Postscript to future historians from Xmas 2016 (OAG #8)

[T]he facts are what they are — email server management, rather than any deeper or more profound root cause, was the dominant issue in Donald Trump’s successful rise to power.

The facts are what they are: Even intelligent, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and articulate writers for successful websites dedicated to usefully explaining events and issues for well-educated readers were, in America 2016, utterly incapable of usefully explaining events and issues for well-educated readers.

Matthew Yglesias apparently believes, as the sub-head in his Christmas Day article has it, that “Big events sometimes have small causes.” The notion is suggestive of chaos theory, which describes how small variations in initial conditions can sometimes produce radically outsized differences in eventual outcomes, but the situation in question is better evoked by the saying on straws and camel’s backs. Yglesias tweet for his post re-stated its conclusion, quoted above, even more illustratively:

The “hook” is precisely the absurdity – and self-inter-exponentiating meta-absurdity – of the notion it entails, and of the co-absurdifying and absurdified political culture and political system it reflects.

A nation that could be plunged into “profound crisis” in such a way must have been a nation profoundly vulnerable to crisis, or crisis of this type. In this instance, we would be compelled to conclude that something must have been (and very likely remains) profoundly wrong with a political culture or political media – of which Matthew Yglesias and Vox are, of course, typical parts – that could be dominated by an issue to be judged intrinsically trivial, and dominated to the point of determining eventual collective decisions of undoubted significance. The story’s criticial sub-story, of a massively important inane interaction of commercial media with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s announcement of a pending absurd federal re-investigation and eventual announcement of confirmation of absurdity opened another dimension of all-enveloping vacuum, a new sub-zone of indistinction between content and absence of content, of the even more importantly even more trivial factoid of factlessness.

Such profound disability, or disabling self-inanition, of a democratic or aspirationally democratic nation’s chief means – commercial means as well as governmental means, in perfectly incompetent collusion – of informing its citizenry, or of sustaining its capacity for government, or their or our capacity for self-government, would potentially exceed and – one would expect, as we appear to have experienced and would seem to have been experiencing and re-experiencing – very likely in actuality must exceed almost any particular issue in importance, not least because the significance to the citizenry of any issue, or the status for the citizenry of an issue as an issue, is dependent (at some point, in theory, entirely dependent) on such means of information or self-information.

The “email story” would stand in this sense as an appropriately empty or absurd vehicle for conveying the emptying or absurdification of stories in general. The email story’s lack of content would be its true content, and our inability to process it appropriately, as absurd, its true significance. Indeed, everything about this story or non-story story as biggest story points to our self-absurdity, our collective idiocy. That, as though in homage to the arch-conservative Joseph de Maistre, we have inflicted upon ourselves a true representative of one typical form or expression of effective non-sentience, rather than inflict upon ourselves the other nominee and true representative of a different form or expression of the same, may be interesting, and in the short term materially significant, but the real Big Story of 2016 would remain the prevailing utter unconsciousness as prevailing inability to become effectively conscious of the real Big Story of 2016, of that same all-inclusively all-exclusive utter unconsciousness, the Big Story of our our apparent profound incapacity for collective self-consciousness against our remnant belief or expectation that such collective self-consciousness, a necessary pre-condition for self-government, should be within our power, and not just within our power but after more than 200 years under popular sovereignty well within our power.

In this peculiar way this real true big “email story” – not the particular inanely particularized story of an obscure private email server about which nothing is understood by anyone despite collectively manically obsessive attention to every aspect of it, and its somehow deciding our destinies despite and because of its triviality, but the story of that story or the story of the story of that story and so on, infinitely very regressively – would be utterly the right story for us as we really are or as what we really have become: a world-historically important insubstantial motion in the direction of abject nullity and invincible self-ignorance. The real true big email story would be a story about non-communication or simply non-community on matters of policy in the information age, in the event expressed as sheer banality, compulsive dishonesty, and superficiality to the point of invisibility of and among our leaders or would-be leaders, especially in relation to a citizenry which shares identical qualities of lack of qualities, as indelibly conveyed moment by moment and year over year by its or our media – or the complete lack on the part of leaders and would-be leaders in this would-be constitutional republic, and of all the Popular Sovereign’s reporters and all the Popular Sovereign’s pundits, of insight into and connection with a mass of likewise benighted and disconnected, self-absent citizens.

For all of us, not just in the United States but especially here, the “information age” appears to have turned, as in fact often predicted, into the “nonsense age,” all facts flattened into congenitally equally absurd bits in an unimaginably vast, inexpressibly inexpressive cloud of them. This Big Event is also, however, not to be thought a cause, small or big, of what has transpired in the United State of America, for it must likewise be an effect, a realization via the digitization of communications, of a prior nullification of whatever could be or might have been communicated.

Leaving a much broader discussion aside, perhaps for future additional pointless re-consideration, we can venture here only speculatively that the cloud, or infosphere, has proven unbreathable. An onset of mass intellectual asphyxiation was certain, and will remain the “big” thing for politics and governance, with all of the big as well as small as well as simultaneously or alternatingly or interchangeably big as well as small causes gathered behind it.

Put differently, in the counterfactual format of which Voxian intellectuals are usually quite fond, if Hillary Rodham Clinton had won a close election but was left to face Republican-controlled government all around her, including a sizable mass of voters who deemed her and her people irredeemably corrupt and even murderously evil, the prospects for progressive good governance under her presidency would have been minimal. Given past history, it seems very likely that we would collectively-idiotically have held all failures against her, discounted her political successes and blamed her when they were sabotaged, put the inevitable effects of our own incoherence regarding domestic and foreign policy at her feet, and have remained profoundly vulnerable to accepting or opting for even the most idiotic and incredible promise of a change for the better or of any change at all next time around, presuming there was one. Whether whatever event or issue deemed most proximate to the likely eventual shiftless shift to that other idiocy was intrinsically trivial or intrinsically important could not matter less, or, to say the same thing, could not matter more.

Merry Christmas.


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Noted & Quoted

So, does Mitchell make any money on the work, which has been shared so many times? He uploaded a high-res image of the symbol and granted permission for anyone to use it personally for free. But for those who want to support his work or simply want something readymade, you can also buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and journals emblazoned with the symbol through Threadless.“I really just want to spread the image as much as possible and cement it in history,” Mitchell says. “In all honesty, the amount I’ve made from my Threadless shop so far is still less than my hourly rate, so I don’t really see it as a big deal. If you look at my Twitter, half the replies are people wanting to know where they can buy a shirt. Threadless is happy to help them out with that, and so I’m happy to let that happen.”Now that the symbol has flooded our streets and our timelines, Mitchell just has one request: “Impeach this idiot already,” he says.

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This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance.  They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

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