Monday, November 18, 2019

The Codevilla Tapes

We’ve come to accept that certain classes of people are in fact above the law.

We have come to accept that.

The election of 2016 was precisely about whether anyone in America is
above the law. The reason why so many people did not vote for Hillary
Clinton is the feeling that she and her ilk were above the law, were
acting as if they were above the law, which happened to be entirely
true. Now the fact that the Trump administration is acting according
to the same premise, i.e., that some people are above the law, is
evidence that the revolution that the voters wanted in 2016 has only
just begun.

No one runs America. That’s the terror and the beauty of American life in a nutshell, the answer to the secret of how 300 million people from many different places can live together between two oceans, sharing a future-oriented outlook that methodically obliterates any ties to the past. All prior lived experience is transformed into science fiction, or else into self-serving evidence of the present-day moral, intellectual, and technological superiority of the brave imagineers who are fortunate enough to live here, in the Now, while all who came before them are cursed. No one can or does control such fantasy-driven machinery, which seems incapable of operating in any other way than it does, i.e., in a space with no beginning and no end, but tending always toward perfection. Learning to accept imperfection and failure may be an emotionally healthy way for adults to negotiate the terrors and absurdities of human existence, but it is not the highway to the perfectibility of man or woman-kind.
Because the large-scale explanations that Americans offer each other about how their country works, or doesn’t work, arise from working backwards from the expectation of some future storybook perfection, they tend to be either childishly conspiratorial or cartoonishly stupid—because those are the types of explanation that tend to win out once you stipulate an ever-more-perfect-and-glorious future as the inevitable outcome of whatever snake oil it is that you are pitching to the suckers. In today’s America, these explanations come in the form of shallow and sweeping identitarian polemics (“white people” or “globalists” run “everything”), indecipherable academese backed by graphed coefficients (people are motivated by “rational self-interest,” as calculated by academics), or as appeals to a glorified and abstracted historical past (“the Founding Fathers,” “the melting pot”) whose promises of future perfection may have seemed real enough to past generations, but must now grow ever more distant with every new iteration of Moore’s law.
Which is not to say that America isn’t governed by an elite class, just like China, or Japan, or France is—only that the ability of that class to actually rule anything is even more constrained by the native culture. The idea that an advanced technologically driven capitalist or socialist society of several hundred million people can be run by something other than an elite is silly or scary—the most obvious present-day alternative being a society run by ever-advancing forms of AI, which will no doubt have only the best interests of their flesh-and-blood creators at heart.
Yet it is possible to accept all of this, and to posit that the reason that the American ruling class seems so indisputably impotent and unmoored in the present is that there is no such thing as America anymore. In place of the America that is described in history books, where Henry Clay forged his compromises, and Walt Whitman wrote poetry, and Herman Melville contemplated the whale, and Ida Tarbell did her muckraking, and Thomas Alva Edison invented movies and the light bulb, and so forth, has arisen something new and vast and yet distinctly un-American that for lack of a better term is often called the American Empire, which in turn calls to mind the division of Roman history (and the Roman character) into two parts: the Republican, and the Imperial.
While containing the ghosts of the American past, the American Empire is clearly a very different kind of entity than the American Republic was—starting with the fact that the vast majority of its inhabitants aren’t Americans. Ancient American ideas about individual rights and liberties, the pursuit of happiness, and so forth, may still be inspiring to mainland American citizens or not, but they are foreign to the peoples that Americans conquered. To those people, America is an empire, or the shadow of an empire, under which seemingly endless wars are fought, a symbol of their own continuing powerlessness and cultural failure. Meanwhile, at home, the American ruling elites prattle on endlessly about their deeply held ideals of whatever that must be applied to Hondurans today, and Kurds tomorrow, in fits of frantic-seeming generosity in between courses of farm-to-table fare. Once the class bond has been firmly established, everyone can relax and exchange notes about their kids, who are off being credentialed at the same “meritocratic” but now hugely more expensive private schools that their parents attended, whose social purpose is no longer to teach basic math or a common history but to indoctrinate teenagers in the cultish mumbo-jumbo that serves as a kind of in-group glue that binds ruling class initiates (she/he/they/ze) together and usefully distinguishes them from townies during summer vacations by the seashore.
Read more:

No comments: