Watching the Democratic pre-Primary follies, and it strikes me how cynical is the establishment’s weaponization of the power of uncritical political identity. The strongest candidate is still far and away Sanders, but you wouldn’t know it from CNN or MSNBC . . . Fox will be in a state of V-fib for another two years about the existential threat of AOC — a woman of color who actually is left of the party establishment, and who tidily knocked off one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress.
It’s tough for the established Dems, because with lefties like her and her tough-talking Palestinian counterpoint from Motown and the whole posse of non-white female freshman challengers, they no longer have those identities corralled within the Wall Street approved narrative; and the old hostage model based on fear of Republicans is breaking down.
So we see who the establishment is elevating — and who they have been since the Sandercrat challenge shook them to their core. The only thing they can use against Sanders is that he is an old white man, because the last thing they want to talk about is policy, when Sanders’ policy menu is superior to every other candidate in the news right now . . . in particular for the actual masses of working class, people of color, women, indigenous, LGBT, et al. (See here for identitarian tactics)
The retrenchment strategy of the Democratic establishment is (a) to unite with neo-conservatives and other anti-Trump imperialists as a bloc to blunt the forward momentum of the left, and (b) to try and beat back the left insurgency in the Presidential Primaries by promoting candidates based on statistical scatterplots and focus groups.
Here’s a black guy, and its Cory Booker. Here’s a black woman, and it’s Kamala Harris. Here’s a younger white dude whose claim to fame is getting beaten in Texas, but he’s “charismatic.” This is the ABBC formula: anything but Bernie Sanders.
It’s like we are the children at a party watching a magician, and the magician fans a handful of cards, saying, “Pick a card, any card.” Here is your black card. Here is your female card. But the magician has already pre-filtered the deck. I exclude Elizabeth Warren, because she is toast already, imho, as is Tulsi Gabbard.
A cynical strategy? Yes. But that’s not the subject of today’s reflection. Today, I’m writing about our reaction to this kind of chicanery, which is often a blood pressure spike followed by an expressive but ultimately futile outburst of frustrated venom and outrage-sharing on social media. Those low-down, dirty @$$#o/*s!
Today’s topic is strategic realism . . . but not the Schelling-theory crap we already know from establishment propaganda. And not, “Be realistic, and vote for the centrist.” We saw that kind of realism in 2016, and it blew up in the Democratic establishment’s faces.
Strategic realism, in this conversation, is about practicing acceptance.
It’s on record what I think about the employment of strategies by the left and other subalterns — it’s almost always a very bad idea, “strategies,” because strategy without capacity is playing with two against fifty on the opposition’s home court.
I always lean toward tactical agility instead of strategy, at strategic orientation as opposed to strategic plans. But just because we wisely eschew strategy for ourselves as the weaker opponents (for now), that doesn’t mean we oughtn’t think strategically, because that is how we read between the lines of Democratic, Republican, and overall establishment texts. The acceptance part is something I learned in the Army. It takes a lot of energy to be pissed off or frightened, and in either state, none of us has our thinking caps firmly and squarely on our heads.
Like a 12-step mantra: “Accept the things you cannot change,” or, “Elevate acceptance, lower expectations.”
I watch birds. A titmouse is gonna titmouse. A bluejay is gonna bluejay. A nuthatch is gonna nuthatch. A Wall Street political captive is gonna behave exactly like a Wall Street political captive. No amount of frustration, rage, or virtual venom is going to change that, number one, and the contagion index of our anger on social media is far more limited than we like to admit, number two.
So whether we like it or not, this establishment is in power (there’s a little Trump hiccup to deal with, if he doesn’t start a nuclear war to stay out of prison). A brief review of history — pretty much any history — shows that those classes in power will try to stay in power, and they’ll sell their souls to do so. Here is the first point of acceptance that leads to sound strategic thinking. Accept the reality of reality. Vulture’s gonna vulture. Ketsrel’s gonna kestrel.
Save the energy you were going to invest in running and screaming and breaking things, even if that’s just playing out in your mind, and put that energy into analyzing the opposition’s strategy and finding ways to do the most you can with what you have to undermine that strategy.
Projecting our desires and fantasies into a situation is a strategic-thinking error that leads to subconsciously misplaced optimism. Your opposition is going to do everything in its power to defeat you; so accept that now, anticipate what those measures will be, determine your capacity to respond, and choose the most advantageous thing you can do (that might include not responding) given that actual capacity. Nothing you can do? Name it. Explain it. Move along. Improvise.
Yes, agitation is an important item in the toolbox, but one of the strategic end runs the establishment has perfected for agitation — like mass demonstrations — has been to ignore it, a lesson the ruling class learned after the Civil Rights movement and all the movements that flourished for a time in the wake of that struggle. The rope-a-dope worked, until they figured it out . . . then it didn’t. The trade union movement worked, until it didn’t (though it’s getting restless again).
Strategy works for those who have already have more power than their opponents. The rest of us rely on patience, endurance, intelligence, and trickery. But we still have to think like them to understand them, so we have to understand strategy, and not just some dictionary reduction of it.
By understanding strategy as a self-isolating calculus, we’ve already punched a peephole in the wall. A strategy is a plan conceived by an in-group (those inside the strategic headquarters, so to speak) to impose its will on the environment outside the headquarters. (1) Inside the headquarters is where they speak openly and honestly about what they’re up to, (2) everything that goes on outside the HQ is manipulative, and (3) those manipulations are directed at some goal — what we called a “desired end state” in the Army. Here’s the secret weakness of any strategy — that insider calculus — the isolation they need to prepare their strategies interferes their view of anything outside the HQ.
In the military, we had a list of questions we asked in choosing tactics for a mission (more on mission-focus below). What is the opposition’s size, strength, location, composition, disposition, and morale (more on that below, too)? How does our terrain look? Where do we have observation and what can they observe about us, what can we, or they, camouflage and-or conceal, what are the obstacles to either side, where is the key terrain, and what avenues of approach and escape are available? Based on that analysis and what we’ve seen the opposition do in the past, what is their most likely course of action? Obviously, we are not talking about actual ground combat here, but there are analogs in politics. We have identified the Democratic Party as a key terrain, for example, and the social democratic upsurge aims to take that key dominating terrain as an intermediate objective.
A good tactic is based on five principles: planning, reconnaissance, security, control, and common sense.
Planning is obvious, but in this case the caveat is that with tactics, which affect situations without us knowing in advance what all the effects are going to be, the plans are short, achievable, and observable.
Reconnaissance is based on prior information, but it distrusts it. Go there. Study the actual situation on the ground and in as much detail as possible. Today is not yesterday, and tomorrow will not be today. Nothing sits still. Don’t imagine it; look at it. This prevents two pretty catastrophic errors: talking out of your ass, and believing what you’re saying when you’re talking out of your ass.
Security means protecting one’s own side, but it also means those without the means for direct protection during confrontation have to rely on other methods of protection, the most important being concealment of key information, diversion, and deception.
Control does not mean control of the situation. What control you have over that is determined before you step over the line. It means control of yourself and your side’s forces. Milestones, checkpoints, communication, backstops . . . control is preparing for three forms of contingency: changes in opposition disposition, human mistakes by your own people, and Murphy. The shorthand for Murphy is “shit happens.” And you can’t predict it. Murphy is that guy who’s “law” said “what can go wrong will” . . . and Murphy always steals at least 1/3 of your time and 1/3 of your resources. Give Murphy a third in your planning — add a third to what time and stuff you think you’ll need.
Common sense means don’t fetishize the first four. For every principle, there is an exception. If it’s a choice between bending one of the first four principles and having your head handed to you on a platter, best to bend. Some stuff you just obviously don’t do . . . but it’s not obvious until it is. Flex, ever flex with the capricious winds. That’s how trees get strong.
None of this matters without two things: mission-focus and morale. These two intangibles have ten times the density per cubic inch of any principle. This is fuzzy math, but you see what I mean. These are your force multipliers.
Mission-focus is when your team has made the decision to accomplish X. Going back to the military, once you have accepted the mission, you make up your mind in advance of its execution that the Mission is All. You will not quit until you have succeeded. And this is not entirely democratic, because everyone is not cut out for mission-focus. People who panic easily, people who lose their minds over setbacks, people who can’t quit talking under any circumstances, people who can’t admit error, people who can’t take direction from others, and people who are just generally unreliable . . . they can all be good people in other spheres, but they are not the types who can maintain mission-focus, that systematic obsession wherein the systematic part keeps obsession in check, and obsession gives life-energy to the cold calculations of systematic thinking. People who are determined to follow the calling of “political cadre,” pay attention. Mission focus is always optimistic, because mission focus means failure is not seen as an option. That’s why you better pick your missions carefully.
Morale is even more intangible. And this depends on the character of your team, as well. The French call it esprit de corps, the spirit of the body. It means an enthusiastic can-do attitude that survives hardship, even neutralizes it with grim humor, and refuses to quit.
Flexible tactics. Mission-focus. Morale. It’s the trifecta of tactical agility.
You’ll know it when you see it, and so will others. Morale is attractive to people who welcome challenges and understand the criticality of self-discipline — the basis of endurance, and the ground of integrity. AOC is running on morale right now. The spirit is overcoming the balance of forces.
Strategic thinking is the hermeneutic, the interpretive framework, not because we need a strategy . . . quite often, when you are the weaker antagonist, strategy is exactly what you don’t want . . . but because we need to understand the opposition strategy, and how they think. And don’t be surprised when a dung beetle acts exactly like a dung beetle. Know it is a dung beetle, and anticipate what dung beetles are likely to do.
The Democrats are going to offer up whichever neoliberal emerges from the pack, preferably one that checks a diversity box or two (this puts Harris out front for the neolibs), and they are going to marginalize the voices from the left. Is there any surprise there. The ruling class is going to hold onto what power it can until the last shred of it is torn from their grasping, bloody little fingers. “Oh, poor me” is not helpful. What is the array of counter-tactics?