In Gratitude for Chaos

America's institutions needed a good hard shaking up.

May you live in interesting times.

 - Ancient Chinese curse (apocryphal)

There is a good reason why just about every revolution in history has been mostly driven by the poor and relatively powerless: they have little to lose.  If you are already on top, the last thing you want to do is to upset the applecart, because there's only one way for you to go: down.

But history also shows a surprising number of rich, powerful people who somehow deluded themselves into thinking they weren't rich enough or powerful enough, simply by concentrating on the handful of folks who were richer and more powerful than they were.  They got on board with a revolution, mistakenly figuring to go up; instead, they went down and ended up six feet under.

Perhaps the starkest such example is Louis-Phillipe II, Duke of Orleans.  He was in the line of succession to the throne of France, but very unlikely ever to occupy the throne - which didn't stop him from being enormously rich and powerful, more so than 99.9999% of his countrymen.

But that wasn't enough for the Duke.  He threw himself wholeheartedly into the French Revolution, abandoning his title and renaming himself Phillipe Egalite (French for "equality") under which name he was elected to the Estates-General, or parliament - and, also under which name he was eventually executed during the Reign of Terror.  His ostentatious, and possibly even sincere, support for the Revolution did him no good whatsoever.

In point of fact, the French Revolution did no good whatsoever for almost anyone who took part in it, at least those who participated in the initial phases.  The benefits of increasing freedom and the end of absolute monarchy didn't start to become visible until many decades down the road.  The bottom line: there are always elites of some sort, no matter what form of government you have, and a revolution merely gets rid of the old set, allowing new people to rise to the top who couldn't before.

Topsy-Turvy Trump...

In a way, that's the true revolutionary result of the rise of Mr. Trump: those who previously wielded great political power, like the mainstream media, are discovering that their longstanding methods don't work as well as they used to.  At the same time, others who before would have been excluded by party elites, like Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump himself, are controlling the conversation if not, yet, the actual country.

Our elites of both parties don't want to admit it even to themselves, but the peasants are revolting.  To the elites, peasants are always revolting, but at this point, the reins of power are all tangled up and unpredictable.

True, President Trump has not managed to repeal Obamacare, enact tax reform, or even build his border wall, although he has appointed a large number of deeply conservative judges who will have an impact for a long time to come.

But the national conversation is totally unrecognizable to anything from, say, five years ago.  This was initially due to Mr. Trump's influence but it's moved far past him now.

Without Mr. Trump, the Wall wouldn't even be an item of conversation, rather than a highly visible political battlefield that may actually happen.

Other than making it possible to criticize sex abuse without embarrassing President Hillary, Mr. Trump had nothing apparently to do with the sex-panic fire that's currently incinerating half of Hollywood and an increasing portion of Washington.  Without his habitual breaking of political taboos, though, it's hard to imagine that the women or the media would have been willing to come out with these accusations, true or false.  After all, Bill Clinton's accusers were savaged instead of getting either justice or sympathy - but that was twenty years ago, before the Age of Trump.

When important people are jittery, they start making mistakes.  Ohio Supreme Court Justice and gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neill (D), knowing the truth of his own extensively polychromatic sexual history, decided he'd get out in front of his opponents by simply admitting to his escapades up front and then moving on.  This spectacular attempt to purchase atonement through honesty failed catastrophically: even in our debauched society, not too many people want to vote for someone whose campaign statements include:

In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous blonde who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head from Cleveland.

Mr. O'Neill may be highly desirable as a wingman for pickup-bar-hopping, but as state executive?  Hardly - all of his declared opponents in the Democrat primary are urging him to drop out.  Does this mean that it's always a mistake to 'fess up?

Ordinary people make mistakes too, but there are a lot more of them.  For every current elite who makes the wrong move, there will be a current nobody who makes the right move at the right time, seizes the opportunity, and obtains some degree of power - and many more who make the wrong move through no fault of their own and are swept away by the avenging Arc of History.

For a great many reasons, moving from the bottom to the top has been becoming harder and harder either with or without mistakes.  It's no accident that the highest ranks of our parties have been loaded with Bushes, Clintons, and Gores for decades.  The American people have been getting increasingly annoyed and have finally gotten fed up with their calls for real change being roundly ignored.

So they elected Donald Trump, the Human Wrecking Ball.  Thus far, they're getting their money's worth in spades, which is more than can be said of their tax dollars.

...But Only So Far

The true potential of Donald Trump, though, is far more amazing than that when you think about it.

As the Time cover linked above shows, our current elites view The Donald as "dismantling government as we know it," but that is not at all how we see it.

The government is dismantled, you say?  But the Army still functions, as does the post office.  Our streets are still paved and plowed, police still patrol, and Congress still meets.  Far from dismantling government, Donald Trump is merely shaking up those who have occupied the powers of government, which is an entirely different thing.

History doesn't provide very many examples of restrained revolution, but there's one in England called the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  For a variety of reasons, King James II had worn out his welcome: he was moving in the direction of imposing Catholicism upon what had become a thoroughly Protestant nation.  Yet England had fought a civil war not too long before, and nobody really wanted to go through all that again.

So a handful of leaders convinced the Protestant Dutch leader, William of Orange, to come over to England and accept the crown.  He did, King James' army melted away, and the new King William took over almost bloodlessly.

Our situation is not quite so clear-cut, but somewhat like James II's England, the United Status is suffering the imposition of alien values by our leadership which most Americans don't want - ranging from national socialist healthcare to letting men in the girls' locker room.  Also unlike 1688 England, our elites have been importing foreigners who are sympathetic to many of their values and unsympathetic to American ones, which makes the challenge greater.

By shaking things up so aggressively, however, President Trump is causing all sorts of things to be rearranged in unpredictable ways, which at least presents the possibility of "the real America" reclaiming power again before it's too late because there's more of us than there are of the corrupt elites.  It may take a while, and there will certainly be reverses along the way, but at least now there is a chance.  We wonder how many more of our elites will be swept away by the sex abuse scandal?

And Louis-Phillipe II?  He met his end underneath a guillotine blade, a sincere but un-self-aware revolutionary to the end.  But his son ended up as King of the French, which never would have happened if there had been no Revolution.  In the long run, sometimes it all becomes worthwhile.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

.... May you live in interesting times.

.... - Ancient Chinese curse ....

Nope. Modern anglo-American Urban Legend. First used, in 1936, by the brother of British PM Neville Chamberlain, Sir Austen Chamberlain. Became known and/or popularized in America via a 1966 speech by Robert F Kennedy.

No identifiably-similar expression exists in China's history.


November 21, 2017 9:17 PM
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