Blue States Aren’t “Socialist” — They’re Better At Capitalism (The Apocalypse Cabaret Newsletter for Nov. 24)
In a previous newsletter I described what is happening now as an attempted coup that is not serious, but is no less dangerous for being unserious. This week Dahlia Lithwick described the same phenomenon, but did it better.
For myself, I am increasingly coming to think of our current political and cultural situation as if it was a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy. It certainly feels as though we are in the middle of a conflict between bright Apollo and Athena, who bring us reason and culture but also hauture and disdain, and Ares and Eris and Hera, who are passionate, vengeful, and wrathful and full of blood lust. Doesn’t it seem that they are driving us mad, the better to live out their conflict?
And if — when this is done, assuming we survive — someone does not start writing plays with titles like “The Treason of Lindsey Graham” and “The Lamentable Curse of Mitch McConnell,” then I’ll have to do it myself. They lend themselves to drama in exactly the way MacBeth and King Lear do. Barack Obama would be a Henry V figure, but one followed immediately by a kind of Anthony and Cleopatra, with Trump as a much stupider Cesar and Hillary Clinton as a much more cautious Anthony.
Life is imitating art. If we’re lucky, art will have another chance to imitate life.
The Might of Nations Comes Down To Trusting Your Neighbors
What makes a nation powerful? Force of arms? Economic might? “Soft Power?” This article on why “resilience” will be the primary form of power for nations in the new era is fascinating, and I suspect largely true — but I do quibble a bit. Though just a bit. Resilience has always been vital to the success of nations. There’s nothing new about this insight. What’s new is that in a world so interconnected that the need for resilience will come up more often than ever before. It’s not just that hackers in remote places can do exactly what they’re doing now to anyone, anywhere — it’s that if a central banker flaps his wings in Australia a housing market may topple in Arizona, and a mink farm in Denmark can set the world on a pandemic panic.
The world needs stable, careful, collaborative leadership so much now — and it may be fair to say that Donald Trump and Victor Oban are part of a response against the need for that crushing yoke. But the fact remains, they are causing exactly the kind of problems that they cannot solve, and which are going to become more and more common occurrences.
One of the ways they come at us is by coming after the very idea that we can trust one another — turning high trust societies into low trust societies. And low trust societies are, practically by definition, less resilient. To the extent that “resilience” will be a key measure of national power in the future, I think “high trust” will be a key measure of resilience. If you’re got that, most other problems can probably be solved. If you don’t … well … shit …
Either way, it has become very clear that we can have an interconnected world only if we have competence — an interconnected world that doesn’t have a sustained ethos of competence is going to be one disaster after another, until eventually the system collapses. Competence either requires brutal tyranny (which then still has a number of difficult cracks in it) or high trust.
Blue States Aren’t “Socialist” — They’re Better At Capitalism
Speaking of high trust, one of the great ironies of the recent election is that the side routinely accused of socialism is actually the one that does capitalism better. It’s been very clear for a long time that Blue states are, on average, far more prosperous than Red states — and even that Blue counties are, on average, far more prosperous than Red counties. Blue areas are where businesses want to locate, and businesses prosper — not in spite of the more collaborative, educated, public-service-oriented approach to life and regulation, but because of it.
Even so, a recent report by the Brookings Institute is simply stunning: Biden voting counties represent 70% of America’s economy. It’s not, obviously, that most rich people support Biden over Trump — I mean, come on. But in direct contradiction of our narrative of team Red being capitalists and team Blue being socialists, it is the Blue team policies and culture (and consensus reality) that generates wealth and prosperity through business success.
We do not talk about this enough. And we do not consider what this means nearly enough. This dynamic — far more than its dominance at universities — is an engine of the moderate-left’s cultural strength. When supporting queer rights is good for business … when investing in public infrastructure is good for business … when avoiding racial controversy is good for business … and workers want to live in places that do all these things … it gives a tremendous amount of soft cultural power to liberal politics, and an easy, oh call it “political drift,” to the direction of the country. Even when the rich personally oppose it, it’s hard to fight the tide. We’ve seen evidence of that over the last decades.
Which doesn’t mean that conservatives won’t try to fight it. But what does fighting it mean? It means taking aim at America’s economic engine: trying to impose the culture of industrial 20th century capitalism — which is no longer successful in the world — on places and businesses that are successfully engaging in 21st century capitalism. The Trumpist insistence on tearing down the liberal approaches that are the climate in which America’s successful businesses live will be an attack on America’s prosperity. Policies that favor fossil fuel industries, for example, at the expense of renewable technologies, simply don’t support the needs of actual businesses or harness the momentum of the future. So businesses miss out and our national competitiveness is reduced and we are more dependent on foreign elements and and and … spread across industry after industry, policy after policy.
The needs of red states are very real — but they’re so real because they are the places that have not succeeded under capitalism. That are, forgive me, bad at it, because the needs and demands for success in 21st century information economy capitalism are significantly different from that required for success in 20th century industrial capitalism.
This matters, and the current dialogue about “capitalism vs socialism” does not address it in any real way.
We Want Conversions, Instead We Need To Have Conversations
Wajahat Ali is one of those writers whom I occasionally read but don’t actually know anything about. So when he says he spent four years “reaching out” to Trump supporters to no avail, I don’t know whether to think he did it sincerely and skillfully, or if he was just one more liberal who confuses “being condescending” with “having a conversation.”
But his warning that “it’s not worth it” is still worth considering. Because while a number of people obviously have said “get thee behind me” to Trumpism, the bigger and sadder story is the codification of these battle lines.
For most of us, most of the time, trying to persuade the theoretically “persuadable voters” is a waste of time — but how do we reconcile this with the documented cases like Daryl Davis, who has an extraordinary track record of turning people away from hate groups, and the apparent success of “deep canvassing?”
Part of it, I suspect, is a problem of expectations: we’re often looking for a moral silver bullet that will lead someone to immediately see the righteousness of our ways, when in fact what is required is a slow and sustained ongoing conversation. We’re also looking for something that will have a universal effect — the equivalent of taking someone by the shoulders and shaking them until they see the obvious error of their ways — that will work every time. Instead, we need to accept that a 1-in-10 rate of transformation would actually be good and significant.
But I think that we’re also confusing the strategic approach with the tactical. Given how deeply divided we are, the work of conversations and outreach is not really done for the next election cycle — it’s done for an election cycle 10 years down the line. That’s work we have to do. While we’re doing it, I also wholly endorse Ali’s more tactical and immediate approach:
“invest your time organizing your community, registering new voters and supporting candidates who reflect progressive values that uplift everyone, not just those who wear MAGA hats, in local and state elections. Work also to protect Americans against lies and conspiracy theories churned out by the right-wing media and political ecosystem. One step would be to continue pressuring social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to deplatform hatemongers, such as Steve Bannon, and censor disinformation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”
Outreach and conversations are not a substitute for that immediate and urgent work — but that immediate and urgent work has to happen while those deeper, open ended, outreach conversations are happening.
The kind of world we’re fighting for is one that will require us to draw our lines and be compassionate and empathetic at the same time.
Why Academic Language Can’t Solve Identity Issues
“The Perils of Identity in Theory And Practice” — and why academic culture can actually make resolving issues more difficult — is available to mid-level subscribers on my Patreon. Where I often write about academic culture.