Presidential candidates are talking about every issue except the one that matters most for America’s future: “American Exceptionalism.”
President Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, rejected the notion of American exceptionalism. Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West (2018) argues that the political abandonment of American Exceptionalism is eroding liberty, society and prosperity. Parenthetically, Taleb, Skin in the Game (2018) concludes (pg. 86) ”the west is currently in the process of committing suicide” by tolerating the intolerant. The “mass suicide” metaphor became a reality when religious cult leader Jim Jones told his followers in 1975 “I love socialism, and I’m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I’d take a thousand with me” which he did in Jamestown, Guyana three years later. “He wanted the world to think this was some uniform decision, that they willingly killed themselves for socialism to protest the inhumanity of capitalism” but armed guards made sure the reluctant chose the Kool Aid and exited the Johnstown dystopia for the promised socialist utopia in the next life.
Suicide of the West
Goldberg’s history of politics and human nature begins with humans first walking upright, concluding in 2017 with U.S. domestic political choices. Ideas promoted by John Locke and bequeathed by the British that the state is the servant of the people, are the core of American exceptionalism as opposed to the opposite ideas of the Frenchman Rousseau that individuals are the servant of the state, the governing principle of authoritarian socialist economies and in practice social democracies as well. What’s exceptional in the U.S. political system bequeathed by the Founders are the strict limits on federal powers in the two written documents, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This is the cornerstone that allowed the many secular and religious institutions of civil society to deepen as a pre-requisite for and complement to entrepreneurial market capitalism, the source of virtually all human economic progress.
In the American version the state guarantees “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” whereas the French national motto “liberty, equality, and fraternity” is an oxymoron. Individual liberty erodes at each stage as decisions are elevated from the marketplace to private, local, state, federal and ultimately international governing bodies. Competitive market capitalism’s “creative destruction” and entrepreneurial innovation produces relative winners but benefits all, whereas political favoritism comes at the expense of the typically poorer less politically favored.
The Deep State is Sovereign in a Democracy
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, political theorist Francis Fukuyama argues that “American Democracy Depends on the ‘Deep State’” run by professionals protected from politicians. Progressive President Wilson used entry into the war as the means to create the “modern” sovereign state” to which Fukuyama refers under the motto to “make the world safe for democracy,” never mentioned in the Founding documents. What took a Revolution to produce was protected only by the willingness to adhere to paper documents that Wilson basically ignored.
Individual dependence on the modern pater welfare state corrodes the institutions of civil society and inevitably leads to identity politics, tribalism and cronyism. With the state the master, many democracies evolve into one party rule, e.g., the communist “peoples’ democracy” of China, North Korea, East Germany or in capitalist countries the PRI in Mexico (in spite of a Constitution modeled after that in the U.S.) and Peronism in Argentina where the party is the master of the state. The rightist regime in Chile brought in the Chicago Boys to help implement free market reforms that produced a growth miracle, but that proved difficult to sustain as subsequent socialist governments burst that bubble.
The 2016 Presidential Election
In 2016 candidate Trump promised to drain the swamp and “end America’s endless wars” – both direct attacks on the deep state, particularly the military-industrial-congressional complex (Eisenhower’s original censored version) that manages the economy as well as foreign policy and military adventure. Reagan promised to roll back the deep state but failed. Clinton declared “the era of big government is over” but it barely paused. The Tea Party, composed of older more conservative voters tired of Republican false promises of limited government, launched a grass roots political campaign to limit government, which also failed. Once the state (or the Party of the state) is sovereign, the process has proven irreversible through political means.
That leaves the Supreme Court. Candidate Trump committed to nominating conservative Supreme Court Justices who would stay within the original intent of constitutional limits, the primary issue cited by his supporters. The abortion issue is a ruse, a litmus test for progressive precedents to trump constitutional intent.
The U.S. deep state is immune to accountability. A recent docudrama The Report tells the story of CIA torture after 911. The Agency lied to two Presidents, lied and stonewalled Congress over 8 years, violated the separation of powers and squashed the biggest seven thousand page Congressional oversight investigation in history. Only the stature of Senators Feinstein and McCain eventually got the Report released, but no one was held accountable, sending a clear signal that the deep state was immune. When President Trump alleged (later proven by the Mueller and Inspector General Reports – in spite of deep state resistance) that the intelligence community was involved in election rigging in 2016 and a subsequent coup attempt to remove him from office when that failed, Senator Schumer warned him: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Impeachment is (only) one way.
The 2020 Presidential Election
On domestic policy, progressives arguably fared better under the Trump Administration than they would have from any of the other Republican candidate (e.g., victories on the budget and trade protectionism) and better than conservatives during the Obama Administration. Many conservatives (including Goldberg) join progressives in abhorring Trump’s personality and attacking his character (questionable, as is that of his political antagonists, e.g., Congressman Schiff). His lies and exaggerations may stretch the limits of political discourse, but the main stream media has regressed to Infamous Scribblers. The biggest cause of Trump derangement syndrome – and his source of political support – is likely his politically incorrect speech.
But Supreme Court appointments remain the existential issue for progressives and conservatives alike (as the Kavanaugh Hearings demonstrated), although limiting the power of federal government leaves progressives with free reign at the state and local level where they have had substantial success. Even “popular democracy” in big states like California is rigged by the state, forcing the oppressed to ‘vote with their feet’ leaving progressive states like California and New York with deficits, which then seek federal bailouts.
The electorate is divided along generational lines, with democrats appealing to younger liberal voters and republicans to older conservative voters. Lowering the voting age to 18 dramatically increased this demographic (why Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi proposed lowering it to 16). Yet current Democratic candidates are divided among the ”electable”“moderate” 78 year old (by inauguration) Joe Biden campaigning as the former VP of a decidedly immoderate administration, authoritarian Michael Bloomberg who is almost a year older that Biden, socialist Bernie Sanders who is more than a year older than Biden, and Progressive Elizabeth Warren who would be 70 by inauguration. The young intolerant radical anti-capitalist progressives/socialists will undoubtedly be in control should victory be achieved by any of these elders following Taleb’s thesis (pg 69) that in a democracy the intolerant dominate.
What explains the strong Democratic appeal of 18-29 year old voters? Goldberg (pg. 340) quotes theologian Eugene Peterson: “humans try to find transcendence-apart from God – through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, recreational sex, or … crowds (i.e., mobs or cults).” Millenials are less religious than older voters and sex has declined relative to past generations. Non-college graduates have turned to drugs – 70,000 deaths annually.
Promises of debt forgiveness and free stuff by Socialist Sanders – and Warren – obviously appeal to the typically deeply indebted college educated. But so does their attack on business. Once taboo, socialism is now chic on college campuses as anti-business progressive ideas pervade college professorial ranks, particularly among historians and economists. This goes back to the early days of progressivism as socialist/communist historical myth makers accused business leaders of being “Robber Barons,” vastly over-stating the extent of American cronyism. Economists have generally under-appreciate the fragility and benefits of capitalism focusing instead on “market failures” real or imagined requiring government intervention, to be expected by a profession started by a German educated progressive to train Americans in the visible hand (fist) of state economic management
So millenials may be lured to join the cult and drink the Kool Aid: as an aging baby boomer, I’ll cling to religion and, Inshallah, sex and alcohol (bourbon, of course).
Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.
17 thoughts on “Will America Vote to Drink the Kool Aid, Committing Mass Suicide?”
‘Deep State’” run by professionals protected from politicians.”
Yes, that’s the theory, and I can see why people theorising in a vacuum might think it would work. I will even grant that there are likely many individual situations in which it was a good thing for us that someone ignored Kennedy or Bush or whoever. But the point is, it has not worked. Once that seal is broken every government worker starts to find more reasons why their idea should be effected, rather than what the elections and Constitutional authority would dictate. With decent people, the poison might even be slow.
Interesting how the temptation turns from the practical to the moral so quickly. It is very Tolkien, very Lewis, with those who do not see the moral choice becoming less and less able to see anything.
Yes, American exceptionalism is rooted in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The basic ideas therein being that individuals have rights to liberty and freedom (which directed society in the U. S. to become relatively prosperous and happy). The basic ideas are not about providing equality and security (equality and security have been by-products of liberty and freedom).
Let’s be practical. The drift away from the Constitution started at least with Wilson, and arguably with Lincoln. This has been going on for at least 100 years — 4 generations. It is not going to stop until there is a crash. And the rise of the insiders is not just in the US. Look at Europe, China, Russia. There is a case that there is now little difference in reality (as opposed to in verbiage) between the State-directed capitalism which has emerged in “Communist” China and the crony capitalism which has emerged in “democratic, Constitutional” US.
But be of good cheer! The current political arrangements are financially unsustainable. They will end. There will be a collapse of some kind. The question is whether that collapse ends with Hillary Rodham Clinton dangling from a lamppost or with her being anointed Queen. And that is up to “We the People”.
…leaving progressive states like California and New York with deficits, which then seek federal bailouts.
Ultimately that’s probably why the left was and remains freaked out about Hillary losing. They assumed that the Chicago girl would engineer a bailout of Illinois first and repeat that for the other blue states CT, NJ, and MA. Those states are in big fiscal trouble due to their government employee pension and medical insurance obligations. My hope is that Trump will tell them to drop dead when those states’ financial problems come to a head in his second term.
President Obama, a former professor of constitutional law
Sorry, but I cannot let that one pass. He was nothing of the kind. He was invited to give a few lectures, that’s it. I read the syllabus of the lectures: they were all about how to game the Constitution to chisel racial preferences out of well-meaning whites. The entire corpus of his published scholarly work can be summarized as [ ].
That’s it. No treatment of the philosophy or historical and conceptual underpinnings of the Constitution, just “how to get paid.”
Obama was no more a professor of Constitutional law for giving the odd lecture than he was an MLB pitcher for “throwing” out a ceremonial first pitch (girly throw notwithstanding).
“Promises of debt forgiveness and free stuff by Socialist Sanders – and Warren – obviously appeal to the typically deeply indebted college educated. But so does their attack on business. Once taboo, socialism is now chic on college campuses as anti-business progressive ideas pervade college professorial ranks, particularly among historians and economists.”
I’m currently reading Amity Shlaes ‘The Great Society’, which is interesting though depressing. In her discussion of the ’60s radical Tom Hayden, she says that the political value of socialism is that the concept is amorphous enough (to most people) that the defects and failures can never be pinned down; one can always say, “well, there’s a different & better kind of socialism.” I’m not sure if she was citing Hayden’s own thoughts…sounds like she may have been…or if she is extrapolating them.
“What explains the strong Democratic appeal of 18-29 year old voters? Goldberg (pg. 340) quotes theologian Eugene Peterson: “humans try to find transcendence-apart from God – through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, recreational sex, or … crowds (i.e., mobs or cults).”
Reminds me: Sebastian Haffner, who grew up in German between the wars, wrote about the period under Weimar when the economy and the politics stabilized significantly, temporarily, as well know now. (He credits Gustav Stresemann for this result.) Most people were happy:
The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.
But not *everyone* was happy:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.
Jonah Goldberg lost my trust and all interest in what he writes
four years ago. I’m now a Never-Goldberg guy.
The current political arrangements are financially unsustainable.
I think we will transition to Weimar Germany unless Trump is succeeded by another who will rule in his image and I doubt that will be enough to delay the reckoning more than a decade.
I also agree that Obama was no “constitutional Law Professor.” He was at beast a Lecturer on a very limited topic.
I am also reading Schlae’s book but it is slow going as the topic is so depressing. I have read her other books on The Depression and Coolidge.
I also agree it began with Wilson but Harding and Coolidge gave us a decade. Had Ben Strong not died when he did, we might have negotiated the war debt problems successfully.
All the history of the past 100 years is a consequence of World War I, which may eventually result in the death of the enlightened West. I have taken Tolkein’s books to be based on this history, which he experienced personally.
it wasn’t merely material, this dislocations that went through Weimar, were result of the impact of the decimation of a whole generation, many of the institutions went by the wayside, a bohemian culture took hold in the countryside, alongside the freikorps, and the communists, that’s why this cold civil war seems entirely out of relation, to our minor stresses, in relative terms,
Michael burleighs’s sacred places, is a good survey of how institutions, decayed in the interim period, how the uk and france as well as germany and spain’s crisis, arose, it also addressed the complicated situation that pope pius found himself
the report, is a rather incomplete account of the extensive interrogation program, written by dan jones, who has gone on to fanciful extrapolation of the fusion gps crumbs,
I think America’s Weimar era was basically the mid-1960s through the 1970s…though as Miguel Cervantes mentioned above, the stresses on the US at that time were a lot less than those facing Weimar Germany.
I am certainly no expert on Weimar Germany but it seems the cultural degradation we are experiencing resembles that period. Inflation has slowed but the economic future looks somewhat like that period. I agree we have not suffered the trauma that Germany suffered in WWI but the 60s got going from the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights radicals. Obama’s AG, Eric Holder, was one of the radicals at Columbia U. He was no poor kid struggling. Like almost all the 60s radicals he was from an upper middle class home and had a privileged education.
In 1969, while a freshman at Columbia, Holder was one of several dozen students who staged an occupation of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps office, renaming it as the Malcolm X student center.
The surrender of the colleges to these radicals set the stage for what we deal with now. In addition, the Vietnam War sent leftist radicals into student deferments that kept them in grad school to avoid the draft. They became the radical left professors that have wrecked higher education.
One reason the book, “Great Society” is so depressing is that I lived through it and saw what was happening at the time. It is not history to me in the way WWI and The Depression are history. I was born in the Depression and my parents knew it well but it was over by the time I was aware of things.
In spite of a Constitution modeled after that in the U.S.
I’m sure Leftists would like the US Constitution to have the Mexican Constitution’s anti-clerical clauses.
Wikipedia: The Constitution of 1917 had several anticlerical restrictions. Article 5 restricted the existence of religious orders; Article 24 restricted church services outside of church buildings; Article 27 which empowered the State over fundamental aspects of property ownership and resulted in expropriation and distribution of lands, while limiting the right to sell communally-held ejido lands, and most famously in 1938, the expropriation of foreign oil companies. Article 27 also prevented churches from holding real property at all. For the Catholic hierarchy, Article 130 prevented the recognition of the Church as a legal entity, denied to clergy the exercise of political rights, and prevented the Church from participating in any way in political matters.
And the socialist and nationalization parts, well;….
See also, “Gramscian Damage” for a view of who was deliberately serving the Kool Aid, and how their zombie followers are continuing to pass it around.
A couple of things. “vastly over-stating the extent of American cronyism”. I’m not sure that’s possible, but you may see things differently. An actual choice is very frightening to those used to power and that’s where America appears to be going. From my point of view this may save America, which is not what I want, so I’m kinda with you. ;)
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