On Lovecraft and Contemporary History [Updated]

Let’s rewind four years and change, shall we? Back when one Trump was a braggart and a bully and above all a man who did not think before he spoke. He had apparently made a mockery of the venerable RNC, though that is no more than many smart people expected of the RNC anyway, and back then the most specific policy claim against him was that he might upend centuries of tradition on the peaceful transfer of power by seeking criminal penalties on his already defeated political opponents.  The vague accusations of white supremacy were perhaps a bigger deal, but far less specific.

Then he won, and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, and “Not My President” proliferated overnight. People were talking about impeaching him before he even swore his oath, and accusations multiplied that Russian hacking – or at least Russian propaganda – had invalidated the supposed outcome of the election.

Let’s not mince words – this was unprecedented within living memory. At least in 2000 the claim against legitimacy was clear and specific – clear enough and specific enough to be handled expeditiously by the courts. ‘Not my president’ wasn’t a thing that was said then despite all the anger over the outcome, and frankly it isn’t a thing that should ever be said without the intent to revolution, or secession, or renunciation of citizenship. That it was widely said, apparently without intent for any of those, shows either a morbid absence of thinking things through or a complete abdication of one’s responsibility to say what one means. Much like how ‘defund the police’ supposedly doesn’t literally mean defund the police, but I digress.

Anyway, Trump was sworn in, and the Resistance resisted, and did its very best to undermine and at best remove the pretender – for what else could he be if not a pretender, if US citizens declared him to be not their president and yet believed themselves to remain US citizens?.

As someone with a moderate education in technical and computer matters I knew by February of 2017 that ‘Russiagate’ was never going to find that connection between Russian intelligence and Wikileaks and Donald Trump.

As a widely read academic expert in propaganda and geopolitics I knew by summer of 2017 that Russian propaganda was not about supporting Trump but a widening US sociopolitical cleavages. That is, for every pro-Trump bot or ad they had a pro-Clinton one, among other flaws in the simple theory of pro-Trump manipulations.

By the midterms it was clear Trump’s administration was rife with malicious (to Trump) leakers, policy saboteurs, and general Resistance sympathizing actors. I was not against this per se, as I have long believed the executive branch has too much unified power and too little transparency, but it did bother me that the resulting chaos was blamed on Trump’s ridiculous demands of personal loyalty and oppressive attitude toward the press. Conveniently forgotten was the degree to which Obama demanded – and received – such loyalty, and that on Trump’s most authoritarian day he did not follow Obama’s unprecedented legal attacks on whistleblowers and leakers. A niggling bit of hypocrisy that, though I was cynical enough to mostly overlook it. Hypocrisy is the name of the game of politics it usually seems.

Through it all Russiagate burned, and its ashes simmer even today for all that the fuel is long spent.

Yes, the Resistance did finally get Trump impeached, but they didn’t do it on Russia influencing Trump, but on Trump influencing Ukraine. The most important thing to note about this impeachment is that it is as close to an ironic reversal of the original accusation as one can get. I say most important because this impeachment was so ridiculously inconsequential that it was not even used as the fodder for attack adds in 2020 but instead went largely forgotten and almost entirely unmentioned.  If anything, the right got more out of flogging the ‘unjust impeachment’ than the left did in holding up their great success in governmental accountability.

What is there to say about 2020? Between the pandemic and the BLM movement and the election the year was eventful. In terms of long term consequence I would rate the pandemic first, BLM second, and the election last. In terms of short term consequences I rate BLM first, the pandemic second, and the election still last.

The pandemic has atomized society. I initially hoped the lack of travel would encourage neighborly behavior via local bubbles, but instead it was those local interactions that were most expeditiously killed. All social interaction became social media interaction, with all the depression, social atomization, and political polarization that entails. I think few today appreciate just how lethal this is to the ongoing stability of society in this country, and I think few people a century hence will credit just how little that danger was appreciated in the here and now. The drastic increase of wealth of social media companies and multinational retail outlets at the expense of restaurants and local stores sure doesn’t help either. As for Trump’s handling of the pandemic, I’ve argued before that one can either say he failed to decisively act against the pandemic or that he has tyrannical leanings, but not both, and it is an established fact that he was, at the time, criticized for taking what actions he did and, subsequently, for not taking more actions than he did.  (While I have many complaints on the handling of the pandemic, purveyors of such unapologetically hypocritical criticisms are hard to take seriously and should definitely not be considered trustworthy prosecutors of the matter.)

As for the BLM movement, the most consequential result of this paroxysm of frustration was the numerous thinkpieces on how riots were the voice of the unheard, how people were more important than property, that it was wrong to punish people for airing their grievances, that it was wrong to use force to protect federalor indeed any – property. Now of course what everyone saying these things meant was that BLM had a legitimate grievance and thus the actions should be treated leniently, but as a philosophical matter this only works on the premise that constant vandalism, occasional arson, and sporadic violence are justified means to desirable political ends.

Finally, the electioneering, the most important element of which I claim was Mrs. Clinton advising Biden not to concede ‘under any circumstances’. ‘Any circumstances’ notably includes an unarguably free, fair, and fraud-free election. An illuminating addendum to this statement is an XKCD mouseover text discussing the ‘sixth and final year of the 2016 election’. XKCD, while a nerdy internet comic, is a very mainstream nerdy internet comic. Four years after “not my president” the mentality still runs strong – Trump is still fundamentally illegitimate, a pretender, and conceding past or future elections to him is granting that which he should never have. This is important because it proves that ‘not my president’ was not a temporary fit of depression over a loss (a sympathetic error but error nonetheless) but a campaign that never ended and never left the minds of a large portion of the mainstream of the country.

The actual event of the election was, as I have written before, only important in that it was close. The country needed clarity and did not get it. The election was close, the administration of the election was novel coming (mail in ballots) and going (night-time breaks in counting, whereas to my knowledge all recent elections were counted throughout the night until election ceded or all ballots tallied).  Among various other oddities.  None of these changes in these unprecedented, pandemic-ridden times were, perhaps, consequential, but they did not engender trust in an already largely distrustful population.  Or rather, it engendered trust only to the extent that the outcome is favorable in a provably bipartisan manner.

Finally, we’re now in January and the official counting of the electoral congress takes place and (for those who skipped or slept through US government class in High School) a candidate is actually declared President Elect. Supporters of the other side congregate in DC and some portion thereof become rowdy, refusing to concede. Windows are broken, police are pushed past, Congress evacuated, some objectively amusing photographs of disrespect in the rotunda are taken, and minor theft of largely symbolic property occurs. One lady among the protesters is shot by cops.

[Edit: 2021 January 9 – It is now being reported that Pelosi’s laptop was also stolen, but as longtime Speaker of the House and one of the top politicians in the world she surely has it locked down with full hard drive encryption and a strong password and … who am I kidding, it’s probably ‘password1’.]

If one were to read the two paragraph above, absent outside context and in light of this essay so far, one could be forgiven for thinking Trump won again and Biden supporters – motivated by years of delegitimization of the sitting president then bolstered by months of apologia of trespassing, property destruction, and low-grade street violence, and adhering to the instructions of a formal presidential candidate to never concede – committed such acts.

It would make sense, and in a not so distant alternate universe I fully believe such would have happened. But it didn’t, and everybody is acting unaccountably shocked that the mirror inverse did happen. A New York Times headline declare the event to be a ‘siege’ (in a headline since silently edited but immortalized in my inbox) and Chuck Schumer compared the event to Pearl Harbor. Pearl harbor at least conveys an appropriate sense of brevity that the word ‘siege’ does not, but neither is justified.

Let me be very precise here. What happened in DC was a riot. A riot is wrong – in my opinion. The people involved should be arrested, charged, and appropriately though not excessively punished – in my opinion. The precise actions of this riot were trespass, vandalism, and probably some variations of the legal phrases “disorderly conduct” and “unlawful assembly”. There were no fires, no buildings gutted. There were no fireworks, mortar or otherwise. There were no thrown bricks. There were no stabbings. The only shooting was by an officer of the law. The three differences between DC and Portland is that DC was one night, not dozens, that it threatened national leaders rather than local nobodies, and that the New York Times for once freely uses the word ‘riot’ instead of ‘protest’.

[Edit 2021 Jan. 8: It is now being reported that one person was arrested for having unused molotov cocktails in his car, and is also being reported – but also currently contested – that a police officer died.  It is agreed upon that an officer was hospitalized, but this is reported variously as a medical emergency of an internal sort or being struck with a fire extinguisher.  The molotovs were not used.  It was also briefly rumored that eight protesters were hospitalized and/or died, but currently available reporting suggests all but the one lady shot in the neck by the cop were medical emergencies unrelated to the riot itself.  More edits will be done if/as necessary, of course, but so far the argument of this essay still stands.]

Edit: 2021 January 16 and hopefully final: Death toll reporting has solidifed at 5 – one cop, confirmed died of fire extinguisher injuries in a general melee; one lady shot by a cop; three medical emergencies in the wider crowd that are apparently completely unrelated to violence yet still being reported as death toll of the riot.]

This is where I have a problem.

If anyone thinks that members of congress are more innocent, more virtuous, less deserving of having the fear of the mob put into them than whatever poor schmucks have been night guards, bailiffs, janitors, etc. at the Portland federal buildings, then that person is a fool.  Let alone the business owners, many of them minorities, whose property was burned in cities across the country.

If we live in a world where the New York Times, the Grey Lady herself, the vaunted Paper of Record nearly goes on strike because a sitting US politician suggests using the national guard to protect federal property, then the invasion of the Capitol can not be some unforgivable egregious act of rebellion by domestic terrorists.

If we live in a world where a large segment of the population denied the legitimacy of a sitting US president by act and word for an entire term, and this is honorable Resistance, then it can not be an unprecedented act of rebellion when a large segment on the other side does the same.

If we live in a world where a former presidential candidate can publicly advise a current presidential candidate to never concede, than it can not be an attempted coup for the opposing candidate to never concede.

Progressives are living up to their name I think. They are showing the way. And surprising only the fools, the other side is listening too.

Democracy is consensus politics. Even were that not so, nobody can simply declare that, since he is right, certain methods are open to him but, since his opponents are wrong, those same methods are denied to his opponents. Various factions of the political left can try all they want to cry about historical oppression and grievances and why more attention and less criticism should be levied against certain groups acting out, but the cold hard reality of history is that people do not work this way.  Politics does not work this way.  Most especially and most generally, conflict does not work this way. Democracy is a project by which we agree that suboptimal outcomes achieved by half-assed effort is superior to the risk of total victory or existential defeat achieved through full effort competition. Either it is forbidden by all, or it will be perpetrated by all.

For all that Trump’s actions were so often called unprecedented, if there exists any policy he implemented, any action he took without clear precedent in the previous three presidencies then I haven’t seen it – not in the New York Times, not in the Atlantic, not on social media. This does not make Trump a good president, but I maintain that it was the reaction to Trump that was unprecedented.

The political left, writ large and with apologies to the principled individuals who are not responsible for this popular narrative, has at present no moral ground to stand on when decrying what happened in DC. They will continue to not have such moral standing until public retractions and apologies are made for ‘Not My President’, various Resistance rhetoric, riot apologia, Clinton’s advice on concession, and all the rest of it.

I doubt such retractions are coming, for I hear that now there are demands that Trump should not be allowed to live out the final days of his term in relative if ignominious peace, but is to be cast out via the 25th Amendment or, failing that, a third impeachment attempt. There are calls – calls more specific and more coherent than chants at rallies that, improper though they were, never turned into anything – for Trump and his supporters to be investigated and charged in the coming weeks and months. Several national politicians have called for compiling and keeping a list of all Trump supporters of any note. The purpose of list is kept vaguely to ‘name and shame’ but such a potential blacklist held by or at the behest of political elites is certainly not keeping to a theme of unity as Biden has claimed.  For the sake of all of us may proponents of all of that be as successful as Trump.

Well, progressives, be cautious – for once be as cautious as heel-digging conservatives.

You’re showing the way.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.