The Long Civil War

If anyone thought the status quo would fold up after the hammer blows of the 2016 populist revolt, they were wrong. Ben Rhodes noted the effects of unremitting resistance with approval. "Bibi backsliding. Boris flailing... Fight back. It will work." Victor Davis Hanson conceded the crushing weight of the establishment riposte: "After nearly four years of ceaseless attacks by Democrats and the press, the strange thing is not that Trump can be occasionally wearisome, but that he is even still breathing."

The tone of the fight was set by Greta Thunberg's declaration to a crowd of environmental supporters: "We can't save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change." It was a ringing call to victory over the Deplorables, victory by any means necessary. It was as if the old legalisms themselves had become too restrictive to allow the truly good guys to win. As Hillary Clinton told an audience at George Washington University: “You can run the best campaign and have the best plans and get the nomination and win the popular vote and you can lose the Electoral College and therefore the election.”

“This is one of those moments we stand at a crossroads of our own a crisis in democracy. Racists and white supremacist views are lifted up in the media and the White House. Hard fought for civil rights are stripped back. Rule of law is being undermined, our norms and institutions... are under assault, and that includes the single most important fight of our times…the fight to protect the right to vote.”

She deserved to win but the rules betrayed her. If you can't win the old way, change the rules. To avoid another setback to history, Elizabeth Warren proposes to abolish the Electoral College. “Every vote matters, and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College,” Ms. Warren said. If that doesn't work, keep getting rid of stuff until it does.

The sentiment is not confined to America. David Cameron told CNN that some people "will never forgive me for holding a referendum." Rules which led Brexit to advance have also stirred the outrage of the British ruling class. "Remainers were alarmed to realize that no-deal Brexit... would automatically become reality on March 29, 2019, unless something could be done to stop it. It was surprising how much could be done to stop it."

They had an infinity of tools, and they were no longer scared of the voters. No one wanted to be so contemptuous as to repeal Brexit, but Parliament could put a “no-deal Brexit” on hold, which it did. ... Some of the most extraordinary moments of these winter debates involved the interventions of the Speaker of the House, John Bercow. Elected as a Conservative, he had, in David Souter-esque fashion, discovered once in power that he actually opposed Conservative policies on most things, very much including Brexit... Anti-Brexiteers used their control of debate to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019, which ordered Theresa May to seek an extension of Brexit from the European Union. And that began the process that led to postponing the Brexit deadline until October 31.

On October 31 they may delay it yet again. Boris Johnson "says Britain must leave the EU at the end of next month with or without a divorce deal. But many UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and are determined to thwart him. Lawyer David Pannick, who represents one of the campaigners challenging the government, told 11 Supreme Court judges that Johnson had improperly suspended the legislature 'to silence Parliament.'"

Such extraordinary measures are justified on grounds that the danger of populism is too great to be held back by mere punctilio. “We just can’t sit on our asses and leave the political process to neanderthals who don’t want to believe in the future,” former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told an audience in Melbourne. The future must be saved and in that quest nothing must be allowed to stand in its way, not even the computer you are reading this on. "To decarbonize," wrote Ben Tarnoff in the Guardian to his online readers, "we must decomputerize."

[M]uch of the electricity that powers the cloud is generated by burning fossil fuels. As a result, machine learning has a large carbon footprint... training a model for natural-language processing – the field that helps “virtual assistants” like Alexa understand what you’re saying – can emit as much as 626,155lb of carbon dioxide. That’s about the same amount produced by flying roundtrip between New York and Beijing 125 times. ...

To decarbonize, we need to decomputerize.

This proposal will no doubt be met with charges of Luddism. Good: Luddism is a label to embrace. The Luddites were heroic figures and acute technological thinkers. ... Luddism urges us to consider: progress towards what and progress for whom? Sometimes a technology shouldn’t exist. Sometimes the best thing to do with a machine is to break it.

Computers, airplanes, population levels -- nothing is off-limits. But the downside of this militancy is it engenders its mirror image. As Megan McArdle pointed out, in a zero-sum game there are no points for second place. "Democrats who think court packing is justified by Garland forget that [Whispers] Garland was justified by Bork. In this game, you don't move last." When one side attacks the other must counterattack. The first side to falter loses. That fear, as Victor Davis Hanson notes, is what keeps the weary populists together. They will stand fast because for them the alternative to Trump is the abyss.

Fighting all that can be wearying. ... But these are not normal times. There is (for now) no longer a Democratic Party. Instead, it is a revolutionary Jacobin movement that believes socialism is our salvation, that identity politics is our creed, that gun confiscation is our duty, that the abrupt end of fossil fuels is coming very soon, that open borders is our new demography, and that the archetypical unmarried, childless, urban hipster is our model woke citizen.

The very intensity of what Hanson calls the "revolutionary Jacobin movement" is likely to prolong the current political division to decades because no one can afford to lose. Both sides are so numerically matched than even a progressive win in 2020 is unlikely to prove any more game-ending than the Brexit referendum or Trump's 2016 election. The persistence of protests in Hong Kong shows how difficult it is for even the Chinese Communist Party to impose its will upon stubborn millions.

This suggests that the current Cold Civil War is more likely to resemble a Cold Cold War in duration. Whether Trump wins or loses in 2020; whether Britain exits the European Union on October 31, 2019, the struggle will go on until technological and historical developments hand down the verdict. God, or if you prefer, Reality makes the rules. We just have to play by them.

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Books:

The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics, by Kevin Williamson. The author takes a flamethrower to mob politics, the “beast with many heads” that haunts social media and what currently passes for real life. He believes it's destroying our capacity for individualism and dragging us down “the Road to Smurfdom, the place where the deracinated demos of the Twitter age finds itself feeling small and blue.”

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, by Joseph J. Ellis. This is a gripping portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history - the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government - and the men most responsible for this second American founding: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt. This is a book about ten Great Ideas. Haidt draws on philosophical wisdom and scientific research to show how the meaningful life is closer than you think.

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.

Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.

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.