Our way of life doesn’t need to be saved. The planet needs to be saved from our way of life.Lierre Keith (Bright Green Lies, 2021)
In Part 1, we looked the landscape of our bankrupt popular visions of the future, visions that have been exposed as detached from reality, as Covid, Trumpism, and ecological destruction have shredded any shared sense that things might ever return to ‘normal.’ Before we move on to a more coherent proposal of a sane, achievable future, we need to shed a little more light on our current future fantasies by extrapolating their quasi-blueprints out into the next 10-20 years or so, to truly understand their unreality. The short timeline is purposeful, because ecological degradation will force the hand of industrial civilization a lot sooner than we are told by our mainstream media and culture. As the discussion unfolds, we might bump out the time horizon a bit, as needed.
We covered this briefly in Part 1, and we don’t need to spend a ton of time on it here either, because it’s not that complicated. The contours of commerce-centric laissez-faire boosterism are visible in every product commercial, every sit-com set, every feel-good segment about a performer from the other side of the tracks making the Big Time. The overall message is simple: the creativity and dynamism of the marketplace will be the arena of our future awesomeness, unleashing the explosive and magical potential in all of us. Sure, a few eggs get broken along the way (Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”), and our disillusioned youth may predictably dabble in squishy socialism for a time. But eventually, we’ll get electric cars, ubiquitous solar panels and windmills, smart everything, microscopic nano-doctors stalking around our internal liquids and tissues, cryptocurrencies greasing the wheels for our device-driven gig windfalls, and maybe even our spirits loaded into the cloud, to live forever in eternal physical perfection and sharpness of mind.
There is very little in this capitalist techno-utopia about how life is actually lived out by most people in the United States today, let alone the planet. Systemic histories of oppression and slaughter are, needless to say, uncomfortable and bad for business, unless they can be monetized and shoved into a safe corner of the culture, providing some steady profits for spot reparations. The disintegration of our political discourse is also not something that should be talked about at parties, unless gridlock and rancor start impacting 401Ks for longer than a couple days. Also disappeared from the Trust-Business-To-Deliver-The-Goods narrative is how dire things have become for regular people when they’re not shopping or upgrading their tech: teen depression and suicide, rampaging opioid addiction and death, dwindling household finances and ballooning debt, forever-flat wages amidst obnoxious wealth concentrated in the hands of the personal space-flight crowd, ever-spiraling healthcare, daycare, and eldercare costs…… and on…. and on.
Even more disturbingly, many of these cascading conditions of collapse are actually good for business. Covid will make a bundle for the vaccine manufacturers. Political disinformation drives social media traffic, as does relentless virtual peer pressure on our young people, which of course means more ad revenue. In many ways, dysfunction sells, as people need to pay out to various vendors to salve their pain or gather up the pieces of their shattered lives. But in the capitalist techno-utopia, the causes for our burgeoning needs remain hidden in the shadows, and only the smiling promise of the cures are on display. In a sense, a future techno-capitalist utopia would be increasingly reliant on expanding our personal despair and precariousness. That is not a serious or desirable way to envision our next couple of decades.
It is already evident that Trumpism will survive the man himself. Indeed, he is better understood as an efflorescence of a pre-existing proto-fascist drift in the US, one that will continue after the Orange One himself is long gone. And while it might not be possible to envision a better performer than Trump, it is certainly easier to posit that a more dangerous leader will arise from the Trumpist camp, one more relentless and focused on enacting the true substance of fascism, as opposed to just puffing up a personality cult, which is The Donald’s sole focus.
So what would a Trumpian future actually look like, if the Republicans are able to secure a stranglehold on the national leadership positions for the next few election cycles? I want to stay away from full-blown liberal alarmism about neo-Nazism, in favor of a more practical look at what might actually be possible in the real world as it exists in the US today. After all, Trumpists don’t portray themselves as fanatical fascists, but rather as commonsense realists, the adults in the room who need to correct the socialist baby-cannibals on the left. So let’s take Trumpism at face value and ask how it would actually work, if it was to be ensconced as out future state for the next decade or two.
First, as mentioned above, Republicans would need to dominate a series of national elections, winning majorities in both houses and winning the presidency, a bunch of times in a row. Why would they need serial wins? Because compromise inside a mixed government is not on the Trump agenda. Absolute control would be necessary for an extended period of time, otherwise the Dems would just come in and undo everything that might have gotten started. Without a long period of continual power, the Trumpists would not be able to transcend the current ‘gridlock’ and really enact their dreams.
[Long note here: In actuality, I believe that ‘gridlock’ is the preferred condition of the two major parties, because it allows them to continue to serve the plutocrats while having a built-in excuse for not getting things done for regular people. It’s always the other side’s fault that nothing gets done, while a shitload of stuff actually does get done, for the wealthy classes that foot the campaign bills and swamp DC with lobbyists. See my Transparent Trojan Horse posts for more background on this. But that is something we’ll put aside for now, and assume that an ascendant Trumpism will reject this longstanding approach and actually try to bring their ideology to life.]
So before a truly Trumpian future could even begin to take shape in earnest, there would need to be a massive focus on the mechanics of power, in order to achieve this lengthy stretch of continuous rule. And that is obviously already underway. Around a dozen states, give or take, are taking broad actions to suppress or constrict the vote, to counteract the general demographic drift of the US towards less whiteness and less Christianity. There is no need to belabor the whole nonexistent ‘voter fraud’ fig leaf used to justify these new laws, as they give a bad name to fig leaves. Real Trumpists will confirm that the general goal is to just simply have less people vote, especially the ‘less American’ ones. Even stripped of overtly racist strands, there is still the underlying Trumpian theme that not everyone deserves to vote, even if they technically have the legal right. Some people are just clearly more deserving than others, so the worthy and the valuable should be able to vote easily, and everyone else… not so much. Trumpists would be just as happy reducing voter turnout for white liberals as for people of color, maybe even more so, because that would more perfectly confirm their ideological purity and superiority.
The mechanics of voter suppression need to be buttressed by two additional pillars: a conservative Supreme Court, and Republican control of as many state governments as possible. The relationship here is obvious. States pass laws that continually push the boundaries of voting as an equally and easily-available right, recasting it instead as a privilege to be jealously guarded. And a conservative Supreme Court would then decline to overturn these illegal measures, or just not choose to hear the cases at all. These two mechanisms are not particularly sexy, but conservatives recognize the importance of pounding away at them, to stem the tide of demographic change.
So for a Trumpian future to emerge, these mechanics of power must be pursued and secured. Conservative states passing laws to constrict the votes of liberal enclaves, amplifying the power of a shrinking demographic cohort. That can then swing the country to continual Republican rule, thanks to the unequal nature of the Senate, which balloons the influence of low-population states, and the Winner-Take-All format of House districts and the Electoral College, which prevents overall ideological trends (i.e., increasing popularity of liberalism across the population) from winning appropriately proportional representation.
I’ve gone into so much detail here to highlight how practically precarious a legal implementation of Trumpism would be. Maintaining continuous control over the federal government, in the third largest country in the world, with the biggest economy in the world, would be extremely difficult under the best of circumstances. But trying to do it for a declining demographic cohort is basically impossible, no matter how many states the GOP controls and how conservative the courts become. The brute fact is that economic power in the United States is fundamentally reliant on, and based in, vibrant urban areas that trend liberal. Any ongoing nationwide effort to suppress voting in those liberal areas of economic power, in hopes of capturing federal rule for the sparser, poorer periphery, is just not tenable.
The precariousness of this Trumpist project is confirmed by the increasing conservative reliance on ‘replacement theory.’ This is a recognition by the Trumpist base that there are not enough young conservatives. Even if replacement theory is couched in obvious racism and conspiracy theory, there is still a subterranean acknowledgement by conservatives that general population trends are against them. Even if they manage to get statehouses and courts on their side, fertility rates are still fertility rates, and whites just ain’t having enough babies, according to this line of ‘thought.’ Replacement Theory is a kind of deep, moaning cultural dread, an unconscious recognition that social history eventually floods over all personal dreams for things to be otherwise.
Because the legal means of cultivating a Trumpian future are so shaky, there is also the illegal route: i.e., a coup, like the one that was attempted on January 6th. Think of that insurrection attempt as toe-dipping for what might be possible for any future overturning of an election that doesn’t go the ‘right’ way. Trumpists are endlessly downplaying January 6th as either no big deal, or as some false flag operation by the libs. But their backing away from the coup is not so much because they are ashamed of the rioters’ conduct, but simply because it didn’t work.
So the real question is, what happens if next time it does work? When a Democrat wins another close and heated election, either at the state or federal level (and I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that will happen), then there will be a violent taking of a state or federal building, at some point. What happens then? This is where it gets uncomfortable and muddy for potential usurpers. Basically, only three things could happen:
- The police and/or military could abandon their commissions and duties and take up arms in defense of the coup. At that point, we would basically become a police state under martial law, and democracy would be at an end. It is extremely difficult to imagine this happening, as every police department and every branch of the military would need to be on board. There can be no piecemeal police state, no partial martial law. Every cop and soldier in America and abroad would have to pledge allegiance to scrapping the whole election thing, and would need to throw in their lot with strongmen. I just cannot see this as even a remote possibility, unless there had already been a preceding wholesale economic and societal collapse, in which case we would be having an entirely different discussion. But if we’re talking about a coup during relatively stable economic conditions, in pursuit of a project that is basically swimming against demographic change, I can’t see it.
- The second thing that could happen is that the coup-sters could take hostages and demand a new election, or demand that the nominal winner of the election be declared illegitimate or criminal, giving the victory to their candidate instead. Roughly, this was the goal of the Jan 6th mob: to kidnap congressional leaders (maybe killing a couple along the way for good measure), and decertify the election, leaving Trump in power. Again, this is incredibly difficult to envision, and is basically just a variation on the first option of martial law. Decertifying, canceling, or redoing a legal election could just never happen in reality, unless the police and military backed it up with force.
- And of course, the third thing that could happen with a coup that captures a state or local building is what happened in January: the authorities could come in, retake the building, and arrest the insurrectionists. Because of the unreality of the first two possibilities, this remains the likely outcome of any illegal attempt to fully enact a Trumpian paradise.
So Trumpists are faced with a huge problem vis-a-vis the mechanics of power. The ‘legal’ tactics of voter suppression, court stacking, and conservative statehouse activism will become increasingly ineffective at stemming the tide of demographic change. And the illegal tactics of a coup-like takeover are impossible in practice, without full-blown martial law, something that will just not be allowed by the plutocrats who own the economy and its federal government valet. Police states, after all, are not good for business.
I have spent all this time on the mechanics of power, as related to a Trumpian resurgence, not really to allay people’s fears over American fascism, which remains a very dangerous possibility. Rather, I am trying to highlight the practical unreality of the deepest Trumpian desires. An enormous and powerful country like the United States can simply not be peacefully converted into a backward-looking police state. We would need to devolve into a much more lawless and violent place before this could happen. But that is not to say that we’re not on our way there. In many ways, we are, which is why I’m writing these blog posts in the first place.
I am just trying to point out the conceptual unreality and delusional nature of Trumpism in more detail, and to show that it really can’t even pass the first test of capturing the mechanics of power. Trumpism is thus almost solely fixated on the theater of conflict. Crushing libs and scapegoating the powerless is their only agenda, because there is no substantive plan for the future, beyond the usual Republican talking points: tax cuts for the rich, starve the state, cut ‘entitlements,’ business deregulation, etc. There is a lot of sound and fury in Trumpism, but it all comes from the thrills of conflict and conspiracy. In practice, Trump’s ‘platform’ is still just Trickle Down and Punch Down.
But to be thorough, and for the sake of argument, let’s quickly indulge in what a fully-realized Trumpian future might look like, should the GOP manage to grab the reins of power (legally or illegally) for 10-20 continuous years. We’ll do this to drive home the nature of its unreality.
- All ‘illegals’ would be gone, leaving a plethora of construction, agriculture, and domestic service jobs for real Americans, which they probably wouldn’t take. But assuming that the real Americans do take those jobs, without the illegals dragging down the whole wage scale, businesses would magically start paying people a lot more money, maybe even a living wage, and we would all get a lot richer. And the gajillions of dollars that illegals were gobbling up in undeserved government services would magically be transported into the pockets of real Americans again.
- Black people, women, gays, and other morally-suspect people would keep their traps shut about their rights, and just be grateful that they’re allowed to live in the greatest country in the world. Presumably, those that can’t keep their yaps buttoned and stay in the shadows would be deported somewhere, maybe Gitmo or Haiti. The point is, uppity types of all genders, colors and sexual proclivities will not carry the national discussion any more. Old white guys wouldn’t need to give two shits about your preferred pronouns.
- Christian education would become mandatory, along with English language education, so that people could truly understand the evils of sodomy, bilingual ATM instructions, abortion, adultery, and other sexual abnormalities. Birth control in general would probably be outlawed too, to help increase fertility rates amongst the now-whiter American population.
- Liberal media companies would either be shut down or sold to conservative ownership groups, with their leadership ‘cleansed’ of lefty traitors. Fake news would then disappear, and only incredible truth tellers would remain (FOX, Newsmax, Breitbart, 700 Club, etc.). Although, with all of the illegals gone and all the marginalized deviants back in the shadows, there wouldn’t be much news to report, aside from how great the economy and military parades have become.
- Cities would need to become less “urban.” Big city values like diversity, atheism, sexual adventurousness, and conspicuous consumption of tapas would need to be curtailed, to be replaced with more Thomas Kincade galleries, churches, and looped Hallmark Christmas movies in the country’s various Times Squares. All in all, just more wholesome.
- The NBA would probably need to be abolished, and possibly parts of the NFL, with that money doled out to UFC, NASCAR, and the Bassmaster circuit.
You get the idea. Trumpism focuses so much on the spheres of conflict and conspiracy because this future vision of America is so outlandish and fantastical. Or more to the point, Trumpism’s future utopia is almost completely formulated to be NOT LIBERALISM. Its very structure is simply to stamp out the lives and behaviors of its perceived enemies. And yes, I realize that voter suppression laws and the assault on women’s reproductive rights are horrible and reprehensible, and should be fought at every turn. But my point is that these are not harbingers of what will happen to the entire country, unless all-out martial law comes in to back them up, which I see as extremely unlikely. I am saying that both the legal and illegal routes for Trumpism to shape our national future are highly delusional, divorced from reality. But Trumpism is no less odious and dangerous, which is exactly why we need a much less delusional vision of the future to offer as an alternative.
Instead…. we have…..
At first glance, liberalism’s vision of the future seems, to liberals at least, to be much more grounded in reality than the Trumpist fever-dreams. And that is precisely the problem. Liberals don’t generally view their plans as stamping out the lives and cultures of their perceived conservative enemies. They view their specific policy proposals, from living wages to universal pre-K to child tax-credits, as broad-based, as beneficial for everyone, regardless of political proclivities. So while liberals do certainly express rage and contempt at certain conservative leaders, their stance towards the conservative rank and file is more paternal and practical, at least in self-conception. Liberals see regular GOP voters not so much as cosmic adversaries, but as ignorant of the fact that Democratic policies would make their lives overwhelmingly better. Thus the constant liberal citing of studies that show Americans as heavily in favor of more liberal policies, if those policies are conveyed in an agnostic, non-partisan form of questioning. For liberals, many conservatives are closet liberals, but they just don’t know it yet. Thus the liberal project is heavy on ‘educating’ people on how to recognize and vote for their own best interests. This is an old insight (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”), but many liberals still can’t see how condescending this approach is, and how much fuel it gives to the Right’s overall stance of anti-elite grievance, which is basically the defining feature of Trumpism.
But leaving that aside for a second, how practical and reality-based is the liberal vision of the future? Let’s quickly perform the same exercise as we did with Trumpism above. First of all, let’s remind ourselves of the lengthy laundry-list of liberal policy proposals, in no particular order: increasing the minimum wage, movement towards a ‘living wage’ for all, re-invigorated labor union clout, federal job retraining for people in sunsetting industries, universal pre-K, child care subsidies, guaranteed paid family leave for women and men, universal health care coverage, complete transition away from fossil fuels, a renewable energy power grid, expanded use of employee business ownership structures, eliminating the legal recognition of corporations as ‘persons,’ increased progressiveness of the tax code, reparations for African Americans, decriminalization of drug offenses, etc. There are surely many more, but you get the idea.
In the liberal mind, these are all worthy, practical, and achievable goals, which all Americans should get behind. And in the loftiest portrayals, these policies are inheritances of the great political and social movements of the past, and are indeed embodiments of the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice, peace, and hope. But what would actually have to happen for this vision of the future to come to fruition, and could those things conceivably happen fast enough to prevent or even soften the serial ecological collapses that are rapping loudly on our doors?
First of all, much like the Trumpists problem, these liberal policies would require Democrats winning a bunch of elections in a row, and holding unified power across the presidency and both branches of Congress. To put it simply, this ain’t gonna happen. We’re locked into pendulous partisan swinging at the national level, and there’s no way around it. The ability of lower-population states to preserve stasis and prevent excessive popular mobilization is baked into the Constitution itself. The winner-take-all structure of House district elections and Electoral College vote apportionment is the unshakable foundation of our Polarization Industrial Complex, and those are not going anywhere soon either. So, much like Trumpism having no long-term legal means of achieving its goals, Democrats and liberals are victims of the same mechanics of power, rendering their grand plans basically dead on arrival. A recent example is Biden’s $1 trillion spending package. In the negotiation process, almost everything that was not straight-up physical infrastructure improvement was excised out. And of course, no Republicans support it anyway, and will certainly do everything they can to undo or undermine its provisions the next time they are in a position to do so.
So the mechanics of power and the entrenchment of political polarization make the liberal list of goals basically stillborn. But for the sake of argument, as we did with Trumpism, let’s imagine that somehow, some way, the Dems win unified power over the next 10-15 years or so. What would idealized liberal America look like?
- There would be no more low-paying jobs. Despite the resistance from corporations and smaller businesses, sweeping legislation would raise the minimum wage, possibly to a living wage for everyone who works. And additional legislation would be passed to prevent businesses from simply passing on their increased costs to consumers in their pricing. Similarly, rental rate restrictions would need to be implemented, to bar landlords and other lessees from just jacking up their prices for their tenants. Wall Street would quickly adjust to employees’ higher wages, and would be fine with the lower profit potential of companies. There would thus not be much capital flight to other parts of the world that don’t have such large wage impacts on corporate profitability; or the government would just have to restrict that capital flight somehow.
- Since straight-up wage increases don’t solve all issues with employment, there would need to be some major changes in other facets of the labor market. Despite its consistent track record of failure, the government would figure out a new way to make job retraining and ‘upskilling’ a mass success. Middle aged workers with obsolescing skills would somehow find the energy, patience, and dedication to start from scratch on exciting new careers in the ‘industries of the future” (despite evidence that declining labor value is a global manifestation of fundamental changes in technology and business organization). The anti-union drift of the courts over the last 40 years would be reversed, allowing lower-skilled workers to once again bargain for higher wages (the Supreme Court would need to grow – see below). Again, Wall Street would grudgingly adjust to this state of affairs, and companies would be blocked from increasing prices to counteract higher wages. And finally, despite there being no cultural capital for it in the US, new government legislation would allow millions of workers to engage in employee ownership of their own companies (ESOPs and the like). So workers would overcome American cultural and economic individualism to quickly learn how to take control and operate the businesses they work for. Wall Street, again, must adjust and applaud.
- Sweeping tax reform would make the US a much more redistributive economy. Bigger taxes on corporations and the wealthy would provide a much larger revenue pot for the federal government, a pool of money that would be necessary to operate all of the other new federal programs. To facilitate this more progressive tax revenue scheme, campaign finance law would have to be completely overhauled, and money’s influence on the political process would have to be brought to a screeching halt. And to make that happen, there would need to be some stark reversals in the recent thinking of the Supreme Court, whereby money would have to be un-defined as free speech, and corporations un-defined as legal persons. Since the SC is now largely conservative, there would have to be an increase in the size of the court itself, something which has not happened since 1869.
- Popular support for universal liberal programs (child care, elder care, wage increases, health care) would have to overcome the long history of American racism and jingoism, whereby many people absolutely reject programs that would help them, if those same programs would help other people they consider unworthy or subhuman. This is little acknowledged facet of American culture, but it is stubbornly real. So these attitudes would be swept away somehow, making the universal programs of liberalism appealing to everyone, including millions of white conservatives.
- A Green New Deal would completely remake the American landscape: vehicles would be electric, houses would have electric furnaces, all buildings would have solar skins, windmills would sprout like clover, plastics would all be converted to biodegradable materials. Aside from enhanced recycling and more local purchasing, the basic American lifestyle would remain unchanged, and the green tech revolution would massively reduce the ecological impact of that lifestyle.
There are other things that probably need to be covered, but again, you get the idea. These things, even if the mechanics of power could be continually controlled [which is essentially impossible], are just not going to happen. The liberal future, as envisioned by mainstream Democrats and lefty activists alike, is basically another delusion. While it seems more practical and hopeful than the dark fantasies of Trumpism, liberalism’s dream is actually even more fantastical, because of its ambition. Trumpism’s delusion is psychologically simple, if sociopolitically impossible. All it requires is hatred of the enemy, and a willingness to accede to the tyrant who promises revenge and restoration, which are ancient urges. Liberalism, being more positive about government potential, and having limited institutional precedents to work off of, is deceptively seductive as a blueprint for the future. But it is a mirage, one that falls apart on closer examination.
As we close out this piece, there are a couple things that will be helpful to remember, as a way to sum up all of the details from our extensive review of our visions of the future.
- First, the galloping horsemen of ecological collapse are coming quickly, so any possible, alternative plan for the future must be, above all, FAST. We need to get something moving in the right direction in the next few years, maybe a decade a the outset. After that, we’ll be in the condition that Emerson described: “Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.”
- Second, piecemeal tweaks for the future will not work. Our predicament is caused by the scale and magnitude of human activity on the planet, and that impact has to be reduced by a lot. Tinkering at the edges will not work.
- Lastly, because we need speed and potency alike, the only location that fits both conditions is the household itself, which can be rapidly changed, and is also one of the fundamental engines of our current situation.
Next time: BIGGER HOME BASES