Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hierarchies And Rebellions

     Before I get started on the morning’s serious topic, I have a request for my Gentle Readers and anyone else who enjoys reading Web punditry:

Support your favorite bloggers.

     I don’t mean monetarily. Donations do constitute a form of approbation, but there are other kinds that are arguably more important. Express your appreciation of those whose emissions you admire and enjoy. There aren’t many of us left. That’s largely due to the rise of “social media,” which are proving to be about as social as the Black Death. So we greatly appreciate comments, emails, crosslinks, and other sorts of feedback that let us know that we have an audience, and that that audience would miss us were we to depart from our posts.

     Any expression of your appreciation, however you might choose to phrase it, will help to energize the recipient to “keep on keepin’ on.” Don’t excuse yourself on the specious grounds that “He gets enough of that already” or “Somebody else will do it.” Do your part; never mind what others might do or not do. (I could launch into a lecture on renormalized rationality at this point, but I’ll spare you.)

     This morning at Ace of Spades HQ the proprietor himself declaims thus:

     [Sean Trende] talked about the break-up of the [Republican] party being about the "Senior Partners" in the coalition -- the Establishment, which actually had a relatively small popular base of support but was closer to power, as they ran magazines and lived in DC -- not being willing to cede any amount of power-sharing to the "Junior Partners" in the coalition -- religious cons, real conservatives -- despite the fact that the Junior Partners were not willing to be mere Junior Partners any longer.

     Please, please read it all, including the embedded tweet series. It illustrates an important aspect of group dynamics, about which I’m about to wax eloquent...well, as eloquent as I can get this early on a Saturday morning. I’ll wait here.

     There’s an old pseudo-paradox, which I’ve seen discussed by Gregory Benford among others, about the emergence of a power center within a body that makes decisions by majority vote. Let’s take a simple case that can easily be generalized. Given a committee of nine, any group of five members who agree to vote concordantly can control the committee’s decisions. But that group itself constitutes a committee of five. Therefore any group of three within the five could take command of the five by the same sort of concerted voting, and thereby control the larger committee of nine. But that makes the group of three a committee in its own right, and therefore...

     Got the idea? Good. Now answer this question: Why doesn’t it work that way? It doesn’t, you know. The “cabal within a cabal within a cabal” approach to dominating a decision-making body has been tried innumerable times, and has always come apart. What’s the element that undoes the seams?

     All right, you’ve had long enough to think about it, and I can’t bring myself to be cruel on a Saturday. The answer is time.

     Time gives rise to change: in positions, in priorities, and in the relations, whether personal or political, among committee members. Sometimes those things interact to change one another. Smith might have been “solid” with the cabal until now, but then some new issue arises about which he differs with the others. Or his opinion of the relative importance of various issues might undergo a change. Or he might oppose the initiatives of dominant voice Jones out of pique, or envy, or personal ambition, even at a cost to some interest Smith once held sacrosanct. People change over time, and in unpredictable ways, at that.

     Long-term dominance of a voluntarily constituted body by a subgroup is rare, almost unknown. What’s been called here and elsewhere the “Republican Establishment” or “Conservatism, Inc.” has learned this to its sorrow. Unfortunately for those persons, they have largely failed to accept the lesson as valid.

     The application to Republican politics could hardly be clearer. Establishment figures’ acquiescence to the left-liberal / big-government status quo over the past three decades has cost them their previous dominance of conservative-leaning voters. The voters rebelled, chose to support an insurgent figure who challenged the Establishment’s dogma, and overturned the existing hierarchy in the GOP. The “NeverTrumpers” discovered, quite painfully, that the electorate was willing to see them “take their ball and bat and go home.” What remains is to trace out the specific changes that brought this about.

     We can observe a number of significant changes in the American legal and political milieu over the thirty years just behind us. Recall the executive timeline:

  • 1989 – 1992: George Bush the Elder.
  • 1993 – 2000: Bill Clinton.
  • 2001 – 2008: George Bush the Younger.
  • 2009 - 2016: Barack Hussein Obama.
  • 2017 – present: Donald Trump.

     Twelve years of Establishment Republican dominance interleaved with sixteen years of Leftists in power, followed by two years of the Upstart. Who performed, and how well?

  • George Bush the Elder: Gulf War I, several broken promises, especially on taxes. environmentalism, and gun rights.
  • Bill Clinton: Further tax increases, first thrusts at nationalizing the medical-care system, several scandals.
  • George Bush the Younger: A modest tax reduction, Gulf War II, no progress on abortion, gun rights, or restraining the power of the alphabet agencies.
  • Barack Hussein Obama: Nationalization of medical insurance, sharply increased taxes and regulations, hobbling of the energy industry, emasculation of the military, encouragement for illegal immigration, heightened racial / ethnic tensions, reduction of America’s international influence, high unemployment and low growth, innumerable scandals. “America in decline.”
  • Donald Trump: Reassertion of America’s international pre-eminence, lessening of foreign military involvements, reduced tax rates and simplified tax code, sharp reduction in regulations, unleashing of the American energy industry, economic boom, first thrusts against abortion and illegal immigration.

     The Upstart has discarded the Establishment’s “go along to get along” policy of accommodating the Left’s demands for ever larger government at the expense of Americans’ rights and interests. He seems prepared to go even further in the name of a national renewal of promise and purpose. He’s upstaging the Establishment, made them look irrelevant, and they don’t like it one little bit. It’s no wonder they bear ill will against him personally.

     There are several factors involved in the “NeverTrumpers’” ongoing opposition to the Upstart’s reign. For one, it has laid bare their highest priority: the maintenance of their positions among Those Who Matter, a.k.a. the Washington cocktail-party circuit. For another, performance beats bullshit, anywhere and anywhen, and it always makes the bullshitters hate you. For a third, the “NeverTrumpers’” tantrums and sour-grapes act have made them look petty – which they are – and have caused many who once respected their opinions to turn away from them as sources of information and political guidance.

     Thus, a hierarchy that once looked to endure indefinitely has been revealed to have been built on a foundation of sand. All it took was an Upstart, who spoke to the disappointed and demoralized in a tone of respect for them and their interests...and who meant what he said.

     I have in mind a passage from early in Atlas Shrugged:

     He did not know why he suddenly thought of the oak tree. Nothing had recalled it. But he thought of it—and of his childhood summers on the Taggart estate. He had spent most of his childhood with the Taggart children, and now he worked for them, as his father and grandfather had worked for their father and grandfather.
     The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.
     One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside—just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

     A thing which has lost its connection to its animating purpose will always rot from within. The desire to perpetuate oneself and one’s privileges and perquisites is insufficient of itself. Or as a character of mine once said:

     “Malcolm, you know far too much to have learned it all in one normal lifetime. Combat. Warfare. History. Sociology. Philosophy. Economics. Politics. Ethics. I've put my heart and soul into it, but I've only glimpsed the edges of what you know. You've lived several centuries at least....So you have to have some kind of purpose. A man dies without a purpose. A purpose strong enough to keep you alive that long must be as vivid and powerful as the sun.”

     As with individuals, so also with Establishments and the hierarchies over which they claim to preside. But don’t expect the deposed members of “Conservatism, Inc.” to admit that any time soon. They have a lot more denial to get through.

1 comment:

Brian E. said...

I’ve always found Eddie Willers’ ruminating about the old oak tree to be one of the more memorable passages. And for the same reasons that you describe - it’s a wonderful allegory for what’s happened to our nation, and our form of government. What we have left is barely a shell of what it was, and should be.