THE FOURTH TURNING OF THE EMPIRE, THE GRAND BARGAIN AND THE AGE OF THE ROUGH BEAST

[NOTE: I’ve been promising this one for a while and, barring truly unforeseen developments, it will be my major statement on Election Year 2020. Nothing much has changed since 2016 and I commented plenty then. I’ll probably still drop a humorous aside now and again. (Though with the clownish Democratic nomination process now winnowed down to Bernie and Biden, the clown show having predictably ended with the top clowns emerging from the pack, even the comedic value of the race is likely to diminish. The general election will consist of a cat toying with a half-dead mouse, which isn’t really my kind of humor). Short of assassination, the Overlords have shot their collective wad, so there isn’t much left to say. Donald Trump isn’t up against J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles. He is opposed by morons…and only morons. Get ready for four more years. For those who have other hopes, be warned that you will find no comfort in the following. But I can’t promise you wont learn something!]

Patton is treated as if he were the spirit of war, yet the movie begs the fundamental question about its hero: Is this man the kind of man a country needs when it’s at war?

(Pauline Kael, review of Patton, in The New Yorker, Jan. 31, 1970)

There is a soul to an army as well as to the individual man, and no general can accomplish the full work of his army unless he commands the soul of his men, as well as their bodies and legs. (William Tecumseh Sherman)

The secret of victory lies not wholly in knowledge. It lurks invisible in the vitalizing spark, intangible, yet evident as lightning–the warrior soul. (George S. Patton)

(Introductory quotes to The Soul of Battle, Victor Davis Hanson, 1999)

Pauline Kael was often good at distilling things to their essence. Her quote above is a  version of the Good Liberal’s Eternal Question, nearly as succinct as the Question itself:

Are we there yet?

Do we still need the Rough Beasts?

Can’t we just talk this out?

Is this the kind of man a country needs when it’s at war?

Hanson’s book, coming nearly thirty years later, evincing a knowledge of the movie Kael was reviewing, perhaps of the review itself, and certainly of the mindset behind the review, which Kael strove to represent, plays as a kind of professional military historian’s answer record.

And the historian’s answer?

Only if you want to win.

And therein lies the rub.

These days, Hanson, whose opinion of the movie wasn’t much different than Kael’s is better known as a political columnist. In twenty years, he’s gone from being a Truman/Kennedy style liberal to a Bush Republican to a solid Trump supporter, all without changing his basic views, though he’s sometimes been a little slow to recognize the speed at which history can leave a man behind while Empires are busy collapsing…or at very least evolving.

His contention all along has been that men like William Sherman and George Patton are in a long line of heroes produced by Western Civilization’s history and mythology going back to the Greeks. Such figures rise to the surface only when there’s a dirty job to be done and are soon dismissed once they are no longer deemed necessary.

I find the theory compelling, with a lot to support it (even if I have to assert the not insignificant caveat that it focuses only on those who succeeded in accomplishing Civilization’s reluctantly appointed tasks–Hitler himself was a bit of a rough cob after all). Sticking to winners, I’ve even expanded it a bit.

To the three subjects of Hanson’s original thesis, the ancient Theban Farmer General Epaminondas, Crazy Billy Sherman and Patton the Primitive, we can, just for starters, add the Heretic Joan of Arc, Savage Andy Jackson, the Drunkard Sam Grant, Lincoln the Rube, the Mad Bomber Curtis LeMay, Churchill the Warmonger.

Lincoln may have had the best answer to Are we there yet?, when, assailed by reports of Grant the Drunkard, Grant the Butcher, Grant the Unfeeling Monster willing to throw away his men’s lives without a second thought, said simply “I cant afford to lose this man. He fights!”

So it has been, again and again, and not just in history.

Hanson, trained as a classicist, also periodically makes reference to the lonely heroes of Greek mythology, from Homer and Sophocles on down, and of American westerns.

Again the connection is apt. It’s why the western endures and outstrips every other Hollywood genre in historical and emotional resonance: It’s why Ethan Edwards turns from the open door at the end of The Searchers; why Will Kane throws his badge in the dust of High Noon‘s street; why Shane rides out of the valley slumped over his saddle having rid that valley of guns the way Churchill fulfilled his pledge to “rid the world of his (Hitler’s) shadow,” only to be turned out of office by high-minded voters at the first opportunity once he had done just that.

I was surprised in 2015 and 2016 when Hanson took many months to recognize Donald Trump as one of his crude, vain, unpolished men (Rough Beast is my own designation) who step forward in Democracy’s hard, existential moments. Once he took on the task of explaining why Trump fit the mold (just before the 2016 election) it was easy enough. Compared to Patton or Sherman (a stout supporter of slavery, it was disunion he had issues with), or even Harry Truman, Trump’s a beacon of Enlightenment, a softy even. But he’ll do for the moment.

I think one problem Hanson had with Trump in the beginning was what I’ll call Tom Brokaw Syndrome, summed up by Brokaw’s pained, puzzled expression early in the 2016 primary season, when he was a guest on somebody’s MSNBC show and insisted Things just aren’t that bad! and it wasn’t yet clear just how many million people thought For you maybe.

Like a lot of intellectuals, Hanson wasn’t out front, but, unlike Brokaw and many others, he at least caught on.

If millions are voting for Trump, things must be worse than I thought.

And so they were. Like most professional historians who venture into political commentary, Hanson is much stronger on history than current events, just as Pauline Kael was much stronger on film criticism than philosophy.

Having no professional credentials myself–I really am just a blogger–I’ll take a moment to outline my own world view.

Start with the obvious.

The absence of any intelligentsia or punditry able to gauge his purpose, policies or effectiveness, is the principal reason Trump’s in a position to impose any purpose or policy at all. There’s no question Trump saw in our contemporary cultural collapse–a condition, as I’ve pointed out before, of which he may have been the single biggest beneficiary–a chance to do something unprecedented. While others of his generation with presidential ambitions went about pursuing them the same old way, becoming what the Overlords demanded, learning to take orders, he went about becoming himself. And when he was ready to present himself as a political candidate it was himself we got: crude, vain, ambitious…and proud of it!

Also supremely focused and ready to take his voice and his case straight to the People, whom he trusted, even worshiped, in a way no traditional politician could. That they trusted and worshiped him in return should be no surprise and, unless you really are invested in the idea that Professionalism is the Path of Progress, no cause for alarm.

And yet alarm rings through the land. It rings in the face of more peace, prosperity and security in a three-year stretch than anyone had even imagined possible in fifty-plus years of misgovernance, the last thirty-five better described as malgovernance, irrespective of who was in charge at any given moment.

It rings in the face of Reaganomics (put on Steroids by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who, post-Presidency, gorged themselves on eight and nine-figure personal fortunes as a reward for their services) having finally been proven a fraud; of Free Trade (never really Free and never really Trade) being punched in the nose; of North Korea going silent; of China backing down in a “trade war”; of high-ranking terrorists being killed at such an alarming rate that the last couple barely made headlines. The alarm rings in the face of prison reform, the best wage hikes in decades, low inflation, employment numbers that have disproportionately benefited minorities and poor people, a jobs training effort that threatens to lift millions out of poverty and off food stamps, etc. etc. etc.

It rings through constant talk, backed by occasional action, of bringing the boys home.

Boy does it ring through that.

At some point one is tempted to conclude that the old orthodoxies were not merely insufficient at solving problems but were imposed to create them.

So concluded Donald Trump. If you quaked at his coming or are bothered by his presence on what, after all, is not a battlefield–not a place were a Saint Joan or a Billy Sherman or a George Patton could see clearly the best way forward while others remained trapped in the orthodoxies of Good Taste and, even more hilariously, Decency–that probably means you were as comfortable with the old Narratives as the plantation class of Ye Olde Confederacy was with theirs. If you were a Liberal, then Reagan and the Bushes suddenly didn’t seem all that bad. If you were a Conservative then Obama or the Clintons the same. At least they all played by the same rules.

Those were the rules of the Grand Bargain, where, circa 1980, Democrats took the Culture and Republicans took the Economy. If one or the other happened to ascend for a moment they made sure to rig the game in a manner their putative opponents could recognize and everybody got fat (and protected from prosecution, no matter how many “investigations” were launched) so long as they stayed within the carefully constructed guidelines which certainly had nothing to do with preserving either the culture or the economy.

And meanwhile back at the D.C. Ranch?

Well something that called itself the Intelligence Community, nascent in the First World War, powerful by the end of the Second, “necessary” by the Dawn of the Cold War, had grown up inside the newly imperial government. Such an apparatus may not be necessary to a nation, certainly not to a free nation, but it is always crucial to the maintenance of an Empire.  Whether or not the leap to Empire, begun in the Spanish American War, taken as a given by the end of WWII, was a good idea is debatable, but the unwillingness to shoulder the moral burden–the pretense that we could maintain our notional idea of a Nation of Settlers (rather than Conquerors, or, more disingenuously, “Immigrants”) sufficiently well to keep everyone in line on the home front when it was time to make the ultimate sacrifice has proven disastrous. One does not need to be a Trumpian to realize he is a necessary corrective to decades of preening hypocrisy, endless war and the normalization of a two-tiered society where some have all and most have just enough to keep them voting for Republicans and Democrats, cycle after endless cycle (and turning to loony options like Socialists and Greens and Libertarians when they stray).

I confess I did not see him, or anyone like him, coming until he was here. I assumed the Overlords had stifled all dissent. When you find yourself with a lifetime of being asked to choose between Ronald Reagan or Walter Mondale, Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, Al Gore or George W. Bush, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, it becomes very easy to think the cage is strong enough no one can ever rattle it.

Besides it had all proceeded so smoothly.

The Empire had presented itself in neat epochs:

First Turning the Leap: 1945–1963

Second Turning the Sorting: 1963-1980

Third Turning the Frozen Silence: 1980-2016

I thought that 2016 would be a much later number, occurring sometime in the next 50-100 years, with the fourth turning coming when we collapsed within and the world’s new powers (China, India, the EU, maybe even Russia or some Mid-East coalition) moved in to mop up the leftovers.

Then came Trump…and all bets were off.

They still are. I am more or less in agreement with John Michael Greer, the sci-fi novelist and professional Druid who has been the sanest and most insightful commentator I’ve found on our current predicament–this is more likely a temporary speed-bump along the road to Decline and Fall than any kind of reversal.

But Trump has at least made it possible to think about national renewal and drawing down the Empire in such a way that the world doesn’t collapse into a series of smoking craters or piles of ash and bone. Like the necessary men who have come before him, he will only be redeemed by history if his side wins and after he is safely dead. If not, he’ll join history’s villains, as all the figures I mentioned above would have if their side had lost.

Heck half of them are reviled still (Churchill the Warmonger is now Churchill the Racist, Sherman, the most humane of the major Civil War generals is counted the bloodthirstiest, the faith Jeanne D’Arc was willing to die for proves she was a bigot, and so on and so on).

Since the matter of his victory or defeat will be purely political (as opposed to military or intellectual)–and the chance of any final victory (like the Survival of the American Experiment) is slim–Donald Trump will likely be an even more problematic figure.  My own prediction, safely rendered since none of us will live to see it confirmed or denied, is that his long-term legacy will be the question that consumes, perhaps vexes, whoever replaces us.

How did they ever let it come to this?

We are too close to the problem to do anything but stay in our corners and rant and rave and, once we are out of breath, suck our collective thumbs.

How those who will own the future answer that question will determine whether they last any longer than we did.

All I know is that, whatever happens in November, the die is cast. The Old Guard has come at Donald Trump with everything it has and he is stronger than ever. He’ll stand for re-election against either a Socialist version of George McGovern or an enfeebled version of Fritz Mondale.

The Grand Bargain has unraveled.

The Fourth Turning is here. The Rough Beast has come, like him, want him, need him or not. The more Peace and Prosperity he threatens us with, the louder will be the Tumult and the Shouting and the more certain he won’t be invited to any state dinners once we return to our Destiny.

Ain’t that a kick in the head.

SERENDIPITY SUMMONS THE CHICKASAW COUNTY CHILD….

Every once in a while, as I’m drifting off the sleep, I have a idea for a post. Last night, I found myself wondering if it were possible to choose a “Single of the Decade” for each artificial ten-year slot of the Rock and Roll Era.

Of course, it was silly, but I kept on it because some were so easy: “Roll Over Beethoven” for the fifties, “Money Changes Everything” for the eighties.

The sixties seemed problematic due to an embarrassment of riches, but I kept asking myself….”Ode to Billie Joe?”

Once the idea took hold it was hard to shake, even as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Gimme Shelter” and “Respect” all came rapidly to mind. I mean shouldn’t the one song that has to stand in for the entire sixties (not just the post-JFK assassination part) have a air of unsolvable mystery about it?

I fell asleep soon after and I wasn’t going to do anything about it when I woke up.

I’m still not going to do anything about it. Too many arguments in my own head.

But I probably only think about the unsolvable mystery of Bobbie Gentry a couple of times a year and it sure was weird to find this on Twitter today…

Sept. 21. I probably won’t have the money–trying to save for a BIG project concerning my fiction-writing career.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t poss the word along. (Hat tip to David Cantwell’s Twitter feed, where one can learn a lot of good things.)

TO BAD TIMES….(Late Night Dedication #8)

….and the Betrayed: Suffer them for they are with you always.

As of this morning, the strongest voices–virtually the only voices–pushing back against the war drums beating in the Near and Far East, are Tulsi Gabbard and the Paleo-Right (Jones, Savage, Rockwell, Coulter).

The crazies, in other words. Business as usual.

The Responsible Democracts (now led by HIllary Clinton, with Obama, having served faithfully and well, conveniently in absentia, she spent the morning of Trump’s strike against a single airbase calling for the destruction of all Syrian airbases…of course she did) joined by Responsible Republicans (led always by Ms. Clinton’s erstwhile ally, John McCain, who, behind his death-mask grin, assures us that order has been restored) are working hard to get Donald Trump (who ran against all of them and, for the first time, seems politically, as opposed to morally or intellectually, confused) on their side.

In other words, they’re warming up to him.

If Trump keeps going along, expect confusion on Twitter, Facebook and CNN, as Lefties try to adjust….We’ll hear a lot of “Well he’s a horrible human being of course, but….”

What comes after “but” won’t matter.

I’m not saying it will go this way. Just that if the first step–Trump’s public capitulation to business-as-usual Security Statism–isn’t reversed by concrete action, and soon, the rest will follow as naturally as water running downhill. Even having gone no further than this, Howard Dean and other reliable bellwethers of Elite Opinion are already calling for Gabbard’s removal. It’s unclear whether they think the “people of Hawaii” should wait for one of those silly old elections.

Get your bets down now on how long it is before they’re calling her a Russian Agent.

I’m laying six-fifty-and-even on a week from Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Trump’s actions are only surprising in that they constitute his first serious misreading of his base. Bringing back jobs and Build That Wall won’t matter much if he goes all Slim Pickens and brings us “toe to toe with the Russkies.”

And he won’t dodge the matrix of fates he turned into serious possibilities by opposing the Security State in the first place.

Playing nice won’t help him avoid the Standard Options: assassination (the Kennedy Option), impeachment/removal (the Nixon Option) or political humiliation, up to and including possible sabotage of military operations (the Carter Option).

The Intelligence Community won’t stop hating him if he becomes their puppet.

And they won’t start trusting him, no matter how hemmed in or subservient he becomes.

They’ll just stop fearing him.

Until last week, he seemed smart enough to understand this–that losing the fight he picked will mean death or disgrace. Now, it’s anyone’s guess. Since I place no faith in him (nor, per Isaiah, any Prince), I won’t be surprised if he turns out to be less cunning than he has so far seemed.

Unless, of course, this was what he intended all along, which would make him very cunning indeed.

And how different will this sound, closing those rallies, if it turns out he had a deal in place all along….If it was always pointed at his supporters, rather than his enemies.

DID WE REALLY NEED ROCK AND ROLL?…UH, YEAH, I THINK WE DID.

I saw several posts last week that addressed the music that was on the charts at the time of John Kennedy’s assassination (Steven Rubio had a particularly nice take here)…But what might be at least as interesting is to take a look at the charts a year later.

For the record, the Supremes’ “Baby Love” was ending a month long run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 on the exact anniversary. But, perhaps more to the point, “Leader of the Pack” was set to take over at the top of the following week’s chart (officially, Nov. 28, 1964, so it was, in effect, the #1 record of the anniversary week, which, for chart purposes began on Nov. 22).

In some ways identifiably old-fashioned (especially in its evocation of fifties-era biker imagery), it was probably also the first record–certainly the first chart-topper–to really suggest the style of extremity that would become a touchstone for much of the rest of the decade and a good deal more that has happened since.

And, of course, all that extremity did not happen in a vacuum. Nothing ever does. Not even Shadow Morton and Mary Weiss.

Somebody has finally posted the full version of the game show clip where the Shangri-Las (uncharacteristically dressed like all the other girls) perform “Leader of the Pack.” As a pleasant coincidence, that sure looks and sounds like the Supremes’ Mary Wilson introducing the clip. As a not-so-pleasant anti-coincidence, it’s worth noting that, eight full years after Steve Allen humiliated Elvis by having him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound, he’s still at it. Worth noting, too,  that Robert Goulet (Allen’s co-host, who also plays the “biker” here) became the main reason Elvis shot televisions.

And, finally, worth noting that the Shangri-Las were good sports in much the same way that Elvis had been (even if they weren’t subsequently known for blasting tv screens).

And that they didn’t blink. That, in addition to being pure rock and roll, they also–like all really great rock and rollers–remained professionals through and through even as the “adults” around them made fools of themselves.

(The first version below is the full ride…the video/audio isn’t very good, but it’s enlightening to see the whole thing and be confronted with the full depth of the culture clash that was looming even in the days when LBJ  was still promising to keep us out of Viet Nam…the second version doesn’t have the intro but has a much cleaner look and sound)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNWsD0BL1SQ

And, of course, I wouldn’t leave you with that, so here’s the Shangs–Cashbox‘s #1 New R&B Group for 1964 (Billboard didn’t keep an R&B chart that year) in their element, declaring–like all really great rock and rollers–for a future that returned to the Primitive (I’ll let you decide when) long before it ever caught up to them:

LEST WE NOT QUITE REALLY REMEMBER…(Why I Need Rock and Roll, Session #9)

I was alive on November 22, 1963 but have no memory of it.

Never cared much about “Camelot” one way or another.

Always thought he handled the Bay of Pigs and the Missiles of October with about the same degree of political competence. PR is everything.

Don’t think he would have been quite as good on Civil Rights as Lyndon Johnson (though we’ll never know).

Don’t think he would have kept us out of Viet Nam (though we’ll never know).

Don’t think he would have been a better war leader than LBJ (though we’ll never know).

Don’t think all those preppie college kids would have ever found themselves  chanting “JFK, JFK, how many kids did you kill today?” no matter how many kids he killed, even though “JFK” fits as well as the “LBJ” they did chant. (Though we’ll never know.)

Don’t think his death was the spur for Beatlemania. Always assumed the Beatles were the principal reason for Beatlemania. Though if you need another reason, the Civil Rights Movement and the concomitant Rise of Rock and Roll America and its burgeoning coalition of blacks, hillbillies and urban immigrants, was a far more realistic and existential threat to the Old Order than either Kennedy or the Kennedy Assassination. (Though, of course, we’ll never know).

Don’t think Oswald acted alone (though we’ll certainly never know).

I also don’t think the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination would resonate with anything like the same Lincolnian force if the assassination itself had happened in relative isolation after the manner of Garfield’s or McKinley’s (i.e., as a self-evident aberration of the sort that fill the course of human events.)

It did not happen in isolation, as exactly no one among the quite a lot of “someones” I saw or heard on television or radio today managed to say or even imply.

So, with the sun safely down, here’s Dion to remind us…singing “Abraham, Martin and John” as the straight blues it was perhaps always meant to be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGKnrBP8ARY