A New Correlation of Forces

AP Photo/Morry Gash

The long-awaited 2020 presidential election went into overtime with no called winner. If one is declared he will have less than an overwhelming mandate. With such ambiguity, it is difficult to read conventional meaning into the contest. Yet if elections were a war it would be easy: the progressive counteroffensive aimed at sweeping the House, Senate, and White House free of the rebel coalition has already failed. Despite enormous expense, the correlation of forces has essentially remained unchanged.

The 2016 loss might have been accounted as a lucky punch, but 2020 was a set-piece maximum effort by progressives backed by money, gangs, social censorship, and deep state support on a massive scale; yet it didn’t move the needle. It should have impressed, rather it showed the limits to the power of the American elite.

It was the most anticipated, polled, forecasted, and analyzed U.S. presidential election in history and yet the expensive estimates proved to be worthless, a massive intelligence failure that paralleled Neil Ferguson’s ill-fated projections of the coronavirus pandemic. The limits of elite prescience of over complex phenomena were demonstrated for all to see. The embarrassing surprise cast doubt over ambitious progressive projects based on social, biological, or climate engineering since the requisite degree of “scientific” certitude simply did not exist to predict even in a mundane election.

The populist uprising is now objectively too powerful for progressives to crush. The left must live with it, negotiate with it, coexist with it because they can no longer bulldoze it away. By the same token, the populists must accept that progressives are similarly too powerful to ignore. They cannot be provoked without cost.

This new strategic reality may create a gap between the 1619 fanatics and Democrats willing to live and let live. Nor will it sit well with populists who see the left as evil. But like Robert Oppenheimer’s analogy of two scorpions in a bottle in the early Cold War, both sides must learn to coexist while competing because there is no other choice.

Throughout history the two biggest sources of strategic overreach have been 1) leaders not knowing when to stop; and 2) leaders assuming the foe would not equal their own methods and ruthlessness. Hitler and Napoleon committed the first mistake. They, fortunately, shelved Soviet plan to win WW3 in 1979 by assuming Soviet nukes in Germany, Italy, and the low countries would not be countered in Operation 7 Days to the River Rhine exemplifies the second.

The danger is that each side may attempt an unattainable total victory in place of more limited goals. The temptation is greatest for the left with its habit of calling the shots. Yet progressive decline is precisely why 2016 and Brexit happened in the first place. The fantasy that nothing had changed and that they could resume their former dominance gave rise to the fantasy of the Blue Wave. But 2020 showed perceptive leftists that the old red mare was not what she used to as they failed to expand the Dem majority in the House, win back the Senate, and take the White House outright.

The same pitfall haunts conservatives who are full of passion but are organizationally underdeveloped. They are still over-reliant on charismatic leadership and require the time and adversity to institutionalize and internalize experiences. Destroying the progressives is beyond their current power. Withstanding the current onslaught may have to suffice.

Strategic parity can be a particularly dangerous place. Things one party could do when it was dominant are no longer possible in conditions or relative equality. Practices that once used to be OK suddenly become time bombs, as amply illustrated in the history of the civil rights and women’s equality movements.

This factor may figure in the disputed counts. How can you tell routine corruption and inefficiency from the especially deliberate kind? The real problems of the voting system, off-limits for years, may become an issue under scrutiny in ways that have never happened before. “You fight like you train.” This election is like the usual in those places only more so. The difficulty is that the usual may no longer be acceptable.

Overreach has suddenly become dangerous in the changed circumstances. It always is under conditions of equality but do the players realize it yet?

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