The United States of America is now a classic oligarchy.
By Angelo Codevilla for American Greatness
In 2021, the laws, customs, and habits of the heart that had defined the American republic since the 18th century are things of the past. Americans’ movements and interactions are under strictures for which no one ever voted. Government disarticulated society by penalizing ordinary social intercourse and precluding the rise of spontaneous opinion therefrom. Together with corporate America, it smothers minds through the mass and social media with relentless, pervasive, identical, and ever-evolving directives. In that way, these oligarchs have proclaimed themselves the arbiters of truth, entitled and obliged to censor whoever disagrees with them as systemically racist, adepts of conspiracy theories.
Corporations, and the government itself, require employees to attend meetings personally to acknowledge their guilt. They solicit mutual accusations. While violent felons are released from prison, anyone may be fired or otherwise have his life wrecked for questioning government/corporate sentiment. Today’s rulers don’t try to convince. They demand obedience, and they punish.
Russians and East Germans under Communists Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in the 1970s lived under less ruling class pressure than do today’s Americans. And their rulers were smart enough not to insult them, their country, or their race.
In 2015, Americans could still believe they lived in a republic, in which life’s rules flow from the people through their representatives. In 2021, a class of rulers draws their right to rule from self-declared experts’ claims of infallibility that dwarf baroque kings’ pretensions.
In that self-referential sense, the United States of America is now a classic oligarchy.
The following explains how this change happened. The clarity that it has brought to our predicament is its only virtue.
Oligarchy had long been growing within America’s republican forms. The 2016 election posed the choice of whether its rise should consolidate, or not. Consolidation was very much “in the cards.” But how that election and its aftermath led to the fast, thorough, revolution of American life depended on how Donald Trump acted as the catalyst who clarified, energized, and empowered our burgeoning oligarchy’s peculiarities. These, along with the manner in which the oligarchy seized power between November 2016 and November 2020, ensure that its reign will be ruinous and likely short. The prospect that the republic’s way of life may thrive among those who wish it to depends on the manner in which they manage the civil conflict that is now inevitable.
From Ruling Class to Oligarchy
By the 21st century’s first decade, little but formality was left of the American republic. In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy described the logic by which government and big business tend to coalesce into socialism in theory, oligarchy in practice. But by then, that logic had already imposed itself on the Western world. Italy’s 1926 Law of Corporations—fascism’s charter—inaugurated not so much the regulation of business by government as the coalescence of the twain. Over the ensuing decade, it was more or less copied throughout the West.
In America, the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act’s authors had erected barriers against private oligopolies and monopolies. By maintaining competition between big business, they hoped to preserve private freedoms and limit government’s role. But the Great Depression’s pressures and temptations led to the New Deal’s rules that differed little from Italy’s. No matter that, as the Supreme Court pointed out in Schechter Poultry v. U.S., public-private amalgamation does not fit in the Constitution. It grew nevertheless alongside the notion that good government proceeds from the experts’ judgment rather than from the voters’ choices. The miracles of production that America brought forth in World War II seemed to validate the point.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had come to understand large organizations that feed on government power and dispense vast private benefits, was not shy in warning about the danger they pose to the republic. His warning about the “military-industrial complex” that he knew so well is often misunderstood as a mere caution against militarism. But Ike was making a broader point: Amalgams of public and private power tend to prioritize their corporate interests over the country’s.
That is why Eisenhower cautioned against the power of government-funded expertise. “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever-present and is gravely to be regarded,” he said, because “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Government money can accredit a self-regarding elite. Because “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” government experts can end up substituting their power for truth.
The expansion of government power throughout the 1960s and ’70s in pursuit of improving education, eradicating poverty, and uplifting blacks created complexes of public-private power throughout America that surpassed the military-industrial complex in size, and above all in influence.
Consider education. Post-secondary education increased fourfold, from 9 percent of Americans holding four-year degrees in 1965 to 36 percent in 2015. College towns became islands of wealth and political power. From them came endless “studies” that purported to be arbiters of truth and wisdom, as well as a growing class of graduates increasingly less educated but ever so much more socio-politically uniform.
In the lower grades, per-pupil expenditure (in constant dollars) went from $3,200 in 1960 to $13,400 in 2015. That money fueled an even more vast and powerful complex—one that includes book publishers, administrators, and labor unions and that has monopolized the minds of at least two generations. As it grew, the education establishment also detached itself from the voters’ control: In the 1950s, there were some 83,000 public school districts in America. By 2015, only around 13,000 remained for a population twice as large. Today’s parents have many times less influence over their children’s education than did their grandparents.
Analogous things happened in every field of life. Medicine came to be dominated by the government’s relationship with drug companies and hospital associations. When Americans went to buy cars, or even light bulbs and shower nozzles, they found their choices limited by deals between government, industry, and insurance companies. These entities regarded each other as “stakeholders” in an oligarchic system. But they had ever less need to take account of mere citizens in what was becoming a republic in name only. As the 20eth century was drawing to a close, wherever citizens looked, they saw a government and government-empowered entities over which they had ever less say, which ruled ever more unaccountably, and whose attitude toward them was ever less friendly.
The formalities were the last to go. Ever since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 A.D., the rulers’ dependence on popular assent to expenditures has been the essence of limited government. Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution enshrines that principle. Congressional practice embodied it. Details of bills and expenditures were subject to public hearings and votes in subcommittees, committees, and the floors of both Houses. But beginning in the early 1980s and culminating in 2007, the U.S government abandoned the appropriations process.
Until 1981, Congress had used “continuing resolutions” to continue funding government operations unchanged until regular appropriations could be made. Thereafter, as congressional leaders learned how easy it is to use this vehicle to avoid exposing what they are doing to public scrutiny, they legislated and appropriated ever less in public, and increasingly put Congress’ output into continuing resolutions or omnibus bills, amounting to trillions of dollars and thousands of pages, impossible for representatives and senators to read, and presented to them as the only alternative to “shutting down the government.” This—now the U.S government standard operating procedure—enables the oligarchy’s “stakeholders” to negotiate their internal arrangements free from responsibility to citizens. It is the practical abolition of Article I section 9—and of the Magna Carta itself.
In the 21st century, the American people’s trust in government plummeted as they—on the political Left as well as on the Right—realized that those in power care little for them. As they watched corporate and non-profit officials trade places with public officials and politicians while getting much richer, they felt impoverished and disempowered. Since the ruling class embraced Republicans and Democrats, elections seemed irrelevant. The presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 underlined that whoever won, the same people would be in charge and that the parceling out of wealth and power among stakeholders would continue.
Americans on the Right were especially aggrieved because the oligarchy had become culturally united in disdain for Western civilization in general and for themselves in particular. The cultural warfare it waged on the rest of America inflamed opposition. But it also diluted its own focus on solidifying profitable arrangements.
By 2016, America was already well into the classic cycles of revolution. The atrophy of institutions, the waning of republican habits, and the increasing, reciprocal disrespect between classes that have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another, than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners precluded returning to traditional republican life. The election would determine whether the oligarchy could consolidate itself. More important, it would affect the speed by which the revolutionary vortex would carry the country, and the amount of violence this would involve.
The Trump Catalyst
By 2015, the right side of America’s challenge to the budding oligarchy was inevitable. Trump was not inevitable. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had begun posing a thorough challenge to the “stakeholders” most Americans disrespected. Candidate Trump was the more gripping showman. His popularity came from his willingness to disrespect them, loudly. Because the other 16 Republican candidates ran on different bases, none ever had a chance. Inevitably, victory in a field so crowded depended on when which minor candidate did or did not withdraw. There never was a head-to-head choice between Trump and Cruz.
Trump’s candidacy drew the ferocious opposition it did primarily because the entire ruling class recognized that, unlike McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012, he really was mobilizing millions of Americans against the arrangements by which the ruling class live, move, and have their being. Since Cruz’s candidacy represented the same threat, it almost certainly would have drawn no less intense self-righteous anger. Nasty narratives could have been made up about him out of whole cloth as easily as about Trump.
But Trump’s actual peculiarities made it possible for the oligarchy to give the impression that its campaign was about his person, his public flouting of conventional norms, rather than about the preservation of their own power and wealth. The principal consequence of the ruling class’ opposition to candidate Trump was to convince itself, and then its followers, that defeating him was so important that it legitimized, indeed dictated, setting aside all laws, and truth itself.
Particular individuals had never been the oligarchy’s worry. In 2008, as Barack Obama was running against Hillary Clinton and John McCain—far cries from Trump—he pointed to those Americans who “cling to God and guns” as the problem’s root. Clinton’s 2016 remark that Trump’s supporters were “a basket of deplorables,”—racists, sexists, homophobes, etc.—merely voiced what had long been the oligarchy’s consensus judgment of most Americans. For them, pushing these Americans as far away as possible from the levers of power, treating them as less than citizens, had already come to define justice and right.
Donald Trump—his bombastic, hyperbolic style, his tendency to play fast and loose with truth, even to lie as he insulted his targets—fit perfectly the oligarchy’s image of his supporters, and lent a color of legitimacy to the utterly illegitimate collusion between the oligarchy’s members in government and those in the Democratic Party running against Trump.
Thus did the FBI and CIA, in league with the major media and the Democratic Party, spy on candidate Trump, concocting and spreading all manner of synthetic dirt about him. Nevertheless, to universal surprise, he won, or rather the oligarchy lost, the 2016 election.
The oligarchy’s disparate members had already set aside laws, truth, etc. in opposition to Trump. The realization that the presidency’s awesome powers now rested in his hands fostered a full-court-press #Resistance. Trump’s peculiarities helped make it far more successful than anyone could have imagined.
“Dogs That Bark Do Not Bite”
Applying this observation to candidate Trump’s hyperbole suggested that President Trump might suffer from what Theodore Roosevelt called the most self-destructive of habits, combining “the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” And, in fact, President Trump neither fired and referred for prosecution James Comey or the other intelligence officials who had run the surveillance of his campaign. He praised them, and let himself be persuaded to fire General Michael Flynn, his national security advisor, who stood in the way of the intelligence agencies’ plans against him. Nor did he declassify and make public all the documents associated with their illegalities.
Four years later, he left office with those documents still under seal. He criticized officials over whom he had absolute power, notably CIA’s Gina Haspel who likely committed a crime spying on his candidacy, but left them in office. Days after his own inauguration, he suffered the CIA’s removal of clearances from one of his appointees because he was a critic of the Agency. Any president worthy of his office would have fired the entire chain of officials who had made that decision. Instead, he appointed to these agencies people loyal to them and hostile to himself.
He acted similarly with other agencies. His first secretary of state, secretary of defense, and national security advisor mocked him publicly. At their behest, in August 2017, he gave a nationally televised speech in which he effectively thanked them for showing him that he had been wrong in opposing ongoing war in the Middle East. He railed against Wall Street but left untouched the tax code’s “carried interest” provision that is the source of much unearned wealth. He railed against the legal loophole that lets Google, Facebook, and Twitter censor content without retribution, but did nothing to close it. Already by the end of January 2017, it was clear that no one in Washington needed to fear Trump. By the time he left office, Washington was laughing at him.
Nor did Trump protect his supporters. For example, he shared their resentment of being ordered to attend workplace sessions about their “racism.” But not until his last months in office did he ban the practice within the federal government. Never did he ban contracts with companies that require such sessions.
Thus, as the oligarchy set about negating the 2016 electorate’s attempt to stop its consolidation of power, Trump had assured them that they would neither be impeded as they did so nor pay a price. Donald Trump is not responsible for the oligarchy’s power. But he was indispensable to it.
#TheResistance rallied every part of the ruling class to mutually supporting efforts. Nothing encourages, amplifies, or seemingly justifies extreme sentiments as does being part of a unanimous chorus, a crowd, a mob—especially when all can be sure they are acting safely, gratuitously. Success supercharges them. #TheResistance fostered the sense in the ruling class’ members that they are more right, more superior, and more entitled than they had ever imagined. It made millions of people feel bigger and better about themselves than they ever had.
Logic and Dysfunction
Disdain for the “deplorables” united and energized parts of American society that, apart from their profitable material connections to government, have nothing in common and often have diverging interests. That hate, that determination to feel superior to the “deplorables” by treading upon them, is the “intersectionality,” the glue that binds, say, Wall Street coupon-clippers, folks in the media, officials of public service unions, gender studies professors, all manner of administrators, radical feminists, race and ethnic activists, and so on. #TheResistance grew by awakening these groups to the powers and privileges to which they imagine their superior worth entitles them, to their hate for anyone who does not submit preemptively.
Ruling-class judges sustained every bureaucratic act of opposition to the Trump Administration. Thousands of identical voices in major media echoed every charge, every insinuation, non-stop and unquestioned. #TheResistance made it ruling-class policy that Trump’s and his voters’ racism and a host of other wrongdoing made them, personally, illegitimate. In any confrontation, the ruling class deemed these presumed white supremacists in the wrong, systemically. By 2018, the ruling class had effectively placed the “deplorables” outside the protection of the laws. By 2020, they could be fired for a trifle, set upon in the streets, prosecuted on suspicion of bad attitudes, and even for defending themselves.
Because each and every part of the ruling coalition’s sense of what may assuage its grievances evolves without natural limit, this logic is as insatiable as it is powerful. It is also inherently destructive of oligarchy.
Enjoyment of power’s material perquisites is classic oligarchy’s defining purpose. Having conquered power over the people, successful oligarchies foster environments in which they can live in peace, productively. Oligarchy, like all regimes, cannot survive if it works at cross-purposes. But the oligarchy that seized power in America between 2016 and 2020 is engaged in a never-ending seizure of ever more power and the infliction of ever more punishment—in a war against the people without imaginable end. Clearly, that is contrary to what the Wall Street magnates or the corps of bureaucrats or the university administrators or senior professors want. But that is what the people want who wield the “intersectional” passions that put the oligarchy in power.
As the oligarchy’s every part, every organ, raged against everything Trump, it made itself less attractive to the public even as Trump’s various encouragements of economic activity were contributing to palpable increases in prosperity. Hence, by 2019’s end, Trump was likely to win reelection. Then came COVID-19.
The COVID Fortuna
The COVID-19 virus is no plague. Though quite contagious, its infection/fatality rate (IFR), about 0.01 percent, is that of the average flu, and its effects are generally so mild that most whom it infects never know it.
Like all infections, it is deadly to those weakened severely by other causes. It did not transform American life by killing people, but by the fears about it that our oligarchy packaged and purveyed. Fortuna, as Machiavelli reminds us, is inherently submissive to whoever bends her to his wishes. The fears and the strictures they enabled were not about health—if only because those who purveyed and imposed them did not apply them to themselves. They were about power over others.
COVID’s politicization began in February 2020 with the adoption by the World Health Organization—which is headed by an Ethiopian bureaucrat beholden to China—and upon recommendation of non-scientist Bill Gates, of a non-peer-reviewed test for the infection. The test’s chief characteristic is that its rate of positives to negatives depends on the number of cycles through which the sample is run. More cycles, more positives. Hence, every test result is a “soft” number. Second, the WHO and associated national organizations like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported COVID’s spread by another “soft” number: “confirmed cases.” That is, sick persons who tested positive for the virus.
When this number is related to that of such persons who then die, the ratio—somewhat north of 5 percent—suggests that COVID kills one out of 20 people it touches. But that is an even softer number since these deaths include those who die with COVID rather than of it, as well as those who may have had COVID. Pyramiding such soft numbers, mathematical modelers projected millions of deaths. Scary for the unwary, but pure fantasy.
For example, the U.S. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which modeled the authoritative predictions on which the U.S. lockdowns were based, also predicted COVID-19 deaths for Sweden, which did not lock down. On May 3, the IHME predicted that Sweden would suffer 2,800 COVID deaths a day within the next two weeks. The actual number was 38. Reporting on COVID has never ceased to consist of numbers as scary as they are soft.
Literate persons know that, once an infectious disease enters a population, nothing can prevent it from infecting all of it, until a majority has developed antibodies after contracting it—so-called community immunity or herd immunity. But fear leads people to empower those who promise safety, regardless of how empty the promises. The media pressed governments to do something. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan screamed: “don’t panic is terrible advice.” The pharmaceutical industry and its Wall Street backers salivated at the prospect of billions of government money for new drugs and vaccines. Never mind the little sense it makes for millions of people to accept a vaccine’s non-trivial risk to protect against a virus with trivial consequences for themselves. All manner of officials yearned to wield unaccountable power.
Because the power to crush the general population’s resistance to itself is the oligarchy’s single-minded focus, it was able to bend fears of COVID to that purpose. Thus, it gathered more power with more consequences than the oligarchs could have imagined.
But only President Trump’s complaisance made this possible. His message to the American people had been not to panic, be mindful of the scientific facts—you can’t stop it, and it’s not that bad—while mitigating its effects on vulnerable populations. But on March 15, Trump bent, and agreed to counsel people to suspend normal life for two weeks to “slow the spread,” so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. Two weeks later, the New York Times crowed that Trump, having been told “hundreds of thousands of Americans could face death if the country reopened too soon,” had been stampeded into “abandoning his goal of reopening the country by Easter.” He agreed to support the “experts’” definition of what “soon” might mean. By accrediting the complex of government, industry, and media’s good faith and expertise, Trump validated their plans to use COVID as a vehicle for enhancing their power.
Having seized powers, the oligarchs used them as weapons to disrupt and disaggregate the parts of American society they could not control.
The economic effects of lockdowns and social distancing caused obvious pain. Tens of millions of small businesses were forced to close or radically to reduce activity. More than 40 million Americans filed claims for unemployment assistance. Uncountable millions of farmers and professionals had their products and activities devalued. Millions of careers, dreams that had been realized by lifetimes of work, were wrecked. Big business and government took over their functions. Within nine months, COVID-19 had produced 28 new billionaires.
Surplus and scarcity of food resulted simultaneously because the lockdowns closed most restaurants and hotels. As demand shifted in ways that made it impossible for distribution networks and processing plants to adjust seamlessly, millions of gallons of milk were poured down drains, millions of chickens, billions of eggs, and tens of thousands of hogs and cattle were destroyed, acres of vegetables and tons of fruit were plowed under. Prices in the markets rose. Persons deprived of work with less money with which to pay higher prices struggled to feed their families. This reduced countless self-supporting citizens to supplicants. By intentionally reducing the supply of food available to the population, the U.S. government joined the rare ranks of such as Stalin’s Soviet Union and Castro’s Cuba.
But none of these had ever shut down a whole nation’s entire medical care except for one disease. Hospitals stood nearly empty, having cleared the decks for the (ignorantly) expected COVID flood. Emergency rooms were closed to the poor people who get routine care there. Forget about dentistry. Most Americans were left essentially without medical care for most of a year. Human bodies’ troubles not having taken a corresponding holiday, it is impossible to estimate how much suffering and death this lack of medical care has caused and will cause yet.
The oligarchy’s division of all activity into “essential”—meaning permitted—and “nonessential”—to be throttled at will—had less obvious but more destructive effects. Private clubs, as well as any and all gatherings of more than five or 10 people, were banned. Churches were forbidden to have worship services or to continue social activities. The “social distancing” and mask mandates enforced in public buildings and stores, and often on the streets, made it well-nigh impossible for people to communicate casually. Thus, was that part of American society that the oligarchy did not control directly disarticulated, and its members left alone to face unaccountable powers on which they had to depend.
Meanwhile, the media became the oligarchy’s public relations department. Very much including ordinary commercial advertising, it hammered home the oligarchy’s line that COVID restrictions are good, even cool. These restrictions reduced the ideas available to the American people to what the mass media purveyed and the social media allowed. Already by April 2020, these used what had become near-monopoly power over interpersonal communications to censor such communications as they disapproved. Political enforcers took it upon themselves even to cancel statements by eminent physicians about COVID that they judged to be “misleading.” Of course, this betrayed the tech giants’ initial promise of universal access. It is also unconstitutional. (In Marsh v. Alabama, decided in 1946, the Supreme Court barred private parties from acting as de facto governments). Since these companies did it in unison, they also violated the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. But the ruling class that had become an oligarchy applauded their disabling whatever might be conducive to conservatives’ interests and inconvenient to their own candidates.
Private entities wielding public powers in coordination with each other without having to observe any of government’s constitutional constraints is as good a definition of oligarchy as there is. Oligarchy had increasingly taken power in the buildup to the 2020 election. In its aftermath, it would try to suffocate America.
The sovereignty of the Vote Counters
The oligarchy’s proximate objective, preventing the 2020 presidential election from validating the previous one’s results, overrode all others. The powers it had seized under COVID’s cover, added to the plethora that it had exercised since the 2016 campaign’s beginning, had surely cowered some opposition. But as November 2020 loomed, no one could be sure how much it also had energized.
Few people were happy to be locked down. It was a safe bet that not a few were unhappy at being called systemically racist. The oligarchy, its powers notwithstanding, could not be sure how people would vote. That is why it acted to take the presidential election’s outcome out of the hands of those who would cast the votes and to place it as much as possible in the hands of its members who would count the votes.
Intentionally, traditional procedures for voting leave no discretion to those who count the votes. Individuals obtain and cast ballots into a physical or electronic box only after showing identification that matches their registration. Ballot boxes are opened and their contents counted by persons representing the election’s opposing parties. Persons registered to vote might qualify to vote-by-mail by requesting a ballot, the issuance and receipt of which is checked against their registration. Their ballots are counted in the same bipartisan manner.
The Democratic Party had long pressed to substitute universal voting by mail—meaning that ballots would be sent to all registered voters, in some states to anyone with a driver’s license whether they asked for them or not and regardless of whether these persons still lived at the address on the rolls or were even alive. The ballots eventually would arrive at the counting centers, either through the mail, from drop boxes, or through “harvesters” who would pick them up from the voters who fill them out, and who may even help them to fill them out. Security, if any, would consist of machine-matching signatures on the ballot and on the envelope in which it had come. The machine’s software can be dialed to greater or lesser sensitivity.
But doing away with scrutiny of ballots counted by representatives of the election’s contenders removes the last possibility of ensuring the ballot had come from a real person whose will it is supposed to represent. Once the link between the ballot and the qualified person is broken, nothing prevents those in charge of the electoral process from excluding and including masses of ballots as they choose. The counters become the arbiters.
Attorney General William Barr pointed out the obvious: Anyone, in America or abroad, can print up any number of ballots, mark them, and deliver them for counting to whoever is willing to accept them and run them through their machines. Since the counters usually dispose of the envelopes in which ballots arrive—thus obviating any possibility of tracing the ballot’s connection to a voter—they may even dispense of the fiction that there had ever been any signed envelopes. That is especially true of late-found ballots. Who knows where they came from? Who cares to find out?
Only in a few one-party Democratic states was universal vote-by-mail established by law. Elsewhere, especially in the states sure to be battlegrounds in the presidential election, mail-in voting was introduced by various kinds of executive or judicial actions. Questions of right and wrong aside, the Constitution’s Article II section 1’s words—“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct”—makes such actions unconstitutional on their face. Moreover, in these states—Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—the counting of votes in the most populous counties is firmly in the hands of Democratic Party bosses with a well-documented history of fraud.
To no one’s surprise, the 2020 presidential election was decided by super-majorities for the Democratic candidate precisely from these counties in these states. Yes, Trump’s percentage of the vote fell in certain suburbs. But Trump received some 11 million more votes in 2020 than four years earlier, and nearly doubled the share of votes he received from blacks. The Democrats’ gain of some 15 million votes came exclusively from mail-in ballots, and their victory in the Electoral College came exclusively from the supermajorities piled up in these corrupt counties—the only places where Trump’s share of the black vote was cut by three-quarters. Did people there really think so differently?
This is not the place to recount the list of affidavits sworn under penalty of perjury by persons who observed ballot stuffing, nor the statistical anomaly of successive batches of votes that favored Biden over Trump by precisely the same amounts, of un-creased (i.e., never mailed) ballots fed into counting machines, nor the Georgia video of suitcases of ballots being taken from under tables and inserted into counting machines after Republican observers had been ousted. Suffice it to note that references to these events have been scrubbed from the Internet. It is more important to keep in mind that, in America prior to 2020, sworn affidavits that crimes have been committed had invariably been probable cause for judicial, prosecutorial, or legislative investigations. But for the first time in America, the ruling class dismissed them with: “You have no proof!” A judge (the sister of Georgia’s Stacey Abrams) ruled that even when someone tells the U.S. Postal Service they have moved, their old address is still a lawful basis for them to cast a ballot. Certainly, proof of crime is impossible with such judges and without testimony under oath, or powers of subpoena.
Just as important, Republicans in general and the Trump White House in particular bear heavy responsibility for failing to challenge the patent illegality of the executive actions and consent decrees that enabled inherently insecure mail-in procedures in real-time, as they were being perpetrated in key states. No facts were at issue. Only law. The constitutional violations were undeniable.
Pennsylvania et. al. answered Texas’s late lawsuit by arguing it demanded the invalidation of votes that had been cast in good faith. True. But Texas argued that letting stand the results of an election carried out contrary to the Constitution devalued the votes cast in states such as Texas that had held the election in a constitutional manner. Also true. Without comment, the Supreme Court chose to privilege the set of voters on the oligarchy’s side over those of their opponents. Had the lawsuit come well before the election, no such choice would have existed. Typically, the Trump Administration substituted bluster for action.
The Oligarchy Rides its Tigers
Winning the 2020 election had been the objective behind which the oligarchy had coalesced during the previous five years. In 2021, waging socio-political war on the rest of America is what the oligarchy is all about.
The logic of hate and disdain of ordinary Americans is not only what binds the oligarchy together. It is the only substitute it has for any moral-ethical-intellectual point of reference. Donald Trump’s impotent, inglorious reaction to his defeat offered irresistible temptations to the oligarchy’s several sectors to celebrate victory by vying to hurt whoever had supported the president. But permanent war against some 74 million fellow citizens is a foredoomed approach to governing.
The Democratic Party had promised a return to some kind of “normalcy.” Instead, its victory enabled the oligarchy’s several parts to redefine the people who do not show them due deference as “white supremacists,” “insurrectionists,” and Nazis—in short, as some kind of criminals—to exclude them from common platforms of communication, from the banking system, and perhaps even from air travel; and to set law enforcement to surveil them in order to find bases for prosecuting them. Neither Congress nor any state’s legislature legislated any of this. Rather, the several parts of America’s economic, cultural, and political establishment are waging this war, uncoordinated but well-nigh unanimously.
Perhaps most important, they do so without thought of how a war against at least some 74 million fellow citizens might end. The people in the oligarchy’s corporate components seem to want only to adorn unchallenged power with a reputation for “wokeness.” For them, causing pain to their opponents is a pleasure incidental to enjoying power’s perquisites. The Biden family’s self-enrichment by renting access to influence is this oligarchy’s standard.
But the people who dispense that reputation—not just the professional revolutionaries of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, but “mainstream” racial and gender activists and self-appointed virtue-crats, have appetites as variable as they are insatiable. For them, rubbing conservative America’s faces in excrement is what it’s all about. A Twitter video viewed by 2.6 million people urges them to form “an army of citizen detectives” to ferret out conservatives from among teachers, doctors, police officers, and “report them to the authorities.” No doubt, encouraged by President Biden’s characterization of opponents as “domestic terrorists,” any number of “authorities” as well as private persons will find opportunities to lord it over persons not to their taste. This guarantees endless clashes, and spiraling violence.
Joseph Biden, Kamala Harris, and the people they appoint to positions of official responsibility are apparatchiks, habituated to currying favor and pulling rank. They have neither the inclination nor the capacity to persuade the oligarchy’s several parts to agree to a common good or at least to a modus vivendi among themselves, never mind with conservative America. This guarantees that they will ride tigers that they won’t even try to dismount.
At this moment, the oligarchy wields an awesome complex of official and unofficial powers to exclude whomever it chooses from society’s mainstream. Necessarily, however, exclusions cut both ways. Invariably, to banish another is to banish one’s self as well. Google, Facebook, and Twitter let it be known that they would exclude anything with which they disagree from what had become the near-universal means of communication. They bolstered that by colluding to destroy their competitor, Parler. Did they imagine that 74 million Americans could find no means of communicating otherwise? Simon and Schuster canceled a book by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) critical of communications monopolies. Did its officials imagine that they would thereby do other than increase the book’s eventual sales, and transfer some of their customers to Hawley’s new publisher? The media effectively suppressed inconvenient news. Did they imagine that this would prevent photos of Black Lives Matter professionals in the forefront of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol from reaching the public?
In sum, intending to relegate conservative America to society’s servile sidelines, the oligarchy’s members drew a clear, sharp line between themselves and that America. By telling conservative Americans “these institutions and corporations, are ours, not yours,” they freed conservative America of moral obligations toward them and themselves. By abandoning conservative America, they oblige conservative America to abandon them and seek its own way.
Clarity, Leadership, and Separation
To think of conservative America’s predicament as an opportunity is as hyperbolic as it was for Machiavelli to begin the conclusion of The Prince by observing that “in order to know Moses’ virtue it was necessary that the people of Israel be slaves in Egypt, and to know the greatness of Cyrus’s spirit that the Persians be oppressed by the Medes, and to know the excellence of Theseus, that the Athenian people be dispersed, so at the present, in order to know the virtue of an Italian spirit it was necessary that Italy reduce herself to the conditions in which she is at present . . .”
Machiavelli’s lesson is that the clarity of situations such as he mentions, and such as is conservative America’s following the 2020 election, is itself valuable. Clarity makes illusions of compromise untenable and points to self-reliant action as the only reasonable path. The people might or might not be, as he wrote, “all ready and disposed to follow the flag if only someone were to pick it up.” But surely, someone picking up the flag is the only alternative to servitude.
What, in conservative America’s current predicament, might it mean to “pick up the flag?” Electoral politics remains open to talented, courageous, ambitious leadership. In Florida and South Dakota, Governors Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem have used their powers to make room for ways of life different from and more attractive than that in places wholly dominated by the oligarchy. Texas and Idaho as well attract refugees from such as California and New York by virtue of such differences with life there as their elected officials have been able to maintain. Governmental and corporate pressures on such states to conform to the oligarchy’s standards, sure to increase, are opportunities for their officials to lead their people’s refusal to conform by explaining why doing this is good, and by personally standing in the way. They may be sure that President Kamala Harris would not order federal troops to shoot at state officials for closing abortion clinics or for excluding men from women’s bathrooms.
For more than a generation, a majority of Americans have expressed growing distrust of, and alienation from, the establishment. The establishment, not Donald Trump, made this happen. That disparate majority, in many ways at cross purposes with itself, demands leadership. Pollster Patrick Caddell’s in-depth study of the American electorate, which he titled “We Need Smith,” showed how the themes that made it possible for the hero of the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to prevail against the establishment then are even more gripping now and appeal to a bigger majority. Trump was a bad copy of Mr. Smith.
More than ever, an audience beyond the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump hungers for leadership. The oligarchy came together by ever more vigorously denigrating and suppressing these deplorables. Already before the 20th century’s turn, the FBI and some elements in the Army and the Justice Department had concluded that they are somehow criminal, and that preparations should be made to treat them as such. The official position of the administration taking power after the 2020 election is that domestic terrorism from legions of “white supremacists” is the primary threat facing America. No wonder those so designated for outlawry demand protection.
The path to electoral leadership is straightforward. Whoever would lead the deplorables-plus must explain their cause to friend and foe, make it his own, and grow it by leading successful acts of resistance.
Increasingly, conservative Americans live as if under occupation by a hostile power. Whoever would lead them should emulate Charles de Gaulle’s 1941 basic rule for la résistance: refrain from individual or spontaneous acts or expressions that produce only martyrs. But join with thousands in what amount to battles to defeat the enemy’s initiatives, weaken his grip on power, and prepare his defeat. Thus, an aspirant to the presidency in 2024, in the course of debunking the narrative by which the oligarchy seized so much power over America, might lead millions to violate restrictions placed on those who refuse to wear masks. Or, as he pursues legislative and judicial measures to abolish the compulsory racial and gender sensitivity training sessions to which public and private employees are subjected, he might organize employees in a given sector unanimously to stay away from them in protest. They can’t all be fired or held back.
Such a persuasive prospective president, or president, could finish the process that, beginning circa 2010, initiated the process of reshaping the Republican Party into something like Caddell’s Mr. Smith would have personified.
Electoral politics, however, is the easy part. Major corporations, private and semi-private institutions such as schools, publishing houses, and media, are the oligarchy’s deepest foundations. These having become hostile, conservative Americans have no choice but to populate their own. This is far from impossible.
Sorting ourselves out into congenial groups has been part of America’s DNA since 1630, when Roger Williams led his followers out of Massachusetts to found Providence Plantations. In the 19th century, the Mormons left unfriendly environments to establish their own settlements. Since 1973, Americans who believe in unborn children’s humanity have largely ceased to intermarry with those who do not. Nobody decided this should happen. It is in the logic of diverging cultures.
As American primary and secondary education’s dysfunction became painfully apparent, parents of all races have fled the public schools as fast as they could. Businesses have been fleeing the Rust Belt for the Sun Belt for generations. When Democratic governors and mayors used COVID to make life difficult in their jurisdictions, people moved out of them. When Twitter’s censorship of conservatives became undeniable, Parler added customers by the hundreds of thousands each day. Facebook and Twitter’s stock lost $50 billion in a week. Much more separation follows from the American people’s diverging cultures.
As conservative America sorts itself out from oligarchy’s social bases, it may be able to restore something like what had existed under the republic. Effectively, two regimes would have to learn to coexist within our present boundaries. But that may be the best, freest, arrangement possible now for the United States.