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Snakes and Ladders

One of the discontents in 2016 was the belief that Washington no longer worked for the voters.  There was a perception that politicians preferred the employ of lobbyists and interest groups such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and China. Both parties were pushing agendas often at the behest of foreign potentates, including supposedly private outfits like the Clinton Foundation, because We Are the World.

There was no shame attached to this.  Everyone had become an internationalist.  In all the trendy places it was cool to speak glowingly of a global bridges and uncouth to talk of walls.  One talked of Europe; never a country in Europe.  To become a child of the world became normative.  There was even a name for those who didn't get with the program. Hillary referred to them as the Deplorables, the holdouts, the men who time had passed by.  The phrase had a brief vogue before it was replaced by newer terms: populist, reactionary, supremacist.  They all meant the same thing: a class of provincials that politicians no longer felt a compulsion to serve and free to ignore and, if necessary, remold.

The issue of loyalty bubbled its way to the surface again via the Podesta phishing incident. Suddenly the Hand which had always been there was recognized as reprehensible. Zounds, Governor Romney! It's giving someone a reach-around! Didn't I tell you how the Russians were not our friends at all?  Didn't I tell you all along? It was the sudden awakening that was remarkable.  That should have been the news.

There was a gnashing of teeth and rending of garments but the question of preserving the democratic client-agent relationship was hard to tackle in part because the terms had been eroded.  The forced debate in old language made the political dialogue sound dubbed, like a re-run from Golden Age TV, as if Joe McCarthy had suddenly returned from the grave a Democrat while the Rosenbergs were reborn into the Trump Towers.  It also created an impression that the foundations have been collapsing for a long time.

Was loyalty to the liberal cause the same as loyalty to the Deplorables? Was the enemy of the rule-based world order also the enemy of America? What was America anyway in the post-racial, post-cultural, post-national world where intuition was no sure guide?   If one had to define loyalty again beyond a purely legalistic adherence to an arbitrary chain of command how would one do it?

Maybe the first political task after the realization of foreign subversion is to rediscover loyalty, what it means, who it is owed to.  It is telling that it may take years.  But there are some starting points.  It's important to observe that treason is highly correlated with decline and decadence; betrayal is the occupational disease of the losing side, often just another name for opportunism. Quisling, Laval, Petain etc, crossed over to what they assumed was the future when they lost faith in their present and panicked to save their hides. Even the British Cabinet was tempted during the May 1940 Crisis to bow to the virile Reich. Only the irrational stubbornness of Winston Churchill stood in the way.