Belmont Club

When No One Knows the Answer

Liberal commenters reacted with amusement and glee after Donald Trump misspelled a word in a tweet. He typed “covfefe” instead of the possibly intended “coverage.” Hillary Clinton “mocked the President’s made-up word, joking to a Code Conference in California that she ‘thought it was a hidden message to the Russians’, according to The Hill.” It pointed up, if that were still necessary, how deficient in literacy and elocution The Donald is.

But inevitably, every Trump malapropism and gaffe raises the invidious comparison: if he’s so stupid, then how about the people he beat? One can always explain a loss to Napoleon. But how does one justify a loss to a person regarded as a moron? One can lose to a genius without shame; it’s harder to avoid mortification at being worsted by covfefe. And Hillary lost to covfefe.

Trump’s unexpected competitiveness is a reminder of how low the political bar has fallen. The energy expended on reviling Trump, however satisfying, does little to address voter disgust with the political class as a whole. They sense a helplessness in the face of a growing entropy, both over the world and their lives, that was happening even before the election. They saw the Obama administration come to office on the proposition the Bush policy of intervention failed and elected him to try something else. They also saw his attempts to “lead from behind” and bomb from on high fail too. The Eiffel Tower was dimmed for a third time in a week to commiserate with yet another bombing, underscoring the fact no one knows the solution. But they do know where wreaths, candles, and blinker bulbs can be had and supply them instead.

Maybe Trump doesn’t have a clue about how to fix things. But the more serious problem is not many people are convinced Hillary knows, either. Just as the lack of a cure reduces the worth of doctors, elites are on the defensive because their stock of knowledge, so useful in the past, is now ineffectual against the present chaos. This helplessness has the effect of lowering their status, as with a priesthood faced with the manifest futility of their rites. Legitimacy is based on working magic and the wizardry is faltering.

It partly explains the resentfulness at being demoted to the level of Donald. The mojo left Hillary when people realized she was just a befuddled old lady. While there is nothing wrong with that, there is nothing special either. Without the magic the contest between them was suddenly no longer between a mere mortal and the “smartest woman in the world” but between a reality TV host and a granny, a much closer fight. On that leveled field, even Trump’s randomness actually seemed an advantage: a willingness to punch buttons that Hillary would never dare attempt. While that could make things worse, voters in 2016 were desperate enough to try something new.

That desperation has not gone away because the helplessness has not gone away. While the liberal elite can find solace in rage, it will matter little unless the essential question can be answered: why has the magic which worked so well in the years after the Second World War stopped working?

Hillary herself stumbled over the possibility things had changed in the months after her loss:

I spent decades learning about what it would take to move our country forward — including people who clearly didn’t vote for me — to try to make sure we dealt with a lot of these hard issues that are right around the corner like robotics and artificial intelligence and things that are really going to be upending the economy for the vast majority of Americans, to say nothing of the rest of the world. So I’m now back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance.

Having said that, she promptly forgot about it and went right back to touting Planned Parenthood, LGBT issues, and the Women of the World summit. Back to the same old, same old. Though it’s unlikely solutions can be rediscovered on this trodden path, it’s a reminder that it’s the only place she knows how to search.

Yet we should have expected it. Since many of the most important problems in biology, mathematics, computer science, etc. are unsolved, there’s no reason to believe politicians have any answers either. What countries relied upon instead of special knowledge was a process, a heuristic through which answers could eventually be discovered. Ironically, it is that heuristic which is most threatened by political polarization. The need to be perceived as right, superior — morally or otherwise — has interfered with the ability to formulate questions which can be cooperatively solved. It’s a capability which is particularly important in historical transitions that reduce the knowledge advantage of the educated over the plebeians. When there is no light in a cave all are reduced to groping for an exit, but not if the Optimates forbid the Plebs from trying to protect their own status.

Perhaps nations begin to die when they stop trying together. Group survival is not guaranteed and more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are estimated to be extinct. Languages vanish and political systems fail: and the best that the past civilizations could achieve was try together, and if need be, die together. Yet that may be a higher bar to clear than one would think. If no one finds new magic perhaps the last known trace of what was once known as the United States of America will be a jibe.


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The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, This book by Douglas Murray is not only an analysis of demographic and political realities, but also an eyewitness account of a continent in self-destruct mode. Declining birth-rates, mass immigration and cultivated self-distrust and self-hatred have come together to make Europeans unable to argue for themselves and incapable of resisting their own comprehensive change as a society. Murray includes reporting from across the entire continent, from the places where migrants land to the places they end up, from the people who appear to welcome them in to the places which cannot accept them.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton. Every page shows how strange and marvelous the world really is. With compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, charts, and maps for every region of the world. Tagged as addictive by readers.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. First came the postwar High, then the Awakening of the ’60s and ’70s, and now the Unraveling. In this book, published in 1997, Strauss and Howe apply their generational theories to the cycles of history and locate America on the brink of a crisis. Are you ready for the Fourth Turning?

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

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
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