The Noise Before Defeat
The Real Reason We Can’t Seem to Catch a Break
In our previous newsletter (Previous Newsletter) we detailed precisely how the Republicans – working from an increasingly more effective 50-year ‘grand strategy,’ have created a highly asymmetric battlespace in which, essentially, they “win” – that is to say their cause is favorably advanced, by the results of every battle, although in classic political calculus we would have characterized such “victories” as losses.
“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat,” Sun Tzu.
Our experience in Vietnam is both analogous and instructive: It was a war we preferred to term anything but; we inflicted disproportionate casualties on the enemy, but their strength continued to grow; we paid attention to all the wrong numbers; we feared our own left more than the enemy; we suppressed and often arrested those speaking truth to power; we never really understood the strategic calculus or the enemy.
The war was asymmetric, but we fought it as if it were symmetric. The results: more than three million deaths; billions in wasted spending; Richard Nixon as President; a rift between U.S. citizens and their government that has never mended — and the strategic situation in Vietnam the exact same as it would have been had we never fought it.
How did we get where we are now? As part of its long-term strategy, the right has invested heavily in data science, modeling, and computation, and although very few foot soldiers of the right have the first clue about how it all works, they do know how to follow orders and play their parts in the great kabuki dance that is modern American politics. This effort has, over the long term, generated an asymmetry that is not visibly apparent, but might be usefully considered a type of cultural “matrix” in which there is no way out. This feeling of entrapment is a purposeful outcome of Republican strategy and resulting asymmetry -- a demoralized enemy puts up less of a fight.
The asymmetric battlespace, or environment if you prefer, is why Democrats can’t get anything meaningful done despite total control of the Federal Government. All the other reasons for failure offered by the Party, mainstream press and pundits are the results of faulty analysis and/or sheer bone laziness.
This piece explains how Republicans exploit the asymmetric environment to prevent Democrats and the left from achieving anything meaningful despite apparent advantages.
What about the bad actors on the right? Aren’t they as important in this equation as asymmetry and strategy? Great questions. Admittedly, Manchin, Synema, McConnell, DeSantis, Bannon, Hannity – yes even Trump – serve us well as the great villains who appear to be controlling the country from their evil lairs like SPECTRE or Dr. Evil. Their narcissism carries this characterization a long way, but they are actually tactics and tools (yes, I intend the double entendre) of the plutocrats who fund them and the strategy that directs them – rather than them being the prime movers themselves.
The toxic stew of plutocracy, totalitarianism, neoliberalism, and late-stage capitalism we find ourselves forced to eat is far less about the popular villains, and much more about the triumph of amoral wealthy people, well-funded strategy, and an army of approximately 100 million willingly deluded puppet-mercenaries, whose numerically superior adversary is enabling their glidepath to victory by committing some combination of appeasement and seppuku. Of course it is critically important to bring these transgressors to justice in the appropriate form, but from the standpoint of changing the strategic calculus on the ground, it is equally important to understand that: These people are the central casting “faces” of a powerful system whose body is the real threat; Democrats are their own worst enemy in this fight.
We’ve been focusing our recent analyses on the voting environment, because it is the last contested space in our national system – economics and ideology having long since been conquered by the right, and we continue that focus in this piece.
In the previous newsletter we briefly mentioned the concept of vicious cycles (“a sequence of reciprocal cause and effect in which two or more elements intensify and aggravate each other, leading inexorably to a worsening of the situation” - Oxford), a systems effect whose integrated components, interactions and results are rarely understood because doing so requires domain knowledge, modeling, and heavy-duty computation.
Although it’s much more complex than depicted here, this is a useful model of the voting environment and the resultant vicious cycle working in favor of Republicans.
The current dynamics of the national voting environment – purposively generated and accelerated by Republican strategy -- serve to energize, mobilize, and radicalize Republican voters, while gluing them to the Party; while simultaneously confusing, frightening, demoralizing and in some cases actually disenfranchising Democrats -- depressing their voting rate – thus negating the Democrats’ perceived natural demographic advantage. You’ll note that we use the term “leakage” in the graphic, by which we mean the losses from the “natural” Democratic demographic vote total. As we’re sure you’ve surmised, there are multiple other subsystems that compound these dynamics. We have also modeled those in a national metamodel, and we can assure you that the picture is even worse for Democrats from the meta view.
Why have Republicans chosen this strategy? In decoding an adversary’s strategy it’s always best to start with an understanding of the regime or elite’s objectives. In our case, Plutocrats seek maximum societal power, control and resources with minimal accountability and responsibility. This combination of objectives forms what is known in systems science as an ideality. Plutocrats are animated by their ideality and view American democratic ideals as a constraint. They identify the Republican Party as their center of gravity, and thus robustly fund it and its ecosystem -- seeking maximum ROI over the short- and long-terms.
The Party serves as a cutout and idea launderer – rendering plutocrat resources and intent into plausible-sounding policy and political positions – democracy-speak if you will. It is this piece that provides cover for the 100 million puppet-mercenaries to pretend to be patriots or “real Americans,” without which we’d just see them – and they’d be forced to see themselves --for the selfish, amoral dolts they really are.
In this effort the right ecosystem is aided by the heavy lift already done on its behalf in the U.S. by neoliberalism, capitalism, and market principles that almost all Americans subscribe to – but that dominate the terms of discourse and force mediation of conflict through their lenses regardless. The mainstream press epitomizes this lensing with its “Bothsidesing,” and the right’s propaganda machine feeds this dynamic with an unending stream of ready-to-wear pseudo issues such as Critical Race Theory.
National myths such a: “the U.S. is the greatest country in the world,” “our Founders were infallible,” “the Constitution is perfect,” “every child can grow up to be President,” etc., do yeoman’s duty by establishing an unquestionable substrate onto which propaganda — effectively laundered — layers nicely. The result is to pin down liberals, Democrats, and progressives between the hard rocks of unquestioned support for capitalism, and the aspirations of their constituents — who desire and benefit from a mixed model that includes so-called socialist principles.
All this is directed and accelerated by Republican strategy for national domination, for which dems have no real counterpart or effective countermeasures. Democrats don’t want or seek to dominate or win decisively, they were built to, and content with -- sharing power within a rules-based system that no longer exists. Democrats compound their mistake by working overtime to unilaterally shore up a system whose dynamics will simply not permit this result.
A new system – whose form admittedly none of us is yet sure – will be required. Since the old system will not return, we must stop fearing the new just because it is unknown. A new system is inevitable – and it is much better if the left participates in its emergence instead of ceding this work to the right.
What holds Democrats back?
They continue to believe that national demographics favor them, and that this one factor alone is sufficient to maintain equilibrium in the near term and ensure they can prevail long term. They are belatedly realizing that Republican exploitation of national structural imbalances of long standing – the Electoral College, Senate advantaging the smaller, more rural states, dark monetary support – more than offset potential demographic advantages that themselves have not been effectively exploited by democrats anyway.
If dems had addressed the Constitutional loopholes when they had political power to do so, and strangled the right’s strategy in the cradle, we’d have more of a chance now. Instead, their 50-year appeasement (the right term if they simply didn’t understand what the right was doing), or collusion (if they’re bought off too but just playing a more subtle game) – has brought us to our last at bat.
All of these factors combine to generate an asymmetric environment in which almost everything dems do -- having been forecast by Republican modeling -- backfires and accelerates the vicious cycle. To wit – the policy trap Democrats now find themselves in.
Why is policy a trap in our current environment? Policy has too long of a timeline to matter much right now – and with dems lacking a commanding legislative majority, Republicans are quite content to let Democrats waste their energy trying to enact legislation that they would simply reverse in a few years should the dems somehow manage to sneak something over the goal line.
The policies dems come up have also been forecast and modeled by Republicans – so they are ready and waiting with their disinformation campaigns. Policy fatigue is thus just one more structural factor favoring the right. You’ll notice they’ve rather artfully avoided falling into their own trap in that area. They’re playing rope-a-dope with the left, and the left just keeps coming back for more like a late-career boxer who’s taken one too many shots to the head.
Perhaps the most relevant and least understood downside to a policy-based strategy is that, absent a decent understanding of systems, (I’ll bet there aren’t 10 people in both Houses who understand the basics of system science) it is at best a crapshoot. This is because in a complex world, unintended consequences stemming from policy are more likely to occur than those intended. That said, Democrats should reduce their aim and focus solely on democracy protection, obvious inequities (tax code, inadequate enforcement of white-collar crime), and relief of suffering – while the understanding for more nuanced policies is being built.
To add to the doom and gloom in this analysis, we felt compelled to point out that you can’t simply “push back” directly on a vicious cycle, or you fall into the trap set by the right and enabled by the asymmetric battlespace. In fact, this is exactly what has been happening to Democrats the last fifty years, and especially over the last 10. Rather, we require what is known in systems science as a "well-structured noise" than jolts the current system out of inferior equilibria (from our perspective) and leads it to superior ones.
We must, in systems language, create a virtual cycle that becomes the dominant dynamic – but this is not done by accepting battle on the very battlefields chosen by the enemy where he maximizes his asymmetric advantages. Rather, it requires progressives to develop our own comprehensive, long-term strategy that unites the well-intended but fractious elements whose disunity negates apparent demographic advantage.
Research and historical experience indicate that only large-scale, strategy-driven, well-planned social activism centered on nonviolent resistance, including civil disobedience if/when necessary – is sufficient to generate this well-structured noise. Policy may be a result of, and reinforcing mechanism for, the changed national voting environment we require to preserve democracy, but it by no means the most effective or lead line of action in this effort.
One big concern we have is that the multiple American movements to secure justice and preserve democracy have taken their lessons from, and modeled themselves after, movements that operated in a totally different environment. Although this is a gross overgeneralization, the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements were themselves united and facing fractious opposition, whereas the reverse is now true. The right has mobilized its army and they are fanatical in one key regard – they see American culture and politics as a zero-sum game and a war that simply must be won, or life is no longer worth living. We’ve faced this type and level of fanaticism before with external enemies – but we are woefully unprepared to counter it domestically.
Participative Democracy is the answer for many of our ills – it can help reestablish a sense of community and thusly serve as a counterforce to neoliberalism’s excessive focus on the individual. We believe that once the immediate danger to democracy has passed, that those mobilized in its defense will form the nucleus of a participative democracy movement that will, first, stabilize democracy, then enable us to achieve some of our more utopian long-term objectives such as a truly just, joyful, and abundant society. Our other big concern is that Participative Democracy requires participation – and we’re seeing way too little of it.