A reader points out a glaring weakness that is found in the full range of anti-state movements.
I’ve been thinking over for a while now how it is that people who are ostensibly anti-state in theory can end up defending the state in practice, all the while still believing in their own minds that they remain as anti-state as ever.
This could apply to many people — whether we’re talking about left anarchists who reject the state in theory but in practice so prioritize social justice (as they see it) that they seem blind as to how that ideology can be almost effortlessly co-opted by both the state proper and the corporate power structure (as you’ve pointed out). This could also apply to various liberals and progressives who profess to be anti-war but learn to be okay with both the imperial project and the national security state when someone like Obama is in charge (and before Obama, Clinton). This could also apply to libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who on the level of theory recognize the dangers and illegitimacy of corporate economic power buttressed by state power, but who in practice end up wasting time defending McDonalds and Walmart as though they were the true underdogs in our society.
Not every member of these various groups falls into these pitfalls — there are left anarchists, I imagine, who can see through the ruse of state and capital adopting the language of social justice while continuing to dominate life. There are liberals and progressives who, to their credit, remained critical of imperialism and government spying well after the Bush years ended, and remain so now. And there are libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who have begun to realize that the neo-feudal corporate empire has more in common with the state than with them.
There is also another group — the conspiracy folks on the right. I know someone who falls into this camp, and they’ve followed a somewhat tragic course in thinking. They started out as a fairly typical movement conservative / Christian right type in the 90s, and after 9/11 became swept up in Bushism and neocon-ism like many of the Republican Party regulars. Then, they suddenly became concerned with “liberty” upon the election of Obama, and became involved in the Tea Party movement. They began to talk about the absolute necessity of upholding the Constitution, and believed this was the only way to get back to “freedom”. They volunteered in various Tea Party-affiliated primary campaigns against establishment Republicans (these were losing campaigns), and then began to focus their efforts in the state nullification movement, which kind of bridged worlds between anti-Obama conservatives, paleocons, and libertarians. During this phase they even began to call themselves a libertarian (rather than a “conservative” or “patriot”), finally lost faith in imperialism, and became a Ron Paul supporter. They poured every ounce of their free time into the state nullification movement. It practically became their life. Then Ron Paul failed in his 2012 bid (of course), and Obama was re-elected.
They slowly began to pull away from the state nullification movement, disillusioned and frustrated by the seemingly slow progress. They felt like they were wasting their time. Then (having begun to listen to Glenn Beck during their Tea Party phase) they now began to listen to Alex Jones. They began to fear that the Democrats and Republicans were ushering in control by the globalists, the elite who actually run things and want to push for a new world order. They became convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, that vaccines and non-organic food were a concerted attempt to kill or maim as many people as possible, that globalists wanted as many people to become gay or trans as possible in order to destroy the traditional family and reduce the population, and that the globalists were pushing for illegal immigration to destroy the United States from within. By 2016, they saw in Trump a kind of savior — Hillary Clinton was one of the globalists after all, and Trump would at least forestall their victory over America. They were even convinced, by some offhand comment Trump made at one of his rallies, that he was also a 9/11 truther. That he was secretly one of them.
Fast forward to the current moment in 2020, and this person is a QAnoner who believes Trump is part of a clandestine effort within the United States government committed to battling and rooting out the globalist menace that’s taken hold in the form of the Deep State, that the coronavirus scare was a deliberate attempt to sink Trump’s presidency and the accompanying effort to root out the globalists, and that antifa is being funded by the globalists to destroy American society. Though initially horrified by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, they eventually gave in to a completely hysterical fear of both antifa and the looters, and the conviction that someone had to step in, even if that meant the National Guard. In their own words, they wanted to see antifa and the looters “annihilated”. After all, the Democrat mayors and governors were acting in cahoots with the globalists to “stand down” and not crush them. The tearing down of statues only further convinced them that America is in a battle for its own survival, and that Trump was a hero for standing up to these forces. Apart from antifa and the coronavirus hoax as twin tools of the globalists, they are most concerned by the fear of impending election fraud via mail-in ballots being warned about and eagerly stoked by Trump.
This person, of course, still sees themselves as being on the side of “liberty”.
I think their ideological journey also represents the fatal flaw of the conspiracy theory crowd. These are largely people who came from mainstream conservative circles and who at one point or another were sincerely concerned about a tyrannical state (at least, as they understood it). But because they never identified the threat of “statism ” with the state itself (they speak instead of the government being infiltrated, infected, taken over, etc.), they remain unable to see the big picture. They believed if they could just get the bad guys out, then it would be “America the free” again. And now that someone they think is “one of them” is President, they can imagine this whole secret theatre of war going on behind the scenes. And so Trump enacting martial law isn’t government overreach or tyranny, it’s the good guys fighting back against globalist shock troopers (antifa), the unwashed hordes who they imagine coming for them in the event of a total collapse (welfare recipients stealing tv’s), and various other domestic groups who they see as existential enemies. They are still hoping and believing that Trump and his people are dutifully putting together the pieces that will finally put the Clintons, Obamas, et al. behind bars, as though — even if it were to happen — that would solve anything. Where they would go from there is unclear, if they’ve even thought that far. This is how Trumpism almost wholly replaced “constitutional conservatism” as a movement.
This is the danger of not realizing the state is the ultimate problem. Not who runs the state (or appears to run it), what language the state uses, what cultural values it pays lip service to — not anything temporary — but the state itself. Once you think you can meaningfully reform it, whether to some future utopian “caring” state or some fantasy past state that always stayed within its prescribed bounds, well — you open yourself up into being tricked that now the guys running the show actually are on your side and working toward your particular idealized future, and so you cheer on their crushing the other guys who you think are your real enemies. Even as they carry out state actions that you once said you opposed on principle.
And as you just pointed out:
“Trumpists should remember that this is the system that will be inherited by future presidents Biden, Harris, O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Rice, Power, Newsom, Cuomo, Whitmer, etc.”
Yes, they should. Maybe some will have that realization. I think for many of them, though, they will not be able to see how Trump is furthering a new normal that may eventually be used against them, because in their minds they are merely responding to what was “done to them” under Obama and other assorted globalist puppet masters (however they define and perceive that). If anything, they probably think Trump is exercising too much restraint and wish he would just “wipe them out”.
At least, that’s my admittedly anecdotal impression.
I also agree with your assessment of the Trumpists:
“The Trumpists represent a collection of socioeconomic, cultural, and demographic groups that are sinking fast. They know they are sinking and are trying to go down fighting. Hence, their pitiful embrace of a peep show carnival-barker like Trump as their supposed messiah.”
And I would say the pro-Trump conspiracy theory types are all of that, just with extra steps, and additional layers of self-delusion. A more complex statism that truly believes in its own anti-statism because, well, the ends justify the means, and it was apparently too difficult to resist giving themselves over to a figure like Trump.