The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Plus c’est la même chose


Jeremiads notwithstanding, it appears that Biden’s strategy of appealing to Trump-disgusted suburban voters worked. At the US presidential level, at least, left-populists and Sanders supporters proved to be essentially irrelevant, politically. The Democratic consultant class has had its biases confirmed. What is, haha, left to the left-wing populist is to double down on the jeremiads: to predict that in the future, the inevitable failure of now-successful beige neoliberal centrism to reinstate its heavenly mandate in the USA will result, down the road, in the election of a smart fascist/right-populist Man On Horseback, if we’re luckymerely a Viktor Orbán figure or suchlike for the American context — or worse, possibly much worse.

This reasoning seems very plausible to me. Because it is true that unless the neoliberal establishment has a change of heart, Bidenist/Obamaist US leadership will not be able to turn the ship around from an on-going trajectory of national and global decline. And insofar as that decline is felt in shrinking living standards, and insofar as “beige centrism” manages to suppress left-wing alternatives, the population will likely turn to forceful/violent right-wing populism, and all the inherent divide-and-conquer grifts that right-wing populism brings with it alongside the nationalist emotional highs and the “sugar rush.” As I said, it seems very plausible.

One of the bad habits of neoliberal intellectualism is an excessive reliance on “counter-intuitive” explanations as exemplified by the once-popular book Freakonomics.   We should be rightly suspicious of narratives that tell us that things we view in common-sense terms as bad are actually good. Sometimes counter-intuitive explanations like that are valid, but only sometimes. But we should not fall into the reverse trap and always uncritically accept simpler explanations that happen to match our moral intuitions. A common left-wing moral intuition is what I explained above: A people increasingly deprived of access to the good life and unable to access progressive responses to that deprivation will eventually provide reactionary forces a breakthrough. It has, after all, happened before.

It is the implied determinism that we should view with at least a little bit of suspicion. First of all, although we should heed history’s warning signs, history actually does not truly repeat reliably, and context matters. Trump’s senility and incompetence was, in point of fact, part of the Trump political brand. It was the riposte to a failing elite in a time when elite “competence-signalling” was part of the elite self-image. The specific trajectory to the “competent Trump” is much harder to fathom, when the incompetence was specifically a part of what he was and still is lionized for by his most ardent followers.

If we leave aside the typical and easy materialist determinism that thrives particularly on the more left end of the spectrum and accept a little bit of “counter-intuitive” reasoning, a different picture emerges. One in which the success and failure of Trump was highly dependent on circumstances over and above material discontent, circumstances that are difficult to line up again.  Circumstances in which the very competence of the future feared competent fascistoid is one of the features that prevents his (or her) rise, just to give a possibility. One in which the bad memory of Trump is sufficiently mobilizing for a long enough period of time that the mainstream neoliberal centre is protected from attempts at overcoming it.

In that world, between every election, things just keep getting worse and worse. And yet, the process of coalition building in a complex society given the American political system simply throws up Biden after Biden, Democrat or Republican. Decline centrism, unending. Like Tyler Durden’s vision in Fight Club, with people drying meat on the asphalt of a ruined highway, except they’re still arguing over whether they should choose the chieftain with the red trim or the blue trim as head chieftain, out of fear that one of them might reduce the incentives created by the fear of winter freezing by their proposed “peltfare” program.

Imagine this future: the soft, dirty sole of a comfortable white Reebok runner gently stroking a human cheek — forever.


Why Larry Summers MUST Believe $2,000 Checks Are a Bad Idea


Josh Hawley Moves to Become Trump’s Heir Presumptive


  1. GlassHammer

    You can get accustomed to Material Discontent , it isn’t as strong a motivator as people believe it to be.

    And it is less motivating after you have lived with it for years.

    If I had a lesson for the Left it would be that Material Discontent isn’t enough to win people over.

  2. GH: Oh, definitely.

    But I think the more sophisticated version of the theory is that while individuals may arrive at acceptance of relative material lack, entire bulk-population classes being “cast down” will ultimately lead to a French Revolution-style process through a sort of self-organizing criticality threshold.

  3. There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times to develop.

    [Frank Herbert, Dune; 1965]

  4. GlassHammer


    Yeah, Material Discontent is a tricky motivator.

    In the last few elections it was felt more acutely by those who did not have it but feared having it (the barely middle-class) and those accustomed to maintaing high standards of living (the wealthy).

    And it’s not like the pursuit of Material Contentment comes without risks. We all know how what happens when you let your “needs” grow and grow.

    Lastly, when your Material Discontent hits it’s highest point you know you are not only deprived but actually functioning outside of society. You know you don’t really belong anywhere anymore. That state of not belonging makes political engagement much harder for you.

  5. Hugh

    Democrats, including conservative Democrats like Biden, can’t win without substantial numbers of progressive voters. Progressives need to start laying out their red lines now. For example, we will not vote for any candidate who will not fight for and vote for Jayapal’s Medicare4All. We will never vote again for anyone who does not fight sufficiently hard for it or reneges on this commitment. It is important to be specific, leave no wriggle room. The Democrats are past masters of do-nothing, aspirational talk and the bait-and-switch. We should develop a short list of two to four items (Medicare4All, student debt, etc.), create a national registry where candidates can officially sign up, and go on from there. This is very doable. A handful of people to run the website, a slightly larger number of volunteers organized by state to poll candidates and track commitments. More people if we want to run discussion groups on candidates, potential candidates, organizing, and suggestions for the list. We have essentially the whole of 2021 to put this together, if we want to.

  6. GlassHammer

    “We should develop a short list of two to four items (Medicare4All, student debt, etc.)”
    – Hugh

    Maybe one item/slogan would be better.

  7. Hugh

    One item: Jayapal’s Medicare4All, something with broad popular appeal.

  8. nihil obstet

    Most revolutions/rebellions are minority affairs. A majority of American colonists in 1775, of French citizens in 1789, of Russians in 1917 were not active in the revolutions.

    There’s material discontent and then there’s material discontent. Being embarrassed about your house being shabby doesn’t drive you to rebel the way hunger does. Revolutions tend to start as bread riots.

    We need to build a substantial leadership/power base to get a revolution. Given the tendency of self-described lefties to fight each other this looks to be a hard pull. Solidarity in the new year, friends!

  9. Eric Anderson

    Jolly good show, Mandos 🙂

    But, I might be a bit less sanguine on either an eventual right or left populist outcome.
    I think big beige is here to stay for a while because big beige IS corporation politics.
    I think KSR got it right on earth.
    Continued environmental stressors forcing (allowing) massive neoliberal government/corporate partnership.

    Gov is trying to flex is muscle against corp through anti-trust right now.
    Watch big beige gov cave (lovingly accept?) to big beige corp under the Biden admin.
    And SCOTUS is all set up to rubber stamp it all.

    No. I don’t see a populist turn in either direction coming anytime soon.
    I see a one party beige corporate militarized surveillance state clamping down around us few brave enough to speak truth to that power.

  10. GlassHammer

    “One item: Jayapal’s Medicare4All, something with broad popular appeal.” – Hugh

    Still needs more appeal.
    There needs to be a “position” in the mind of the target audience to work with.
    The problem is Obamacare consumed most of that “position”, you are stuck differentiating yourself from it.

    To be honest I am not sure if either Student Debt or Medicare4All are sellable in this cycle.
    (Maybe more sellable than they were but still unable to make it.)

  11. Ché Pasa

    Face it: the modern (on the internet) incarnation of “progressivism” has failed utterly. The neo-libs are in essentially absolute command and control, and the droolies and rabble and anyone else who isn’t them — or dares to challenge them — can pound sand.

    “We” — that is those who are opposed to the drift/slide toward corporate feudalism, oligarchic authoritarianism and cultish religiosity — have essentially nothing left but hope for a Saviour. Everyone put up so far has proved to have feet of clay. And elections don’t change things in “our” favor.

    We’re getting nowhere faster and faster.

  12. Hugh

    No American should fear getting sick in the US. The pledge of every American to every other American should be: We have your back.

  13. Ten Bears

    Most revolutions/rebellions are minority affairs … tend to start as bread riots.

    And we’re back to ~ everyone wants a revolution but no one has any idea what to do on the other side of one. Been a topic here for a long time, never a consensus. If history is any indication things rarely improve, generally go to hell in a handbasket in a hurry. Revolution talk is like secession talk, there is a sexually emotional appeal to it: it’s exciting, dangerous, exotic. Triggers the dopamine receptors the same way as alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography and thoughts of revenge do. Is auto-erotic masturbation.

    We go out there as a mob and nothing will fundamentally change, and may well set us back fifty, a hundred or a thousand years. Caution, a bit of prudence, is the stuff of valor.

    “Revolution” plays right into their hands …

  14. Chicago Clubs

    >The pledge of every American to every other American should be: We have your back.

    We don’t, though. America has spent the last forty years or so telling everyone else to get fucked, and now we’re reduced to telling each other to get fucked. The only rational response is to say “get fucked” right back and leave. I am, in that regard, very jealous of Joan, another commenter on this blog who has already gotten out. I wish I had pursued that path twenty years ago.

  15. S Brennan

    For the last year Hugh’s shtick has been:

    Trump=Hitler therefore Biden TINA!

    Now he wants to get his “liberal” bonifides back for the next election…so he can shout Harris-TINA !

    It’s small comfort but, it’s good to see Mandos paraphrasing me nowadays with:

    “left-populists and Sanders supporters proved to be essentially irrelevant, politically”

    That’s what happens when you guarantee your vote without ANY compensation and yeah, that was the neoD’s/followers Trump=Hitler campaign in a nutshell.

    Sad story, great to see Mandos calling it out for reasons….that escape my intelligence.

  16. Hugh

    Chicago, while FU may sometimes be emotionally satisfying, it isn’t a solution to anything. We fight to help others because if not us, then who?

  17. Just as a side note, I want to point out that way back when, I trollishly declared Neera Tanden to be a grassroots leader, and lo: I was right.

  18. bruce wilder

    I confess to sometimes rooting for collapse. That’s a different scenario from the one Mandos lays out, but in terms of my own psychology, parallel: a deus ex machina of sorts inserting a realignment where people like me are hopelessly and futilely opposed to the continuing status quo.

    We had a moment in 2006-8, with the consequences of the foolish policies of Bush II laid bare, where a consensus seemed to favor policy reversals, which never came. That was the “collapse” scenario that I imagined coming and rooted for, and in the event, it was stifled by neoliberal Democrats.

    The neat thing about “collapse” is that it is itself a mechanism that eliminates or weakens the power vested in the status quo. The trouble with revolution is that it is premised on an uncertain promised future being better than a certain, but “working” present. Revolution from below is especially difficult to sell to those below, as they may suffer more intensely from radical change than their betters. But, if suffering has already been made manifest by the collapse of existing structures, well then there’s less reason to cling to what is, after all, a failed status quo.

    The French Revolution did not start with a revolt by the oppressed masses; it started with the bankruptcy of the state. Famine, or the threat of famine and the practical absence of the state in meeting that crisis — liberal dogma said, “floating grain prices” and whatever the market will bear — hungry mobs said something else.

    The American Civil War did not start with a rebellion of oppressed slaves, either. Some people tried to start one; it did not work out. It started with a rebellion by the Slave Power, an insurrection by a faction of wealthy elites.

    Mandos’ scenario is designed to flatter and titillate liberal-centrist elites — the kind of people who imagine that “those people” are voting against their self-interest when they fail to support the vampire nominated to leadership by the liberal-centrists. The alternative to the liberal-centrist waking nightmare has to be worse, it just has to be! And, “those people” deserve it because . . . I don’t know . . . racism!

    The liberal-centrist core constituency of the Democrat Party is hiding in hypocrisy from the reality that the professional-managerial class — themselves in other words — the servants of the billionaire class — has been turned into a parasite class. They serve the predator class, but feed in greater numbers on smaller portions. To turn around, they would have to experience a transformation of consciousness and endure a loss of sustenance. They can imagine a undeserving underclass rising up “against their own interests” (those interests aligned with having well-mannered parasites in charge of the administrative branch offices of the behemoth, inc. is the thinking) only if the underclass is motivated by racist resentments and the like.

    Collapse is my hope that the dying of the host under the feeding frenzy of the parasites and predators tips enough of the parasites into the camps of the dispossessed that some thing can be done with their ability to organize. It is a ridiculous “hope” not just because it has such a dark dark-side. The problem, as I see it, is that political participation and social solidarity are at so low an ebb that mass movement is a contradiction in terms. For progressive change, you need at least 30 years of critique to build upon, when the crisis approaches. Even if a faction of the American PMC wanted to organize something, they are so feeble and incompetent they would not be able to accomplish anything. The people who in four years could not make a website work are not going to reform the health care system. The people who cannot win a war or cruise a warship without getting run over by larger commercial ships are not going to be able to confront Iran let alone China or Russia. The people who cannot design a new aircraft or make an old design stay aloft during take-off are not going find high-tech solutions to climate change.

    We might as well wish Josh Hawley well in his epic battle with Kamala Harris for leadership in the authoritarian husk of the American Republic. Who knows, well the last drops of blood are sucked out of the corpse of the working class, maybe one or the other will turn on the billionaire class. Could happen. Eat the rich.

  19. Eric Anderson

    I’m lockstep with you Bruce.
    But, as I intimated above, I think the reset is going to take some time living in a authoritarian technohellhole.

    Might take one of these:

  20. It’s small comfort but, it’s good to see Mandos paraphrasing me nowadays with:

    “left-populists and Sanders supporters proved to be essentially irrelevant, politically”

    That’s what happens when you guarantee your vote without ANY compensation and yeah, that was the neoD’s/followers Trump=Hitler campaign in a nutshell.

    Sad story, great to see Mandos calling it out for reasons….that escape my intelligence.

    Oh, S. I have always believed that left-populists were and are politically irrelevant. Where I have disagreed with you is on why. But you never understood this, it seems.

  21. Mandos’ scenario is designed to flatter and titillate liberal-centrist elites — the kind of people who imagine that “those people” are voting against their self-interest when they fail to support the vampire nominated to leadership by the liberal-centrists. The alternative to the liberal-centrist waking nightmare has to be worse, it just has to be! And, “those people” deserve it because . . . I don’t know . . . racism!

    I don’t see how any of this could be inferred from my scenario or where racism, including in the sense of an explicit denial that e.g. black educational inequality accrues to systemic discrimination, came into it. I more or less explicitly conceive of the alternative to be possibly better, I am just suggesting there is a good chance (not certainty) that neither the better nor the worse alternatives may happen, but rather the most frustratingly boring decline scenario.

  22. Donald

    Trump supporters think he was competent. There are more conservative judges, he cut taxes, and the economy by the measures people usually use was great until COVID. They think he did something good by having various Arab countries recognize Israel. They say he didn’t start any new wars ( assuming he doesn’t start one with Iran).

    They don’t necessarily think he mishandled COVID either. Some deny it is a problem. Others say nobody handled Course vid very well.

    I don’t agree with their views, but they don’t think he was incompetent. I suspect Trump would have won, at least in the EC if not necessarily in the popular vote, if COVID hadn’t hit.

  23. Donald

    “Course vid” was my annoying spell check program’s correction of COVID.

    I might as well correct myself a bit while I am at it. I would say the hard core Trump supporters think he was competent. Some Republicans probably favored his economic policies and his judicial appointments and in fact most of his policies, which were largely standard Republican in nature, while wishing he would tweet less.

  24. Ten Bears

    LOL ~ I told you, Gabby, you’re out of your league. You didn’t listen.

    It is simply that he does not contend, thus none can contend with him, and The Old Ones say the twisted remains straight [22]. The sage resides in the world, harmonizes with it, and for the sake of the world, flows in convergence with its heartbeat. People all give him their eyes and their ears, and he treats them as he would laughing children [49]. Lao Tzu, The Way, ~500 bpe

    Some people take themselves way too seriously …

  25. bruce wilder

    Mandos: I don’t see how any of this could be inferred from my scenario …”

    I was not making a logical inference from “your” scenario; I was making a sociological observation about how and why such a scenario becomes, as you indicated or implied it has been, incorporated as almost a cliche or shibboleth into the ideology of a class.

    I have expressed myself with opinions that incorporate the scenario you outlined as well as the similar scenario I outlined. So, I do not except myself as a participant. You introduced an element of detachment that seemed useful, by pointing to the difference between trying to accurately predict the most probable future and trying to prophesy a future of consequence for our misguided present.

    I do think the often ritualized accusation or diagnosis of “racism” or “sexism” has become a conspicuous part of American politics and “polarization”. The touting of some dubious doctrines of historical or sociological analysis combine with the conservation reaction to those doctrines and that often sterile dialogue stands in for a dialectic that has gone flat.

    I do not see any logically necessary connection between your scenario and actual racist doctrines, beyond the well-known association between right-wing authoritarian politics and racist/nationalist memes. But, I also see in actual American politics circa 2021 the prominent role that the collapse of left or upper-class academic id pol is playing in the larger legitimacy crisis.

    “racism, including in the sense of an explicit denial that e.g. black educational inequality accrues to systemic discrimination” indicates your own commitment in that dynamic. If you are caught up in it as if it is a real and important political struggle, it can be hard to see it as another (set of opposed) grift(s) and therefore a symptom of upper class decadence as I do.

    My rant above is about how absurdly incompetent a political class — “the” political class in the U.S. — has become. It is breathtaking really in its scope and depth and breadth, this decay, this rot and corruption, carrying vast parts of the institutional landscape into ruin. I see it and I turn to prophesy of collapse, parallel to your prophesy of future fascism. Both prophesies exaggerate to an extent for dramatic purposes.

    Historical European fascism was in large part a reaction to and the consequence of the collapse of a ruling class whose exploitation of and resistance to modernity created political conflagration. Our clinging to modernity and its mythos of competence in the face of abundant evidence of pervasive incompetence and deep corruption — not to mention the ecological doom loop we are in — may well be our undoing, lighting the fire next time. Plenty of kindling piling up!

  26. Donald: Well, yes, many hardcore Trump supporters, particularly the grassroots, see in his behaviour and choices a deliberate disruptive method to his madness. Could be, but we can look at the result and not indulge the hallucination. It’s another “stupid or evil” choice about whose irrelevance I used to write extensively about in the Obama Time.

    Trump’s most admirable act: firing and condemning John Bolton, was preceded by hiring Bolton and letting the Nuclear Mustache run rampant. The best thing he did was actually evidence of lack of discernment.

  27. Bruce: OK I misunderstood you because I was opposing different scenarios and wasn’t sure which one you were referring to. I will leave aside the matter of the role of identity politics for another thread — suffice it to say that I view the “competent neofascist” outcome and racist doctrines as intrinsically connected, and one cannot live without the cultural logic of the other. I guess it partly depends on how “immanent” one sees the role of cultural conflict.

  28. On a side note, Bruce’s “rooting for collapse” is something he’s more or less admitted to before. There is sometimes a strange reaction when people with strong ideological priors discover that their analysis doesn’t really work, which is to say to themselves, “reboot everything until it does!”

  29. Eric Anderson

    I was gonna give you free ride just simply because this post was actually readable.
    But all your disingenuous rear-guard arguing with valid criticisms reminds me why your ideological priors are disgusting to me.

    Bruce, Ten Bears, Me, Che’, Ian, Willy, etc. have long maintained the ideological priors that you accuse Bruce of just discovering. That’s the type of intellectually dishonest discourse I was talking about in Ian’s last post. Just another crappy rhetorical device to deflate rather than expand upon the discourse. Good job.

    Now, all this said, of course while you take your little victory lap you fail to notice that the centrist politics that you represent have half the world (left or right) wanting to take the guillotine to your neck and are destroying the planet for future inhabitants.

    Bravo. Good politics.

  30. Eric: the people you list are actually not the same ideologically in my experience — there are similarities, but sometimes even a small difference has profound consequences.

    I didn’t read the comments to Ian’s last post, but I would never accuse Bruce of just discovering anything. Bruce has repeatedly taken very strong positions that the world has not lived up to — for example, on the political role of identity politics — and now he is “rooting for collapse”, in order for a politics to emerge in which “enough of the parasites are tipped into the camp of the dispossessed” so that, in the future, politics can unfold as it should.

    I am suggesting, in case you missed it in the post above, that it isn’t wise to count on this scenario taking place, but instead that the “plenty of kindling building up” has no guarantee of igniting nor in the specific way that Bruce envisions. I’m not sure what you read into my post that you liked it originally — I used a fascist dictatorship scenario but Bruce’s scenario fits perfectly well into what I’m saying, and the most recent events — Trump’s election, his performance in office, and his impending ouster by Biden — shift the priors against him.

    This is all without denying the likelihood of future misery.

  31. Eric Anderson

    “I’m not sure what you read into my post that you liked it originally … “

    Ummm, gee, let’s go to the text and see what I said:

    “just simply because this post was actually readable.”

    I was giving you props b/c your writing has improved enough to actually be able to make from the first sentence to the last. Periods are your friend. Commas, not so much.

    I mean, normally I look at a Mandos post and am like “Huh, it’s 10 giant paragraphs long.”
    But no, it’s actually 10 giant sentences, ffs.

  32. Stephen

    Maybe Trump has changed the landscape. 70 million people voted for him. 80% of Republican voters genuinely liked him. In the next primary, carnival barkers yet unknown will be vying for that vote. I am pessimistic.

  33. capelin

    Jimmy Dore and #ForceTheVote is taking a run at the elected elites, trying to leaverage the moment – Pelosi doesn’t get elected speaker unless there’s an on-record vote re M4A.

    “The squad” has the numbers – will they do it? Count the excuses. Very revealing. The speaker vote is this sunday I believe.

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