Sulking Through a Subprime Presidency

I’d like to pretend that the long silence since my last proper post — that was November last year — has been due to the long queue of contributions we’ve been briskly working through, but truth be told, I’ve been sulking.

Sulking. Not depressed, fearful, angsty, or anxious. Sulking is really the only word for the tenor of my thoughts after the election of Trump and its aftermath. Not schoolyard sulking directed at jeering victors, but a deeper sort of philosophical sulking directed at the universe. For forcing me to think once more about things I thought I was done thinking about in my twenties. Things that I didn’t particularly enjoy thinking through the first time around, but believe I got roughly right and, more importantly, out of my system. Things that are fundamentally uninteresting to me, despite their importance to others who are less fortunate or more masochistic.

While I am not particularly coy about my political sympathies (or rather, antipathies) elsewhere, I like my politics to be illegible on this blog. When I write about matters societal, I like to tack between conceptual models and narratives a couple of levels of abstraction below politics and ideology.

Unfortunately, we may be headed into a future — a subprime presidency — where maintaining such a healthy creative distance from politics becomes impossible even in the best case. Fortunately, I’m beginning to find that philosophical sulking is not an entirely infertile state of mind.

Losing versus Loserdom

The peculiar mix of melancholia and choleric that is sulking, alloyed with some philosophical discipline and epistemic hygiene, has many advantages as a baseline stance in a hostile ideological environment. It certainly beats premature commitment to predictable paths of active “resistance” that may inadvertently play right into the hands of an adversary.

And sulking has a basic advantage as a natural first response: denying to the victors the compliant cooperation of someone who has gracefully accepted the scripted role of loser in a particular kind of stylized eternal conflict.

The key to this feature of sulking is an observation Kissinger once made about guerrilla warfare, which also holds for artful political opposition: the conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. To not lose is to resist being turned into a loser in the aftermath of a loss. It is an act of intellectual resistance to being cast in a role chosen by the victor, before it is anything else.

Victors jeer and goad not just for schadenfreude, but because cementing any sort of victory requires institutionalizing loss into loserdom: a temporary condition turned into enduring societal role.

For this to work, victors have to convince vanquished opponents that their loss is not just a temporary condition, subject to reversal in future contests, but divine proof of the deep wrongness — moral and material — of their world-views. Until chagrin is fully converted to contrition, and perhaps further into gratitude, repudiation of old false gods, and full-blown Stockholm syndrome, victory is insecure and the victor cannot rest easy.

So to sulk is to engage in the most basic kind of guerrilla action: to refuse to be coaxed and bullied into the idea that I lost is equivalent to I was wrong. There are more active kinds of guerrilla action (including plenty of peaceful and law-abiding ones), but sulking is the beginning of any kind of non-cooperation or active comeback effort.

So how should we diehard liberal cosmopolitans productively and generatively sulk our way through what might be the better part of a decade of resurgent global illberalism?

The core of the challenge is taking the torch to the idea that the Trump administration is good for business. The hopes of the Trump administration for a compliant, cooperative population of losers rests on the notion that this foundational myth can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sulking Towards Dystopia

Between apocalyptic scenarios of a Korean missile crisis and a Trump tweet combining to spark World War III, and the grievance-fueled fever-dream of a Great-Again America, there lies a band of highest-likelihood scenarios that we can characterize as a subprime presidency.

The term is something between a broad metaphor and a literal assessment of how economic conditions are being narrativized by a business media desperately eager to believe that all is well, and that there is nothing to see in Washington, DC.

To feed that need, a narrative appears to be growing, based primarily on the apparent indifference of markets to the political drama since the election, that the Trump administration might end up being the most business-friendly in decades.

I’ve heard that specific phrase — most business-friendly administration in decades — from multiple people, in multiple conversations in the last couple of months. It has become what we dishonest media types call a “thing.” It has thingness written all over it.

The administration is of course anxiously feeding this narrative, via signals such as the appointment of Gary Cohn, former President and COO of Goldman Sachs, as Chief Economic Advisor, and trading on the reputation of Peter Thiel.

And I’m not imagining things. Multiple independent sources have confirmed my suspicion that more than half of top business leaders have already bought into this narrative. And half the rest, I suspect, are sympathetic to it.

And yes, I think they’re all wrong, even though they’re all much richer than me.

When you spend almost all your working hours in a corporate business environment, wheeling and dealing in pleasantly appointed conference rooms, your view of the world largely mediated by neat slide decks and spreadsheets, it is easy to ignore signals from all sources besides the stock market.

Even in Silicon Valley, where much of my consulting work is concentrated, and overt support for the Trump administration is rare (largely because it would be unpopular with high-value employees, and a costly tactical error in the always-desperate existential competition for talent), closet support is higher.

So either the market is incorrectly pricing the political risks of a Trump presidency, or the developing resistance is overwrought and hysterical. Which is it?

I of course, don’t have a clue. I am about as qualified to provide detailed commentary on the mysterious movements of the S&P 500, the deeper meanings of VIX, and the collapse of the TPP, as Donald Trump is for the Presidency.  Perhaps there will be a significant market correction, as some hedge funds appear to be betting. Or perhaps we’ll see the sunny times continue for four to eight years, with Trump gleefully taking credit, regardless of devastation is wrought at non-market loci like the EPA or Syria.

But as I listen to the bull case for the Trump administration, my bullshit meter is ringing non-stop. This tweet from my favorite new twitter account captures the typical output from my bullshit meter when I listen to yet another sunny narrative grounded primarily in stock market signals.

A subprime presidency is a useful metaphor to frame the case that the bull case is in fact bullshit. By this metaphor, the Trump administration is political capital asset class that promises returns it lacks the capacity to deliver, and poses a risk of serious contagion to other, healthy kinds of political and social capital.

A Slumlord Political Economy

Here’s why.

Less than two months in, the Trump administration is already incurring such a high cost for basic political survival, and exacting such a heavy toll from civil society, that you should be doubting its ability to guarantee a stable environment for a thriving economy.

Its ability to actually deliver a return on political investments for businesses, through implementation of favorable economic policies, and avoiding forced movement on unfavorable ones, is moot.

And the contagion of eroding credibility is already spreading outwards from the White House, to institutions such as the judiciary and the intelligence community. Even Congress, an institution whose credibility the average American might have thought could not sink lower, is beating that expectation. And of course, the media — a category within which this blog sometimes wanders — is being relentlessly hammered by the bearish pressures of the Fake News bogeyman.

Critics on the far Left, driven by fears of a fascist turn in American politics, have been focusing on the argument that the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany was not accompanied by a market decline.

This, however, is a lousy argument.

That the market has historically not reliably responded to the rise of fascism does not mean such risks are necessarily serious.  In fact, early signs suggest that checks and balances against fascist tendencies at least, are working. Though others have been analyzing the analogies more carefully, a checked-and-balanced Trump is more Berlusconi than Hitler, and probably not the kind of truly radical game-changing force that Papa Bannon and Putin are hoping for.

The stronger argument is this: the market doesn’t properly or completely price the positive value of a healthy civic environment (aka “administrative state” to use Bannon’s term), or the risks the lack of such an environment poses to economic performance.

The problem isn’t the dark futures themselves, but the unaccounted costs that must be incurred to avoid them: costly insurance mechanisms designed for acute and exceptional crises being turned into routine management mechanisms to contain an administration in a chronic state of self-inflicted crisis. Systems designed for managing acute stress in the body politic being deployed to manage chronic stress. The arteries of public institutions getting rapidly clogged by plaque from resistance, or worse, being taken over by cancerous internal tribes with a natural leaning towards illiberalism (a particular risk with any public agency authorized to exercise force).

The externalities that are not being accounted for by the market have to do with precisely these accumulating invisible social costs: the damage to check-and-balance institutions from being used as routine control mechanisms, and the cost to citizens from being in a constant, exhausting state of heightened vigilance and political activation.

The latter costs are already obvious to anybody who watches indicators besides the stock market. In the part of the economy driven by creative labor, the toxic effects of the political environment on employee morale are already unmistakeable. A few businesses, such as CNN, may have been energized by a renewed combative spirit. Most are being slowly drained.

A friend remarked, after noting one of my particularly dyspeptic Twitter rants, that he’d like to send me to politics rehab.

Unfortunately, it’s not just me. You can’t send half the population to politics rehab and program them to cheerfully ignore the political environment for four to eight years, while the other half waits for steel and mining jobs to return and driverless trucks to be banned. You can’t expect the former to remain ideal employees, motivated and creative, working for the Greater Glory of Shareholder Returns, while ignoring the endless screaming of their inner precious snowflake. And you can’t expect the latter to not get mad when impossible promises are abandoned.

Institutions and people being slowly drained by the low-grade chronic stress add up to only one kind of economy: a slumlord economy. One presided over by an administration whose effectiveness is rapidly declining to developing-country levels, even as incentives for extractive economics — cronyism, corporatism, and outright kleptocracy — rapidly strengthen.

So yes, the Trump administration is good for businesses: slumlord-economy businesses based on profiteering, expropriation of public goods, and general exploitation of the most vulnerable.

Not wealth-building businesses. Not the kinds of businesses that powered America to greatness.

It takes a peculiar mix of Ayn-Rand Libertarian naivete, suspension of compassion, and lack of exposure to the toxic economic-damper effects of ineffective, neopatrimonialized governments, to mistake the trajectory we are on for “business friendly.”

The Anatomy of Business-Unfriendliness

To invest in the political asset represented by a new administration, businesses or other special interests must believe that access to lawmakers will be meaningful, that favorable policies will be effectively pursued, and unfavorable ones limited to cosmetic gestures.

In addition, investment represents an operating assumption that usually does not need to be stated: that the administration will be capable of maintaining a stable business environment. That normal expectations of law and order, enforceable contracts, a trusted banking system, and the sanctity of courts, will be met.

The political class, of course, can and does betray business expectations to serve other interests. Theodore Roosevelt for instance, famously betrayed the expectations of the business world in his populist turn towards trust-busting and labor.

The risk with the Trump administration though, is not that its policy priorities, awful as they are, might shift to even worse ones. The risk is that its high political survival costs, and damage inflicted on the institutional and civic environment, will leave it incapable of actual administration. It is a political insurgency, elected primarily on a mandate for spiteful destruction and vengeance against “elites” (a large, ambiguously defined class that appears to include anyone with any kind of expertise), making an implausible promise that it can not only learn to govern, but actually wants to.

All the core premises in the “business friendly” thesis are dubious, and in each case, the source of uncertainty is Trump himself.

In an administration where survival depends on frequent demonstrations of loyalty to an insecure leader rather than competence, where appointees must scramble to continuously fit policy to match the latest angry tweet, access to senior levels of the administration is of dubious value.

To believe that policies the business world would favor, such as thoughtful deregulation, will be pursued, is to believe that a President who likes to harangue private corporations and intimidate universities with threats to “cut off funding” will willingly give up powerful mechanisms of control.

To believe that business-unfriendly policies, such as a retreat to nineteenth-century protectionism, will not be pursued, despite signs such as the retreat from the TPP, is to believe that Trump is willing to betray his base to favor new friends from the Davos set who rejected him for years.

Unlike a hypothetical “normal” president with the same stated economic policy objectives, Trump is forced by both temperament and circumstances to work to destabilize the business environment.

Shaping policy through tweeted responses to perceived slights is entirely rational for Trump: it helps keep an activated base angry and growing. As Eric Hoffer noted in The True Believer, this is the crucial priority for populist leaders of mass movements. Trump cannot afford to cede the media spotlight, or allow his restive base to calm down. Both of these are basic necessary conditions for a healthy business environment. To consolidate power, Trump’s primary allegiance has to be to his base rather than to the business-as-usual coalition of special interests. His best hope for an impactful presidency is that the base will grow in strength and energy to the point that he can afford to betray all others, his new best friends at Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil included.

This is a subprime presidency not just because it does not have the capacity for effective administration, but because it has no incentive to develop such a capacity, with or without the supposed resistance of a Deep State.

Law and order? This is a President whose campaign rested on the use of the term as a dogwhistle to white voters, and apparently has to navigate serious internal conflicts to say something halfway decent about the  desecration of graveyards.

Enforceability of contracts? Trump has a business history of vendors having to sue in order to get paid, and leaving business partners in the lurch.

Reliable banking system? This is a President who thinks sovereign default is a perfectly reasonable policy option and appears unclear about whether a strong or weak dollar is good for the economy (not that I know either, but his job actually requires him to have a reasoned opinion on the matter).

Sanctity of courts? He has already used reversals in court to erode his supporters’ trust in the judiciary. To Trump supporters, the judiciary is already nothing more than a hotbed of wild-eyed judicial activism.

Worse, the coterie with the most visible influence on the President not only does not share the priorities of the business world, but is openly working to prioritize illiberal social objectives over economic growth. Steve Bannon for instance, famously claimed that between ⅔ and ¾ of Silicon Valley CEOs are Asian (the correct figure is closer to 14% across all executive ranks) and that “a country is more than an economy, we are a civic society.” By which he appears to have meant a white nation, willing to pay economic costs to create and maintain an illiberal society.

Bannon’s particular approach towards this goal, hobbled as he is by such inconveniences as an immigration policy that is no longer defined in racial terms, is to “deconstruct the administrative state.” Or as David Brooks put it, in uncharacteristically blunt terms for the eminence grice of conservative apologetics, “privatize compassion, nationalize intimidation.” Or as Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, once famously said, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

This is of course, not theory. Even as agencies such as the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are acquiring a beefy new political presence, the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) has acquired one of its worst enemies, Scott Pruitt, as its leader. He is tasked with perhaps the most damaging act of “deconstruction” on the menu. Elsewhere, public schooling has also been entrusted to one of its deadly enemies, and the State Department, of course, is already the site of much deconstructionist devastation.

To the wishful thinkers and soft-headed romantics of business and economics (there is no romantic idealist like a Ferengi romantic idealist) who aren’t paying attention to the details, all this sounds like a pleasant second tranche of Reaganesque deregulation. The Madness of King Donald at the center of it all is noise to these business romantics, not signal.

To anyone else, there is no way to put “business-friendly” lipstick on this pig. It is unapologetic social illiberalism and nascent neo-corporatism in business-libertarian skin.

…Said the Scorpion to the Frog

To believe in the business-friendly just-so narrative based on the flimsy evidence of the stock market is to be the frog in the fable of the scorpion and the frog. It is simply in the nature of the scorpion to sting and betray the frog (whether that frog is the business sector or Pepe the smirking 4chan darling), whatever the incentives for cooperation might be.  Lest you forget this important basic truth, I made up a mnemonic couplet.

Make America Great Again,
said the scorpion to the frog

While Donald Trump himself does not appear to be a fascist (or much of anything ideologically), business growth is a distant fourth priority for him — after the feeding of his own narcissism, the need to consolidate power by keeping the base activated, and the pursuit of illiberal social policies to retain the support of the Steve Bannon White Nationalist faction. The narrow economic objectives that might align with these priorities are not the pluralist kind that lead to inclusive growth, but the extractive kind that Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson identified as the cause of state failure in their classic, Why Nations Fail.

The case for the “most business-friendly administration in decades” is specious wishful thinking at best, but the potential for long-term damage to the business environment, with costs spread across decades, is very real.

The smartest thing a business can do is the obvious thing: hardening defenses against the rising tide of illiberalism being fostered by the Trump administration to ensure its own costly and damaging survival, and rejecting scorpion-to-frog cooperation overtures.

The alternative to buying into the political stock of a subprime presidency is Bill Janeway’s formula for surviving four to eight years of what promises to be relentlessly illiberal political turbulence: cash and control.

Cash and control — maintaining a strong cash position and decisive control over businesses — is the corporate equivalent of philosophical sulking.

It means being prejudiced and skeptical by default towards any narrative that pretends gutting the institutions of civic society, while fanning the flames of illiberalism, can be “good for business.”

It means the null hypothesis is the one you get if you take even Donald Trump’s wildest ravings both literally and seriously.

It means refusing to buy the line that a decidedly selective “deconstruction of the administrative state” accompanied by huge winks to a rising tide of domestic and global illiberalism is the same as an orderly deregulation crafted by economists.

And yes, it means adopting sulking as a baseline stance of non-cooperation, until you can think of a better one.

For eight years, if need be.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. I have sent a link to my Kansas State representative.
    He tells me that there might be some hope lately for blocking some of the Brownbackianism at the State House.

  2. I don’t have skin in the game, as I’m not a resident, though I do sympathise. However, your other serious option was also a sub-prime presidency, just sub-prime in different ways. A lot of the dangers you listed above were and are already manifesting; at least, that’s how it looks on the outside. You may have to accept that the American Empire is now in decline, probably permanently, and this is what it looks like.

  3. I believe Trump and the ‘alt-right’ have created metaphysical rift in ‘objective reality’. I once considered myself a positivist, but I can see now that Collective Will has an equally firm grasp on molding the world. At the other end of the spectrum, I would also argue that Multikult socialists have pushed their unreality too far into the political/economic realm, causing an entropic snapback. From your posts, I can gauge that you are probably a positivist and an athiest/agnostic (humanist) lacking spiritual wherewithal. Your own logical constructs and social patterning have you trapped in the Leftist paradigm, unable to look clearly at the full damage wrought by the Obama administration. In other words, you are Politically Clueless.

    • I believe Trump and the ‘alt-right’ have created metaphysical rift in ‘objective reality’.

      Isn’t it rather the return to the (traumatic?) ‘real’ of political power? The new paternalism seems to be all about the return of people, actually just men, who are exericizing power, not waiting for the public opinion to be moved by the press until its “discourse” rests somewhere and creates a supposed state without alternatives. The latter is still the model of governance or non-governance of Mrs Merkel in Germany, for example, which has created a distortion field, where no one with a mind, can trust the media, because they are effectively the policy makers. This also led to the eerie feeling of living in a GDR 2.0 a phantom society rendered by a political ideology. Everyone has some hints of an “objective reality” but one which somehow doesn’t take place / doesn’t pass the filters.

  4. Very interesting analysis, I recently saw a documentary on Netflix on how Hitler came to power. Would Trump’s opposition now is MSM .

    Trumps repeated assertions that MSM is fake news will render MSM powerless soon if it sticks and we all know he is good at branding.
    Is it ok to assume this attack on MSM as a slow ReichStag Fire to destroy all opposition to him?

    Also I was curious on whats your opinion about Strauss-Howe Theory which seems to form the basis for Bannon’s assault on the “Administrative State”

  5. ivandevon says

    Great to see you’re finally back. Ribbonfarm’s just not the same without you.
    Hopefully all that sulking’s been invigorating and not just aggravating.

  6. Thank you for writing this explanation. I have struggled to find the words and mood to explain where I am temporally at this moment in time. Sometimes a better definition allows one to move forward and for this I am thankful.

  7. Half Morris says

    Very strong and credible analysis. Is this the end of the age of irony?

    • The age of irony was declared dead already in this millenium short after 9/11 but got a small revival at places like this. The internet doesn’t have to be homogeneous and can be a little out of synch with the march of aeons.

      Apparently foxes can only thrive under particular institutions and a political climate with the right hedghehogs / ideologues in charge and without the big bad guys ( “fascists” ) start to do their own refactorings e.g. turning global market capitalism into a Colbert style thing, one which is policy oriented and cannot close in theory / is no algorithm for producing “wealth for everyone”. For some time this can make a nation actually “great again”, see France under Louis XIV or China more recently but is certainly no path for sustainability. As history goes, lords – slumlords or not – like the French Kings get eventually superseded by a rising, revolutionary middle class, the progressive party, which either becomes conservative and declares the end of history ( an unfailable state, preferably democratic but also authoritarian, if needed ) or moves further to the left and tries to supersede itself by starting socialism.

      If irony is over, once again, but not forever and for everyone, what is announced might be a new class struggle. Since the 1960s at least, the creative class was a promise for mankind, that which everyone ought to belong. Next year in Davos. Everyone is an artist, has creative potential which just needs to be unleashed, an attitude which was ridiculed on this blog occasionally. In Germany of 1968 some students showed solidarity with workers at VW in Wolfsburg by asking them to write poems. This was not cynical, they tried to be really nice. The social body of the creative class isn’t yet clear, one only listened to its voice and all voice and no body did it seem to be.

      Part of Trumps weird appeal comes from a screwed body politics: suddenly there is a voice from elsewhere, one which doesn’t belong and shouldn’t have been a voice at all. The separation of concerns has been violated and as linked by Venkat, it is already speculated if Trump is a madman. I don’t believe so but maybe others get mad by listening to that voice which is out-of-place?

  8. Sorry Venkat, but I think it is time to eat your own dog-food.

    I’m a Canadian, and a committed liberal cosmopolitan like you, but as a systems thinker it is obvious to me that Trump is a product of the very “software eating the world” and globalism that you (we!) have championed. All the losers in that process are restive and looking for redress. The liberal global order is also infested with parasite institutions that only pretend to support real liberal cosmopolitan values, but really serve more narrow interests.

    Time for both of us to disrupt our own thought and figure out how to address the downsides of our own values as they have been implemented and to offer better solutions than the fantasy travel-back-in-time options that Trump has brought to the table.

    Sulking is just declaring intellectual bankruptcy in the face of technological change finally coming to eat us. Let’s instead commit to showing the adaptability and resilience we would counsel to other losers of historic processes.

    • Oh I totally agree this is part of software eating the world. In fact my breaking smart newsletter yesterday was about precisely how and why.

      Sulking is definitely a kind of intellectual bankruptcy (that’s why I opened with that remark — it bankrupted me of ideas I wanted to blog about for 3 months), but I disagree that “adaptability and resilience” or accepting “loser” status is the answer.

      With apologies to George S. Patton, “no bastard ever advanced civilization by being adaptable and resilient in pursuit of his values. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard be adaptable and resilient in pursuit of his values.”

      There is an element to this conflict where it is easy to fetishize adaptability and resilience out of a kind of masochistic “we must suffer for our beliefs” moral stance rather than because they are effective means to temporary ends. In fact, I think we got into this condition that way.

      Agility and maneuvering are of course necessary, but it is “adaptation” and “resilience” that are in fact fatalistic acceptance of what’s just a temporary setback rather than a judgment day for liberal-cosmopolitan sins as the other side believes. That was my second section argument.

      • I’m actually suggesting something of more immediate concern to both of us (I think): our current models / narrative is wrong in an interesting and important way.

        Of course the territory is always more complex than the map, but the current troubles tell us that the current map of the triumphalist march of globalist technocracy leaves out some vital detail that is of more consequence to the outcome of the story than we expected.

        Not only Trump, but the rise of the the “progressive” (i.e. illiberal anti-cosmopolitan views co-opting liberal cosmopolitan language) Left, tell us that we need to refine our models / narratives to solve some the causes of these things if we in fact want our values to win in the long run.

        We thought we were so close that we missed some problems and battles that needed to be addressed if we are to win the war.

        • Marc,
          I think you are on to something here.
          I don’t have enough of a grip on it to be eloquent, but I think that it is useful to remember that all this shiny clean technology that is globally triumphing will grind to a halt the minute that the men in the dirty coveralls stop driving those long trains filled with coal and steel.

          I once worked for a successful land-raping resource extracting bastard who guest-taught an economics class at the local college. He told them that mining and logging and (some) farming were the only contributors to the economy. He said everything else was ‘just moving stuff around’. The only honest way to make money was to sell resources to the economy.

          It was appalling.
          I asked him what he thought of the people who have found a way to make money selling nothing. He got really interested in that idea.

          That was in the early 1990s, before all this internet nonsense, but I think this is where we are now.

          But even selling nothing requires the power plants to run, so who controls the coal controls society. And this isn’t Eastern Europe, the poets don’t control anything here.

  9. Agree completely with your points about the larger importance of civil society institutions and norms rather than the powerpoint map-asserted-over-the-territory type hope embodied in the “hey he’s going to deregulate” apology

    I’d like to dig in a little deeper though Re: deconstruction of the administrative state. There’s still large numbers of federal employees who have been “lifers” since the Johnson or even Kennedy administration.

    I’m also reminded looking at the growth in federal regulations of Tim OReilley’s essay a while back about the potential of algorithmic regulation. Rules matter though need not be implemented via mountains of words on paper no one really reads

    This is another way of saying much of the motivation behind 18f and note the digital transformation of government operations everyone is excited about was never going to happen via sunshine and rainbows.

    Also as you’ve rightly said that this [toxic dumpster / holy cleansing] Trump fire is ultimately a fire and after the administrative is deconstructured or just disabused of legitimacy, the proper course has always been rebuilding

    Do not despair about “technological change finally coming to eat us.” I’m reminded of your entrepreneurs are the new labor essay and the gap between old and new institutional orders.

    I’m also reminded of the many people who’ve come to California for a better life and the Argonauts who came here from around the globe seeking gold to pioneer a better life in 1849

    So rather lament the deconstruction of the old, the time is right to accelerate pioneering and building new public institutions

  10. Leaving a note to myself here.

    The Kubler-Ross cycle of reaction to loss is a cycle that responds to terminal loss: things that resemble death (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).

    We often mis-apply it to things that are not good analogues to “death.” Neither liberalism, nor cosmopolitan has “died” here. In fact, this is the is a late-stage anger spike in a fractal Kubler-Ross of the dying industrial economy.

    But there is a response pattern to temporary setbacks/losses for those who are in the long-term headed for victory. I’d say the cycle goes: Sulking, Curmudgeon, Reorientation, Reversal, Accommodation. That last bit being the necessary course-correction based on the learnings from the setback.

  11. The comparison of chronic vs acute symptoms is very appropriate, interestingly, I seem to remember (though I can’t find where googling) the same characterisation being used for the UK in the 1970s, before a shift to a lower level of social ambition over the 1980s.

    In other words, the system teetered on the edge of obvious disaster for years, in the sense of the efforts to maintain it becoming more frantic, before resolving into a new level of stability by being able to dump consequences outside of the new domain of objectives of society.

    Specifically, the UK took on the US’s approach of having an “underclass”, a large subset of the population homeless or in uncertain housing, and whose welfare or concerns were not considered important by society as a whole. The stabilisation of inflation and industrial relations corresponded to a massive increase in homelessness and absolute poverty and began a trend in separation of the population into spatially segregated high and low-wealth groups that continued for years afterwards.

    Before that point, the popular imagination was gripped by ideas of feral youths and revolutionaries that were conceptualised as powerful, after that point, they were considered more and more as destitute sleepwalkers and violent drug addicts. Lone monsters in a field of the unimportant, rather than dangerous social forces.

    The obvious problem here is that the UK achieved this stabilisation by the abandonment of certain conceptions of controlled employment levels, access to housing and centrally planned sustained industry. The suffering unlocked by reducing concern for a subset of citizens allowed more power to control the configuration of society, pushing things back towards stability.

    But if Britain achieved this by moving towards the current US social model, what social ambitions can the US, specifically under a trump regime, abandon in order to achieve stabilisation? Because stability doesn’t just have to be about prosperity, but can be about creating sufficient suffering that people become compatibly comfortable with their assigned lot, and so that you can use the variables opened up by simplifying your problem to get other things done.

    I’m not sure; racism in a fascist sense is an obvious conclusion, in the sense of suffering of scapegoats, but I’m not sure that when choosing this approach you get to decide where precisely the new suffering is focused, it comes from withdrawing concern for the new victims of your social shift, and reinforcing a sense of otherness about them, rather than in expending energy victimising another group chosen for their optimal difference.

    Leaving aside whoever turns out to be most affected by climate change or highly asymmetric war, Trump’s base forms a highly appropriate candidate for a new round of reinforcement of layers of underclass stigma (and in fact, have probably been used precisely for this purpose in the past), in the sense of being made up of many communities with low levels of connectivity and productivity on a national scale, but that’s extremely unlikely to happen, unless he is somehow able to set them against themselves.

    So paradoxically, he is committed to a base, without committing to the means to improve their lives, such that the end result is just increasing frustration that could mark them in the eyes of the broader population as “troublemakers”, only to be stabilised in a future administration that is motivated by their “crimes” to leave them out in the cold, assuming they wish to otherwise follow trump’s authoritarian example in a newly destabilised institutional framework.

    Of course, because so much of the instability has been generated not systemically but by the personalities and objectives of those in charge, it’s possible that the correction will not be a kind of revenge against the rustbelt, but just towards managerial competence and a technocratic or constitutional reformist emphasis on rebuilding institutions, though I don’t hold out much hope for that at the moment, even if a conscious program of “revenge against the racists” also seems unlikely.