Red glare

Y’all motherfuckers really need to shut your various holes about Russia. I’ve been trying not to care, but this shit has gotten entirely out of hand.

People keep using the term “skepticism” here, but that concept is entirely inapplicable, because everything that’s been alleged so far has been completely ordinary. All major world governments run disinformation campaigns and interfere in each other’s elections. While it’s obvious and boring to keep bringing this up, it bears repeating until people start to get it through their fat heads: America has forcibly overthrown democratically-elected governments, several times. Rich fucks being in bed with foreign oligarchs is also entirely normal. All of those motherfuckers are all up in each other’s assholes all the time. The only thing different about Trump is that he’s a lot less competent at it. I’m not even going to bother with the notion that American political campaigns are totally clean and above-board except when those nefarious Russians get involved. If you weren’t already assuming that these things were the case, you basically don’t know anything about how the world works.

Furthermore, the actual substantive claim being made here, that Trump is for whatever reason acting on behalf of Russian interests, doesn’t hold up. Trump fawning over Putin is not a mystery that requires some special secret explanation. Trump has fawned over every military strongman he’s met and pouted at every democratic representative, and this is obviously because Trump is an idiot boy-child who likes big strong action men and hates it when lame old schoolmarms try to make him do basic arithmetic. Shockingly, Trump’s habitual mouthing off does not in fact accord with the real policy of the Republican-controlled executive branch of the United States government, which has in fact been as antagonistic towards Russia as one would expect it to be. Indeed, it’s almost as though Trump doesn’t know anything or do anything, and his entire life has just been a constant process of going on the TV to distract everyone from anything that’s really going on. You’ll note, though, that in order to understand this you have to actually check the facts of the matter instead of just watching the spectacle from the front row of the theater, which is how you know that anyone peddling this line is not actually doing politics, but rather acting in a reality show. The people who criticize Donald Trump in this fashion are the same person as Donald Trump.

And not only is this the correct argument factually, it is also the more sensible argument politically, because it gets at what’s actually wrong with Trump as a person, and by extension the entire American conservative movement as an ideology, rather than hinging everything on one coincidental connection that may or may not have happened one time. If your argument is that the main thing wrong with 2016 was Trump and the main thing wrong with Trump is that he’s compromised, then you are implicitly arguing that the normal Republican party is fine, and that a non-compromised version of Trump would also be fine.

Listen. Here’s the thing about this.

One ex-troll told a Russian independent TV network that his job included writing incendiary comments and creating fake posts on political forums: “The way you chose to stir up the situation, whether it was commenting [on] the news section or on political forums, it didn’t really matter.” In 2015, well before the 2016 election, the troll-factory network had more than 800 people doing this kind of work, producing propaganda videos, infographics, memes, reports, news, interviews and various analytical materials to persuade the public.

America never stood a chance.

Can you even imagine what it’s like when EIGHT HUNDRED PEOPLE, ON SOCIAL MEDIA, are posting stupid shit during an election year, or also at literally any other time? Clearly, there exists no recourse the richest and most powerful nation to ever exist could ever bring to bear against such unrelenting horrors.

Also, “stirring up the situation” is a good thing. Like, if Russia was attempting to “divide” us over Black Lives Matter, they were doing us a favor. It’s an important issue! We should be divided over it! The people who want this to not happen are the people who don’t want the issue to ever get resolved, who want to keep it in storage as a prop they can use whenever they want to gin up ratings, who fundamentally care more about their own comfort than about the fact that people are dying.

I’ll tell this story again: when I was watching the election results come in and saw that Trump was getting normal numbers, I knew at that point, before any results were official, that we had lost. But I was actually being delusionally optimistic to think that things could have been any different, because we lost a long time ago. The mere fact that Trump was accepted as a legitimate presidential candidate, let alone the fact that he isn’t in jail but has in fact been rich and famous his entire life, proves that there aren’t really any standards, we don’t really have a political process, and that America is and always has been the country that Trump believes it to be.

Of course, Trump could very well have lost the election itself for any number of reasons. It’s even possible, in the most basic technical sense, that Russian efforts may have made the difference in nudging Trump over the edge. That doesn’t make them matter. What matters is all the other stuff that brought things to the point where a routine rinky-dink hacking operation (or an uninspiring opposition candidate, or an October Surprise, or data-driven ad targeting) was enough to push them over the edge. You’re placing all the blame on the straw that broke the camel’s back and ignoring the mountain of other shit that was on there.

And that shit has been there, the whole time. Trump lost the popular vote by about three points, which means that the Electoral College by itself is responsible for invalidating at least that many votes (it’s actually more, because the existence of the Electoral College causes campaigns to plan around it rather than simply trying to appeal to the most people, which changes which votes get cast in the first place). Is there seriously any credible claim that any of this spy-movie bullshit moved more votes than that? Because if there’s not, but you still spend all your time talking about that, you’re fixing your wagon to a pretty lame horse. And that’s not even getting into the overwhelmingly more obvious issues like the fact that the media doesn’t actually cover issues.

“Of course the Electoral College is a problem,” you’ll whine, “but that’s just how it is; it’s just not politically feasible for us to do anything about it.” Well, you can’t do anything about Putin either, slick. It’s extremely unclear what all these people demanding that we “take Russia seriously” want us to actually do. More to the point, the fact that “that’s just how it is” is itself the problem. If the Electoral College is a major problem, then the fact that we can’t do anything about it is an even bigger and more fundamental problem. And the same applies to everything else that got us here: it applies to voter suppression, and to the ways in which most voters are ignorant and confused about specific relevant topics, and to how the media generally misleads people as to the state of the world and to how things work in the first place, and to the fact that most people just don’t vote anyway. If your concern is that “the American government should be responsible to the American people,” then you should be spending approximately zero energy on Russia, because literally everything about domestic American politics is a vastly larger impediment to that goal than is anything Russia is ever going to be able to do. To the extent that “Russiagate” actually refers to real political issues, those issues have nothing whatsoever to do with Russia.

Thus, the real function of all this isn’t just to provide desperate liberals a palatable excuse for losing to an overgrown fungus or to beat up on a newly resurgent left (though it is also both of those things). It is to continue to perpetuate, in the face of undeniable and overwhelming counterevidence, the fantasy that the world is basically an okay place where sometimes bad things happen, mostly due to malicious actors. The truth that any intellectually honest person is now forced to accept is that it is the other way around. The world is fundamentally wrong, and the structure of it acts generally to promote bad things and suppress good things. It is only through extreme personal effort that we are able to make some things okay, some of the time. People, particularly the kind of people who can get their long-winded lectures printed in the paper or go on TV to vomit up talking points, don’t want to believe this, because they want to believe that the fact that the world works for them means that they are good people. But it is again the other way around. The reason the world works for these people is that they are bad people, and the world works for bad people. If you’re in this or any similar position, then, you must conclude that your life is wrong, and that your only moral course of action is to take unsparing account of yourself and of the real effects of your actions, and to make fundamental changes in who you trust, what you believe, and how you understand the world. Or you can blame it on the Russians.

Contempt of court

The Supreme Court’s recent upholding of the Muslim Ban is significantly worse than a mere “unconstitutional” violation of “religious liberty.” Indeed, the problem is precisely that it is not those things; it is entirely justifiable on legal grounds while also being plainly evil. It is, therefore, not a mere failing of the present composition of the Court, but an indictment of its very existence.

Arguing against something by calling it “unconstitutional” is facile in the best of cases (as with laws and standards in general, the mere existence of something says nothing about whether it’s right or wrong. Slavery was constitutional for a pretty long time), but here it’s just plainly false. What the constitution actually says about religion is the Congress shall make no law respecting its establishment. The executive branch is not Congress, and an executive order is not a law. In fact, the Constitution doesn’t really say a whole hell of a lot about any constraints on immigration policy, which is part of why various governments have pretty much made it up as they’ve gone along. We’ve had quotas before, you know. And in the absence of explicit legal standards, questions such as whether a face-neutral policy that was clearly motivated by religious resentment qualifies as “religious discrimination” or whether a particular action is justified in terms of national security ultimately have to be judgment calls.

Of course, this isn’t a slam-dunk case in favor of the ban, either. Just because an action is within the purview of the executive doesn’t mean that any such action is beyond reproach. And this is precisely the issue. As long as there is not a specific law addressing the exact case in question, the Court is, in a very fundamental sense, free to do as it wishes. And they’re not actually required to adhere to precedent, either, so ultimately the only thing preventing any given case from descending into a free-for-all is personal restraint. The question of whether to ban Muslims becomes simply the question of whether five lawyers want to ban Muslims.

Obergefell is an even clearer example. Scalia was entirely correct that the case was decided not because a particular decision was required by existing law, but simply because the majority wanted to legalize gay marriage. The reason he was full of shit is that the exact same argument applies to his own opinion. While he claimed that he didn’t care either way about the political question, the argument at issue was that gay people have the right to get married, so what this actually means is that he believed that gay people did not have such a right. This is exactly as much of an ideological position as Kennedy’s was – the only difference between the two is that Kennedy was a mushhead while Scalia was a liar. The only way to decide the case was to bring in a political opinion from outside existing law, and that’s exactly what both the majority and the dissenters did.

Given what’s been happening, this might seem obvious enough, but the problem is that it completely delegitimizes the existence of the Supreme Court, as such. That is, it is not the case that the Court is now illegitimate because it has become politicized. Its very conception is illegitimate a priori.

The reason the Supreme Court is an undemocratic and unaccountable body with lifetime membership is precisely because it is not supposed to address political questions. Its composition is explicitly intended to be unresponsive to democratic pressures. It’s supposed to be a technical institution, which is why it’s the only one staffed by actual professionals. And as far as the typical nitpicky lawyer case about whether a taco counts as a sandwich goes, this is all well and good. Cases with defined legal standards and without obvious political implications can in fact be adjudicated technically, by field experts.

But, while there are many such cases, their existence is ultimately a coincidence. Laws affect real-world material outcomes, so there’s never actually an “apolitical” law. It’s just that in some cases the political effects are narrow or obscure, and in others they’re obvious and far-reaching. In some cases, a legal question about whether a particular standard for operating a medical facility is justified is a simple technicality, while in others it is a fundamental judgment about whether abortion should be accessible or not. What distinguishes these cases is not the law itself, but the social circumstances surrounding it, which is why this problem is unavoidable. You can’t pick only the “non-ideological” cases for the Court to hear, because it is not the case itself that determines its political significance.

Thus, it is necessarily the case that the Supreme Court cannot function as intended. The question of whether this or that judge is a “moderate” or an “ideologue” is entirely beside the point. It is a logical impossibility. There will always be some number of cases whose outcomes are unavoidably political, such that the only way to judge them will be on the basis of political ideology. Which is exactly what happens.

It is important to emphasize, repeatedly, that this is not a matter of “corruption” or “decay” or “extremism” or what the fuck ever. It’s a matter of design. The “Founding Fathers” fucked this up: they designed a system that can’t work as intended, because they weren’t smart enough to figure out the stuff that I just described. I obviously have the benefit of hindsight, but wrong is wrong, and the design of the United States government is in this respect objectively wrong. You’re not going to get anywhere until you give up your childish fantasies about the “wisdom” of “great men” and start looking at how things actually function.

Except that’s not quite true either, because, despite the fact that the actual operation of the government today is quite far removed from how it was when it was first designed, there’s a significant sense in which we really do have the society that the founders wanted. “Democracy” for them meant something completely different than it does to us – there’s a reason they felt no compunctions talking big about it while denying the franchise to the vast majority of the population (and also raping slaves). What it meant for them was, rather than the rule of a specific class of elites (royals), rule by the elites in general. Non-elites did not, for the sake of political representation, qualify as people.

The reason we have a society dominated by businessmen and lawyers is that the founding fathers were businessmen and lawyers who wanted to dominate society. That’s the order they created, and it’s the order we still have today, with the Supreme Court acting as one of its most powerful enforcers. So, from one point of view, the founders were even wiser then they’re given credit for: even after thoroughly misunderstanding, distorting, and bastardizing their vision, we’re still pretty much doing what they wanted. (On the other hand, creating a new order just to re-replicate the same patterns that have existed for all of human history isn’t, like, particularly impressive.)

To be fair, though, there really isn’t a solution to this problem. If you have a society of laws, you do have to have some sort of body for adjudicating them, and doing so is unavoidably going to be a political endeavor a lot of the time. The solution for us, though, once we’ve cleared away the obfuscating fog, shines though with painful clarity. Because the Supreme Court cannot ever be relied upon for anything, it must never be the case that it matters at all to our political activity. The whiny liberals screeching about how important it is to Vote Democratic for the sake of the Supreme Court have it exactly backwards: if all you can rely on to advance your agenda is friendly judicial rulings, you have already lost. You are relying solely on rearguard actions that will never allow you to claim new territory.

The looming fate of Roe is the perfect example here. The only reason that decision matters is that abortion is already inaccessible, so its technical legality is the only thread it has left to hang on to. By contrast, this isn’t a problem for birth control in general. The same zealots would also love to ban birth control, but that aspect of their cause is a complete non-starter, because the battle for birth control has already been won. It’s a normal thing that everyone uses openly in their daily lives. Despite noble efforts from many quarters (well, one quarter), the same cannot yet be said of abortion. But that’s the only way to actually resolve this; a technical legal argument in favor of abortion doesn’t do anything for anybody. Avoiding the fight by adhering to the garbage status quo is a coward’s plan. The only moral option is to win the war.

Also, we really need to admit that Roe was a shit decision in the first place. Establishing a touchy-feely sort-of-right to abortion that came with built-in restrictions ensured that actual access would inevitably be chipped away by a bunch of bullshit pseudo-regulations while obligating absolutely no action toward helping people actually utilize their supposed rights. The correct decision is for abortion to be established as a positive right that the government is obligated to provide, based on the fundamental right to bodily autonomy – which is not enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Also, this is identical to the argument for universal health care, which is the only workable way to implement it. The Constitution won’t tell you any of that, though. You have to figure it out for yourself.

Jurisprudence is not going to save you. The political institution that is responsible for the advancement of values is you.