Why Old White American Men Are Terrified Of Me
You know your writing has broken into the mainstream when pundits start citing you without actually citing you.
Over the past few days the unfolding American Divorce I’ve been writing about for over a year has finally attracted the scorn of the exact sort of egotistical, intellectually stagnant old white man thinking that has brought America to this bitter culmination.
Rich Lowry, a centrist conservative who writes for Politico, and W. James Antle III, another of that set over at Week, have almost simultaneously published the sort of dismissive takedowns of the idea that America could ever break up I’d been waiting to see hit my screen.
Funny enough, their counter-arguments are themselves excellent case studies of the broken American worldview’s impact on Americans’ ability to understand their own country. Especially the people who write national columns read by mucky-mucks in D.C.
Now let’s be up front about the fact that the job of pundits like these guys, most of whom have been commentating since I was a kid yet are quite consistently wrong, is to provide arguments allied politicians can use to defend and justify their actions.
That is the business of“thought leadership” and why there are a kajillion think tanks clustered around the Beltway. In America’s sports-as-politics dystopia, the goal of every professional is to affiliate with the right team and be seen influence its behavior — usually by promoting policies the party wants to test with the general public before committing to.
A big part of a pundit’s job is deciding for the general public and the mainstream media which ideas are important and which are ridiculous. They perform a function that in the military is termed battlefield shaping — in short, they work to establish and defend rules and norms of national debate.
When Defund the Police emerged as one of the many slogans some Black Lives Matter demonstrators used, conservative pundits pounced on it to promote the idea that Black people hate the police. They started using it in their rhetoric as an example of how scared their audience should be about Black Lives Matter.
This helped to bind police unions, officers, and their families to politics — Republicans moved to defend the police and centrist Democrat pundits, ever fighting to occupy the middle ground even if it doesn’t exist, began scorning Black activists who talked about reducing police budgets at all. They pointed to the growth in Republican anxiety driven by their partisan pundits as a reason Democrats should tamp down their rhetoric.
The politicians, always dependent on their donor and voter base, followed suit. Police reform is presently all but dead in the United States, not because most people don’t want it or a more efficient, effective police force but because political identity forces us to adopt the slogans of our side.
These pundits are all partisans — and what is the one rule all American partisans whose personal incomes rely on steering political discourse a certain direction?
Don’t upset the game.
That’s it, that’s all. American politics must continue as it has for a generation, the two-party doom loop inevitable, inescapable, eternal. Nothing will ever change, for America is the end of history.
This is why they hate the very idea of either splitting up the country or even fundamentally reforming it. They wrap their anxieties in fears for the future and mourning for the nation’s lost golden age when we’re supposed to imagine everyone agreed and there were no serious problems with the structure of the country.
For these guys, any meaningful reshaping of America — as has happened many times before in its multi-century history , which is why it still exists at all — upsets their cozy position. Separation or reform negates a substantial portion of their received wisdom, claims about what America is or the meaning of historical events they repeat so often, unchallenged by those on their political team, that anyone with a partisan affiliation accepts it as truth.
The Civil War was about slavery! Democrats cry, attached to their mythical vision of the progressive, democratic Union.
The Civil War was about state’s rights! Republicans shout back, equally clinging to a fantasy version of history shorn of all its true complexity.
Accepting complexity and working through it honestly in their columns would make their jobs immensely more difficult — and so they resist anything that smacks of substantial change. To them, an American divorce on any level, even merely at the level of the federal government, is professional apocalypse. They would no longer gain power and prestige by grace of their personal connections to the right people in D.C. if there were six or eight federal capitols, not one, as I propose in the topline image.
This is why they don’t actually discuss the very real issues ripping America apart, instead simply arguing that divorce isn’t possible or too messy to contemplate.
They can’t envision any kind of substantial change that wouldn’t destroy the careers they’ve spent a lifetime cultivating. That’s why these pundits adamantly refuse to discuss any possible solutions other than finding a way to convince Americans to keep playing this dismal game. They are not accountable to anyone but their publication’s audience and advertisers.
Their intellectual and professional laziness has polluted and destroyed American democracy, and now they’re camping out on the ruins insisting we can’t salvage any of it to build something better.
What pundits like these guys are doing is trying to shame folks into ignoring reality. Lowry insists that “Secession, of course, isn’t close to going mainstream yet, thankfully” and shames people like me saying “quitting on America is — or should be — unforgivable.”
Fortunately I don’t give a damn about forgiveness, only avoiding as many casualties and as much general misery as possible. And I have to note Lowry’s irritating rounding down of the numbers on the extremely reputable recent survey by the University of Virginia showing 51% of Trump and 42% of Biden voters favor secession. Guys like him get off on fudging facts to enhance their rhetoric, which is precisely why most debate in politics isn’t meaningful, only performative: no one is debating in good faith, their very words are part of a deeper strategy.
But back to the numbers — that’s near-majority support among all voters for secession, which, remember, which isn’t legal under the Constitution.
Start asking Americans if they’d support a peaceful divorce, I guarantee those numbers will spike. Americans don’t even really comprehend the magnitude or diversity of their own country. We already speak about the country in regional terms like west coast, rust belt, south, northeast.
When I was teaching at university, one term I decided to do an exercise with the 200 or so undergrads I saw each week. They were supposed to be learning American geography, so I performed a little test: I asked them to fill out a blank map of America’s states however they thought about it.
I wanted to get a sense of the mental shorthand of a cross-section of students, foreign and domestic. I really wish I had scanned them all and saved them, too, because the results were incredibly illustrative.
Virtually all broke the country up into regions, usually smaller ones near where they grew up and bigger further away. To West Coast natives most everything east of the Rockies hardly exists, it’s all the midwest until they realize the old North and South start somewhere and draw an east-west line kind of at random.
The ones who really got into the spirit of the exercise came up with some fascinating divisions based on the country’s physical geography, discarding state borders entirely. Only a few carefully labeled each state, and the international students generally came up with hilarious maps that were probably more true to the real America than anyone else’s.
Antle, for his part, plays good cop to Lowry’s bad, viewing a divorce as unlikely but possible and remarking that “if the existing constitutional design of the country can’t protect us, it’s hard to imagine an amicable breakup creating a better one soon.”
Which is, of course, him repeating of the old American civic myth that insists America is God-blessed, indispensable, and eternal. Even when it has quite clearly evolved and expanded over time.
The Constitution is over 200 years old, American’s can’t agree on what its words mean anymore, and it was meant to be regularly updated. That’s why the Founders put the Amendment process in the thing, and which gave us the Bill of Rights.
The fact that no substantial Constitutional reform has happened in my lifetime is a critical symptom of America’s stagnation. The long two-party stalemate is a convenient little choreographed dance that obscures the bitter reality that America deseperately needs a reboot.
The borders of the states and their counties were drawn by settler-colonists out of convenience, they have almost no real-world meaning anymore. Many of the governing norms Congress follows — like the filibuster… and the Senate — are incredibly antiquated but persist because a legion of educated specialists have built their careers on the assumption American politics is largely static and can’t change.
This in turn is symptomatic of the decay of the country as a whole. American democracy doesn’t really exist — this governing system is nothing more than a mailed fist wrapped around the throat of the average American. If it did function as it should, the country wouldn’t be hollowed out with nearly half the population ready to secede!
Lowry and Antle and their kind make money off the system as it stands. So they will fight tooth and nail to keep people from talking about the hard reality we face and looking for viable alternatives.
Anyone under the age of 50 is almost certain to witness the USA go the way of the USSR. And it is a bitter irony of America’s dysfunction that the hacks who wasted a lifetime on partisan battles can prescribe nothing but more of the same, forever.
They insist that talk about breaking up the country isn’t widespread, but the truth is that’s what everyone under 50 is thinking about these days. Going abroad is something I suspect more than half of educated younger Americans have considered in recent years.
The pundits would be shocked to discover what I have in recent years — bring up breaking America apart with regular Americans, and most respond favorably to the idea. The younger they are, the more enthusiastic, too.
No, people don’t say it out loud — yet — as they’ve been trained from birth to believe America is eternal and fear being called unpatriotic if they say they want something different. Those of us who were old enough in 2001 remember well how any criticism of America immediately opened you up to allegations you supported terrorism.
America is a democracy, we’re told over and over — yet when we say that this so-called democracy in practice looks more like an oligarchy meant to empower the powerful, we’re laughed down, told to go read the Constitution to learn how lucky we are. If that doesn’t work, then they start telling tales of the inevitable nightmare America will endure if it ever does break up.
Ironically, the last major world power to actually split apart (pundits missed its impending doom too), the Soviet Union, in fact went pretty quietly when the time came. It too saw a coup attempt during a transfer of power, and when it finally ended the Soviet government simply dissolved itself into its constituent republics.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania may still live under threat of a future Russian invasion, yet despite being tiny countries they are all prosperous and democratic and happy to be free. Ukraine might be trending in that direction if Russia and NATO would leave it alone.
And America doesn’t even have to divide completely, if its leaders could get ahead of the collapse and pursue structural reforms.
Americans are incredibly ignorant of basic geographic science, almost as much as they are ignorant of their true history thanks to the nation’s abysmally politicized school system. They — and most pundits — simply don’t understand how fundamentally divided the country has always been.
The Civil War was so awful not because the country split up into multiple sides (not only Union and Confederacy, there were many neutrals as well as pro-slavery Union states), but because the two biggest sides went to war to conquer the other.
They invaded each other, dragging in states and people who didn’t really want to be part of it. Pundits on the left love to condemn all Confederates as traitors, lumping impoverished draftees who often deserted as soon as they could with their slave-owning aristocratic generals. But they ignore the choices made by the Union that worsened and extended the war then gave up the most important fight: securing the freedom of the former slaves.
A second civil war will only happen if Americans let their idiot leaders drag them into another one like the last time. People like Lowry and Antle will, if it happens, fill column inches insisting the war must be fought to its conclusion to preserve America’s power.
Won’t be their lives on the line — well, at least not until I get the right intel and armed drones — so they’ll keep up the rhetorical fight until there’s nothing left to fight over.
Because in the end that’s all they care about. America’s power — and their ability to drift off of it to enrich themselves.
Here’s Lowry, doing his damnedest to shape perception of what an American divorce would look like:
“It would matter, by the way, who gets control of the federal government, the most powerful organization on Earth. It has 1.3 million people under arms and a stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads. Whether this, not to mention federal lands and other assets, accrues to red or blue America would, to understate it, be a matter of considerable haggling.”
None of this is true if the country divorces by splitting up the federal government via Constitutional Amendment, as I recommend. Lowry here is throwing factoids around without any context. There is ample precedent in American history for changing how the federal government works.
That’s what the whole by and for the people bit really means, and why the Founders left the people with the power to Amend the Constitution through a convention called by state legislatures. America’s leaders, if they care at all about the Constitution, can work out an amicable divorce simply by grouping Red and Blue states together into natural regions that can then evolve separately while remaining forever linked.
The two-party doom-loop will break, a reduced shell of the Pentagon will remain intact to keep the nukes from falling under any idiot’s control, and America’s democratic allies will get a guaranteed focus from a regional federal government rather than the scattered, jarring shifts in attention they experience now.
And it could all start right now, because the majority of state legislatures are under one-party control — each state governor and senators would instantly become one of a few extremely influential power brokers temporarily free from their national party’s perverse incentive structures. All should be able to see the benefits for themselves and their state.
Every one of them would embark of major and mostly popular reforms. Some wouldn’t work —and they would be forced to adjust. It would suck for a lot of people, but America would have a working democracy again, structured more like Australia and Canada, which are looser federations than America. Not perfect, but at least stable.
Americans by and large have no real desire to fight other Americans — what we will fight over is who controls the unitary federal government. So, as apparently the dragon in Game of Thrones understood, the only option is to destroy the thing everyone is fighting over.
This, of course, would destroy the careers of a great many old white men who are strangling America’s future for their personal benefit. They don’t want America to have or be a true democracy, they want to make us believe this archaic, Rome-imitating Republic is all America could be.
America’s federal government can become regional, and within these regions the urban-rural divide afflicting many states can be assuaged with reformed federal institutions. What amuses me to no end about the old white men who worship the Constitution (though how many ever served in its military, like I did?) is how little they seem to understand its history as an evolving experiment.
Which is why they are terrified of people like me, so much that they almost plagiarize my American Divorce framing without bothering to cite my work.
I’m used to it, though — in graduate school their kind hated my work for the same reasons: it’s more careful, not courting partisan interests, and rooted in a love of true human liberty, not any variety of nationalist chest-thumping but actually giving people the ability to live good lives on their own terms.
I had to dump one masters project because my advisor wanted it altered to support his theories. Fortunately I did another — and it got published in a solid journal and has been cited a couple dozen times thanks to my excellent co-author (and subsequent advisor) who is not an old white dude.
The sub-heading to Lowry’s piece really says it all: “The deleterious effects of a breakup would be enormous. A disaggregated United States would be instantly less powerful.”
And then there’s this bit about Texas, directed at me and others angered by its assault on women’s rights:
“Would the rest of the country really be willing to watch a state of 29 million people that represents the ninth-largest economy in the world go its own way? Simply say goodbye to a place that accounts for almost 40 percent of the country’s oil production, about 25 percent of its natural gas production, 10 percent of its manufacturing and 20 percent of its exports, more than any other state? Bid adieu to the country’s largest transportation network and 11 deep-water ports, including the Port of Houston, one of the largest in the world and the busiest in the U.S. in terms of foreign waterborne tonnage?
No country that retains an ounce of rationality and self-respect would let such an economic jewel and powerhouse slip away.”
Hm, fewer fossil fuels, a transportation network Pacific America doesn’t give a damn about because we have our own deep water ports and interstate 5? Plus half the United States Navy, the only part of the armed forces worth a damn anymore?
I definitely don’t need whatever national power Texas brings to the table, if its cruel domestic policies are the price. What arrogance and moral cowardice, to obsess over such matters when the entire planet and the very idea of democracy are at stake?
All Lowry and the rest of these dudes truly care about is their power. They will sacrifice anything and anyone to keep it intact — that includes the rights of women to get whatever medical care their doctors think they need. When Trump steals the 2024 Election guys like this will be first in line insisting that we all simply have to endure no matter what evils are wrought.
The Vichy solution. Which worked out so well for France when Hitler came.
In their faith, America is eternal. God loves America. It doesn’t matter what America does or who it harms. America is special. There can be no divorce.
Another of Lowry’s gems “Divorce usually isn’t a good idea, and that’s especially true of a nearly 250-year-old continental nation.”
Yeah, go ahead and tell abused spoused and children how divorce isn’t usually a good idea. It’s always so much better to maintain a self-destructive abusive relationship than get the eff out and onto a better life.
American paternalism in action, folks. A form of authoritarianism that has destroyed any and all claims of this country being a democracy forever.
Old white men already have a foot in the grave — their dead philosophies are set to fade with them, and nothing could be better news for this blighted world.
I am happy to be their terror, well-armed in this war because I know the secrets of their little club yet have no intention of ever joining it. I aim to tear their world apart, piece by piece, until nothing remains.
I am a white man who rejects whiteness and aims to wield my privilege in order to destroy theirs. I want to cast down their power and leave nothing in its place, knowing it was the will to power that destroyed the heritage of my ancestors and turned us into the world’s Orcs, colonizers and pillagers hated by so many they will kill themselves to kill us.
Lowry, Antle, and the rest of the old white men will fight to deny reality as long as they can, of course. Their generation is desperate to pretend people don’t have to retire someday, that death doesn’t come for all individuals, and all nations.
I’ve already seen the signs of the coming repression. Social media algorithms (including Medium’s, I’m afraid) tend to squash any work that might get their parent company accused of spreading Chinese or Russian propaganda — but of course politicians can spread theirs. Sometimes we must restrict democracy in order to protect it, they will say, and only authoritative voices will be amplified if the powers that be get their way.
Signal will keep breaking through, though. People talk offline. You can’t turn back the tide.
The old white dudes who think they rule the world won’t give up their power easily. They hate people like me who know them for what they are, see the reality of their dead faith, and can use science to disprove their bogus claims. I also have a pretty solid grasp of military science, which could prove sadly useful in the years to come.
So in the immortal words of G’Kar: their time has come and gone! It’s our turn now.
I have no partisan allegiance. My science is stronger than theirs. I am their worst nightmare.
And I am coming for all they hold dear. :)
I know where their ideas lead America and ultimately the planet. I know how their story ends.
A new Viking Age is upon us. The old hoards of wealth and prestige are now the targets for anyone who seeks to keep hope for the future alive. The dead society they seek to bind us to must be destroyed.
America is divided. It will divide further. How messy the process gets will be decided by the people with the power to change course before it’s too late.
Eventually, if things go far enough, that will be us. To quote Anonymous (you folks still around or did the feds suppress you all?): We are legion.
And we’re young. Time is on our side. The old white men of the patriarchy and their followers should be very, very afraid.