A generation ago, most Americans associated political prisoners and the secret police with communism and third world dictatorships. A dictator ignored the needs of his people and threw political opponents into dungeons, while lining his pockets and those of his cronies. The communist societies used the secret police to spy on and intimidate the people. The free world had its faults, but it lacked this sort of compulsion, because it was a rules-based system of politics.
Those not around a generation ago are left to imagine what such a world was like, because present day America is nothing like a generation ago. The last three decades have seen a steady slide into the features we used to associate with police states and third world dictatorships. The regime is too busy stuffing its pockets to attend to the people’s business. They use the secret police to harass critics and a deeply corrupt legal system to jail dissidents.
The question that is seldom asked is how did this come to pass? America more or less operated by a respected set of rules into the 20th century. There were periods of lawlessness like the civil war and the Wilson administration. The courts got out of control in the middle of the last century, but they were seeking to expand rights rather than constrict them. The reformers of the 1960’s may have been misguided, but they were still operating within the liberal order.
One argument for what went wrong starts with the Clintons. One side of the political class, desperate for a presidential win, decided to throw in with a pair of narcissistic sociopaths from the Ozarks. This deal with the devil required abandoning one old rule after another until the very idea of rules was in question. The Left’s relationship with the Clintons was a series of moral compromises. Since the Left is the arbiter of political morality, their decent was our decent.
It is not possible to overstate the malevolence of the Clintons. They are the two most corrupt people in the history of American politics. Their first caper in the White House was to steal raw FBI files on their opponents. The mere suggestion of this is what got Nixon run out of town a generation earlier. That caper was the high water mark, in terms of ethics, for the Clinton era. By the time he left the White House, politics reflected the vulgar degeneracy of the Clintons.
The thing is though, the old code of conduct in Washington never would have tolerated the Clintons. We know this because four years before Bill Clinton climbed out of the sewer, Gary Hart was taken out of contention for womanizing. Hart was never accused of murder or corruption. He liked the ladies. In 1988, his lack of discretion was disqualifying, but in 1992, Bill Clinton’s womanizing was overlooked. Something happened in the intervening years to change attitudes.
The big event was the end of the Cold War. The reason for which the American empire had been organized, the Soviet Union, was no more. It has long been forgotten, but the new generation of baby boomer politicians was ready to party. They were going to spend the “peace dividend” on their favorite projects. Bill Clinton’s campaign was an explicit rebuke of the prior generation. George Bush was old and out of touch, while Bill Clinton was cool and modern.
What made the Clinton crime wave possible was the end of the Cold War which took with it the moral imperative to maintain the liberal code. The managerial elite that emerged in the 20th century abided by the liberal code because it was necessary to fight Soviet communism. That set of rules governing both politics and the political culture were necessary to organize society for the long fight. The threat of nuclear annihilation was the exclamation point on the project.
The fall of the Soviet Union removed this great threat and with it the reason to maintain the old moral code. Rolling the dice with a couple of psychopaths suddenly did not seem like much of a risk. Making exceptions to the old rules no longer felt like a gamble, as America was the last superpower. The end of history and the thousand year Reich were upon us all at once and Washington sat atop it all. Everything was possible, so everything was now permitted.
Where we are today, with the emerging thugocracy is a result of a managerial elite that no longer sees any limits. Like the generation raised up after the Second World War, the new generation of leaders that came to power after the Cold War brought with them a narcissistic sense of entitlement. The reason they think sending the FBI to harass opponents is a good idea is because all of their ideas are good ideas. Every criticism is met with a collective “do you know who I am?”
What we are witnessing is the winners version of what happened in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the losers in the great ideological struggle of the 20th century, Russia was prostrate to the world for more than a decade. The only law governing behavior was the law of the jungle. First it was chaos, then it was rule by the various oligarchs and then finally the restoration of civil authority. Thirty years on the new Russia has finally emerged from its past.
America, on the other hand, was the winner. More important, the new generation of leaders that took over inherited the sense of historic accomplishment that came from the victory in the Cold War. Like the degenerate children of a family dynasty, this generation needed structure to prosper. They were made for it. Instead, they came to power just when the old structure was falling away. What they have created in its place is a lawlessness that reflects their character.
Alexander Dugin observed that the end of the Cold War was a disaster for Russia because it suddenly removed the old rules. Communism was horrible, but it was better than the chaos that followed. It turns out that the same is true for America. The end of the Cold War was a disaster. The old rules were not perfect, but they were better than the evolving lawlessness that followed. Unlike the Russians, Americans are learning this slowly, rather than all at once.
Like the Soviet system that emerged after the war, the American empire that formed up after the war was unnatural. America was never fit for a centralized unitary state that was necessary for the long war. It is too big, too diverse and too fractious to be ruled by a central government. In war time, this temporary arrangement was accepted as a necessity of war. Once the war ended, the rationale for the current arrangements ended with it and what is left is this unnatural system of rule.
For that last thirty years the spoiled children of excess who sit atop the managerial class have been searching for a reason to exist. First it was the crusades against Islam, then it was reviving the Cold War with Russia. Now a war with China over Taiwan is the hoped for reason to exist. If Russia and China fail to provide the external justification, then a war against the people will be the answer. They will defend democracy from the people who seek to participate in it.
The autocratic behavior of the managerial elite over the last decade is a response to the evolving awareness of what is happening. The populism that propelled Trump to the White House is an instinctive response to the growing lawlessness. Trump was a chaos candidate only because he represented the old order. The response from the managerial elite was to smash the remaining bits of the old order. Trump’s continuing presence is what fuels their growing authoritarianism.
There is no returning to the old order, but the current lack of order will not survive the people who created it. As the collection of geezers who defined the post-Cold War era die off, their replacements will prove to be as hapless as they look. The great chaos that followed the collapse of communism will come to the West when the post-liberal American order collapses. What comes next will be different, but much more in tune with the nature of the society over which it rules.
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