|Pix Credit: William Blake (British, 1757–1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1–4), ca. 1803–1805 – Brooklyn Museum|
My astrologer friends tell me that 2020 marked the high point of an astrological rectification campaign for the United States. Amplified somewhat from these periodic (roughly 35year interval) moments of accounting, these moments are meant to hold a mirror up to the nation so that it may admire not its beauty but its grotesqueness. And there is much of that to go around from every corner of every faction and societal field arrogant enough to think that its interests ought to be privileged in some way--any way.
|The Temptation of St. Anthony by Martin Schongauer|
|Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon (c. 1503) Louvre|
And so, while they are fresh in mind, perhaps it serves some small purpose to briefly list some of the long term lessons that might be lost in the euphoria of the narrative of casting demons back to Hell--the moral of the story that is evidenced by our collective behaviors--now exposed. These are purely idiosyncratic. They will quickly be forgotten, buried beneath the glorious incantations of the myth making that will provide the catchy tunes that can distract the masses and keep them on course. Still, the recognition of demons might provide even marginal protection against temptation. We might in the end find solace in the fact that the temptations to which we will succumb will be different that those of our ancestors, and to that even myth making may prove of some value; clarity more.
|Pix Credit: William Blake, The Number of the Beast is 666|
2. Cruelty never pays. The temptation to be cruel runs deep in American politics--of both the left and the right. The Trump Administration gave in to the temptation of cruelty. It is hard to conjecture the reasons (though in the construction of Mr. Trump as the Prince of Demons it will likely be ascribed to some sort of immoral lust, which is appropriate for demons in general, and suitable for the much larger appetites of princes among demons). The approach to the important issue of migration proved a lasting case in point, and especially the policy toward migrant children. There were others. But a reputation for cruelty will be remembered. But its temptations are also easily adopted by those hear their own demonsong as the singing of the choir of angels. The left enjoys ruining individuals on the basis of accusation related to deviations from their strategically advanced orthodoxies. And they have found willing accomplices in business (not an obvious ally) but there is a business case to be made for serving as the instrument of orthodoxy when, like the inquisition in medieval Europe, its effects tends to fall on individuals and the victims tend to be in the way of the ambitions of others.
|Pix Credit HERE|
3. Respect the dead and dying. American cultural taboos remain strong in connection with the dead and dying; especially those who are dead or dying and who have given service to the state. Their political views, the correctness of their positions, or their alignment with a speaker make no difference. Leadership that fails to respect the dead and dying produce the sort of feeling of dirtiness that inevitably shows up in the polls. Here one encounters a growing rift between the societal narrative taught to the masses through endless production of television reality shows that have instructed the masses in appropriate interpersonal behaviors in which rudeness and lack of respect are the coin of the realm, and the still strong narrative of leadership in a democratic republic. Mr. Trump has still to apologize for choosing the path laid out for the masses in television shows in his behavior toward, among others, John McCain, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In the crassest possible terms, that behavior made enough people feel dirty enough that their own self respect triumphed over their political inclinations. This is a lesson that will also have to be learned by those who believe they have constructed themselves as angels--especially as they go against those long dead. The lack of respect can be contagious--and it is lesson as ill learned by the left as it has been by the right. One disrespects oneself double when one projects that disrespect onto others--especially fallen opponents.
4. Loyalty is a prime value. The troop withdraws from Syria and Iraq were not merely a political choice. They were received as acts of disloyalty to comrades who had sacrificed lives, livelihoods, and honor for their allies. Abandonment is certainly the prerogative of empire--but it runs against core principles of American morals. Loyalty, honor, respect--these are crucial elements in the American
social order--derogation of which without sufficiently powerful
explanation harms those engaging in these behaviors as much as their
targets. Like him or not, the resignation of Mr. Mathis was not a political but a moral statement. Little people in great office sometimes believe that acts of disloyalty (for the sake of strategy or expediency), like cruelty, shows their strength. It is almost always the case that the opposite is true. And weakness is a dangerous virtue to cultivate in a leader. Mr. Trump's opponents are unlikely to learn this lesson--one so badly practiced during the last several administrations, none of which were known for their loyalty and strong moral leadership character especially when it counted. Yet it remains an important lesson which, especially when accumulated with other failures, can produce significant effect. There is an added element as well, the subject of No. 15 below.
5. Bullying plays well to the masses; but only for a short time. The psychology of the bully is well established, even in national and international relations. It is a sign of weakness and while tolerated for a while (short term value of concessions to bullies may be useful in well thought out), one might want to be able to use bullies without being one That was a lesson unlearned after 2016. And it is the great lesson that will have to be learned by other great states, and their helmsman int he coming decade. The bully eventually falls if only because, left to her own devices long enough, it becomes possible for former enemies to unite or establish a short term alliance to rid themselves of the bully. Bullying does play well with the masses, though. And it is a fne line to determine who and when the device is to be used. In the long run, though, its costs usually exceed its value. More importantly, the great lesson unlearned after 2016 was the great difference between bullying and strategic pressure that still permits an opponent some room to save face.
6. Social media is now a political territory in private hands. The tweet will never be the same again. All actors are now learning the art of managing twitter accounts and of the development of policy through tweets. Only the old worry about this. And they fail to see the real danger--one already apparent in the delegation of public responsibility to a private press itself subject to the pressures of business and of the market--that delegations of public spaces to private organs require either substantial management or expropriation. The partisanship of the great social media platforms, as well as their increasing willingness to serve as both platform and player do not bode well for the integrity of the discourse of the Republic.
7. Your friends are not your enemies and your enemies are not your friends. Mr. Trump started out with a good idea--and one at the top of the list of Democratic and Republican Administrations since the Kennedy era--touching on the management of the great post war alliance of developed states in the maintenance of security and economic ordering. That will inevitably result in hurt feelings and strategic behaviors as former client states, now feel entitled to pretend that they have somehow returned to the glory of their days of center of colonial imperial systems--but without the bother of colonies. That is fair enough (and I might do the same). The lesson is not in that, but in the way in which friendships are managed and cultivated. A hierarch makes for a very bad ally even when the reality of the relationship is hierarchical. Bu worse, of course, was the appearance of treating friends contemptuously while appearing to cultivate the friendship of enemies. The strategies underlying communication might have been sound, the performance of that strategy was both sloppy and dangerous for the Republic.
|Pix Credit: William Blake the Great Red Dragon and the Beats from the sea|
9. Sloppiness is fatal in an administrative state. This is a lesson that will likely be learned well. The Trump Administration became famous for its administrative gestures--through executive orders, and the discretionary decision making of its officials in areas deeply unpopular with Administration's political enemies. They were almost entirely unprepared to defend these by resort to the language and discourse of the modern administrative state. And as a consequence many of the Administration's signature initiatives were thwarted or successfully challenged--not because they could not be defended, but because no one took the time to make them more challenge proof. Those are mistakes that the incoming administration will not make. Yet the temptation to act may overcome the lesson--especially where it is the performance of the action (the issue of a flawed executive order, for example) is the object rather than its eventual implementation. As a result though, the real lesson is that rule by decree is going to become a principal means of political administration constrained only by the forms of ts expression and the willingness of the courts to indulge the administration. Yet the underlying lesson is more destabilizing--the use of political gestures within administrative mechanisms as signaling mechanisms and gestures may increase the potential for destabilizing the administrative state. If that is what the administration intends, then perhaps it ought to have the courage to attempt it directly. Contemporary politics makes that impossible.
10. If you are going to break something have an alternative already prepared. The two signature failures of the Trump Administration: (1) its inability to put forward a vigorous and appealing alternative to pre 2016 globalization (though models existed and strong frameworks could have been advanced); (2) its effort to reject so-called Obama Care without any alternative palatable to anyone. What policy was reduced two in these crucial cases was quick and short term gestures and then a slw and pathetic decline and passivity with fracture rather than planning driving small efforts that in the end amounted to little. That littleness applied both to the development of theoretical or strategic alternatives (the unfortunately named America First was one, which ironically will be re-branded and re-emerge in the next several years) and to efforts to actually produce implementable programs. Too little too late and a gesture driven culture relating to big issues will prove fatal to an administration--not with the masses (they tend to be managed well through careful gesturing amplified by a complicit press, something that was also absent in this case)--but with elites crucial to adoption and implementation.
|Pix: Singin' in the Rain|
|Pix credit HERE|