Politics & Media
Jun 12, 2024, 06:27AM

Classy Warfare

On every cultural front, tyrants try to look respectable.

Donald trump holds campaign rally in las vegas june 2024 billboard 1548.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Donald Trump will likely prevail on appeal after his conviction by a badgered jury and biased judge for his mischaracterization of a legitimate, albeit sleazy, business expense. But the legal details are secondary. The main goal of any ruling regime—in nearly everything it does—is to delegitimize its foes and thereby enhance its own credibility.

Shaming becomes a vital prerequisite to governing, and well-timed shame can do its work—nudge an election, silence a public figure—even if the actual legal details only get sorted out months or years later, in an appeals court or in a small article in a minor section of a future newspaper (if there are still newspapers then).

The regime knows this. It delights in having an embarrassing person as its main foe. It’s a pity Trump makes it so easy for them.

The regime would love to render all its other foes embarrassing, if it can’t quite legally invalidate them. Take the strange spectacle of a woman pretending to be a religious conservative activist and thereby getting Supreme Court Justice Alito to mumble a few private, inconsequential comments—which she recorded and immediately repeated to the press—about vaguely agreeing that people shouldn’t turn away from God, as if this is a shocking sentiment in a judge trying to be agreeable to a seemingly impassioned stranger.

If I were barred from moderating debates for a year every time I grudgingly told some opinionated person, “Well, I suppose you might be onto something there,” I’d never take to the stage again. Thank goodness I don’t have an army of enemies trying to get me to recuse myself from everything.

Even in victory, the insecure guardians of the establishment must continue the work of marginalizing their enemies. Take winning-yet-whining Rep. Tony Gonzales, who, instead of reaching out during his recent primary to the Texas voters who wanted a more radical Republican than him, chastised them and any politicians who appeal to them, saying of the House Freedom Caucus members: “[T]hey’re basically libertarians or anarchists, or they just want to see the place burn down.”

Would that that were true, Tony! But to an establishment cog like yourself, “burning down” presumably means something like “making any spending cut larger than 1%.” Can’t have ideas that far out becoming mainstream discourse again or government might completely cease to exist, as it did throughout the 1980s, leaving people to settle all disputes through local kickball tournaments. Inoculate us against the heresy, Tony. Shame those unclean radicals.

It’d be bad enough if the efforts to maintain an establishment went on only within the halls of government, but capitalism (broadly defined) has its own strange mechanisms for legitimizing corporations’ behavior while delegitimizing yours. For a couple of decades now, we’ve all been coasting on the hope that the fine print in all those unreadably long, easily clicked-through contracts wouldn’t come back to haunt us, but perhaps it now has. Popular software maker Adobe’s latest Terms Of Service basically say—in a fashion I fully admit isn’t so unlike countless other contracts washing over us every day in our era—that anything you do with the help of Adobe software is now their property, and they even have the right to spin off new works and related ideas from it, which they will also own.

Deluged by unexpected complaints, they later hastily posted a blog entry saying they made a mistake and you can ignore that fine print, but even if that’s true, one can’t help thinking—if you’ll forgive my imprecise, non-lawyer language on this—they’ll keep trying this sort of thing until they own you and your house, and you’ll think, well, they’re big snazzy corporations who’ve been writing contracts for decades, so maybe a lowly slob like you should quiet down and accept it.

It’s not just capitalism or just government—institutions in general are expansionist, opportunistic, and when they can get away with it, predatory. The more they seem respectable and the more we feel ashamed for questioning them—because we aren’t sure we’re in full compliance with the law or have a nagging recollection we clicked “accept” on some online document or for that matter silently promised some imagined mystical entity we’d attend church every week if forgiven for other transgressions—the more nonsense they’ll try to pull.

It’s a delight, then, to see one of those rare instances in which a big, powerful institution decides it’s going to bow out of some political fights instead of throwing its weight around. Harvard, for instance, just took a break from bungling its self-appointed role as referee-of-diversity to announce that it’s henceforth going to err on the side of silence in public political disputes when those disputes don’t affect the management of Harvard itself or impede its core functions.

That’s one way to ensure the next round of congressional inquiries doesn’t imperil your massive government subsidies, and it’s long overdue—indeed, centuries overdue if you see the training of young priests in Harvard’s early days as every bit the elite indoctrination program that its current leftism is. The high priests of all kinds—religious, academic, political, and corporate—love to guilt-trip you. They’ve been doing it for centuries. Then they wonder why the public is eager to vote for a guy those high priests are trying to put in jail.

—Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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