Nothing brings out the creative among pundits like an election. This one has been no exception, yet this time, the progressive faction’s tea-leaf musings about the meaning of it all have ricocheted past resentment and recrimination straight towards the outlandish. Witness this concluding line of yesterday’s lead editorial in the enlightenment’s flagship publication, the New York Times:
“Voters said they wanted the two parties to stop bickering and work harder, not erase the progress made in the last six years.”
“Not erase the progress of the last six years.” If you wonder where in this election, amongst the toppled towers, broken battlements and smoking ruins of the once-transcendent Democratic congress, the Times can find an endorsement of their “progress,” you will remain bewildered. “Erase” seems to be precisely what the voters had in mind when they hit the rewind switch on the incumbents.
The Times, and Slate, Salon, and a ragtag army of like-minded folk, having been slapped across the face by the masses (those assholes!) with a stinking mackerel of rejection, have no choice but to insist that the reality they project is the one that rules. Salon and Slate variously assert that the real winner of the election was Hillary (!), that the House and Senate seats won by Republicans are just a temporary setback before the electorate recovers from its pique and returns Democrats in 2016, that illiterate rednecks have doomed the polar bears and that women – women! – betrayed poor Wendy what’s-her-name who lost in Texas.
Of course, our thought leaders tell us, “What can you expect? The mob, you know. Low-information voters, greedy bigots, nekulturny slaves to our crass consumer cult.” (This was the same mob that gave Obama a majority in the House and Senate in 2008, and reelected him and a House majority in 2012, but back then, they were smarter somehow, more open to “new stuff” and less apt to question the wisdom of the nomenklatura.)
And so the long, wearisome process of persuading the people that the beatdown they just witnessed was either insignificant, never really happened, or was badly misunderstood, unfolds. For some insight as to how this gets done, I refer you to our colleague CfE, who recently advised us:
Newspapers suggest what might be, and the reader elects the speculation to office. Does the poor consumer of dancing ink remember how often these plungers have been wrong? No. He can’t wait to sail out again on the next rubber boat inflated with the gas of possibility. Truths that are sold and consumed before they are true are not very valuable because they are not very true. Few things are true. Wisdoms which inhabit a future that never arrives are many.
But are people that easily misled? Can people read “stuff” like this and be unaware of their manipulation and distortion, or that they are ingesting fables, not narratives? CfE again:
Stuff happens but it has no relevance to humans until reported. Once reported, events have a human value. And once they are reported they have gone through a human ego and no longer have an objective reality. So there might be an objective reality out there somewhere, but we have no way to communicate it.
Thus, with a simple phrase, the Times attempts to convert a wish – that this election was not a repudiation – into an “objective reality.” But it is so transparently – and embarrassingly — pathetic for them to do so. Why would they attempt it? Why would their readers wish to accept this construction, so bizarre and out of touch with real events?
Some would say it was ego. Some would cite their smugness, and their contempt for “unenlightened” thinking. These things may play some role, but the primary motivation is much more primitive and powerful: it is fear.
These people spend a lot of time informing themselves. They “read up on the issues.” They ingest tomes of data, and feed like a pod of dolphins on the latest interpretations of social constructs and economic structures, and attend lectures and symposiums, and generally make a sustained athletic effort to be as well-informed and as keenly alert as possible. Nothing wrong with that.
The rewards for this kind of industry are many and often highly satisfying, but there is a kind of mildew that creeps into the carpet of information and comprehension they so busily weave. They begin to think that they are smarter, better-educated, better-informed and generally better qualified to make judgments about what should be and what should not be. And this is often true – up to a point.
The question is, how much better? Is it even significant? Samuel Johnson once famously said “There is no point in settling the precedence between a louse and a flea.”
Human systems and interactions – including, and especially, large scale interactions, like politics and societies – are complex. Back to CfE:
The last time things were simple was when the first animal cell came into being. Then it started eating things and dividing into different beings and things got complicated. But men seem to remember all the way back to the origin of the genetic train when things were simple, and lust for the same clarity that first animal enjoyed before he branched into the many complicated things he is now, each with its own point of view and no referee in sight to announce who is right in what they do.
So the editorial board sachems are smarter than almost all the people marching dutifully to the polls on Tuesdays, and when those voters reject the wisdom of the New York Times, something strikes a very deep chord among the sachems. An intolerable thought intrudes, if only for a fleeting moment, before it is banished back to the Hell from which it sprung:
“What if we’re wrong?”
It is this fear that drives the media to madness – that after all the fact-finding, the polling, the statistical drudgery, the briefings, the inside sources, and deep channels of information available only to those connected to the seats of power, they may be completely, unutterably and irrevocably wrong.
And so this election was more than just an election. For some years now, the “progressive” element has ridden a surge, in which it became more and more assured that it had become unstoppable — that they had persuaded the electorate that the skepticism and caution of those who found more style than substance in the Obama agenda were actually the forces of ignorance and darkness, and that all right-minded folk would now cleave to their banner in an unstoppable wave of noble ideas. (If the legislation they had so sloppily written, and the systems they had so ineptly crafted, had been in any way commensurate with their professed ideals — in other words, if they did anything that actually worked — that might have been the case.)
But the whole thing unraveled into a cascade of botched schemes (“Fast and Furious”), disastrous rollouts (Obamacare), criminal neglect (VA hospitals), dismal events internationally (Benghazi, Bergdahl. Syria, ISIS, the Ukraine), inept and apparently endless bungling of everything from Ebola to immigration.
And what were the successes? Well – there were none. Not one. The wave crested, and everyone watched to see if it would roll back out to sea, to fade away into the great ocean of previous lofty but failed ambitions, to mix and mingle, and never be seen again.
This gave the pundits pause, and when the results came in on Tuesday night, great was their dismay. This election was no longer just an election. It was an unmistakable rejection of an agenda, its glorious rhetoric, its hidden hostilities and, most of all, its thuggish presumption. All that had been so recently won now teetered and wobbled – and it became time for the defenders of the faith to rally, and, like the Crusaders of old, cry “God wills it” as they rode into battle with the heathen. This was no longer a difference of opinion. This became a war for “progressive” survival. Hence the other-worldly weirdness of “the progress of the last six years.”
In Moby Dick, Melville stops, not briefly, in his narrative and takes a sudden, unexpected and almost unwelcome swerve into exploring what drove Ahab’s thus-far unexplained animus towards the white whale, and, more puzzling still, the enthusiasm his crew assumed for hunting it down, even to the detriment of their own profits and self-interest. Yet what Melville dwells upon is not the terrifying size of the beast, or its ferocity, or its malevolence. He runs on for page after page in a tour-de-force of Gothic horror about its color, and the sinister significances that white has in cultures and societies around the world. He finally concludes:
“And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”