Category Archive 'Angelo Codevilla'

07 Jun 2016

Trump, the Second Emperor

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Nero1
Nerō Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 15 December 37 AD – 9 June 68 AD. Younger, but has a definite bit of resemblance to Trump in the shape of the head, doesn’t he?

Angelo Codevilla, Last February, analysed precisely the country’s situation and warned presciently about just where we are heading.

Obama has been our first emperor. A Donald Trump presidency, far from reversing the ruling class’s unaccountable hold over American life, would seal it. Because Trump would act as our second emperor, he would render well-nigh impossible our return to republicanism.

Today, nearly all the rules under which we live are made, executed, and adjudicated by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and countless boards and commissions. Congress no longer passes real laws. Instead, it passes broad grants of authority, the substance of the president’s bureaucracy decides in cooperation with interest groups.
Trump’s career and fortune have been as beneficiary in the process by which government grants privileges to some and inflicts burdens on others.

Nancy Pelosi’s remark that we would know Obamacare’s contents only after it passed was true, and applicable to nearly all modern legislation. The courts allow this, pretending that bureaucrats sitting with their chosen friends merely fill in details. Some details! Americans have learned that, as they say in DC, if you are not sitting at one of these tables of power, “you’re on the menu.”

Trump’s claim to be an enemy of rule-by-inside-deal is counterintuitive. His career and fortune have been as participant and beneficiary in the process by which government grants privileges to some and inflicts burdens on others. Crony capitalism is the air he breathes, the only sea in which he swims, his second nature. His recipe for “fixing” America, he tells us, is to appoint “the best people”—he names some of his fellow crony capitalists—to exercise even more unaccountable power and to do so with “unbelievable speed.” He assures us that, this time, it will be to “make America great again.” Peanuts’ Lucy might reply: “This time, for sure!”
Deal-Making Expands Government

In recent years, Obama and the Democratic Party (with the Republican leadership’s constant collusion) have prevented Congress from voting to appropriate funds for individual programs and agencies. They have lumped all government functions into “continuing resolutions” or “omnibus bills.” This has moved the government’s decision-making into back rooms, shielding elected officials from popular scrutiny, relieving them of the responsibility for supporting or opposing what the government does. This has enabled Obama to make whatever deals have pleased him and his Republican cronies.

This has moved the government’s decision-making into back rooms, relieving elected officials of responsibility.

Trump touts his own capacity to make good deals. But good for whom? And who is to say what is good? Who or what causes would benefit from continuing government by secret deals? Who or what would lose? Trump’s stated objective is to wield whatever power might be necessary to accomplish whatever objectives upon which he—in consultation with whomever—might choose from time to time. But the difference between Trump and Obama amounts only to whatever difference may exist between each emperor’s set of cronies. …

Like Obama, Trump is not about persuading anybody. Both are about firing up their supporters to impose their will on their opponents while insulting them. Throughout history, this style of politics has been the indispensable ingredient for wrecking republics, the “final cause” that transforms free citizens into the subjects of emperors.
Both are about firing up their supporters to impose their will on their opponents while insulting them.

This style of politics has grown, along with a ruling class that rejects the notion that no person may rule another without that person’s consent. As I have shown at length elsewhere, America is now ruled by a uniformly educated class of persons that occupies the commanding heights of bureaucracy, of the judiciary, education, the media, and of large corporations, and that wields political power through the Democratic Party. Its control of access to prestige, power, privilege, and wealth exerts a gravitational pull that has made the Republican Party’s elites into its satellites.

This class’s fatal feature is its belief that ordinary Americans are a lesser intellectual and social breed. Its increasing self-absorption, its growing contempt for whoever won’t bow to it, its dependence for votes on sectors of society whose grievances it stokes, have led it to break the most basic rule of republican life: deeming its opposition illegitimate. The ruling class insists on driving down the throats of its opponents the agendas of each its constituencies and on injuring persons who stand in the way. This has spawned a Newtonian reaction, a hunger, among what may be called the “country class” for returning the favor with interest.

Ordinary Americans have endured being insulted by the ruling class’s favorite epitaphs—racist, sexist, etc., and, above all, stupid; they have had careers and reputations compromised by speaking the wrong word in front of the wrong person; endured dictates from the highest courts in the land that no means yes (King), that public means private (Kelo), that everyone is entitled to make up one’s meaning of life (Casey), but that whoever thinks marriage is exclusively between men and women is a bigot (Obergefell).

Trying to stop the cycle of political payback with another round of it, while not utterly impossible, is well-nigh beyond human capacity.

No wonder, then, that millions of Americans lose respect for a ruling class that disrespects them, that they identify with whomever promises some kind of turnabout against that class, and that they care less and less for the integrity of institutions that fail to protect them.

Trump’s voters expect precisely such turnabout. Within good measure, not only would this right any number of wrongs and restore some balance in our public life, it is also indispensable for impressing upon the ruling class and its constituents that they too have a stake in observing the limits and niceties that are explicit and implicit in our Constitution.

But not only do opposing sets of wrongs not make anything right. As I have argued (Sophocles did it a lot better), trying to stop the cycle of political payback with another round of it, while not utterly impossible, is well-nigh beyond human capacity.

Neither Obama nor Trump seem to know or care that cycles of reciprocal resentment, of insults and injuries paid back with ever more interest and ever less concern for consequences, are the natural fuel of revolutions—easy to start and soon impossible to stop.

Read the whole thing.

30 Jul 2010

A House Divided Felt Round the World

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Rep. Barney F. Bourbon

Richard Fernandez identifies the international aspects of the thesis of Angelo Codevilla’s recent important essay.

Niall Ferguson is touring Australia warning that the end of American dominance may be imminent and sudden. Somehow the ideas in Codevilla’s essay are popping up everywhere, whether people have read it or not. Ferguson describes how rapidly empires can fall.

    The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that Britain could not act in defiance of the US in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire.

But those things happen only to the denizens of history. People who live in the today usually think they are different. So despite evidence of dramatic change, people who have spent their whole lives among the policy certainties of the postwar period find it difficult to accept they may have to build a world of their own from first principles. Ferguson asks his audience: “what would you do in a world without America? Has the question even crossed your mind?”

Australia’s post-war foreign policy has been, in essence, to be a committed ally of the US. But what if the sudden waning of American power that I fear brings to an abrupt end the era of US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region? Are we ready for such a dramatic change in the global balance of power? Judging by what I have heard here since I arrived last Friday, the answer is no. Australians are simply not thinking about such things.

But if the Australians are not thinking about it, the Chinese are certainly preparing for it. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that Beijing objected to the right of US naval vessels to exercise in the Yellow Sea, despite the fact that they are international waters. At least they used to be. Waters are only international if kept so by a powerful navy committed to the freedom of the seas. People sometimes forget that treaties reflect realities rather than create them, no matter what the European Union may think. …

[Caroline Glick observes that] “[j]ust as US bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and domestic policy wonks tend to combine forces to perpetuate and expand the sclerotic and increasingly bankrupt welfare state, so their foreign policy counterparts tend to collaborate to perpetuate failed foreign policy paradigms that have become writs of faith for American and Western elites.” In other words, when it comes down to funding politics or funding defense, fund politics. Ferguson made the same point more starkly: “it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defense within the next decade.”

If the love of money is the root of all evil, the lack of it is the cause of the fall of empires. Ferguson gave some examples:

    Think of Spain in the 17th century: already by 1543 nearly two-thirds of ordinary revenue was going on interest on the juros, the loans by which the Habsburg monarchy financed itself.

    Or think of France in the 18th century: between 1751 and 1788, the eve of Revolution, interest and amortisation payments rose from just over a quarter of tax revenue to 62 per cent.

    Finally, consider Britain in the 20th century. Its real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its now immense debt burden was in foreign hands. Of the pound stg. 21 billion national debt at the end of the war, about pound stg. 3.4bn was owed to foreign creditors, equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product.

    Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running.

But alarm bells aren’t ringing in Washington. The entire alarm system has been disabled, disconnected, perhaps scrapped. Anyone who wants to turn it back on will have to root through the dumpster to see if any usable parts can still be retrieved. No better symptom of the absence of alarms is the genuine astonishment of Charles Rangel that it is illegal to break the law. Almost as a matter of course he concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, used Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for private causes, took four rent controlled apartments for himself. Innocently. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Things had been so sweet, so long that even after he was offered the chance to negotiate his way out of 13 separate violations of House rules and federal statutes he simply refused to believe it was happening.

Like Brecht’s fictional Atlantean who “the night the seas rushed in … still bellowed for their slaves,” the members of what Codevilla called the “ruling class” can’t believe it is happening. They still want their last dollar, their last perk. Literally, no matter what. “Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island’s popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn’t have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, ‘Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation.’”

The worst thing about the ferry incident is the possibility that if the witness had really offered Frank the dollar he might actually have taken it. Automatically; out of conditioning, like a Pavlovian dog. The culture in which the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee rose to power is one in which it is OK to blithely borrow more money than the entire defense budget can service and yet refuse to spend one whole dollar of his own money. The ethos of that world can be captured in one phrase: “don’t you know who I am?”


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