Belmont Club

Who's Going to Win the Cold Civil War?

A kind of slow-motion decoupling has been in progress since the middle of 2016, or whenever what Carl Bernstein called the “Cold Civil War” started.  Formerly sacrosanct red lines that maintained the truce are being crossed all the time now.  A letter from Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division asks “44 states to provide extensive information on how they keep their voter rolls up-to-date” in a strike at what the administration perceives as ghost voters.  State Department layoffs under Tillerson and probes into Post Office use of employee time to campaign for Hillary suggest blows to the heart of the Democratic public sector base. Reports that “Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused” mean the administration is prepared to fight fire with fire.

Have the Trumpians no shame?  The short answer is no. With Trump voters fiercely unrepentant, liberals are in for a fight. Each side is increasingly drifting toward “different truths” in Bernstein’s phrase, and American politics is bifurcating under separate banners. As with marital divorces, much of the fuel for political estrangement is the lack of money.  Government has long lived beyond its means.  “Health care is devouring the budget. … federal health spending has jumped to 5.5 percent of GDP today, on its way to a projected 9.3 percent thirty years from now.”  Now the money is running out.  State funding for higher education dropped in 2016, with Illinois leading the collapse.  Pensions are at risk.  “According to a 2015 study from the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA), public pension funds are around $1 trillion in the red,” writes Forbes.  “They’re facing two major problems: a severe rise in the old-age dependency ratio and dwindling investment returns.”

It’s every man for himself. In this confrontational atmosphere, ideologues are incentivized to ask for everything they can get. At Evergreen College, campus activists called for voluntary racial resegregation, out-lefting militants at the University of Missouri who earlier threatened student journalists with muscle.  The chancellor of the California community college system went the whole hog, arguing that intermediate algebra was “an obstacle to students obtaining their credentials — particularly in fields that require no higher level math skills” and ought not to be required.

But it’s not clear whether these leftist initiatives will fare any better than Trump’s Buy American executive order.  The old structures are a shadow of their former power.  Missouri suffered a collapse in enrollment  and staff layoffs.  Evergreen experienced a “slight decline” in attendance.  Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Andreessen as much as conceded that many graduates of higher education “will be wiped out by robotics, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, globalization and the gig economy.” Musk said at the World Government Summit in Dubai in February that “we will have to have some kind of universal basic income, I don’t think we are going to have a choice”.

Musk comes close to blurting out that what few have dared to say: the Blue model ain’t what it used to be. Much has been written about the role of globalization in bringing about populist unrest, but little attention has been given to the devastating effect of these same changes on the structures of elite power.  Public sector unions, newspapers, and the academy, which are the very core of the Blue Model, are threatened as never before.  We live in a world where Anderson Cooper has a smaller audience than a Nickelodeon cartoon.

The devastation will continue. Artificial intelligence will replace hundreds of thousands of government workers in the UK. In early 2017, British authorities allowed automation to open train doors — a job formerly done by conductors. “The Aslef rail union … accepted that technology allows train drivers to … [operate] doors (as they have on the Docklands Light Railway since 1987). Not every union agrees. Mick Cash, the outspoken general secretary of the RMT, called the decision a ‘shocking and historical betrayal.’ But the tide of history is not on Mr Cash’s side, for the issues at stake have implications far beyond the rail industry.”

It will be worse in America.  A Deloitte report said “simply automating tasks that computers already routinely do could free up 96.7 million federal government working hours annually, potentially saving $3.3 billion. At the high end, we estimate that AI technology could free up as many as 1.2 billion working hours every year, saving $41.1 billion.” As budgets shrink, the pressure will be on for pubic-sector layoffs to grow.

One would think Washington would see this coming but it doesn’t.  The reason for the unreal quality of contemporary news stories is journalism’s continued use of legacy terms to describe developing events. Writers use words like the “global world,” “the arc of history,” “reaction,” and  even “progress” to describe events because they have no other vocabulary and they singularly fail to say anything but “all will be back to normal.”  Even the Civil War metaphor falls short insofar as it implies that someone will “win” and someone will “lose” in the contest now underway.  It is unable to express the idea that neither the old elites nor the populist rebels are in control so much as caught up in events that they must adapt to or die.

Who can adapt best will probably determine who wins the CCW. Trump’s greatest comparative advantage over his rivals may ironically be his ignorance of conventional wisdom.  “The bien pensants hate him,” a friend of mine observed, “not so much out of policy differences so much as that he doesn’t know better than to name his daughter after a jewelry store and his son after a title of European nobility.  It just drives them nuts anyone would do something like that.”

Yet Trump’s unfamiliarity with the done thing also frees him to attempt things that no respectable person has even tried before. In a transitional crisis where no one knows how to recover from a spin, the course trying anything rather than perishing in masterful inactivity might not be a bad strategy.

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


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Books:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer. This book recounts Foer’s year-long quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top “mental athletes.” He draws on cutting-edge research, a surprising cultural history of remembering, and venerable tricks of the mentalist’s trade to transform our understanding of human memory. From the United States Memory Championship to deep within the author’s own mind, his journey reminds us that, in every way that matters, we are the sum of our memories.

Magnum! The Wild Weasels in Desert Storm: The Elimination of Iraq’s Air Defence, by Brick Eisel and James Schreiner. This book is based upon a journal Schreiner kept during his deployment to the Persian Gulf region for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Building on that record and the recollections of other F-4G Wild Weasel aircrew, the authors show a slice of what life and war was like during that time.

Rediscovering Americanism: And the Tyranny of Progressivism, Author Mark Levin revisits the founders’ warnings about the perils of overreach by the federal government and makes an impassioned plea for a return to America’s most sacred values. He analyzes the troubling question of America’s future, and reminds readers what they must restore for the sake of their children and their children’s children.

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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