Political Dissidence in America in 2022
The Power of the Powerless, Part I
[This is the first in a series of articles on The Power of the Powerless, the incredibly insightful and still extremely relevant essay by Václav Havel about the nature of political power and dissidence under communism. In this series, I will analyze the themes of Havel’s essay and how they apply to our own current context in America.]
What is the state of dissidence in America in 2022? How much faith do would-be reformers have in the political process or the judicial system? When citizens petition their leaders for redress of grievances, do they feel heard? And if the people feel like there is no legitimate outlet within the system for their concerns, where will that sentiment lead?
I recently read The Power of the Powerless by the Czech writer and political leader Václav Havel, which he wrote in 1978 about political dissidence in the Soviet bloc. The essay is incisive and thought-provoking: first, because of what we now know came later with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which still appeared invulnerable at the time of Havel’s essay; and second, because of the unsettling similarities between the Soviet system of 1978 and the American system of 2022.
The Soviet Bloc of 1978 vs The Globalist American Empire of 2022
Havel explains that the then-current (circa 1978) opposition movement arose at a historical moment when the Soviet system could no longer eliminate political nonconformity by simply crushing it with brute force, but the system had also become so politically inflexible that it could no longer co-opt the ideas or concerns of the dissidents and integrate a sterilized version of them into the official ideology. Thus, there was no safety valve to release the growing political and cultural pressures, which could only continue increasing and intensifying.
This is very similar to our own situation in America today: there is nowhere for countercultural ideas and sentiments to go, so they continue building up and putting pressure on an increasingly geriatric political system. The regime has lost the ability to control the narrative by simply silencing its critics, and it is so sclerotic and nakedly corrupt that it can no longer inspire much hope of internal reform or any meaningful potential compromise with would-be reformers. Like the late-stage U.S.S.R., the current American regime can no longer deal effectively with political or cultural dissidence.
The ruling class has overused its favorite weapon of censorship, which is, like nearly all political tools, subject to the law of diminishing returns.
At one time, if you questioned the regime too loudly, it would simply cut the power to your microphone, sometimes literally. There were only a handful of platforms from which you could address the masses, and the ruling elite controlled them all. Once you could no longer tell your own story, the regime would broadcast their version of events unopposed. (Think about the Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)
Back in the pre-internet days, when broadcasting or publishing your ideas required expensive equipment, government licenses, extensive distribution and retail networks, and access to a large audience, censorship was a relatively straightforward and simple matter: when three out of three television networks and all the major news syndicates agreed to ignore a story, it might as well never have happened. (If a tree falls in a forest, and the mainstream media refuses to cover it, did it even happen?)
The internet challenged the regime’s grip on publicly available information, but the elites quickly adapted their techniques and managed to tame the new medium. The mainstream media, despite the “ratings wars” and differences in ownership among various brands, presented a surprisingly unified front whenever the interests of the global elite were meaningfully challenged, and after a slew of mergers and acquisitions, the media outlets’ voices became even more unified. Today, an estimated 90% of American media are owned by six corporations, and for all intents and purposes, these six media conglomerates speak with a single voice.
If you disagreed with anything the ruling class wanted, they could simply shout you down and drown out your voice with a tsunami of misinformation. If you were someone like Alex Jones, you simply could not compete with the sheer volume and ubiquity of pro-regime propaganda. The ruling class controlled academia, the major print periodicals and news sites, and practically all of the television networks (including cable). And if you started getting too much attention on social media, they would simply boot you from the virtual town square. Throughout the culture, every talking head would simultaneously call you a dangerous, far-right, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, crazy “conspiracy theorist;” and given the general public’s lack of familiarity with you or your arguments, and given the regime’s effective monopoly on the general public’s very-limited attention, you would be hard-pressed to rebut their smear campaign.
But now mere censorship is less effective than it once was — there are too many Alex Joneses for the regime to play “whack-a-mole” fast enough to de-platform them all — so the ruling class started attacking its critics’ livelihoods.
However much the regime cares about controlling the political narrative, it is nothing in comparison to how much it cares about controlling the money; and in a financial economy where there is a perfectly inverse correlation between real production of real goods and services, on the one hand, and access to the Fed’s money-making machine, on the other, the ruling class has acquired a near monopoly on the money supply. In the past, the political class used their financial wizardry merely to enrich themselves and their friends; now they use it to punish their enemies.
The elites have been able to impose heavy sanctions on their critics. Say something true but politically incorrect, and you lose your job and get blacklisted by your entire profession. If you have opinions the regime doesn’t like, no bank will invest in your project or lend you money. And if your fellow proles contribute to your online fundraiser, the powers that be will simply shut that down and steal the donations. In America, things are not yet as bad as they are in Canada’s under Justin “Fidelito” Turd-eau’s regime, which froze the private bank accounts of people who merely donated to peaceful protesters, but you can bet that America’s ruling class has set its sights on seizing this power for itself — this is almost certainly the reason why they are talking so excitedly about creating a digital programmable currency.
Yet despite these fearsome tools of de-platforming and financially embargoing its political opponents, the regime continues to lose control of the narrative. Rather than being cowed into silence, dissidents defiantly double down. This is due to many reasons, one being that with each passing year and with each newly exposed flaw in the regime’s narrative, the number of dissidents just keeps growing: for every Alex Jones they cancel, ten more appear to take his place; and for Alex Jones himself, his audience keeps swelling, as more people realize that his conspiracy theories have had an uncanny way of turning out to be right.
Another reason the regime’s censorship campaigns no longer work as well as they once did is that apologies are never accepted: it has become clear that hostage-video-style confessions and retractions always backfire and lead to worse consequences for the alleged offender. If you’re going to get canceled anyway, why apologize? Donald Trump showed that the best defense is a good offense: if the cancel-culture warriors are offended by something you said, rather than defend yourself or apologize or try to explain what you meant, just say it again, even louder, and tell them to go fuck themselves.
The Globalist American Regime Cannot Negotiate with Its Critics Either
The regime is rapidly losing the ability to silence its critics, but it also lacks the ability to negotiate effectively with its critics, or to co-opt their concerns and de-fang their ideas by watering them down and making them mainstream.
Bill “Slick Willie” Clinton was one of the best at this: after the Republicans put a beat-down on the Democrats in the 1994 mid-terms, Clinton understood that the people were angry and he needed to at least pretend to hear their concerns if he wanted to stay in power, so he quickly pivoted and co-opted many of the Republicans’ issues, such as getting tough on crime and enacting welfare reform. It worked like a charm.
Today’s political class lack that ability. They replied to the Tea Party with contempt and scorn. Their answer to Occupy Wall Street was a psyops of identity politics and BLM lies to re-direct the dissidents’ anger from the banking class to those of the working class with a bad racial or ethnic identity. This technique worked brilliantly in the short-term, as it forever fragmented the opposition movement on the Left along racial and ethnic lines; but it red-pilled the more principled leftists while further alienating the already disaffected Right. Regular people turned to angry populists like Trump and Bernie Sanders, but the response of the establishment was to double down and start stealing any elections they could not win.
And to my friends on the Left, even if you think the 2020 election was all on the up-and-up, what about the Democratic Party nomination in 2016, which, as Noam Chomsky quipped, Hillary Clinton won “by dictatorship?” And remember that time Sanders was ahead in the Primaries in 2020, and suddenly everyone else except Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Biden dropped out simultaneously to endorse Biden? Yeah, that sure looked like a free and open process, with no backroom deals or shenanigans behind it.
Now we’ve got Joe “Manchurian Candidate” Biden in the White House. He ran as a diplomatic centrist, but rather than trying to heal the political and cultural divisions, his administration has only inflamed them further.
The Biden Administration and its woke comrades started pushing CRT and transgenderism in public education. Parents complained, and the administration responded by labeling them “domestic terrorists” and weaponizing federal law enforcement against them.
And of course, the regime has continued sounding the alarm on the January 6th “insurrection,” which they claim was a day when democracy almost died. I suppose that the Q-Anon shaman with the buffalo horns might have gone on a rampage and gored the entire legislative branch to death with his horns and thereby become dictator for life. Of course, I wonder why the 2nd-Amendment loving crowd of Trump supporters didn’t bring any guns with them into the capital if they were, indeed, trying to take over the government. Some brilliant minds on the Left said that this was because of the effective gun-control laws in D.C. This is amazing: a crowd of insurrectionists set out to topple the government; yet they respected the government’s gun-control laws, so they left their weapons at home? Oh, and the capitol police opened doors for most of them and waved them inside? And the FBI cannot answer simple questions about its agents’ own involvement in inciting the crowd or engaging in criminal acts that day?
The January 6th clown-show hearings are a joke — would be a joke if it wasn’t for the clear message that expressing disfavored political views is now a crime in this country. Witness the DOJ’s zealous prosecution of Steve Bannon for “contempt of congress.” I seem not to remember them prosecuting Eric Holder or other political insiders for the exact same thing, but this is what we have come to expect in this banana republic: rules for thee, but not for me (or my friends).
The American Regime Cannot Deal with Dissidence
The American regime cannot deal effectively with dissidence. Its favorite method of silencing its critics with censorship and cancellation has stopped working. Now it has moved on to targeting its opponents with criminal prosecutions, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. Meanwhile, the political establishment has so badly destroyed the credibility of public institutions that a growing number of people believe that these institutions are broken beyond repair. Millions of normally law-abiding citizens are losing faith in the legitimacy of elections. The heartfelt grievances of a disaffected populace no longer seem to have any viable outlet. The pressure builds. Unless something drastic changes to give people hope that their elected officials will address their concerns, these political tensions will inevitably boil over.
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