American Vertigo

It wasn’t a war of ideas that produced Donald Trump, but his election surprise has produced a war of ideas to define Trumpism. In our program, the battle will be waged by ambitious, 20-somethings hungry for ideas worth fighting about. The new blood in the chattering class this hour comes from two magazine editors who seem to be living parallel lives right here in Boston.

Nathan Robinson, a Yale Law JD now working on his second advanced degree in sociology at Harvard, is the founder of the left-swinging magazine, Current Affairs. His glossy pages first caught our attention last February, in high primary time with a provocative prediction: “Unless Democrats run Sanders, a Trump nomination means a Trump presidency.” His hot take proved prophetic, and he’s become a regular on our program, providing side-eyed skepticism of both political and media establishments and giving voice to the millennial view of the rising Trump resistance. His polemics against the president have developed into a book-length attack in Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity.

Julius Krein, meanwhile, is trying to give voice to a rather different millennial set. Coming from the world of finance, he last month debuted his own prosaically named magazine, American Affairs, at the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan — an odd setting for a publication that champions Trumpian populism and trafficks in Žižek and Hegel citations.  A recent profile in Politico points out, Krein is “coincidentally” the same age that William Buckley was when he founded The National Review and set the tone for the mid-20th century conservative movement in America. But Krein is now seeking to distance himself from these conservatives past: “We hope not only to encourage a rethinking of the theoretical foundations of ‘conservatism’ but also to promote a broader realignment of American politics.”

Krein told the New York Times that he thinks “our politics, like Barthes’s wrestling, has become “a spectacle of excess which has no sense of time, and no logic of the future.” It’s a point that our final guest, Chris Hedges, struck way back in 2009, his book Empire of Illusion, in which he argued  that”wrestling works from the popular and often unarguable assumption that those in authority are sleazy.” With the sleaziest authorities in our country now occupying the White House, the wrestling mat analysis may be more relevant than ever. The question is, who will win this round in the ring?

Guest List
Nathan Robinson
founder and editor of Current Affairs magazine
Julius Krein
editor at American Affairs
Chris Hedges
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and columnist at Truthdig

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  • A. David Wunsch

    If you’re going to spend an hour damning neo-liberalism (on March 9 show) you owe it to your listeners to give a clear definition of what it is.

  • lukelea

    Broken link, will not play.

  • Potter

    Host Chris’s sharp managing of this group is commendable! The “thoughtfully scathing” Chris Hedges was, well, thoughtfully scathing and too absolutist for my constitution even though I arrived at showtime thoroughly distraught from the day’s news (derived now from various favorite tweeters and websites, including-still- the NYTimes and Wapo). What put me over the top was Hedges calling NPR/PBS a subsidiary to the Koch brothers. (Okay I will listen again to see if I was wrong). Host Chris did push back.

    So who did Hedges vote for?

    I did read Hedges at Truthdig. Good. But I am not sure these people, the “neoliberals” knew fully what they were doing ( bringing on) any more than the rest of us looking for a savior, or THE WAY, did or do.

    I am really interested in Nathan Robinson’s effort and this article you post. Julius Krein has more hope for Trump than I can bear. Trump is a disaster.

    One word that kept cropping up in this vortex (as illustrated above) is community. Community. People are losing a sense of that and they need it.

    Thanks for the adrenalin… good show as always.

    • Pete Crangle

      Chris Hedges campaigned for Jill Stein during the 2016 election cycle. I would guess that indicates something about who he voted for, but I tend to make no overt assumptions in such matters. He’s been active in the Greens, writing campaign speeches for Ralph Nader in the past.

      My personal criticism for Hedge’s, probably not one he hears often, he’s way too optimistic. He has not spoken or written, and thus probably not investigated, the AI/Robotics weaponry that is currently in theater’s of operation, and the automated weaponry that is about to come online within the next generation. Cyber warfare is only one aspect of this much more ethical conundrum that is about to express itself.

      As for the Koch Brothers (big money, generally likes good PR), here’s some articles worth reading, Thom Hartmann gives the short form for Jane Mayer’s longer piece:

      Cheers Potter. Hang in there.

      The Corporate Dictatorship of PBS and NPR

      A Word from Our Sponsor

      • Potter

        Thanks very much Pete. (squawk!) I stuck my head back into that controversy with Koch, the documentary brouhaha and climate change programs on Nova.

        Public television and radio needs funding to survive.To make this short, for the most part they do very very well and they are watched like hawks by the likes of you me and others who complain and donate as well. Support/viewership (i.e.the Newshour) is increasing now too. Near as I can tell, PBS/NPR is not a subsidiary of the Koch brothers which is what Hedges said–said cynically- as he then also complained about cynicism.

        But as I said above, I have to listen to this show again. Often ROS does a program so jam packed at an hour that I am fading that I have to listen again if I catch it first round. This one got my adrenalin going, no dozing.

        Hedges, then, with his vote, if what you say is so, is partly responsible for Trump now. We can argue this of course. (I still have my Bernie sticker on display.) But the character assassination barrage of HRC was indeed deplorable when the choice was very clear, or should have been. This vote was also about who the voters are. HRC was moving left toward a more progressive program too. I believed that it was a good bet. It was clear to see the difference. But as Nathan Robinson (above link) points out, CNN will never be good for humanity. Vertigo indeed!

    • That’s too bad because Krein is actually on to something important and why Chris was on to him. Robinson was overwrought and out of his element.
      If you listen to Hedges and Krein closely, they are sort of skimming the top of what is below, age-wise.
      When Krein talks of “the spectacle of excess…standalone posture.…no logic of a future….
      embrace it and rise from the ashes” it is in essence, somewhat the mirror image of ISIS.
      In this episode of El Chapo Trap House they ferret out why the young are joining the alt-right and they mention the “black pill”.
      And yes, it is very frightening and confusing. It is all rational, but not reasoned.

  • blackwidowbaby

    So this show critiques neo liberalism and offers no coherent definition?

  • kevin linnehan

    Woke up today to see my local community bank ceo/president, Dorothy Savarese, on the front page of the cape cod times sitting with trump.

    ‘”We’ve lost 25 to 30 percent of all community banks since Dodd-Frank was introduced,’ Savarese said. ‘When a small bank needs to hire two employees just to handle regulatory compliance, that’s a big increase in spending,’ she said.”

    Sounds like the hapless Democrats have given the anrti-regulatory mob cover for gutting rational oversight of our financial system. Help!

    Hoping for a Radio Open Source show on Economic Justice thinking after the Clintons and Obama, maybe with Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz.

  • Pete Crangle

    Humpty Dumpty was pushed … and so might neoliberalism?

    Cornel West predicts the demise of neoliberalism. I am less sanguine. But, the end to his Op-Ed is significant and important.

    There have been some complaints about a lack of description of neoliberalism in this thread. RadioOpenSource has covered this territory in previous discussions. As Potter points out, Chris Hedges linked this description of neoliberalism in a couple of his Op-Eds.

    It seems to me that neoliberalism is one of those words that defy consensus or definition, sort of like pornography or post-modernism. The Martinez/Garcia description does not take into account the impact of extraction industries, the socialization of risk for private profit taking, and the role of endless crisis management. But, they’re keeping things general.

    Philip Mirowski has researched and written about neoliberalism, and one can find various talks and discussions conducted by him on youtube, and other places around the net. I recommend his work and talks. He has important criticisms for the ‘liberal’ establishment, such as, the embrace of Cap-and-Trade or Obamacare by the so-called ‘left’ (whatever the hell that is…) which are market friendly policies at a midpoint on the neoliberal timeline.

    Obamacare is an enrichment device for a variety of entities that work the health sector. It has some protections for patients that did not exist prior to its enactment. Is it better than the current GOP approach? I would say yes, even though I am far from happy with the PP/ACA. Comparing the GOP approach to Obamacare is an exercise in lowering the bar to the point where we can all shout: “Thank you, may I have another flogging, sir?” Cap-and-Trade is another market friendly boondoggle. The liberal class, well intentioned rubes, have been misdirected by pros. Publicly funded private schooling is another boondoggle, as are publicly funded prison and detention centers. All of this dovetails into a neoliberal policy agenda. Late capitalism isn’t merely about taking over the public commons or the government, it’s also about leveraging human activities that are inherently inefficient, such as human health or human learning, and creating the illusion that efficiency can be found through the magic of the market.

    Ronald Reagan promulgated the idea that the country seemed to embraced: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” This was a crafty way to seal off the failures of the 1960s and 1970s into the neat bromide that government equates to failure. It’s not irrational. The Korean and Vietnam wars were not only strategic blunders that drained the morale and the morality out of the country, but lead to massive death and destruction. Watergate was another example of failed government. New York City’s fiscal crisis of 1975 nearly sent it into receivership. (apparently, President Ford didn’t tell NYC to drop dead, but he might as well have … the bankers took over). Governmental failure seemed the inevitable outcome of governmenting.

    People were looking for an escape from government, and the corporate sector seemed a viable alternative. The Clinton’s and the birth of the DLC paid very close attention to this rightward drift into corporate money. So did Tony Coelho. This is when neoliberalism started to gather steam for a mainstream embrace, IMO. Milton Friedman helped craft the idea of the current zeitgeist by threading the following needle: government is an evil device that is so evil that it is a necessary evil for markets to thrive, especially when they need protection or seek expansion. Publicly funded bailouts for private profit taking. Military and security operations to secure and expand markets. All bankrolled by the working classes, the underclasses, and the dispossessed through the small government ethos that loads up the tax code against the poors, and favors the unearned wealth economy (aka rentier – see Professor Blyth or Professor Piketty).

    Neoliberal campaign rally rhetoric wants government to be run like a business, except for the nagging reality that approximately 96% of all businesses fail within their first decade; a fact often left out of public discourse by both democrats and republicans. The drivin’ around people don’t seem to get that either, but they do get the failures of government. That said, a government that declares chapter 11 every 10 years is unreliable, and hence, cannot provide the global currency, or legal system to adjudicate treaties and laws. If we’re turning a country into a Bunker State, then I suppose such technocratic concerns are irrelevant. Maybe Thomas Friedman can find something else to do? … a silver lining.

    It’s important to note that neoliberalism utilizes multipolar centers of power. There are two important arenas of power for which neoliberalism is expressed: political centers of power and market making exchanges. The current market cap for NYSE is $19T(2016), total capitalization of all equities markets worldwide was $62T (2014), far exceeding the US GDPe. This is why the US is not an empire directly. The market making exchanges are the arena of empire. The imperial projects, expressed through various military and security modalities, supply the security for this arena of empire. The tax payer is the backstop.

    • “Neoliberal campaign rhetoric wants government to be run like a business, except for the nagging reality that approximately 96% of all businesses fail within their first decade;…… cannot provide the global currency, or the legal system to adjudicate treaties and laws.”

      Excellent insight.

  • Andries du Toit

    The first time that I did not leave a Radio Open Source podcast inspired or encouraged. Julius Krein was arrogant, pretentious intellectually dishonest, denying that he was a Trump apologist but clearly just putting lipstick on a pig, while Hedges’s critique is so broad and sweeping that he just came across as evervated and despairing. He was plainly not interested in responding to Christopher’s invitation to provide mentoring and coaching. In this context the only guest with anything interesting to say, Nathan, seemed to struggle to gain traction. A non-debate with very little useful interaction between the speakers. A first for Radio Opnen Source.

    • sifta

      Despite Krein’s cavalier attitude and skewed perspective, not sure that I would use the term intellectually dishonest. What I heard from him was a deep disgust for the financial opportunism that seems to still be at the root of Wall Street which seems to be a direct consequence of the moral hazard stemming from the ‘too big to fail’ slap on the wrist following the 2008 economic crisis.

      On the other hand, Krein offers little analysis or insight other than a sort of naive Nationalism/Communalism. In this respect, Nathan Robinson’s analysis was cogent and well informed.

      Not sure that the public broadcast of a radio show is the right place for “mentoring” a finance industry castaway turned budding-nationalist-elite like Krein. I suspect that he will respond more to mentorship from Peter Thiel and the like, and doesn’t give a crap about liberal intellectuals and their morals and ideas.

      Hedges has been dour for a decade or more and was quaint in lambasting public radio for not giving voice to non-mainstream opinions when he himself is on a public radio show. Maybe not NPR, but still…

      @chris Any hope of getting Glenn Loury on the show as an intellectual ballast?

  • I’m not sure why people think Neoliberalism is difficult to define.
    The Tom Frank take:
    Chris, interviewing Thomas Frank in April 2016, defined it like this:
    Private and public financialization of everything…
    Frank harps on meritocracy hierarchies and then they both agree on Clintonism i.e.
    a consensus across markets.

    I would define Neoliberalism thus:
    policies that deny alternative futures in the name of progress

    What Hedges is suggesting is to drop the notion of progress (a new vocabulary is needed) – do that and you have alternative futures. (Does that seem rational?)
    Too much empty space then, and that is scary – at least for baby boomers – our garages are crammed with too much German technology. The young will fill that space and that is why Krein should be understood.

    We are stuck with Neoliberalism until that space avails itself.
    Nine minutes in, Tom Frank says we will come to a turn again and asks will we make the turn or not.
    Mark Fisher in this 2013 interview says the same thing – we need to be ready:
    Unfortunately, Fisher couldn’t wait for it.

    Interesting, Krein is a devote of Žižek, who thinks we should give up on concrete reality and live in a virtual world. (Does that seem rational?)

    Haha… Chris’ opening: what would it take to make things…..rational.


  • Here’s another cut:

    Adam Curtis’ hyper-normalization: while destroying communities and cultures, neoliberalism creates systems to manage the individuals of those destroyed communities and cultures.
    So powerful is the grip of neoliberalism we don’t yet have a common vocabulary to define, to explain, to understand, and to achieve an Archimedean point from which to see it fully.

  • aattlee

    Apparently Hedges now has a commentary show on RT.
    RT is a Putin controlled outlet.
    Hedges should no longer be considered a preferred dissident.

  • Nathan Wittmaier


    I think you very sadly missed Krein using coded language to forward white nationalist ideas. A covenant people? How obvious does it have to get? This banner of protecting “western civilization” must be recognized as code for white nationalism and confronted. Please, please, please do not let things like that slide.

  • Dr Sook

    So far no one has focused on the Dugin/Bannon hub of the Trump administration– they call it Eurasianism & the 4th Turning. It combines Traditionalism, Nationalism, Fascism & communism–they claim.
    No discussion can make sense without addressing this New World Order !

  • Dr Sook

    Chasing every incompetent policy, irrational tweet, dim witted appointee is to miss the point. Trump is the sjowboating carny frontman; Bannon, embracing Putin’s mentor Dugin & Evola, believes in the 4th Turning–and Eurasianism. It is an isolationist, cultural cleansing, traditionalist/fascist fundamentalism.
    Krein acts as though this doesn’t exist. That is obfuscation or ignorance.
    Trump has no ideology; he counts on Bannon to shape ideas & speeches.
    This discussion of ‘failed neoliberalism’ is noinsense.

  • Potter

    Actually, second listen and third listen to the last 10 minutes where we hear the nitty gritty (sorta) I found some overlap amongst the guests. In the end Hedges had nothing to suggest going forward other than the kind of revolution that is not going to happen.

    There was a definition, a working definition in this program for “neoliberalism” as well. Like so many words being used these days (i.e. “conservatism”), we need to ask and search for meanings and usage. Sometimes I am not sure we speak the same language anymore, such are the divisions and perceptions. For instance what is the “false narrative” that both Chris’s agreed upon as it pertains to the NYT and used so generally? Both are down on the NYT obviously. I am not necessarily defending the NYT in saying that. They are no saviors.( But I love Charles Blow.) As for “narrative” we should recognize our own. Hedges certainly has one (as Sifta- below- characterizes as “dour”).

    I like programs like this one;it gets us going, us “elites”.

    What we need to hear more of too are town halls like Bernie Sanders conducted last night on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes”. Amazing. Sanders, bless him, is still at it.

    • Pete Crangle

      Thank you for this Potter. The excerpts I’ve seen of the West Virginia town hall were worth the time spent.

      • Potter

        Bernie has compassion. He listens. Trump shows no compassion, rather fake compassion: just enough to get the gist of what he needs to yell about to gain supporters and naive believers who refuse to see what is plain to see: his evil. Trump has supporters who are really hurting and then he has those who are plain hateful and resentful. He’s appealing now to the latter it seems. He’s depending on their ignorance. He says it plainly: “I love the uneducated”.
        It’s hard work, but what Bernie is doing is what needs to be done: listening and responding with the truth over and again. Perhaps people will begin to see after they have felt the disappointment and unrelieved pain.

  • Billy McBride

    Politics seems too big a realm to contemplate philosophically. I suggest that we learn to be good liberals by not needing any philosophical foundations for why we support policies which help the world be less of a cruel place, but that we just take action to make our world a less cruel place without going into why we must. Separating philosophy from politics helps speed up the liberal process and its future.

  • Pete Crangle

    Robert posits a thought that I have been considering as well …

    The Gap

    Fata Morgana — Lake Superior on May 22, 2015 in Marquette, Michigan

    “Between the experience of living a normal life at this moment on the planet and the public narrative being offered to give a sense to that life, the empty space, the gap, is enormous. The desolation lies there, not in the facts. This is why a third of the French population are ready to listen to Le Pen. The story he tells — evil as it is — seems closer to what is happening in the streets. Differently, this is also why people dream of ‘virtual reality’. Anything — from demagogy to manufactured onanistic dreams — anything, anything, to close the gap! In such gaps people get lost, and in such gaps people go mad.”— John Berger, “A Man with Tousled Hair” 1991

    John Berger (1926 – 2017) , a man of leftist leanings and humanistic proclivities, sees that which most people who align themselves with the contemporary left do not. That the desolation in our condition is found in this gap between public and private narrative, and not in facts. This is one reason why the free floating meme “We take Trump seriously, but not literally” has no internal contradiction for those who voted for, and support Trump. It is why when Trump mauls elite institutions, he is cheered. It is why he can blow off providing his tax returns for public scrutiny. It is why his racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are celebrated as payback to liberal elites. It is why his cabinet, filled with F*ck You Moneyed goons, idiots, crackpots, and con-artists, are met with indifference or assent or reverence.

    It is why the outrage that supported Iraq Wars v1.0 and v2.0 can be turned into quiescent sublimation among the dispossessed when Trump flip-flops on his Sorry/Not Sorry style ‘analysis’ of it, or anything else for that matter. Even insults to the warrior class are silently approved or openly cheered by those who claim to support our so-called warrior class. Nothing is sacred or requires honor, not even obligation to the warrior class, when the sacred and honor has been drained from our lives and our institutions, and has been replaced by despair and market oppression.

    Critically, as Berger alludes, Donald Trump unifies the onanistic dreams and demagogy. Trump has closed the gap, and this has much to do with his support and hallucinatory appeal. He fills this gap completely, by a realignment of public narrative to fit private despair. (as previously noted, Trump can be understood to be the logical successor to Andy Warhol, where boundaries of being and brand are obliterated, and this helps facilitate the spectacle).

    Though his supporters may not know it, or be able to articulate this gap, they sense it and feel it as deeply as the wounds and scars they carry, be they real or imagined. It is woven into a victim narrative built upon resentment that is heavily rotated across conservative media venues. I don’t have to conjecture this, most people I know, and the place where I live in southern, rural America voted for Trump. The people who support Trump are not a fly-over abstraction for me; it’s where I live, and therefore, it’s who I share community with. This doesn’t make me an authority, but one needn’t be an expert to understand the cultural temperature. Trump’s ability to align the narrative of private despair with a public narrative that expresses its outrage and narcissism, accounts more for his electoral college victory, IMO, than anything else in this current moment. The 1991 John Berger, in coming to terms with the paintings of Géricault, provides us a way to understand Donald Trump in 21st Century America. It speaks to both Berger’s prescience and America’s decline.

    It is my firm opinion we must understand the existence of this gap, and understand some of the forces involved in creating it and taking advantage of its existence. The zealot, the demagogue, the pundit, the scientist, the entrepreneur, the politician, the dissident, the artist, etc., all confront the gap that exists between our understanding of reality, the public narrative of reality, and the reality we experience. The reality we experience could be thought of as that which is felt down into the marrow of our blood and bones, and carried into our dreams.

    There are differences in approach to the gap. Some choose sides along the chasm, and then hope to fill it using the tools of their tradecraft. The demagogue, the zealot, and the pundit, through force of personality and will, fill such gaps with mirages, false narratives of one sort or another. The scientist and dissident experience the desire to remove these mirages, and fill them with knowledge and understanding, no matter how provisional. The entrepreneur and the politician work the gap to their advantage, through various types of manipulation, regardless of accuracy or understanding. Truth can be an impediment, a casualty, or an ally, it is all very malleable for their activities.

    The artist, and more generally, those who are comfortable with, and rely upon, uncertainty, may prefer to inhabit such gaps, and speak from within them. The gap is one way to confront the particular and the universal, and speak of it. The poet may tell it slant, the composer may organize sound and silence, while the visual artist may work it over and over across medium and surface. Instead of choosing sides, these people choose the gap. They risk the deluge of fanaticism, as well as, an existence of irrelevancy and indifference from their culture. And because of this, they live life both liberated and condemned. This existence is Promethean, and waiting for Hercules is futile. In choosing the gap, the act of keeping one’s sanity, or earlobe’s, can become an epic struggle — this too, is part of the story found in the gap.

    * ‘u’

  • Pete Crangle

    A Cultural Bifurcation The Bunker & The Cosmopolitan

    “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” — The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001

    This is the sword that hangs over our heads. It has put the spin into our vertigo. A vertigo that suggests we maybe circling the drain, or at the very least, gathering momentum into a chaotic spin. The AUMF of 2001, and other key legislation such as, the NDAA and the USA PATRIOT Act , are important milestones in the endless war complex that has an iron grip on the United States; a country whose focused activities have been synonymous with an Industrial and Technological War Machine for decades. This context plays a significant role in creating the gap between the experience of our humanity and the public narrative that attempts to fill us with fear, dread, anxiety, and loathing.

    The War on Terror has produced with it a desire to create the Bunker State. Some may claim that this desire has already taken hold and been realized. From my perspective, being able to quibble publicly means we have not yet achieved the nadir of a fully entrenched Bunker State. At this point, it maybe a quibble about degrees and not kind. Regardless, it continues to encroach upon our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual life, and drain the Eros impulse from it.

    The Bunker State is a project that can never be complete nor comprehensively exist. It yearns for a state of perfection. A perfection that is secure from not only threat, but the temptations that seek to lure it away from its bunker — it’s not merely the exotic luster of Taco Trucks. This is one reason why among racists and xenophobes, the anxiety around human sexuality and the fear of a loss of potency is often expressed. The word ‘cuck’ speaks volumes about the psyche, and no amount of irony can disassociate the anxiety expressed. This is deeply entangled into the Bunker State’s threat perception. Thus, the health of the Bunker State exists in terms of not merely demolishing all threat, but obliterating temptation. The means of obliteration are ultimately through humiliation and violence. This impulse contains its demonic malice, if not its fatal flaw and inherent contradiction.

    In contrast, the imperative of the Cosmopolitan State is to repetitiously explain to itself, through its citizens and those who serve the citizenry, that its existence is predicated upon its continual becoming. In the United States, we hear or read the phrase “… in order to form a more perfect union” to describe this endless process — it is embedded in the preamble to the constitution. The goal is process, not a static state of being. That is to say, the health of the Cosmopolitan State exists in terms of honoring this ongoing process, and the liberties it bequeaths to posterity through this process.

    Since the goal is the process of becoming, in this case, a yearning towards a more perfect union, the Cosmopolitan State is given some latitude and wiggle room to screw up, sometimes with malice, sometimes with miscalculation. It is also the means of correction and repair. One can interpret the use of the word union to mean, a diverse people gathered to form a collective coherence. In this, it relies upon the inherent asymmetry that animates reality itself. Thus, it is always becoming, and this perhaps more than anything else, makes it organic in its institutional form. It echos Nature, instead of denying it. Therein lies much of its power.

    A process such as this is understood by most human beings to have ups and downs, and risks and opportunities. Buffers should be built into such processes to ensure among other things, the vitality of the state, the protection of its citizens, and the consideration of liberty for posterity. And it is here, where protection meets desire, that the Bunker State becomes the ad hoc means of security, and that a demagogue may take opportunistic advantage. This is why I take Trump and his aspirations both seriously and literally.

    It’s not a Wall, it’s a Future Christo and Jeanne-Claude (RIP) Project

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude, “Running Fence,” Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76

    “The era of the Pajama Boy is over January 20th and the alpha males are back.” — Sebastian Gorka, bumper sticker architect & fortune cookie policy wonk

    Within the current political climate, it is important to address the dilemma of borderlands. The terrain of primacy here is psychological, not physical. When events are in the driver seat, and have built up into a perceived threat, the psyche becomes reactionary;. Because of this, border walls have become immensely important these days. Walls are part of the realization of the Bunker State. Lots of verbal energy has been poured into a desire to expand the US/Mexico border wall.

    The physical wall is a surrogate for protecting the fragility of the collective psyche. It plays the role of both nightwatchman and Godhead protector. This is at the heart of an attempt to build a safe space. Of course, such underpinnings are ignored in the fog of culture war. This is not surprising given the overt machismo and relentless bloviating that streams out of the Commander-and-Chief’s Twitter balcony. The issue is framed as one of security, and economic vitality. I see this as a swindler’s pitch, and a means of misdirecting attention from material threat, as wells as, draining resources away from opportunities for improvement and repair. Most importantly, it helps to create a future hobbled by fear and loathing.

    It is as naive to think walls ensure security as it is to think their absence ensure goodwill. There is no panacea to be had. Trolling the universe with cheap and mindless rhetoric won’t change this reality.

    There is one aspect to walls that do provide near certainty. Walls between states ensure enmity. This is their stark history. Those who erect them send ill-will to both their neighbor and their posterity. The same cannot be claimed by an absence of walls, since most tribes navigate cultural reality without them, though imperfectly and sometimes with blood sport. Either way, there are degrees of risk. Thus, we are confronted with certain enmity versus uncertain liberty? Both have costs and risks. That is one way of framing such choices.


    Eventually walls degrade and are breached, or are deemed absurdly unnecessary. This too is a near certainty. On some future day, the US/Mexico border wall will be deemed no longer vital. This wall is now an symbol of Trump’s future legacy, and on that day, he will be swept into the dust bin of history, swept away like so much confetti waste, done so by his own rhetoric and action. Today, he maybe seen as a hero or villain, but gone from collective memory he will be. Any persons or ideas associated with him and this wall, will also meet a similar fate.

    Enmity is eventually consumed by selective amnesia, except maybe in families, or in familial feuds. In the mean time, as long as the wall is there, so will be the animosity it secures. Trump now owns this, too, because he and his supporters decided they should own it. In such matters, the narrative cannot be controlled, and it will take on its own inertia and makes its own negotiations with unintended consequences. The history of this border, will take a secondary place to Trump’s promises, and Trump’s delivery of it’s antagonism because of this wall. Trump, having profited from every major bad deal he’s ever helped to create, will learn something about the unrelenting force of human history. He should have taken some time to look into history’s dust bin. Humility wed to audacity carries with it the potential for legacy. Narcissism wed to hubris carries with it, obliteration.

    Against the words of the preamble, a guarantee of enmity is not a blessing, but a curse. Walls break the covenant with posterity as dictated in the preamble. Some may recognize that the absence of walls represent the certainty in a loss of liberty. History, both generally, and in regards to the southern border, does not bear this out. The only certainty to be found here is that walls lead to enmity, and enmity is a curse paid for, and lived through, by posterity. Walls, like wars, reduce choices and options. This is part of the attraction to those who are trying to will a Bunker State into existence.

    At a very simple, yet very visceral level, a reduction of options means less thinking, especially when the calculation is based upon an asymmetric power arrangement. Trump is relying on the perception of an asymmetric power arrangement when he guarantees our neighbor, Mexico, will pay for the expansion of the southern border wall. This is the triumph of brute force over creative thinking, psychological insight, and cultural understanding. It also lacks foundation in budgetary and material reality.

    The Bunker State, in contrast to the Cosmopolitan State, seeks a static eternal moment of utopian ideal. It can never be made whole, because it requires both cultural and material fragmentation — walls fragment cultures and geography as a bisecting, physical boundary. This is the attractive power to building walls. The Bunker State must deal with the inherent contradiction that it cannot become perfected until it has cleansed itself completely of undesirable people, things, culture, and ideas. This must be by necessity, endless. In the best case, it is a process of evacuation. In the worst case, it is raw extermination. And then what … ? And what of other Bunker States that manifest or further entrench as a response? Stephen Bannon may see a realignment in Europe and North America along strict racial and cultural lines as an ethno-nationalism nirvana. Eventually, all will be at each other’s throats in a game of Last Person Standing.

    Sean Scully, “Wall of Light Desert Night” 1999

    When considering walls, we should remember, there are literally two sides to every wall. The Bunker State, in its utopian zeal, sees all others as subpar, irrelevant, and ultimately, non-human. It is a form of narcissism, for it is only concerned with its own image, and finds efforts to tempt it away from its own image, a temptation that cannot be tolerated. This too is part of the anxiety, and the psychological dimension at work. If the Bunker State had an ability to connect with the other, which is the underpinning of inclusiveness, walls would not be necessary. Reduced to its logical core, it is a desire for the void. This is a denial of Nature. Human life, cannot exist over a long timeline in such deep physical and moral disequilibrium. What may sound to some as metaphysical, is anything but. It is why the temporal nature of walls speak to their absurdity and inherent narcissism. The wall is emblematic of the roots of a deeper problem in the collective psyche of those who build them.

    The mind of the Bunker State is shuttered behind the endless appeal to security and fortification. The perfection is made through a cleansing and constant entrenchment. Once cleansing is achieved, it is dead. That is the deep, inherent flaw. Like all reflexive and recalcitrant ideologies, it requires not only a foil for its existence, but gaps for which wedges can be exploited. Once those gaps have disappeared, then so has its raison d’être. It has no posterity, because it leaves not only fragmentation in its wake, but only an ability to create endless fragmentation.Thus, posterity is sent fragments, not blessings by the Bunker State. Part of the demonic malice of the Bunker State is the certainty of the curse it sends posterity. The same cannot be claimed of the Cosmopolitan State. The Cosmopolitan State sends contingency to posterity. This too echos Nature’s processes.

    Myopia in the Time of Useful Cynicism

    The Bunker State ultimately relies upon brute force. No patina of intellectual Bullsh*t will obscure this. This is why any undergirding of, or justification of, or apologizing for the Bunker State, and the current political system, with a philosophy created outside of, or orthogonal to, a Bunker State, will not pass the smell test. Insights steeped in cultural and philosophical understanding might be predictive or helpful in understanding our current predicament, but fall short and do not provide justification to wash away the stains of criminality that follow the patterns of conduct of a Bunker State.

    Finding within the Bunker State a common agenda of say, demolishing neoliberalism, as the justification for supporting or tolerating its existence, is unethical and strategically myopic. It puts on display the hollow core of ones being. Means matter as much as Ends, and the justification game has been adjudicated at The Nuremberg trials, the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, and the International Court of Justice. One should choose their friends wisely, and their posse with even more care. Place those bets carefully. Worms turn. Fates change. Stigmas linger. Memories forged in brutality fade slowly. Reality sets the house rules. Bet against it at your peril.

    * ‘i’

  • wellbasically

    Neoliberalism has been successful. I don’t know how you can criticize it on its own terms.
    People in poor countries will have jobs making stuff for people in rich countries. That was the promise.
    Isn’t that an accurate description of what has happened?

    Now maybe it hasn’t been so good at promoting human flourishing or thriving. It yields lots of widgets but doesn’t help workers in the poor countries build up capital and compete with US and European companies. We cut down their savings with devaluation and get the governments to impose high taxes on success. If they want to succeed they have to sneak over the wall. But if you’re looking at it strictly as a utilitarian equation, neoliberalism did feed lots of people and make a lot of cheap goods for the US, Europe and Japan.

    Lefties are weak against neoliberalism because it does what they want and approaches problems with policies they like.