Monday, May 25, 2020

Douthat: Q Is Right!

Ding dong, the Bilderberg is dead!

And here's Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, at his weirdest, with an agenda I want to try unpacking ("The End of the New World Order"): it starts off with a mysterious warning that some rightwing conspiracy theories, while false, may be sort of true in a way that overrides their particular falsehood:
This is as true in the Trump era as in any other. Extraterrestrials are probably not among us, but we keep being handed new evidence that the U.F.O. phenomenon is real. QAnon is a landscape of fantasy, but the fact that powerful sexual predators have ties to presidents, popes and princes is a hard post-Jeffrey Epstein truth....
The phrase “New World Order” was lifted by the conspiracy-minded from the optimistic rhetoric of George H.W. Bush, and since then the paranoia and the facts have always existed symbiotically. The fantasy is looming totalitarian control, black helicopters descending, secret Bilderberg plots. But it’s been encouraged by various undeniable realities — the growth of transnational institutions, the manifest power of a global overclass, the often undemocratic expansion of the European Union and the rise of digital surveillance and the ties binding China and the U.S. into “Chimerica.”
I'm not so sure about this whole perspective. It's like if you read about the myths of Zeus or Thor and came away with the idea you'd found proof that thunder goes back at least 3000 years. That's not the point! We have independent reasons for believing that thunder is millions of years older than that because that's how Earth weather works! They made up stories about it 3000 years ago because they didn't know that, but we do; the myths tell us more about the people than about the natural phenomenon.

Every flying object is unidentified unless somebody identifies it, and it's pretty interesting if some of them or even lots of them continue to be unidentifiable in spite of the existence of really sophisticated techniques for identifying them. Perhaps there are aliens among us, flying in and flying out! The Vox story Douthat links to is an argument that it deserves serious research, and you won't catch me disagreeing. It's not a conspiracy theory, though, and it's surprising that Ross seems to think it is; the Area 51–type conspiracy theory is that our government already knows all about it and is successfully hiding the facts from us out of some dark purpose of its own, and has been doing so for decades. That, too, tells us more about the people telling the stories than it does about the stories' content.

Horrible sexual predators among the powerful are pretty well known in history, from folklore (Gilles de Rais, comrade-in-arms of the cross-dressing virgin St. Joan of Arc, was the murderer of dozens or hundreds of children on whom the bride-collecting Bluebeard of European folklore was based) to genetics (they say around 10% of the men now living within the boundaries of the empire that stretched in the early 14th century from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific carry a Y chromosome inherited from the family of Genghis Khan).

The discovery of the predations of Jeffrey Epstein didn't prove that there were any insights to be gained from the Pizzagate story of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta trafficking kids out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Washington based on a bizarre hermeneutic reading of Podesta's emails. Nor the QAnon cult based on the 8Chan prophecies of a writer who calls himself Q that has grown out of it, which continues to be more focused on little kids, like the Satanic daycare frenzy of the 1970s, than the "normal" trafficking of very young but post-pubescent girls that Epstein specialized in. Epstein and the ubiquitous videos of him partying with Trump are if anything a bit of an embarrassment to the Q cult, which is more devoted to Emperor Trump as our savior from the hideous machinations of Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and Bill Gates, none of whom fit the stereotype of the sexual predator the way Epstein and Trump himself do. It's even been suggested by adherents that Epstein—murdered in federal prison by the bloodthirsty and almost omnipotent Hillary from fear that he'd expose her—was the original Q.

There's also not much valuable insight about world affairs in the New World Order conspiracy, I think, which also incorporates Soros and Gates, where I become a much less reliable guide because I'm still frightened and enraged by the persistence of classic anti-Semitic propaganda themes from the Dreyfus case and the Protocols.

But why would you assume that transnational institutions are evil? What is a "global overclass" if you're not a Marxist? When is the expansion of the European Union undemocratic? Did they drag Romania in against the will of its anguished citizens in 2007? Did they bypass the rule that each new state must be approved by the parliaments of each member state and a vote in the European Parliament? How is the weird economic symbiosis between the US and the People's Republic, nations continually at odds with international institutions for most of the past 20 years, a sign of encroaching world government?

Well, heh, except apparently it isn't, at least not any more, because, having said these "realities" are "undeniable", the Monsignor proceeds to deny them all:
But unlike in the 1990s or 2000s, when New World Order paranoia exaggerated real developments and trends, in the current moment the reality is the opposite of what is feared. Instead of leading to some sort of globalist consolidation, the rule of the coronavirus is unraveling internationalism everywhere you look.
The virus has exposed global entities as either weak and politically compromised, in the case of the World Health Organization, or all-but-irrelevant, in the case of the United Nations. It has restored or hardened borders, impeded migration, devolved power from the international to national and the national to local. And it has spurred renewed great power rivalry, with “Chimerica” dissolving and a trans-Pacific Cold War looming.
That's the thesis of the column, that you can all stop worrying about the New World Order now because Covid-19 is killing it. We're all Trumpy now, wall-builders and unilateralists, thanks to the virus, so it's time for the paranoids to relax. Q is right! At least within the limits of Douthat's reservations that he's only right in the particular way Douthat says he is, the prophecy is fulfilled, and Trump has indeed saved us from Soros and Gates, with the timely assistance of a pandemic.

No, I don't think he knows what he's saying. He's just playing Douthat Trick or Treat, passing out the poisoned candy without thinking about the consequences. But the consequences are there.

And no, I don't think he's right, for that matter. It's still early days, but one of the things that's striking me is something somebody was saying on the radio this morning—Jason Beaubien, reporting on Brazil, and Trump's latest travel ban on that country, another late and leaky effort to lock up the barn that the horse wandered out of months ago, to the effect that most of the countries where the coronavirus seems to be most out of control at this time are the ones with the Trumpiest governments (not the language NPR used)—Russia, Brazil, Britain, India, and of course us of the top.

Via Worldometers.
There's probably a reason for that, like it could be related to the particular kind of dishonesty on which Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi, Johnson, and Trump rely, which just happens to be bent on encouraging paranoia, racism, and diplomatic isolation.

Though two other authoritarian governments, Poland's and especially Hungary's, seem to be handling the pandemic relatively well and taking advantage of it to reinforce their autocratic power, to the applause of American rightwingers:
National Review ran a piece defending Orbán against charges of dictatorship by John O’Sullivan, the head of the Danube Institute, a Budapest-based think tank that’s indirectly funded by the Hungarian government. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, who describes himself as “an admirer of many of the things Viktor Orbán has done,” literally embedded government propaganda in a piece concluding that the emergency law was “basically fine.”
Such Orbán fans admire the Hungarian strongman for his strident opposition to immigration and his profound cultural conservatism, causes on which he’s doubled down during the pandemic. For example, the Hungarian parliament is currently considering a bill that would legally fix an individual’s gender as the sex they were assigned at birth — erasing transgender people from existence.
Then another thing is the way when you look for where international institutions like the UN and WHO are weak, it's really just two—Trump's US backing out of them, and China trying to muscle in. Even UK seems desperate to cooperate with the EU, in spite of Brexit, and Poland and Hungary certainly aren't leaving. I can't get over how there are exactly three major efforts to develop a vaccine against CV-19: one in the US, one in China, and one in all the other countries of the world in which the US and China uniquely refuse to participate.

It's China and the US in their belligerent attitudes and currently deeply shaken conditions that threaten international institutions, not the virus, and I think the two biggest economies are showing their own weakness, which is especially economic, as both undergo the worst of the virus-induced collapses. If Douthat thinks the two countries are going to emerge from the pandemic self-reliant, with the US spontaneously developing a manufacturing industry that will satisfy all its needs and China developing an internal market to consume all the stuff it produces, he's welcome to (most likely he hasn't thought about it at all), but he's certainly wrong. The economic recovery will begin, no matter who's president, when and only when the two begin to rebuild that difficult relationship, because they really don't have any other choice.

Q is crazy, and Douthat and his cultivated rightwing friends are not much better. International regulation is the only force that can cope with the ravages of international capital (the only "global overclass" I know about), and the US and China have been the main obstacles to that. If there's to be any recovery at all, the two biggest economies are going to have to learn to play more nicely, not attempt to be more exceptional than they already are.

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