Asteroid Watching

Liberals in good standing have the ability to make political statements, which if uttered by conservatives, would be deemed offensive.  Exhibit A is Bernie Sanders’ dissatisfaction with Obamacare.  Sanders can hate  the health program, but Ted Cruz can’t say a word against it without being admonished as partisan and extremist.  When in 2011 Vermont unsuccessfully tried to implement a single payer health care system, nobody yelled “nullification” because Vermont’s departure from the Affordable Care Act’s strictures was in the right direction.  The list goes on: sanctuary cities and non-resident public officials.


Julian Zatarain always assumed the doors of City Hall were closed to him because he is here illegally, arriving from Sinaloa in 2007 when he was 13.

The 21-year-old college student found other outlets for service, such as volunteering for the Red Cross and with an organization that helps young people like him get access to educational resources.

Then on Monday, Zatarain proudly accepted an appointment to the Huntington Park parks and recreation commission. Another immigrant here illegally, Francisco Medina, 29, won an appointment to the health and education commission.

The significance of this asymmetry is that liberals have the power to legitimize the existence of problems.  They can alone enter things into evidence, as it were. Max Ehrenfreund, writing in the Washington Post, has a gathered a list of discontents from various publications that are now being talked about even in liberal circles, which means the population at large can talk about them now.  Liberals set the agenda, when they talk about things going down the tubes then it’s on the agenda.   Here are some things it’s now relatively OK to bring up.

Did you know that the Obama boom was largely illusory? That there’s widespread impression of less money to spend?

“The economy of the years between 2011 and 2014 was even more mediocre than previously recognized, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The agency said Thursday it had overstated the rate of economic growth during the period.

The bureau often has to revise its estimates as it gathers new data or makes improvements to its methods for calculating economic growth, and these revisions are minor on the whole. Instead of an average growth rate of 2.3 percent over those years, the economy grew at a rate of onl 2 percent, the bureau said.”

Did you know that Hillary Clinton is seriously unpopular, despite her vast expenditures?  Which suggests that Democratic business-as-usual is no longer possible?


“In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation. He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser.”

But probably the biggest shock talking point is Robert Reich’s assertion that the US is in a sort of pre-revolutionary stew of discontent, after nearly seven years of Obama. In an article titled The Revolt Against the Ruling Class Reich says that “the biggest political phenomenon in America today is a revolt against the “ruling class” of insiders that have dominated Washington for more than three decades.”

In two very different ways, Trump and Sanders are agents of this revolt. …

America has long had a ruling class but the public was willing to tolerate it during the three decades after World War II, when prosperity was widely shared and when the Soviet Union posed a palpable threat. Then, the ruling class seemed benevolent and wise.

Yet in the last three decades — when almost all the nation’s economic gains have gone to the top while the wages of most people have gone nowhere — the ruling class has seemed pad its own pockets at the expense of the rest of America. …

On the right are the wreckers. The Tea Party, which emerged soon after the Wall Street bailout, has been intent on stopping government in its tracks and overthrowing a ruling class it sees as rotten to the core.

Its Republican protégés in Congress and state legislatures have attacked the Republican establishment. And they’ve wielded the wrecking balls of government shutdowns, threats to default on public debt, gerrymandering, voter suppression through strict ID laws, and outright appeals to racism.

Donald Trump is their human wrecking ball. The more outrageous his rants and putdowns of other politicians, the more popular he becomes among this segment of the public that’s thrilled by a bombastic, racist, billionaire who sticks it to the ruling class.

On the left are the rebuilders. The Occupy movement, which also emerged from the Wall Street bailout, was intent on displacing the ruling class and rebuilding our political-economic system from the ground up.

Occupy didn’t last but it put inequality on map. And the sentiments that fueled Occupy are still boiling.

Bernie Sanders personifies them. The more he advocates a fundamental retooling of our economy and democracy in favor of average working people, the more popular he becomes among those who no longer trust the ruling class to bring about necessary change.


Jim Tankersley, writing in the Washington Post elaborates on the same theme. Trump is the prophet of American discontent.  Ergo there must be discontent.

Trump is selling an economic message that unifies growing concerns among liberals and conservatives alike, “which is that growing GDP doesn’t necessarily help people on the bottom,” said Mickey Kaus, the author of the Kausfiles blog, who writes frequently and critically about the effects of illegal immigration on the U.S. economy. “Immigration may grow GDP, but I don’t see how it helps workers who (immigrants) compete with, and the people competing don’t see that, either.”

Armed with these new facts, the public debate can take a direction forbidden in these last years.  The new narrative is that America is in crisis.  “Unexpectedly,” one might add. Whither does it go now?

The belated discovery of widespread metastasis after all these years of Hope and Change represents a change in tack away from political the strategy of denial (“America has never had it so good as under Obama”) to one of explanation (“Obama didn’t cure you because …”). The Narrative is shifting gears because the old assertion that things are great cannot be sustained.  The new cry is: What Is To Be Done?

Politics is all about harnessing energy, most of which right now is expressed as discontent.  Robert Pear of the New York Times says that the administration is pressuring states to disapprove requested Obamacare premium increases.

Hoping to avoid another political uproar over the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration is trying to persuade states to cut back big rate increases requested by many health insurance companies for 2016.

In calling for aggressive regulation of rates, federal officials are setting up a potential clash with insurers. Some carriers said they paid out more in claims than they collected in premiums last year, so they lost money on policies sold in the new public marketplaces. After finding that new customers were sicker than expected, some health plans have sought increases of 10 percent to 40 percent or more.

Administration officials have political and financial reasons for wanting to hold down premiums. Big rate increases could undermine public support for the health care law, provide ammunition to Republican critics of the measure and increase costs for some consumers and the federal government.


But that’s just holding it back; in truth, a politician who’s not leading this lambent discontent, as Bernie Sanders is doing by promising a Single Payer fix to an Obamacare problem, is risking getting scorched by it. When you see the peasants heading your way with pitchforks then clearly it is time to start moving.

Which direction you go will depend on your party. The Democrats will argue for more carbon controls, more immigration, Single Payer, more deals with foreign dictators, etc. The Republicans will argue for more GOP Senators and Congressmen to be elected to Capitol Hill — after which they will vote for more carbon controls, more immigration, Single Payer, more deals with foreign dictators, etc.

Each side will assert that the problem is that we haven’t gone far enough; therefore the solution to all problems is to go a little further yet: one more donation, one more grant of power to bring final victory. Which of course won’t happen any more than the promotional mailers which proclaim you’ve been selected to enter a narrowing group of lottery candidates will pay off, if you just buy one more ticket, one more time.

But something will happen eventually. Historically, fragile political ecosystems (like Russia before the Great War) are vulnerable to surprise shocks. Arrangements which seem safe as houses are within a few short years gone.  Something occurs which unravels the fabric. Bruce Reidel of al-Monitor writes that we are marking the 25th anniversary of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. He asks: “did the Kuwait invasion doom Iraq?”  Very probably, but it was not obvious at the time.

It is the exogenous character of the Kuwait invasion that must be most disturbing for a Washington-centered media.  Perhaps the single most seminal event in modern history sprang not from the decision of an American president, but from the wholly unforced and probably gratuitous aggression of a Middle Eastern tyrant.  The biggest nightmare of liberal historians is the possibility that Bush didn’t do it.  Saddam did.  It’s frightening because it means they’re not in control.


Whether or not one agrees with Robert Reich’s analysis of the causes of discontent, the fact of it is not seriously in doubt.  The system, so apparently solid, is deceptively fragile.  Like the world of giant reptiles before the asteroid, it is less secure than one would think.  Those looking up the sky straining for a glimpse of falling rocks can take their cue from another liberal: Alan Dershowitz. “Mr. Obama, your Iran deal will fall apart,” he writes. And it will tear apart the Constitution into the bargain.

Maybe. Maybe not. But if that particular asteroid misses the present political ecosystem, there’ll be another one along soon. We have it on good liberal authority that there’s a copious amount tinder and straw scattered all over the floor. If one day a spark should start a fire, it won’t be due as much to the intensity of the spark as the abundance of fuel.

Political “asteroids” need not be calamitous political events, economic depressions, wars or disasters.  Perhaps the most most potent forces for change are disruptive technologies that undermine established elites.  A “revolt against the ruling class” still concedes their capacity to rule; it is the destruction of their basis to rule by innovation that is a more fundamental threat.

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