Some Aspects of How I Got Here
I have felt so utterly alone in the past few years, that it's somewhat disconcerting to read what I've been saying for those years so beautifully articulated, with just the perfect touch of blind rage. I am deeply grateful.
I've often thought that people really underestimate the extent to which everything that has happened in the United States right up to and continuing through the present can be explained as a reaction to Trump. Not just the defeat of Hillary, but you have to go back to the moment he emerged as the Republican Party's frontrunner in the primary.
From then on, the project of the American elites has been to engage in a massive project of reorganizing and reorienting themselves so as to preclude the possibility of something like that ever happening again.
One might have thought this would involve reaching out to the white working class, rural and small town voters who largely delivered the nomination and the Presidency to Trump, or even disaffected and apathetic black non-voters who failed to deliver the same to Hillary, but both of those options would've involved too much compromise and power-sharing.
So instead, we get these two successive monomanias, first "Russia, Russia, Russia", and now, "antiracism". But I can already see the cracks forming in the antiracism monomania, as the elites comes face-to-face with the reality that it their own black and Hispanic client classes who are the most skeptical of and resistant to their emergent biosecurity police state. I shudder to think what will happen when their increasingly desperate ire gets trained in that direction.
Not to be a Marxist, but there is something to the idea that a lot of this is happening due to tech hollowing our administrative, media, and technocratic institutions resulting in severe cultural and intellectual repercussions.
This is occurring economically with news media of course - Google and Facebook and online 'classifieds' suck up the advertising revenue that once went to newspapers and magazines. YouTube media is many orders larger than cable news networks. But tech also is both culling the best and the brightest from other industries and providing services and general sense making that once would be handled by the government, NGO, academic expertise, or other affiliated technocrats.
These changes have left many industries and swaths of the PMC ersatz elite bereft and vulnerable. The continuous stream of emergencies - #resistance, anti-racism, climate alarmism - probably should be understood as both a jobs program as well as class-level existential anxiety. During the pandemic, Amazon and Uber Eats delivered food and supplies. The public health elite stumbled through a pitch-black hilarious succession of embarrassments. The media was incapable of basic sense making from suppressing the lab leak theory to supporting proper interpretation of risk. Politicians worked full-time to abet the incompetence (from Kamala saying, 'I don't want a Trump vaccine' to Cuomo's criminal negligence).
Who looked good during the pandemic besides tech? High-tech pharma, definitely. But who else? The hospitals did an OK job. But as Yang has pointed out, the epidemiologists and public health elite literally had just one job. And this leads to something else I've experienced subjectively which is that academic elites don't seem that smart anymore - not compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Academia doesn't seem like that good a deal for the best and brightest with business and VC ruthlessly efficient at selecting the best. Why make $150k endlessly fighting for grants with your IP going to the university and public domain when you could get some VC cash and retain equity?
I am impressed to degree by which everyone from Coca Cola to Raytheon to the CIA have cynically embraced the successor ideology, recognizing promulgation of identity programming as a fundamentally conservative force that both props up decaying institutions as well as shielding profitable and powerful ones.
We are in strange times indeed. Who could have imagined that Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, and Alex Jones would be the prophets of our age, while large swaths of smart, attentive people are correct in no longer trusting the CDC, WHO, and New York Times?
I confess that I, a registered Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008, first became concerned with the Obama/Clinton use of FISA courts to surveil the Trump presidency, but then became more or less totally radicalized as the Russia narrative fell apart and we found out that Russiagate was nothing more than Clinton oppo research laundered through legacy media and our national security apparatus.
I am in Yang's camp in that I don't think any of this can be fixed in the short term. The 'healthy' and powerful sectors of our economy, everyone from Lockheed Martin to Google have every incentive to embrace the Successor Ideology as a state religion to avoid scrutiny. And much of our economy that is in decay - the media and academia - require the Successor Ideology either economically or as a basis for authority.
Wesley, I think you have many keen insights on contemporary society, and in particular on the "elite" institutions that imagine they lead it. However, I can't help wondering if your (assumed) youth is depriving you of some perspective. While many of the things you comment on were sharpened during the Trump administration, I don't think they were new, but rather continuing trends that have been in evidence for at least the last 40 years. Maybe longer, but my own perspective only goes back that far.
I think the liberal elite institutions have seen themselves as leading the country toward an enlightened and progressive future since at least the 1970s. It has taken the form of explicit partisan support for the Democratic party, and obsessive efforts to root out all forms of oppression they saw as inherent in western, and particularly American society, history, and institutions.
The rhetoric about Trump followed the organized deification of Obama, and tarring of all opponents as unreconstructed racists. This followed the belittling of George W. Bush as an illegitimate president, a simple-minded cowboy intent on subverting the American government and destroying our relations with all right-thinking countries (that is to say, France and maybe Germany). This followed a great deference to Bill Clinton as the smartest, most policy-focused and problem-solving president we've ever had, even if he did have an eye for the ladies. This followed the universal contempt for George H. W. Bush as an out-of-touch elitist who didn't know how grocery stores worked while casually condemning people worldwide to agonizing death by AIDS. Which followed contempt for Reagan as an incompetent buffoon who risked (if not actually sought) nuclear war with the Soviet Union as a way to enrich American corporations while appealing to white supremacists with dog-whistles and subverting the Supreme Court by appointing reactionary ideologues who would undo the civil rights movement and the women's movement. The small-group leader in the first Politics course I took in the fall of 1979 was a graduate student who fondly remembered his days protesting against Nixon in London - not, as I recall, over any specific issues, but simply because Nixon was the embodiment of evil on the Earth.
When I was in college from 1979 to 1983, the campus, like most elite campuses, was obsessed with issues of racism and sexism. There were already calls (heeded on some campuses) for speech codes to protect vulnerable groups from "hate speech", including any expressions of disrespect or "inappropriately directed laughter." A Yale graduate a few years younger told me that homophobia had been added to the list of obsessions. I was outside the US for most of the 1980s, so I didn't read much of the US press. When I returned to the States in 1990 I was struck by the way nearly every news article was reported in the victim-victimizer frame of reference; victims were always defined as women or members of ethnic minority groups, while victimizers were generally healthy white heterosexual males. If no healthy white heterosexual male was handy, "the system" was described in a way which victimized the women and minorities in whatever context required.
My point in this is to ask you to look a little deeper. How much of what you're writing about is really new, and how much is a continuation of trends that have been in place for generations? How new is the "Successor Ideology", and how much is a natural growth of the American liberalism that has been developing for at least the last 50 years? Is the strident commitment to the 1619 Project despite its sloppy scholarship and obvious factual errors really new, or is it of a piece with the motivated reporting that has followed leftish domination of the news media since Watergate? Is the rooting out of deviation and shouting down of the heterodox really new, or is it a feature of the Academy for decades?
What you label 'The Successor Ideology" can be viewed as the shift of the USA from that of a mercantilist state (and all that flows from it, such as militarism) towards becoming an ideological state, as everything going forward is to be viewed through this very narrow prism that you are outlining on this Substack.
You sir are certainly not an easy read. However, your brilliant, fearless and nuanced point of view are unique in modern journalism and so are worth the effort of navigating. Your writing style is somewhat reminiscent of a Johnny Cash song, sort of relentless like a train approaching. While overwhelming at first, once you get in synch with its rhythm, the more it is pleasing.
The second half of this essay is the most insightful and nuanced explanation of how Trump broke nearly all of our institutions - and how and why their corrupt cabal was formed. I don’t know what it will take to restore ourselves and rehabilitate our institutions, but I know smart and honest reporting is the beginning of that process.
Thanks for your unique contribution to this worthy cause.
In actual practice, possibly the most salient characteristic of what is termed "wokeness" (in essence, I believe, "Successor Ideology") is at heart a no-holds barred attack on competence, distinction, and dialectical thinking.
This becomes a tad obvious when you see that the two groups named as "white adjacent" are Jews and Asians, who are also known for their academic and material success in America. Since that adjacency places them in the "oppressor" category, yet they are also heavily ensconced among victim groups, it creates endless hermeneutical pretzeling by the woke. BTW, I think that contradictions are not a bug, but a feature of the Successor Ideology, as it creates yet another platform to perform its inconsistency (i.e. its authoritarian nature).
Yet, a big problem: There is little question that there is a massive "dumbing down" occurring in academia/testing etc, which will eventually surface in science, medicine, law, etc.
This dumbing down does not comport well with a hyper-first world economy, such as that of the United States, that logs massive debt and depends on the world's trust to retain its reserve currency as such.
When I see all the crackdowns occurring due to Covid (note especially the Panopticon being erected in many universities), I sense these crackdowns are dress-rehearsal for massive cram-downs when the effects of these new ideologies have penetrated into every sector, and every level, of American society, and social unrest, massive social unrest, deploys.
Excellent. Thank you. I felt so alone, trying to help everyone see what was so obvious to me, so confused and exasperated with people who couldn't see what a farcicall, dumb and dangerous narrative was being forced upon us, and saddened and angered that otherwise seemingly intelligent people were all consumed by this story.
I highly recommend this podcast in which Bari Weiss interviews Dr. Glen Loury, currently professor of economics at Brown and the first black person to get tenure at Harvard's dept of economics.
The first 40 or so minutes Dr. Loury recounts his troubled youth and young adulthood. Starting around minute 40 you have a discussion of race, academia, students, and others that is stunning in its honesty.
Do listen to it....
Lot to think on here, Sir. For one thing, I'm clueless what keyfabe (I thin') actually means. No matter.
These just semi-random thoughts. I'll come back to read all the links to put it in better context. But this part interested me:
"And yet they also gave voice to an aspiration that people of my generation and older, who had grown up more isolated in a whiter America, had not thought could be expressed as a collective demand rather than as an individual wish: that all of us, even the unexceptional, could claim as a matter of right an equal share of existential comfort as those who had never had cause to think of themselves as the other."
To me, the crux of this is the definition of "existential comfort" and its connection to material comfort. AFAIK, there IS no connection, but ICBW.
After pondering and doing an abnormal amount of vegetation, it APPEARS to me that "a couple" points may not be remiss.
Finding existential comfort may be a collective dream of the young in this age. But AFAIK, it can only be found by an individual. Again, AFAIK, one-a the EASIEST (yet hard) Ways to do this is work on getting Your subconscious to be comfortable living in Your own skin.
Accepting Yourself as You are, with warts and hopes, but paying ATTENTION to what's within Your control to DO something about. Well, mainly it's regrets of the past and fears of the future that get in the Way of any-a this. Because totally, completely, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can be done about in either of those two mind-states, right?
I'm white, but one WHOLE lot more "Other" than anybody of a different race is. Long, personal story which would bore most. I'll just say that it was always my goal, never reached, to fit in better. Better in society. Better in the perceivable realities.
I'm not at ALL sure that MOST people don't struggle with this, in some form or another.
I guess, to sum up, a collective effort can APPEAR to provide a more meaningful life. I just don't think it DOES. This may seem simplistic, but I believe that the meaning comes from making Your BEST effort, whatever it is You do. To the extent You can see what to do and then do it.
Mahatma: "Think, say, and do are all the same," right.
When You're talking about existential comfort, it can come to the poorest. It's about being pleased within Yourself and, at least AFAIK, should have ZERO dependence on what others think or say about You, right? I'll shut up now. Too long as it is. Sorry. A couple things I found out were from the Stoic Religion. (Ya, I KNOW.) And one from a semi-enlightened Zen Master:
"Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible."
"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:
“Everything IS perfect, but there is a LOT of room for IMPROVEMENT.” (emphasis added)
Me? Something to aim for, knowing it won't actually be attained until the EXACT moment of death, AFAIK. Fairly sure about that but, as always, ICBW.
TYTY, anyone taking the time to read this stuff. I'll read links, put in context, but already said MORE 'n enough, right? :)
My impression from those around me and on social media is that humans have a primitive inborn drive towards eschatological thinking. What the media did was to activate it, in much the same way they have weaponized climate change, to push people into a constant state of low-level hysteria.
I remember telling a friend during Trump's inauguration that it'll all be fine. He'll be gone in four years time and everything will be normal. What I didn't predict is that the overreaction to his presidency would be so extreme and polarizing, that a return to normality has became an impossibility.
You don't get to call 75 000 000 people literal white supremacists for four years and then expect them to take shake your hand when you stretch yours out because now you've won.
The media and anti-Trump masses have not shown any mea culpa in rehards to this problem they created so I see no hope of this resolving any time soon. Already De Santis is painted as "worse than Trump" signalling that nothing was learnt, as a matter of fact the leftwing is quite content with this new style of hyper-politics.
Through this lens I've always viewed Jan 6 as a misguided but righteous explosion of anger and frustration. In that sense it is comparable to the BLM riots on an emotional level. In my view it was inspired by it. I am deeply aware of how sacrilegious that comparison might sound to the polarized mind but I stand by it.
Expect more of that in future.
Written, like so much of your generation’s output, as if today’s political environment were groundbreaking. We are ever so thankful to have you enlightening us to the never before used tools of deception, that only the strength of a young intellect, combined with youth’s eagle-eyed acuity could suss out.
The fact is kid, history books are full of the shit. The self righteous perniciousness of the left knows no bounds. Never has. The only people fooled, and subsequently surprised by this are kids raised post leftist institutional/educational takeover.
There are three kinds of people in the world. People that know, people that don’t know, and people that don’t care to know.
Welcome to the minority of the former. Please direct your preaching of the obvious at the latter.
Can’t stop thinking about this fascinating sentence, which I believe is Wesley describing what animates him: “…the locus of transcendence [is] not in collective activism addressing the racially inflected micro-politics of everyday life, but in the striving after individual distinction as the only pursuit that matters, wherever one begins from, and whatever one encounters along the way.“
In 2011, Ta-nehisi Coates wrote "A Muscular Empathy." https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/a-muscular-empathy/249984/
Ten years later, he discussed in a meeting with his colleagues how he was wrong to have endorsed the hiring of a conservative--whose writing he continued to admire--then wondered aloud whether the time had come to further narrow the breadth of opinions worth entertaining.
The contentious issue in question was of course abortion. Both Coates and his editor spoke with the kind of contagious knowingness endemic to the Successor Ideology--which Shelby Steele described as a "hipness" to "reality" he encountered decades ago. They proceeded as though abortion is a closed issue. It is not: science has yet to define when "life" begins, when consciousness emerges. To dismiss people who would prefer to err on the side of earlier rather than later is to rob people the right of inquiry, the right of opinion, and even of faith in most cases. (I'm not pro-life, but neither am I pro-abortion-on-demand. Regardless, my opinions are irrelevant.)
This dismissal in favor of a narrow knowingness is being applied broadly, to countless disciplines and even persons. I hate it.
That picture should absolutely be on the cover of the next Morrissey album. It's a no-brainer.
I love this essay and have subscribed as a result of it. I'll make only one observation, (and a long one!), which I wanted to make when I read Jon Haidt's terrific recent article in Persuasion. Both you, Wesley, and Jon are trying to get a handle on, and trying to raise our consciousness vis a vis, changes in American culture that resemble the famous epigraph to "The Sun Also Raises" about how a character in that novel went broke: first slowly, then quickly. The summer revolution of 2020 was the quickly; the slowly was what happened in the runup to Trump and then accelerated hugely after that. But I don't think we can underestimate the effect of Trayvon Martin's death in February 2012, the sensationalistic and often mendacious coverage (three NBC people fired) in the first several months of that, all of this taking place in the runup to Obama's second term, and then, in the summer of 2013, Zimmerman's acquittal and the founding of BLM out of rage and disillusionment with that. Some day a good history of the origins of wokeness will be written; you're writing the first draft of that. But we need to understand that if wokeness is a religion, and it is, then Trayvon is Jesus. He is the sacred figure in which the cult anchored itself. I'm caricaturing the situation, but not much. Wokeness will brook NO interference with the sanctified face of innocence that Martin presents. Michael Brown's death in Ferguson is the followup to this origin-point, the A-prime line of the blues: here we go again, but much more publicly and in real time. Thus much, much worse. Public memory refuses to acknowledge what one brave black member of the knowledge industry, Jonathan Capehart was the only progressive to admit in an infamous column entitled "Hands up, Don't Shoot was based on a lie," which is that Obama's DOJ, to their credit, found Ofc. Wilson's testimony unimpeachable, Dorian Wilson a liar, and the Ferguson PD (in a second long report) morally bankrupt and systemically racist. The myth of Mike Brown scythed down by an Evil Racist Cop forgets about the DOJ's very long and thorough "The Death of Michael Brown" report and anchors itself instead in that second and equally valid report. Incipient ideological capture is visible in all this. It accelerates with Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me" (2015) with his indictment of America AS (evil) whiteness with his brilliant bodying forth of what he calls "the dream," a thoroughgoing inversion of the American Dream. In two critically important writings by African American women, Jesmyn Ward's into to "The Fire This Time" (2016) and Imani Perry's "Breathe: A Letter to My Sons" (2019), that sanctified image of Trayvon is invoked and (in my view) sentimentalized, summoned as the most powerful possible touchstone for what whiteness, White People, have wrought against black America. Women, from BLM through Ward and Perry, are what drives this dynamic. Obama does indeed say, "If I had a son" as he asserts his solidarity with Trayvon. (Full disclosure: I love Obama and voted for him twice, with delight.) But it's black women, asserting not just a racial connection but a family connection, who are moving things here. (It's notable, in this regard, that black women are a relative rarity in IDW/anti-woke circles: Chloe Valdary, Brittany Talissa-King, and, in England, Inaya Folarin Iman come to mind. This needs more thinking through than it's getting.) I should note that I'm a huge fan of Ward's writing and have taught her memoir (Men We Reaped) and her novel (Sing, Unburied, Sing) in my classrooms. She's as good as we've got in that realm. Bottom line: When George Floyd is killed in late May of 2020, that is when the big shift happens. That is when your average white person who thinks of themselves as a liberal--who has ever, in any context, attached that word to themselves--crosses over. It's an epochal moment. All the dynamics that you sketch here feed into it, and of course the 1619 Project feeds hugely into this at the upper end of the knowledge industry, with dispersed effects in lower circles. But race is hugely important in all this: not just the horror provoked in many of us by what Trump unleashed, but the spectacle, at once full of poetic truth and critically wrong on the facts in various ways, of "innocent young black men being mowed down by racist whites." Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and the Steeles, Shelby and Eli, have done so much to problematize that over-simple narrative. I look forward to seeing you navigate this particular element. I know I'll learn from you as you do that.