Belmont Club

The Promise Machine

It’s important to see the failed 2016 Clinton presidential campaign in terms of intelligence failure because the same could happen to anyone.  It could for example happen to the US armed forces when least expected.  Therefore its important to examine how such failures occur in order to avoid finishing up like Hillary in the recently concluded election: the sure winner one day who 12 hours later was the abject loser.

The question of how such an overwhelming political force could lose so badly when every one of its indicators predicted success was raised by Jim Newell of Slate. “I think of the lawmakers, the consultants, the operatives, and—yes—the center-left media, and how everything said over the past few years leading up to this night was bullshit.” The BS assured them they were on the verge of annihilating the Deplorables.  A few dizzying hours later the predicted disaster had happened — but to them.

The Democrats will now control next to nothing above the municipal level. Donald Trump will be president. We are going to be unpacking this night for the rest of our lives, and lives beyond that. We can’t comprehend even 1 percent of what’s just happened. But one aspect of it, minor in the overall sweep, that I’m pretty sure we can comprehend well enough right now: The Democratic Party establishment has beclowned itself and is finished.

One reason for the failure identified by Newell was that Hillary’s analysts became invested in their own predictions. “Theoretically smart people in the Democratic Party … worked giddily to clear the field for her. Every power-hungry young Democrat fresh out of law school, every rising lawmaker, every old friend of the Clintons wanted a piece of the action. This was their ride up the power chain.”  They predicted they would do well.  Of course they would predict that.

Other “gains” ultimately proved poisoned pawns.  The corruption of the mainstream media did nothing more than open the doors to disaster. By turning the MSM into an adjunct of the progressive cause they stilled the last voices that would tell them the truth.  By election day there was no one left to warn them and bam! they walked right into it.

There is one other factor implied in the Newell piece which he neglects to develop. The campaign models became the data themselves. The indicators became the inputs and whole apparatus self-referentially detached itself from reality. The progressive “demographic model” (which models identity politics) constrained what the Hillary campaign could conceive.  The reason progressive politics is about race is their models are about race.  With only such a limited vocabulary there were some ideas the model couild simply not express.  They were unsayable.  Newell doesn’t even know how to begin to formulate the problem in this limited language.

It may still be true that in the long term, Republicans can’t win with their demographics, but we found out Tuesday that the long term is still pretty far away. Democrats have to win more white voters. They have to do so in a way that doesn’t erode the anti-racist or anti-sexist planks of the modern party, which are non-negotiable. If only there were a model for this.

There was no model for prosperous non-hyphenated America because their model prepended everything with one.

The identity politics model was essentially a promise machine which calculated how many votes could be obtained by appealing to a given population segment. Plug in the variables: cisgendered, black, college educated etc and out comes a “message” with its estimated yield in votes.   Hillary was the end point of this political sausage making machine.  According to their demographic model Hillary had enough messages to conquer the world.

Unfortunately messages were not reality. “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act falls the Shadow,” as TS Eliot once put it.  There were plenty of shadows. Whatever its utility the Promise Machine might have been for campaigning it did nothing to deliver.  People who did not think of themselves in racial terms 24×7 started noticing things going downhill.  These parts of them lived outside the model.

They lived in an America — the everyday America — that the model had written off.  But the progressive machine could not notice. All it did was constrain common sense policy to the point where governance became impossible, foreign policy itself became untenable without running afoul of some promise created by model.

The more the Promise Machine cranked out the worse governance became. It was as if the Hillary campaign were gaming their moves against themselves rather than contra the actual foe, which is Reality. As such they were ace in their synthetic world but s**t outside of it.  They were ‘historic’ in their own universe but losers outside of it.

The seeds for an intelligence failure of monumental proportions were sown. Right on schedule they gulled themselves over a cliff.

The the way to avoid such failures is simple — but hard. The lesson is this.  Don’t try to take over the intellectual world. Don’t try to create an echo chamber or Promise Machine.  Don’t try to homogenize the Narrative. These lessons are important to grasp if America is not to lose to some apparently weak foe.   Romans knew how powerful a toxin self-deception could be, as did some Hollywood screenwriters; at least the ones who scripted the 1970 movie Patton, which ends with the title character thinking these thoughts:

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Don’t listen just to the musicians.  Heed also the slave.  Do not silence the critics. All glory is fleeting.

Follow Wretchard on Twitter

Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.

Recently purchased by readers:

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich, middle class, and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, brilliantly blended with the latest social-science research.

Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten’s most personal cookbook yet, filled with the recipes Jeffrey, her husband, and their friends request most often as well as charming stories from Ina and Jeffrey’s many years together. There are traditional dishes that she’s updated, new favorites like roasted salmon tacos, new salad recipes like kale with pancetta and pecorino and, for the first time, a chapter devoted to bread and cheese.

The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914, by Bela Zombory-Moldovan. About this book, Henrik Bering of the Wall Street Journal says: “To a certain extent, World War I memoirs written from the ant’s perspective resemble one another, all mud and horror. What makes this one stand out is the author’s painterly eye for detail, his ability to evoke a vanished way of life, and his tone of voice—gentle and civilized but perfectly capable of the occasional sardonic flash.”

Treason’s Harbour, by Patrick O’Brian. Part of the Aubrey & Maturin series, this novel is set partly in Malta, partly in the treacherous, pirate-infested waters of the Red Sea. While Captain Aubrey worries about repairs to his ship, Stephen Maturin assumes the center stage for the dockyards and salons of Malta are alive with Napoleon’s agents, and the admiralty’s intelligence network is compromised. Maturin’s cunning is the sole bulwark against sabotage of Aubrey’s daring mission.


The Ascent Of Man, by Jacob Bronowski. First published in 1973 to accompany the groundbreaking BBC television series, this book is considered one of the first works of ‘popular science’. In his highly accessible style, Dr Bronowski discusses human invention from the flint tool to geometry, agriculture to genetics, and from alchemy to the theory of relativity, showing how they all are expressions of our ability to understand and control nature.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club