabilities of political operatives.

The consequences of the crisis or failure of the republic can also be imagined through a short thought experiment.

First, what will Trump do next if Biden becomes President? He will fight all the way, but if the legal and court battles go against him he will exit to a potentially more potent role of dissident leader. He could easily step aside and assume a non-congressional, non-executive role as Leader of the Opposition. After all, he has some claim to a real magnetic phenomenon of the MAGA movement. With his talent for media, celebrity, provocation and mythopoetic truth-telling, and a new circle of insiders, he could make life very difficult for a stumbling, corrupt, gerontocratic Joe Biden. Interestingly this possibility is raised here in this discussion with the wisde Peter Lavelle.

Second, what will the different democrats do next if Biden becomes President, then is soon replaced by Harris – whether due to debility, incompetence or suspicion of corruption – and then Harris and a weakened fissured Democrat Party then implode in the bankrupted gridlock of vetocracy, soft left authoritarianism and oligarchic collusion. After all, Biden may win but only by a small and disputed margin, without control of the Senate or the Supreme Court, and a diminished House, already fighting among themselves, and with no ideas, no persuasive capability, and far too many debts to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the intelligence agencies and the legacy media.

The glimmer of hope I see is that a new crop of leaders, more artful disrupters may emerge across the political spectrum (such as Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard or Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley or even Tucker Carlson). But they must find a way to defeat the Blob that will take over the ruins of the Republic.

How will this failure affect the rest of the world?

Let’s face it America looks like a disaster to the rest of the world.

The beacon of democracy in the world has been snuffed out, and replaced with a strange corporatist oligarchy. Old Corruption has defeated the new Andrew Jackson, and spurned its own American Tradition – or so it seems before the courts review the evidence. The other Half of the World cannot believe why the Wicked Half of America voted for unpraisable Trump.

Progressive cheerleaders around the world might enjoy some brief schadenfreude at the temporary defeat of Trump, but how will they respond when the republic and the false dreams of the Democratic Party are mugged by the reality of imperial decline, institutional gridlock and a legitimation crisis? How will they respond if and when the Supreme Court of the Grand Old Republic declares the so-called Democratic Party and the media-select “Leader of the Free World,” in tandem with Big Tech and Big Media, have perpetrated the largest, most blatant, most brazen election rigging in the history of democracy? Will they recant? Will they apologise? Will they admit they have let democracy die in the darkness of their self-deceit?

Four. Our deformed, barren political society

And if and when Trump is no longer President, all the ills of political system can no longer be blamed on Trump.

For four years now – in America but also through viral spread around the world – all the ills of our deformed, barren political society have been personified in a metonymic myth: Donald Trump.

Victor David Hanson has said in a way that Trump is chemotherapy. It makes you sick, but cures a cancer. The challenge for our political societies now is: will we face up to the remaining cancer?

to be continued in later posts

Five. We have entered the post-democratic society

Long ago, in the 1970s in his essay, The Power of the Powerless, Vaclav Havel warned Western liberal democracies that their way of being was not so different to that experienced by the unfree citizens of totalitarian Eastern Europe.

“In highly simplified terms, it could be said that the posttotalitarian system has been built on foundations laid by the historical encounter between dictatorship and the consumer society. Is it not true that the farreaching adaptability to living a lie and the effortless spread of social auto-totality have some connection with the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity? With their willingness to surrender higher values when faced with the trivializing temptations of modern civilization? With their vulnerability to the attractions of mass indifference? And in the end, is not the grayness and the emptiness of life in the post-totalitarian system only an insulated caricature of modern life in general? And do we not in fact stand (although in the external measures of civilization, we are far behind) as a kind of warning to the West, revealing to its own latent tendencies?”

Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless (1978)

Do the events of this remarkable year and this contested election not raise that warning to an insistent air-raid alarm?

When Twitter and Big Tech censor the President of the United States on election night, have we not entered a post-democratic society?

The spasm of hysteric denunciation of Trump as Hitler Reborn, ready to administer cyanide to democracy in his barricaded bunker, is a pure case of transference.

to be continued in later posts

Six. Heaven is high and the emperor is far away

天高皇帝远, Tiān gāo, huángdì yuǎn.

The old Chinese proverb is: “Heaven is high, and the emperor is far away”.

The Russians have a similar saying. до бога высоко, до царя далеко [do boga vysoko, do czarya daleko] – “God is high, and the czar is far away (while I am near, so bow deeply to me)”.

The last twelve months have been a journey of discovery for me about American politics. Before last year I had rarely paid much attention to American politics and history. The 2020 election is the first I have followed closely. This has been a conscious curiosity, but has been quite confronting. After all, here I am part of no crowd, politically homeless, stripped of illusions, and tormented by dire prophecies.

I am attracted to the vision of a community of dissidents who step away from an oppressive, soft totalitarian society that is articulated by Rod Dreher in Live not by lies: a manual of Christian dissidents. I see myself as a dissident, but not a Christian. I have a very peculiar faith in the infinite conversation, and no community of faith.

And this dissident finds refuge in the renunciation of the political world and shelter in the remote ruins of the vast decaying empire of our culture and political society. And in those remote ruins the task of maintaining sanity in an insane world requires redirection of attention, away from the belief cascades of Big Media and Big Tech, and away from the sickened Dowager Empire of America. But most of all it requires a regathering of affirmative ideas and affiliations. Where will I find them?

to be continued in later posts

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