Arguments for an open world

For friends of the Open Society who, like me, would prefer not to block the movement of people, ideas, and trade:

  • Trade agreements are net contributors to economic growth
  • Immigrants are net contributors to economic growth
  • Money spent on the security industrial complex economy has low ROI vs. education, infrastructure, and research spending
  • A diversity of ideas more likely leads to the best outcomes vs. a paucity of ideas
  • Companies with more women leaders are more profitable
  • The more the merrier!

Theory: Libertarians are the Narcissists of the Far-Right

I’ve been reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” and reminded of the quintessential liberal definition of the term:

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
(emphasis mine)

It seems to me that Libertarian proponents tend to make a systematic error in portraying liberty as only commensurate with the first part of Mill’s description: essentially interpreting it as, “I should be able to do whatever I want, and have no constraints placed upon my person by the government whatsoever.”

This misses completely the essential boundary established by the second part: that doing what one wants has limits attached, and that those limits are a proscription on engaging in activities which either harm others, or deprive others of their own rights in pursuit of liberty.

Being fixated with avoiding taxation, the Libertarian will proclaim that the government is coercing him out of his hard-earned monies — but this fails to recognize the real harm being done to the lower classes by the deprivation of funds to support the basic level of public goods required to preserve life at a subsistence level as well as social mobility: the essence of the American dream.

In short, Libertarian dogma tends to be singularly focused on the self-interest of the upper classes without any attendant regard to the rights of others that may be trampled on by either class oppression or the capturing and consolidation of political power in the hands of the wealthy. It fails systematically to recognize the perspective of the “other side,” i.e. those who are harmed by the enactment of the Libertarian ideology — much as a narcissist lacks the capability of seeing others’ perspectives.

RussiaGate Lexicon: Terminology for the New Cold War

Did Russia hack the 2016 US election? Most certainly. The FBI, CIA, and entire intelligence community is in agreement on this point.

The following list is an attempt to demystify the language surrounding Russian interference in the election of Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine the Western order — in retaliation for the fall of the Soviet Union which happened under his watch as a young KGB agent stationed in Dresden, Germany.

See also: the RussiaGate Bestiary which lists the individuals involved in the Russian 2016 election interference investigation. Please note: both of these resources are works in progress and are being updated frequently.

4chanA notorious internet message board with an unruly culture capable of trolling, pranks, and crimes.
8chanIf 4chan isn’t raw and lawless enough for you, try the even more right-wing “free speech”-haven 8chan, which is notorious for incubating a large swath of the Gamergate culture.
The ActLas Vegas nightclub in the Palazzo, owned by Sheldon Adelson, under surveillance by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for obscene performances. Site of the Miss USA pageant party attended by Trump and the Agalarov’s in June 2013.
active measuresinformation warfare aimed at undermining the West
Air Force OneThe U.S. presidential plane.
art critic in civilian clothing“joke” used by the KGB to refer to themselves while informing on dissidents under Soviet rule
backdoora method, often secret, of bypassing regular login authentication or encryption of a computer or server
Bakucapital of Azerbaijan
banana republicpolitically unstable countries whose economies are monocultures controlled by an oligarchy; puppet states
Bank Secrecy ActLegal statute requiring persons managing funds in excess of $10,000 in foreign banks disclose said accounts to the US Treasury.
bespredel“limitless and total lack of accountability of the elite oligarchs”
blind trustA financial trust in which the beneficiaries have no access to the holdings of the trust, or any knowledge of its investments and contents
Bolotnaya SquareThe square was the site of the biggest protests in Russia since the Soviet era, in December 2011
BolshevikThe majority faction within the Marxist revolutionary party led by Vladimir Lenin to power in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, eventually becoming the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
bolt holeA type of retreat or refuge for those in the survivalist subculture, to be absconded to in case of disaster or apocalypse.
BNDGerman foreign intelligence agency
bug-out location (BOL)Another name for a bolt hole or survivalist refuge location.
CalexitMovement to split the state of Californnia into East and West states
capital flightRefers to the massive ongoing exodus of both legitimate and illegitimate funds of Russian oligarchs and their state cronies to “safe havens” in foreign banks and offshore accounts outside of Russia
Charter 77Informal Czech resistance movement against the communist regime, named after a document that was deemed a political crime to distribute.
ChekismLoyalty to the concept of an unbroken chain of Russian security services, all the way from Lenin’s Cheka to the KGB to the FSB
Chronicle of Current EventsSoviet dissident periodical (samizdat) from 1968 to the early 1980s that reported on the human rights violations in the Soviet Union
Cold War
Color Revolutions
computational propaganda
cooperating witness
CPACConservative Political Action Conference
CPSUCommunist Party of the Soviet Union
Crimeaterritory in eastern Ukraine invaded and “annexed” by Putin in 2014; unrecognized and condemned by the international community
criminal investigation
Crocus City Hall7000-seat theater complex in Moscow built by Aras Agalarov; site of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow
Cuban Missile Crisis
cut out
cyberspies
Cyprus
DACA
dachacountry estate
Dark Web
deep stateNetworks of opposition within governments who undermine the official regime
demoshizashort for ‘democratic schizophrenics’
deposition
détentestrategy of easing geopolitical tensions between nations; used in particular to describe attempts to “cool off” antagonism during the Cold War
dezinformatsiyaRussian information warfare
diaspora
disinformation
DonbasTerritory in eastern Ukraine where Russian aggression has resumed as of Jan 29, 2017 following two years of Minsk Two ceasefire agreement
Doomsday Clock
doxingresearching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual
Dumathe lower house of the Federal Assembly, Russia’s Parliament
Echo MoskvyDemocratic radio station in Moscow seminal is thwarting the KGB-led coup against Gorbachev in 1991
“Eternal Rome”ideology positing Russia as a geopolitical bulwark of conservatism against a weak-kneed West (part of Alexander Dugin’s reformulation of Eurasianism theory)
Evening Internetthe first blog in Russia, founded by Anton Nossik
executive privilege
fake news
fallout shelter
false flagcovert operations designed to deceive by appearing as though they are carried out by other entities, groups, or nations than those who actually executed them
FAPSIOne of the agencies spun out from the former KGB to head Govt Comms & Info (modeled after the NSA) — this division was instrumental in controlling the unfolding of the Russian internet
Federal AssemblyRussian Parliament
fifth column
fifth world warnon-linear war; the war of all against all
Financial Crimes Enforcement NEtwork (FinCEN)Department within the Treasury that handles and maiontains FBAR filings from US persons holding in excess of $10,000 in foreign banks.
FISA Court
FISA warrant
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)Legal statute requiring those persons lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or other entity to register such with the U.S. government.
foreign bank account report (FBAR)Required disclosure to the US treasury by persons holding in excess of $10,000 in funds in foreign banks.
forensics
FreedomFestConservative evangelical event annually in Las Vegas
frozen conflict zonesterm for several unrecognized pseudo states within former Soviet territories who have broken away from the national government and are operating as Russian protectorates
FSBthe Russian Federal Security Service
GamerGate
Gazeta.ru
GazpromRussia’s energy monopolgy and largest gas company
Georgia
Ghost StoriesFBI operation allowing a sleeper cell of 10 KGB spies to operate in the U.S. for 10 years, to reverse engineer their methods. At the end of the sting, FBI Director Robert Mueller rounded them all up and expelled them from the country.
glasnost“increased government transparency” or openness — a slogan employed by Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader in the 1980s
Glavplakat
“global cabal”euphemism in far-right Russian discourse to refer to a perceived “Jewish conspiracy” behind the international order of institutions like NATO and the EU
globalization
Grand Jury16 to 23 people impaneled to hear evidence from a legal prosecution, and decide if said prosecution has a caseworthy set of evidence to bring charges.
Grenadines
honeypot
hybrid warfare
IC (Intelligence Community)
iMessageApple’s version of SMS
information warfare
interlocuter
IRC
IskraThe main Bolshevik newspaper in the early 20th century
Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974
kakistocracy
KGBThe Soviet secret service, renowned for ruthlessness and duplicity
kleptocracyform of government in which the leaders harbor organized crime rings and often participate in or lead them; the police, military, civil government, and other governmental agencies may routinely participate in illicit activities and enterprises.
KommersantLong-respected business newspaper purchased by pro-Kremlin oligarch Alisher Usmanov
kompromatcompromising material on a head of state or other important figure; typically used for blackmail purposes
KomsomolLeninist Youth League organization for Communists aged 14 to 28 in the late 80s & early 90s
The Kremlin
Kuchinothe oldest top-secret research facility of the KGB, 12 miles east of Moscow
Kurchatov InstitutePreeminent Soviet nuclear research facility still in operation today in the far north of Moscow
Latvia
Lenta.ru
liberalismPolitical and ethical framework based on individual liberty via human rights and equal protection
Logan Act
lords on the boards
Mafia stateA systematic corruption of government by organized crime syndicates.
Magnitsky Act
Maidan revolutionStudent protests that ousted the Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych, that started Nov 21, 2013.
Marxism
maskirovkawar of deception and concealment
Menatep
Menshevik
Minsk TwoColloquial name of the 2015 ceasefire agreement between Russia & Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea
Mitrokhin Archive
Mokhovaya Squarewell-known landmark in front of the Kremlin
MSK-IXThe main Internet exchange point in Russia
MVDMinistry of Internal Affairs; supervises all police, prisons, and “public order militias”
nationalism
National Prayer Breakfast
neutralize
Never-Trump
Newsru.com
NKVDa forerunner to the KGB under Stalin
non-linear warfare
NotPetya
novichokmilitary-grade nerve agent developed by Russia and used in the poisoning of former FSB agent turned Putin critic Andrei Skripal and his daughter in Lonson in March, 2018
Novorossiaregion of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian separatists
October Revolutionthe Nov 7, 1917 Bolshevik revolution and armed overthrow of the government, leading to the creation of the USSR
October Surprise
oligarchy
one-party state
open source intelligence
operatives
opposhort form of opposition research
opposition research
OSINTopen source intelligence
OstankinoRussia’s TV network
Ozero Cooperative
perestroikapolicy of restructuring or rebuilding the Soviet government, employed by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s
plausible deniability
plea deal
plead the Fifth
Plovdiv, BulgariaSafe “bolt hole” identified for Eastern European hackers paid by Trump and the Kremlin if things went south
ponyatiyaan unwritten understanding about how things must be done
populism
postmodernism
“post office boxes”Secret Soviet military and security research facilities, known only to the public by their P.O. Box number
post-truth
power grid intrusions
Prague, Czech Republic
proizvolRussian word for “arbitrariness”
Project LakhtaInternal name for the operation that Prigozhin’s IRA was running to interfere in elections across the Western world, according to the Mueller indictments.
Project Ripon
propaganda
provokatsiya
RedditAmerican social network inhabited by numerous denizens of the alt-Right and hosting notoriously grotesque subreddits.
refuseniksTerm given during the Soviet era, particularly under Stalin, for Jews who had been denied permission to emigrate
reiding
RelcomOne of the first private companies or “collectives” formed under Gorbachev’s glasnost reforms, it brokered the first proto-Internet within the Soviet Union and first connection to the outside world — playing a key role in thwarting the attempted coup against Gorbachev by the KGB in August, 1991
rent-a-peer
Rodinaextreme nationalist party in Russia c. 2003 that hinted at ethnic cleansing; The Guardian reported it had actually been set up as a prop by Putin & cronies, to draw votes away from the other far-right Communist Party
RosatomRussian company building Turkey’s first nuclear plant
Rose RevolutionPeaceful protest-driven pro-Western transfer of power in the former Soviet state of Georgia in Nov 2003
RosneftRussia’s state oil company
Rossiiskaia GazetaRussia’s official government newspaper
RT.comstate-owned Russian news service
Rublevkabillionaire’s row in Moscow
Russian Imperial Movementpart of the far-right coalition within Russia seeking to build an international consensus, this group advocates “Christian Orthodox imperial nationalism”
RussophobiaPopular hysteria against Russia and Russians perceived to be the case by Russia and Russians
samizdatin the Soviet era, the creation by hand and distribution of copies of literature and other material banned by the state
SberbankRussia’s largest bank
SDNs (specially designated nationals)Individuals against whom secondary sanctions have been applied
The Seychelles
shadow profilesData that Facebook collects on people who are not members of Facebook, via association with their friends who are
shestidesiatniki“Sixties’ Generation” in the Soviet Union, who shared a lot in common with the American New Left. Advocated for political reform.
Siemens AG
silovikiRussian term for those who have backgrounds and employment in security services, the military, and police; more specifically a reference to Putin’s security cabal
Signal
sistemaRussian term to denote “how the government really works” (as opposed to via formal state institutions)
SJWSocial Justice Warriors, a term which has somehow been wielded as a pejorative by alt-righters and other radical right cadre, energing out of Gamergate culture.
SMSAka “texting”
Snow Revolutionpopular protests beginning in Moscow in 2011, demanding the reinstatement of free elections & the ability to form opposition parties
sockpuppet accountsFake social media accounts used by trolls for deceptive and covert actions, avoiding culpability for abuse, aggression, death threats, doxxing, and other criminal acts against targets.
SolidarityPolish workers’ party confronting Communism in the late ’80s
SORMSystem of Operative Search Measures — the system in use by the FSB to eavesdrop on the Russian internet
South Stream pipeline Gazprom project through Balkans and Central Europe
“sovereign democracy”system in which democratic procedures are retained, but without any actual democratic freedoms; brainchild of Vladislav Surkov
sovereign wealth fund
spasitelniiRussian word for “redemptive”
SputnikRussian news wire proffering fake news
StasiNickname for the Ministry of State Security in East Germany during the Cold War
Steele dossier
stochastic terrorism
Stoleshnikov Lanepedestrian street in Moscow lined with designer boutiques
St. PetersburgLocation of the headquarters for the IRA, Internet Research Agency, aka Putin’s troll farm, at 55 Savushkina Street.
Strana.ru
subpoena
SUP MediaRussia’s largest blogging service via acquisition of LiveJournal from Six Apart
SVRRussian foreign intelligence service
swattinghoaxed reports to emergency services intended to provoke a SWAT team response at the target’s home; a form of Internet-based attack used by Gamergate, the alt-Right, and other groups and individuals
tax returns
The ThawBrief period of reform under Nikita Khrushchev between 1956 and 1964, when Khrushchev takes over from Stalin and is replaced by Leonid Brezhnev
tradecraft
“translator project”
trial balloonInformation put out or leaked to the media to gauge public reaction.
Trump Tower MoscowThen-candidate Trump signed a letter of intent to move forward with this project, while at the same time denying its existence publicly, repeatedly.
truthiness
Turkish StreamProposed gas pipeline allowing Russia to extend its control over Turkey and European energy markets
Ukranian occupation
unmaskingIntelligence protocol redacting American identities from transcripts of foreign intercepts
USPER
Velvet Revolution
vertical of powerreference to the tightly controlled power cabal structure Putin has amassed around himself
vKontakteRussian social network; equivalent analog to Facebook
vlastpower
VTBRussia’s largest commercial bank
wag the dog
watering holehacker attacks that infect entire websites
whataboutismClassic debate tactic of old Soviet apologists to deflect criticism of Soviet policy; whenever an American would levy a critique, the response would be, “What about the bad things America does?”
white knights
white nationalism
Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation
World National-Conservatism Movement (WNCM)umbrella term for Russia’s movement to unite an international extreme far-right coalition
Yes CaliforniaMovement to secede from the US entirely, run by Marcus Ruiz Evans, Louis J. Marinelli
Yukos
zakaznews information that has been paid for by special interest

Capitalism vs. Democracy

Gather ’round, y’all — it’s the fight of our times…

How much decision-making should be privately made, vs. collectively? Arguably, decisions that affect most of us ought, in some way, to incorporate input from the public.

But as Elizabeth Warren 2020 (!!) notes — it’s getting harder and harder to do that, even as economic opportunities dry up and the wealthy capture more and more of the political class.

With Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders all exploring bids too, it’s shaping up to be a very interesting 2020 indeed. With so many all-star Democrats in this mix, it’s hard to imagine we won’t come out of this with an interesting campaign season — beginning approximately now, with Warren’s semi-official entry into the arena and owning the airwaves as Trump comes unhinged at “Pocahontas.”

She dressed him down easily, gracefully, and quickly — before moving on into substantive economic issues most Americans are going to want to hear a lot more about. Trump cannot speak this way about the economy, which means his ruse on the Hillbilly Elegies of the world is about to come to an abrupt end, with many of their rude awakening.

For some it will never dawn on them that the man of the golden toilets (and golden showers!) who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars from his New York real estate mogul father before bankrupting himself 4 times in the casino business, in point of fact can in no way understand their experience living in a motor home or ramshackle apartment complex in some run-down suburb in the rust belt. But many may finally see that he’s just been pretending, like all the other rich people who still rule their damn lives despite all the promises to “drain the swamp” of corruption.

Let’s hope.

Here’s to 2020! 🥂

Happy 2019, United States and world!

We have endured much together these past 2-3 years, Team America. Thankfully our civil society is incredibly robust — and time is accelerating demographic gains in an inexorably democratic direction. As Boomers give way to Millennials — slated to happen as early as this year — we are experiencing a seismic shift in the national consciousness.

Look out, Boomers!

Our values as a nation-state have always been evolving as the political consciousness and cultural landscapes shift, but in recent political times the changes have been radical, seemingly sudden, and jarring in a way that collective memory does not easily recall. I believe we are witnessing the swan song of a generation — the largest post-WWII generation dominant demo for decades, now facing only the long decline.

Much is said of the Hillbilly Elegies of our country, but to be fair these elders are legitimately terrified: of the U.S. they see around them today — bearing little resemblance to the nation of their boomingly patriarchal childhoods; of the world outside our borders and the immigrants (theoretically; allegedly) streaming into them illegally; of long disused portions of America drying up and economically (and in some cases literally) tumbleweeding away; of their own impending mortality.

We go high

Michelle Obama was right. Is right. We should make ourselves aware of the kinds of games the other side is willing to employ, but endeavor not to play them ourselves as much as we can. But beyond a moral reason to love thy neighbor, there’s the practical matter that we may find common cause in surprising territories. Non-wealthy elder whites and young Millennials who struggled through the 2008 housing and banking crash both have reason to want a robust safety net, for example. This is the essence of democratic politics done well: coalition-building — not among special interests, but among elected leaders representing their constituents in good faith.

The arc of justice

…goes at its own pace, or something like that. Fascism has a creep (or at the moment, more of an open stride), and justice has a methodical process of evidence-gathering and weighing; we can have some solid faith in the latter to do its work. Regardless of the levels of bitter partisanship in the air, we have an enormous cadre of professional civil servants who do their often thankless jobs tirelessly for years and decades out of the limelight, for sub-private sector pay and little recognition. This cohort works tirelessly for us now, investigating the many tentacles of the Trump corruption operation stretching back years and decades into American life and foreign investment.

Mr Mueller, do your worst. By which I mean your best. We understand each other, I think. 👍🏽⚖️

Palmer Luckey and Peter Thiel: Welfare queens

Luckey and Thiel are a particularly toxic breed of billionaire welfare queen, who outwardly revile government with every chance they get while having both sucked at its teat to make their fortunes, and currently making a luxe living on taxpayer largesse.

Thiel’s Paypal and Facebook-induced riches rode the coattails of the DARPA-created internet, while Luckey had his an exit to internet giant Facebook. Now Thiel helms creepy-AF data mining company Palantir, whose tentacles are wrapped all the way around the intelligence community’s various agencies, while Luckey’s Thiel-funded new startup Anduril is bidding for lucrative defense contracts to build Trump’s border wall.

If we’re lucky, Luckey will create some sort of VR seasteading community that sucks them both right in and traps them in a sort of Libertarian Matrix forever.

Inequality and the Creep of Fascism

Some people like to argue that more economic inequality is a good thing, because it is a “natural” byproduct of capitalism in a world of “makers and takers,” “winners and losers,” “wolves and sheep,” [insert your favorite Manichaean metaphor here]. However, too much inequality is deleterious for both economics and politics — for reasons that are intertwined.

Those who amass exorbitant wealth often increasingly use a portion of their gains to capture politics. While the mythological promise of trickle-down economics is that we must not have progressive taxation, because giving more money to the already wealthy is the only way to spur economic investment and innovation and create jobs — in actual fact the majority of tax cut windfalls go to stock buybacks, offshore tax havens, regulatory capture, political lobbying, and campaign donations. All this is a runaway amplifying feedback loop that tilts the playing field further away from equal opportunity, social mobility, and democratic process.

Wealthy elites seek to preserve the power structures that have benefitted them, and keep them (and their descendants) in the ruling class. It is a slow recreation of the aristocratic societies of old Europe that we fought a bloody war of independence to separate ourselves from. Yet the erosion of civil values, public engagement, and collective will — largely as fomented by the conservative elite over the past 50 years in America — and the ascendancy of the myth of “rugged individualism” have conspired to create a perilous condition in which corruption operates so openly in today’s White House and Wall Street that democracy itself is in great danger.

Moreover, we have learned these lessons once, not quite a century ago, yet have forgotten them:

“Where there is a crisis, the ruling classes take refuge in fascism as a safeguard against the revolution of the proletariat… The bourgeoisie rules through demagoguery, which in practice means that prominent positions are filled by irresponsible people who commit follies in moments of decision.”

— Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

Putin’s Greatest Weakness: The Russian Economy

Dictatorships generally do not foster, or even tolerate, the kind of creative disruption of the status quo necessary to the existence of a dynamic free market. Plus, the economy of the Russian state can best be described as a kleptocracy. Thus Vladimir Putin needs to find other ways to shore up both the national finances and the support of his cronies (much less so, of his people, who are primarily afterthoughts in the Russian power structure).

Here is a granular look at major indicators of the economy of the Russian Federation.

OECD Country Dashboard: Russia

The Mafia State: Russia Since the “End” of the Cold War

We Americans thought it ended, anyhow — but we were wrong. The revanchism that in some sense was of high potential after the fall of the former Soviet Union indeed came to pass — and later to be accelerated by the rise of Vladimir Putin to power.

Along with that trajectory, a curious development path for the former Soviet state: mostly, a descent into organized crime at the highest echelons of government. In some sense, organized crime is the government.

Here’s a great #longread from the Guardian about the history of a modern-day mafia state.

Putin’s Playbook: Pull factions apart from center; exacerbate democratic crisis

While we wring our hands in the United States over whether or not such a strategy is even conceivable, the erstwhile President of Russia has been running this playbook out in the open in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for some time. With help from Propagandist-in-Chief Vladislav Surkov, Putin has leveraged the open secrets about the psychology of crowds we learned in the late 19th and early 20th century to stir up emotional antagonisms within the political spectrum — to predictable results.

It’s no accident that fascism is on the march in America. The conditions have been brewing for some time, predominantly since the Conservative movement began breaking away more militantly from democratic principles and towards authoritarian philosophy (elite rule by force: preferably invisible force via economic hegemony for the middle and upper classes, and violent force / the carceral state for The Undesirables) in the late 1970s and 1980s. All Putin had to do was make use of available prevailing conditions and tools — the rise of social media in the 2000s counterintuitively blew a gaping wide security hole in the American persuasion landscape that Cold War Soviet operatives of the 1960s would scarcely have believed.

Today, as in parts of Europe between the world wars, the U.S. has partisan gridlock within The Establishment sector of politics; this exacerbates the impatience with and contempt for the status quo (aka the Liberal world order) that in some sense naturally congeals at the far right and far left margins of the political spectrum as a simple consequence of the Normal Distribution (the Median Voter Theorem captures this tendency quite succinctly). Under such conditions, an influence campaign like the one Russia wielded against the United States during the 2016 election season was tasked merely with tilting the playing field a little further — a task that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were in some sense fundamentally engineered to accomplish, in exchange for ad revenue.

New World Order? Be careful what we wish for

“Both Italian and German fascists had done their best to make democracy work badly. But the deadlock of liberal constitutions was not something the fascists alone had brought about. ‘The collapse of the Liberal state,’ says Roberto Vivarelli, ‘occurred independently of fascism.’ At the time it was tempting to see the malfunction of democratic government after 1918 as a systemic crisis marking the historic terminus of liberalism. Since the revival of constitutional democracy since World War II, it has seemed more plausible to see it as a circumstantial crisis growing out of the strains of World War I, a sudden enlargement of democracy, and the Bolshevik Revolution. However we interpret the deadlock of democratic government, no fascist movement is likely to reach office without it.”

— Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

100 years on, it feels like we’re back at the start.

All politics is identity politics

There is no point belaboring a “stop the identity politics!” argument because there is simply no way to excise the political clash of factions from the identities of those factions. There would be no point in clashing if there were no identities.

There is no polity without identity. The root of the word itself in ancient Greek referred to the relationship between a citizen and the state, and the rights one has in relation to that state. Whereas individual communities have historically had rights infringed — often precisely because of their identities — it is of course a logical imperative to defend one’s rights under the rule of law. You use whatever tactics are available to you and that your ethics comport with to get your rights. All factions would do the same.

Some might say the predominant historical thread since the founding of this nation is the gradual parity-seeking of the many groups that have migrated here over the past 241 years (and much longer still, before that). Most of them have had a long, hard road; many of them still do; and still new groups are becoming the focus of persecution in America as time goes on.

Economics is also identity

How does one even have a political position without an identity? I often hear “economics” presented as the “alternative” to discussing identity, as if one’s economics can be separable from one’s identity; as if economics is separable from history (or as Jefferson called it, the “dead hand of the past“); as if economics is separable from one’s nationality; as if one’s choices in life have no relation to one’s station, or aspiration

James Madison himself believed the unequal distribution of property was itself the most common cause of factionalism. There aren’t a lot of rich socialists. There aren’t a lot of poor Libertarians. So it goes.
The question isn’t whether or not we talk about identity — the political question is “whose identity(ies) do we talk about?” Who gets resources, accolades, airtime, contracts, lucrative careers, investment funds, bailout funds, bail funds, etc. etc. Who gets rights, and who doesn’t.

There are mathematically-speaking two predominant positions one can take on this question:

  1. we all have equal rights
  2. some groups should have more rights than others

The former position is the classic view of liberal political philosophy (not to be confused with liberal economic policy, with which it is much conflated to all our detriment). The latter position is a belief in supremacy. Typically, this belief is accompanied by the belief that one’s own group is, of course, the dominant group and that other groups are the inferior groups that ought to be generally submissive to the in-group. Unsurprisingly to game theory or statistics, each faction tends to have such believers amidst its distribution of policy positions and political leanings. Some are more militant than others (quite literally).

Clearly the nation’s founders in any of even the most skeptical reads believed in the former, however, and intended it to be the law of the land for their fledgling republic: 

Whether we can live up to it is the question still, as it was when it began. In our time the “question” appears to loom large once again — a time when it is convenient for the powerful and wealthy to avoid even sharper scrutiny from a public set against itself like dogs trained for a fight. We all must have an answer to the question: equality or supremacy?

Your answer becomes part of your identity and thus, your politics.