“Ich Bin ein Bitcoiner”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s recent interview with James Howard Kunstler began with an insight few political figures have recognized ……

“If you want to break it down into ideological categories, one way of looking at this is that there is a rising populism that is coming from both the left and the right and I think that left-right coalition is the only thing that can save America.”

Kennedy hesitated as he searched for those words, and his statement’s navigational guidepost – “populism” – is a confusing term of unclear meaning. Nevertheless, his assessment contains the seeds of a long overdue course correction in America’s governance.

So …… does RFK understand the political spectrum in sufficient detail to help guide the country toward a better paradigm? Does he believe it deeply enough to withstand the body blows he’ll receive from the Establishment? Or is “leftright coalition that can save America” merely another idealistic phrase like “end world hunger” or “no more war” that falls short of its lofty goal because it can’t address the underlying realities?

It will be months before we can judge whether RFK holds a workable understanding of the partisan landscape, but his recent speech at Bitcoin 2023 was a solid first step toward building a Coalition of Citizens.

In the keynote address, he outlined a concise, realistic policy on Bitcoin governance. He also framed its importance effectively by juxtaposing cryptocurrency against the Canadian trucker protests. But …… while his lawyerly approach was well-crafted, it was also of secondary importance.

The effort to speak to the crypto community at all – to address them as a legitimate political constituency – reflects the more important action: a recognition that those who support decentralized currencies can form the partisan “base” of a new political movement. Bitcoiners (and yes, gold holders too) represent the logical lynchpin of any strategy seeking to unite the interests of citizens …… whether those citizens reside on the left or the right. Kennedy just might have recognized that crypto can combine common concerns into a cohesive coalition.

However …… if Kennedy wants to build a movement that will elect him president, he’ll need to make some significant shifts in his use of political language. The current lack of precision simply won’t do. A term like “populism” doesn’t contain enough meaning for people to rally around. “Left” and “Right” carry their own connotations of confusion. Concerned Americans need to hear well-crafted language that causes them to say “that represents my views” or “that describes my predicament”. Only well-conceived words will spur people to action.

Here’s the rub: the necessary changes in language can only be understood after a simple framework of the political landscape has been visualized.

For example, cryptocurrency advocates are generally agnostic on the Values Question (liberal versus conservative) but passionate in their views on the distribution of power in society. (They favor citizen agency over concentrated controls). This places Bitcoin at the bottom pole of the political circle ……

Crypto and other decentralizing forces stand in diametric opposition to the authoritarian tendencies of those who manage fiat currencies – the Central Banks, governing financial agencies, and their Wall Street allies. These entities seek to concentrate power in the hands of a credentialed few ……

As you can see below, a comparison of two other adversaries – the Canadian protesters and the Trudeau administration – exhibits a similar distance on the political circle. The diametric opposition of those groups is merely shifted a few degrees counterclockwise from the Bitcoin-vs-Fiat conflict. The contrast in world-views is similar……

The examples diagrammed above are just two of countless top-versus-bottom battles being waged today. If we were to place all of those examples on the circle, political positions (points) representing a concentration of control would include CBDCs, vaccination mandates, expansion of the IRS, no-knock warrants, woke corporate policies, indefinite January 6 incarcerations, and the like. Those positions would also include political players like Joe Biden, George Soros, Mitch McConnell, Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon, legacy media, Washington lobbyists, and globalist NGOs ……

The policies and political figures noted just above are opposed by entities who reside at the bottom of the circle: the “anti-vaxxers”, Bitcoiners, Austrian School investors, small business owners, local communities, New Urbanists, family farmers, alt-media, and dissidents like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden ………

The visual shown just above presents a more concrete description of the “left-right populist coalition” referenced only vaguely by Kennedy in the Kunstler interview. This low quadrant horizontal alliance represents the core constituency necessary to construct a broad partisan movement in the conflict between Self-empowering Citizens and a muscular Establishment which seeks to subdue them.

RFK correctly identified those activated citizens as the only thing that can save America. But their common interests must be accurately mapped before they can be knitted together and inspired toward effective political action. If the underlying conceptual understanding of a potential coalition is sloppy, the leader’s use of language will be imprecise and poorly descriptive …… and “the people” will fail to organize themselves effectively.

The elites will continue to gaslight anyone who opposes their agenda – anyone who stands in the way of top-down initiatives to control the country’s activities. They will redouble their efforts to make Americans believe that political disputes only orient Left-Right, in an effort to distract the citizens from the crucial questions of our time. They want us to believe that top-versus-bottom conflict is a figment of our imaginations.

For a candidate to successfully build a working coalition that can thwart such top-of-circle efforts, he or she will need to fill both lower quadrants with highly-engaged citizen-empowering voters ……

Does Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have a clear enough understanding of the political landscape to pull this off? Will he engage Americans with insightful and inspiring wordcraft? Can he develop the strategies necessary to build a Coalition of Citizens? Does he have the fortitude to withstand the inevitable, underhanded, unfair attacks launched by entrenched interests? Could another candidate bring more skill and understanding to the task?

Only time will answer such questions. But RFK’s early outreach to the Bitcoin community was a good first move. We will soon find out if he can navigate more complex challenges ……

Unpacking Why Tucker Was Sent Packing

From the great poet-philosopher Joe Walsh ……

As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and (it appears to be) random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on? And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.

As we slowly lurch toward the climax of our era’s multiple crises, each new development seems – in Walsh’s words – to contain an element of anarchy and chaos. A billionaire buys a social media company and discovers its government-led censorship. A former intelligence official admits to fabricating an unambiguously false Russian disinformation letter to protect a presidential candidate. A man is celebrated as “woman of the year”. A popular “right wing” host is fired suddenly by his “right wing” network.

The citizens of past eras must have felt a sense of events running out of control, as reports from Manassas or Vicksburg trickled in, or later, as actions in El Alamein or Guadalcanal unfolded, or earlier, as they learned about their army’s evacuations of Brooklyn or Philadelphia.

Today, we look back at the sequences within those prior momentous epochs and the outcome seems so certain. So orderly. Part of a tightly knit narrative. In the moment, though, each new occurrence must have felt disorienting.

The firing of Tucker Carlson is clearly not as weighty as the developments in those bygone eras and it’s not as momentous as events yet to come in our own era. But it did come as a surprise. There was, and still is, the flavor of chaos within it.

I won’t try to predict where this plot twist fits within the long arc of history. But I will describe the terrain on which the political calculations of various players are taking place. Perhaps it can make events feel a bit less random to you ……


Tucker Carlson:

Many political figures compromise as their careers develop. Senator Mike Lee is one example – moving from a small-government Tea Party candidate to a powerful Senator who adeptly represents the commercial interests of his state. In fairness, though, his compromise from “principled” to “player” moved at a glacial pace when compared to that of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Carlson is a rare figure whose trajectory has gone in the opposite direction. As the son of a news broadcaster who was once notified of his own firing by the station’s tailor, Tucker never had any illusions about job security in his business …… record ratings or not. And yet, his positions have become more controversial, more provocative to the establishment, and more representative of the people’s interests over time.

Below is a diagram I put together as part of a 2020 post about Glenn Greenwald showing Carlson’s approximate position in the political spectrum at that time.  He resided near the middle of the lower right quadrant ……

Today, Carlson has migrated to a new position even lower on the circle. He’s still on its right side (it seems unlikely he’ll ever sit on the left side of the vertical axis) but conservatism is now a far less important part of his worldview than an orientation toward citizen empowerment, as shown here ……

So, a significant part of Tucker’s story is his migration from more of a straight conservative to someone who primarily seeks to empower the average American (which, by definition, disempowers the establishment). In earlier years, he held a position higher on the circle …… perhaps a bit above the horizontal axis; perhaps a bit below it. From that viewpoint, he was more likely to tepidly support Republican initiatives like the Iraq War, or to “serve as an apologist” for the actions of government agencies. But in recent years, he has expressed shame for holding those earlier positions.

Nevertheless, at the time of his hiring by Fox, he was still considered to be more of a mainline conservative ……

Thus, we see an evolution in Carlson’s thinking. Such movement along the circle is not uncommon. But it is often misinterpreted. And it’s a part of the story that is only rarely placed in front of the citizens for their assessment ……

The Murdochs:

While it’s difficult to know the palace intrigues within the Fox News management group, the Murdochs have made a bundle off of pandering to conservative voters, so it’s likely they’ll remain “on brand”. This is not Roger Ailes’ network, though. Much of the populist leanings of a previous Fox era have disappeared …… replaced by support for causes espoused by governmental and corporate agencies.

Some members of the Murdoch family clearly lean left, and heir apparent Lachlan Murdoch might support those liberal causes more than he lets on. But the safe bet – if only for financial reasons – is to assume that Fox management’s political position still resides high in the upper right quadrant of the circle. They lean conservative. But, as a powerful corporation, they are more beholden to the dictates of centralized control ……

Keep in mind that Fox’s loyalty lies with its advertisers – powerful corporations – more than with its audience. And Carlson’s high ratings never translated into higher revenue streams due to corporate boycotts instigated by centralized woke activists.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. …… and Friends

Few have been discussing the role RFK Jr.’s announcement for President played in Tucker’s demise. But just days before receiving the axe, Tucker gave a favorable introduction and interview to Mr. Kennedy. We’ve already seen where Glenn Greenwald, a regular fixture on the show, sits on the circle. Tulsi Gabbard, another frequent guest, holds a similar position within the lower left quadrant. Kennedy resides in the same vicinity.

But Kennedy’s presence as a potential President ratcheted up the scrutiny placed on Carlson. The corporate media remembers the impact their coverage had on Donald Trump’s election to the office. They consider the attention they lavished on him to be a mistake. It’s an error they won’t make again.

RFK Jr. plays a role in 2024 that’s similar to the one Trump played in 2016 – except this time the role is instigated on the liberal side. He represents the provocative outsider with out-of-the-mainstream views who could potentially catch fire with a populist base.  His position low in the lower left quadrant provides a valid platform for such an effort ……


Tucker and RFK

When it comes to relationships, first note how close the locations of Tucker and RFK sit in relation to one another on the circle ……

If this form could be used as an accurate measuring tool (thankfully, it can’t), the positions of Tucker Carlson and Robert F. Kennedy are a mere twenty to thirty degrees apart – less than one tenth of the model’s circumference. This makes them natural allies, despite residing on opposite sides of the vertical axis. Such proximity, along with Carlson’s glowing introduction, increased the likelihood that RFK would become a frequent guest on the show – which, of course, would strengthen Kennedy’s bid to become president.

It’s not a stretch to assume that RFK would be supported by Carlson, since Kennedy holds positions similar to Greenwald and Gabbard.

RFK and Fox

The relationship between Fox and RFK could not be more different than the relationship between Tucker and RFK. Fox and RFK sit in the most adversarial positions possible – a full 180 degrees apart. This “diametric opposition” makes them natural enemies, as is evidenced by Kennedy’s rhetoric about the corrupt merger of corporations and government, and by Carlson’s introductory monologue criticizing Big Pharma advertising dollars accepted by corporate media ……

The diagram just above is the one you must pay attention to if you want to understand the logic of Carlson’s firing. His potential relationship with RFK Jr. is one that Fox simply would not tolerate. The political terrain necessitates a complete lack of cooperation between these two players – Fox and Kennedy. For the network, the potential for RFK Jr. to be a regular guest during prime time hours would be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy.  


The circle is an accurate model of the true political spectrum.  It determines the decisions made by various players and dictates how they will orient themselves in relation to other players, especially their adversaries. Its functions like a law of human nature, even if the involved individuals understand the underlying framework only on a dimly intuitive level.

However …… a failure to understand, and to be fully conscious of, this more-accurate model can bring unnecessary fear, confusion, and intensity into the players’ political calculations. More anarchy and chaos. To understand how this misunderstanding can ratchet up the emotions, let’s look at how Fox likely viewed Tucker when they gave him the 8 pm slot, versus how they view him today.

When Carlson was hired, they saw him as a fellow traveler in conservative circles. In their shallow, one-dimensional worldview, the network’s position was close to Carlson’s ……

Despite the limitations in their understanding of the political spectrum, the network would have noticed Tucker’s shift in viewpoint over time. But their use of the traditional left-right model (aka – the wrong model) would cause them to misinterpret his move as a rightward shift, when it was actually a downward shift of orientation toward citizen empowerment.

Their misinterpretation would look like this ……

When a flawed assessment of Kennedy’s position is added to the mix (“He’s far left!”), conditions are ripe for a psychotic break. Fox News put itself into the impossible, and disastrously false, position of asking how a “far-right” pundit could support a “far-left” candidate.

When viewed on an accurate model, as displayed earlier, RFK and Carlson have taken positions on the circle that are close in proximity. But on today’s dominantyetincorrect linear model, they are falsely understood as being incredibly far apart ……

While this misunderstanding didn’t drive the decision’s fundamentals, it was likely responsible for the rash and random nature of the decision’s execution.


Carlson’s firing may have felt like a chaotic and isolated event, but its logic can be seen clearly on a circular political spectrum. In all likelihood, it will ultimately be understood as a significant strategic move – either as a precursor to some more-momentous future event, or as an effective brake on an adversary’s’ capacity to execute their agenda.  

Within corporatep media, the 8 pm Fox hour was the last firewall of independent, citizen-empowering thinking. Carlson’s severance removes that impediment. The networks now believe they have the power to determine who the next president will be …… because they believe they can shape opinion through a tight control of information. From here on, they will only trot out candidates who comply with the dictates issued by Institutions of Centralized Power.

We now await the next move. And if you become familiar with the workings of an accurate political spectrum that next development will feel less random and unrelated to previous occurences. Less chaotic. You’ll find yourself asking anticipatory questions …… Will citizen-empowering media figures like those at Substack, New Twitter, Locals, and Rumble take the offensive with some unexpected initiative? Will some new player step into the game on the citizen-empowering side, as Elon Musk has?  Or will the citizens’ corporate and governmental adversaries find some way to declare liberty-oriented groups to be illegitimate?  

Legacy media has consolidated control over its own turf. We can expect the battle lines to now shift toward New Media.

Evolution, Free Markets, and Complexity

Adam Smith
Charles Darwin

Many secular liberals, and even a few secular conservatives, take great pride in the theory of evolution’s victories on the public square. In recent decades, they have forced their Deist opponents to retreat and regroup in response to a new reality.

But the movement of our society toward this more scientific stance brings with it new responsibilities. And, at times, the follow-through has been inconsistent.

For example, many of those who supported the teaching of evolution in schools also favor a shift toward some degree of centralized socialism. You sometimes hear their more strident voices disparage Adam Smith’s description of capitalism as an ”invisible hand”. They scoff at the idea that human economic order could emerge from an unplanned, self-organizing process.

The internal contradictions within these beliefs usually go unnoticed. But commonalities between the theory of evolution and the theory of free markets are quite clear. While Adam Smith and Charles Darwin might have explored separate scientific disciplines, in different centuries, the foundations of their work ultimately addressed the same pattern. They described a process in which a long series of adjustments to the surrounding environment resulted in the creation of some higher order. That order is constructed through trial and error; through many failures and a few resounding successes.

This has led to one of the great ironies in modern political discourse: the centralized socialists and the Deists see themselves as irreconcilable opponents, yet both sides often rely on the same flawed argument, depending on which issue is being defended. The two assertions – anti-evolution and anti-free-market – share the unproven claim that some wise, external, supervisory intelligence is required to shape and stabilize a system that would otherwise devolve into either chaos or formlessness.

Among the centralized secularists, this belief is confirmed by their deep reverence of high-level bureaucrats like Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, or Anthony Fauci. Alan Greenspan, for example, was called ”the Maestro” due to the widespread belief that he could exert an almost god-like control over a wide range of markets from his perch atop the Federal Reserve.

This collective blind spot might have continued unnoticed if not for the emergence in recent decades of a new science: complexity theory. Its pioneers have deepened our understanding of principles that were initially outlined by thinkers like Darwin and Smith. Complexity theory’s growing body of work now grants legitimacy to a wide range of iterative and non-hierarchical ordering processes.

This development, perhaps as much as any other, has contributed to the recent authoritarian power grab by America’s political and economic elites. That gambit is often interpreted as an aggressive act motivated by greed. Which it is. But the power grab also has a defensive component. It can be seen as the nervous counterattack of a deeply entrenched – but now existentially threatened – paradigm against a populace that increasingly recognizes how much it can be empowered by complex citizen-to-citizen interactions.

This is a type of conflict that Americans have not seen for more than two centuries. We often attempt to describe this new battle using imprecise, outdated twentieth century words like liberal and conservative; left and right. While those concepts do still have meaning and merit on their own, they are now secondary factors. Any attempt to use them as descriptors for today’s conflict can only add confusion to an already difficult situation.

Instead of using yesterday’s “values language”, the question that must be answered by today’s society is whether the centralized power structures constructed in previous eras are still effective. In other words, should political power still be controlled in a top-down manner? Or should we instead rely on the lessons learned within the science of complexity?

Complexity theory describes a set of processes that reside at the bottom of the political circle. The sub-processes of evolution and of free markets find shelter under its umbrella (but not, it should be noted, the processes of K-Street crony capitalism).

This iterative, non-hierarchical, edge-of-chaos ordering paradigm stands in opposition to the uniformity-mandating centralized power structures now in place in the United States. Thus, Americans are caught between opposed forces that represent the two poles of an unfamiliar duality. Twenty-first century citizens must learn to navigate between those poles.

Our Posturing Political Parties

Joe Biden and his vocal lieutenant, Cedric Richmond, could not have sent a clearer signal last week. Their proclamations proved that the prime conflict of the previous era – left versus right – has now become a secondary concern. In its place, a more urgent question – top versus bottom – has taken center stage.

Biden’s boastful vaccine mandate, followed by Richmond’s prediction that any opposing governors will be ”run over”, leaves little doubt that the Democratic Party now seeks to rule by decree. The goal is to concentrate power in a very few hands. The constitutional construct of States Rights has become just another barrier to overcome. And the executive order …… a mechanism that was hardly countenanced during the 1787 convention …… has become the tool of choice for enforcing the party elites’ will.

Adherents to an outdated model of the political spectrum might think, “The DNC is a creature of the left. Therefore, Biden’s mandates are liberal initiatives.” They wouldn’t be alone in this flawed assessment. Many intelligent analysts suffer from a similar blind spot as they conflate power grabs with assertions of values.

The values of Democrat elites do lean left. But liberalism is no longer the prime goal of that Party. Its current leaders have committed themselves to the transformation of American society into a top-down system. Maneuvers over the past decade have left no doubt about this goal of centralized, siloed control.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that America would come to this moment. As I explained in The Great Conflation, the dominant economic and social trend …… from Alexander Hamilton, through Lincoln, Rockefeller, Wilson, FDR, and beyond …… has been a gradual and inexorable increase in the centralization of political power. Eventually, this process was bound to reach a critical mass. There would be a point in time where those at the top felt that the brass ring was now within reach. A final authoritarian grab would commence.

The woke movement did not just coincidentally arrive on the national stage at the same moment as this authoritarian overreach. Wokedom is a stalking horse. It isn’t a prime impetus of party politics, as they would have us think, but instead the means to an end. It is power hiding behind values. Just beyond the rhetoric about justice and equity lies an effort to concentrate more control within a few specific institutions.

Climate change, affordable housing, Covid19 controls, and other party initiatives are similar. Like the social justice movement, these issues do stand up to scrutiny on their own merits. They address important questions that require serious debate and decision-making. But discourse has been hijacked. The elites have used the seriousness of these topics to grant themselves greater control over the nation.

The Republicans have lately been posturing as an alternative to the authoritarian impetus. But to the Citizen, that party has become an example of “fool me twice, shame on me.” Experience has shown GOP party policies to be a confidence game.

When the Republicans are out of power, as they are now, they pander …… representing themselves as the final firewall between the Average American and Big Brother. It’s a message that often brings them back into the majority. Then the wars, executive orders, and draconian values legislation resume …… the Texas anti-abortion bill being one small example.

The GOP does lean conservative. In this it has been consistent. But a national party will, by definition, be oriented toward national control. While the GOP now markets itself as a defender of “the people”, its elites respond to the Power Question with bi-polar, erratic, hypocritical, and undependable answers. A few of them do seem to support citizen empowerment, while most remain mired in alliance with the Deep State.

Unfortunately, there exists no large-scale political alternative for the growing number of American citizens who seek an egalitarian approach to the exercise of power. On the other hand, however, the vacuum has not gone unnoticed. Intellectually sincere members of the lower left quadrant have recently begun to comment on this deficiency. For example, Matt Taibbi here, and Jonathan Turley here.

But even the most astute minds are still failing to discern the question that begs to be confronted at this point in our country’s history. Turley addresses America’s traditional reliance on “federalism” while choosing not to clearly define the core term in his argument: therefore, he fails to make a direct assessment of today’s bold effort to fully centralize social and economic power. For his part, Taibbi laments the lack of an alternative political party, and the sad ramifications of its absence, while glossing over the difficult work that must be done on the ground to give birth to a viable alternative. The first step in this groundwork is for those with common interests to get on the same page …… to adopt an accurate common model of the political spectrum …… and to use it as a basis for their vocabulary.

These gifted thinkers are held hostage by their own talent. Yes …… there are many times in which a sophisticated and detailed assessment is necessary to develop a full understanding of some problem. But a once-in-four-generations conflict must be distilled to its most basic elements. The elegant simplicity of a core construct – that any doofus can understand – must be established before the more complex analysis can commence. This is the nature of a societal paradigm shift. As Neil Howe and William Strauss observed, Fourth Turnings boil down to a single succinct Question.

The shift to a two-dimensional political spectrum is the first step toward framing that Question …… and its answer. Citizens on the right and left can only come together to cooperate in this framing when they rely on a model that shows how their commonalities outweigh their differences. Occupants of the lower quadrants will need to no longer self-label primarily as “left” or “right.” Those terms must be superseded by self-identification as “citizens first”. Only then can effective alliances be pursued.

The two corrupt political parties will remain in power until this difficult work is undertaken.

Why Marohn Matters

There are many reasons to feel disconcerted by recent events in America: Covid runs unabated, Afghanistan devolved into chaos, inflation fails to be transitory, important supply lines are disrupting, authoritarian power grabs are on the rise, and long held rights are in retreat.

But the news is not all dark. Sincere and intelligent voices are now entering the public square in growing numbers, determined to speak up on behalf of timeless human yearnings, like free speech, universal justice, objective public analysis, and the right to make one’s own choices.

This new band of activists has gravitated recently toward Substack. But its writers, including Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, and John McWhorter, stand on the shoulders of an often-unacknowledged previous group. The Substackerati and their allies should really be characterized as a “second wave” of thinkers whose message is emerging in a post-Trump political era.

They follow in the wake of a “first wave” of writer/activists, some of whose messages were crafted in the pre-Obama era. This earlier clan includes prescient voices like James Howard Kunstler, Chris Martenson, and Charles Hugh Smith.

Both groups produce effective, insightful analysis today. Their common perspectives place them in the lower quadrants of the political circle ……

The two “generations” give similar answers to a fundamental question about power: each member addresses the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and is skeptical about the controls now being asserted by top-down institutions. But despite these commonalities, the two groups differ in one important aspect.

The pattern exhibited by the more recently emerged pundits is to comment on national events and on mainstream initiatives. Thus, you see Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, and others writing about Washington DC policies, the military-industrial complex, flawed major media narratives, and corporate woke initiatives. This indicates an orientation toward – and a criticism of – those who hold positions of centralized power. In other words, the newer generation of writers attempts to hold its diametric opponents, the top-down institutions, accountable.

In contrast, observers like Kunstler and Martenson emphasize the impact of centralized policies on the decisions that individuals and local communities must make about their own lives. While the first wave’s political position is in proximity to the second wave’s, their focus points in a different direction. The first wave thinkers speak less about what’s wrong at “the top”, and more about what can be made right at “the bottom”.

One American figure is playing a crucial role within this dynamic. Charles Marohn, author of the deeply insightful new book Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, is aligned with the earlier wave of more locally-oriented thinkers, many of whom he has close ties with. But Marohn differs from the bulk of first and second wave activists because his influence has never been restricted solely to commentary. While he does excel there, Marohn is an instigator of effective action, in addition to being a person of letters.

This combination has created synergies. For example, his commentary has always been notably disciplined in its focus on pragmatic, grassroots, incremental, and local solutions. He only makes brief, strategic, high-level forays into commentary on national issues. When he does, the clear emphasis is on analysis over opinion …… an emphasis that resonates with readers and listeners who previously associated with the traditional left and the traditional right.

Marohn has also charted a route that no other prominent contemporary figure is pursuing. Over the past decade, in concert with like-minded thinkers, he has built a grassroots, nationwide organization. This broad network – Strong Towns – serves as an excellent example of how citizens can organize horizontally and non-hierarchically to address issues they’ve observed in their local communities.

The work Marohn has undertaken is not easy. Local politics are just as dysfunctional as national politics …… if not more so. This has caused progress during the early stages of the Strong Towns movement to be necessarily slow: defeats must, by definition, outpace victories. Throughout this long initial phase, Chuck has remained both respectful and resolute. He seems to understand that turbulence must be expected in an emergent, self-organizing process.

But the important work of building a viable organization has been undertaken. A band of equals has been formed. This large and growing movement will be ready to influence outcomes as local jurisdictions are forced to address the difficult new problems of an unexpected future.

Commentators are valuable, including those who hold powerful institutions to account. But a flexible organization that’s effective on the ground is indispensable. Marohn has been instrumental in providing both at a very high quality.

Who Is Donald Trump?

Most discussions about Donald Trump serve as indicators of just how broken and bi-polar American political discourse has become. For his loyalists, Trump represents the MAGA savior, courageously and cleverly taking on all Swamp Creatures. To a different group of partisans, he’s a singularly evil character, the Hitlerian figure who will make democracy die in darkness.

For the few who choose to stand at arms’ length to either tribe, such good-versus-evil assessments seem counterproductive on their face. But there is perhaps even more damage beneath the surface of our collective discourse because few have asked an important question: Where does Donald Trump stand within the long arc of American history?

The most reasonable answer to that question would be to compare Trump to other American presidents. This approach presents a problem to both sides, however. The Never-Trumpers are stumped because they can find no suitably fascist predecessor. The MAGAs draw parallels to Reagan, or even to Lincoln or Jackson, but such connections tend to be overblown and narcissistic.

Comparisons to previous politicians fail to be relevant in Trump’s case because no other president embraced the role he has chosen to play. To understand that role, one must recognize that the country is in a particular phase of a specific historical cycle.

America finds itself within the early-to-middle stages of our era’s Fourth Turning …… a cycle that has repeated every eighty years or so since before the nation’s founding. Therefore, based on past experience, the current conflict seems likely to escalate into something more dysfunctional, more intense, and more existential as the next months and years play out.

To understand the role the Orange Man plays in today’s political conflict, we must look back to the agitations of similar figures during the same phase of previous Fourth Turnings.

For example, in the events preceding the Civil War, John Brown filled a role that parallels Trump’s. When Brown arrived on the national scene, the plight of Black Americans was festering below the surface of collective discourse. But the country refused to address it, preferring instead to be distracted by flawed compromises and irrelevant conquests. Brown’s rhetoric and actions forced the country’s citizens to make a choice. They declared their allegiance to one side or the other …… even if they disliked the man or disagreed with his methods.

Similarly, the Boston lawyer James Otis played Trump’s role prior to the Revolutionary War. He too brought suppressed sentiments out into the open by inserting statements like “no taxation without representation” into the public discourse. Here again, onlooking citizens felt compelled to declare their loyalty to one side or the other.

In both of the earlier cases, the instigator’s understanding of the nation’s plight was instinctive. It was also, to a large extent, unclear to the man himself. Each pursued an intuitive vision of where the country should head, but that vision moved toward fruition haphazardly, through a process of trial and error. In short, each of these personages functioned as one crucial variable within a larger, emergent, self-organizing process.

Unfortunately, in the two previous examples, the anti-hero was fated for demise. John Brown died on the gallows. James Otis suffered a complete emotional breakdown and was ushered off the public square into ignominy.

The 45th president displays moments of volatility and instability that are disturbingly similar to those earlier figures. Yet Trump’s 2016 candidacy and ensuing presidency began to shift the country’s terms of debate. He forced a growing plurality of citizens to choose their side on the Fundamental Question that will drive our society’s decision-making going forward: will America become a centrally governed, semi-authoritarian nation …… or will its earlier commitment to individual autonomy and local self-governance re-emerge?

As each day of 2021 passes, the old divisions of left versus right, or liberal versus conservative, are becoming less relevant. Our Turning’s conflict – that of top versus bottom – has become the more urgent topic of political discourse. We see this manifested in a series of Otis-esque dichotomies, like the The Elites versus The People, masks versus mandates, woke education versus school choice, social media bans versus public debate, or vaccines versus free will. Trump instigated this debate in 2016 with his vague and rambling calls to “drain the Swamp.” The outlines of the conflict have steadily become more clear to the rest of us ever since.

It’s possible that a businessman who survived several bankruptcies could re-invent himself politically and return to the World Stage as a Lincolnesque figure. But a more likely outcome is that America will turn its attention toward more sophisticated thinkers. A Churchill or a Gandhi might soon emerge. Or, as Glenn Greenwald suggests, a smarter, more stable version of Trump.

As new leaders help the nation to frame the existential decisions it faces, The Donald will ultimately be acknowledged as an important instigator, but his influence over future outcomes will likely fade. Trump will be referenced in the history books as a crucial early figure in an unfolding process. But he won’t be considered a main player in the founding of a new, more just, and more sustainable political paradigm.

May the Phrase “Non-Partisan Science” Rest in Peace

It should come as no surprise to Americans that mantras like “follow the science” have been asserted in the wake of 2019’s Covid outbreak. The statement is an attempt to establish the superiority of one’s own views. It posits one opinion as objective and well-reasoned. Conflicting viewpoints can then be labeled as pseudo-science or conspiracy theory.

I discussed the foundations of this flawed assumption in The Structure of Political Positions, page 110, where the nature of partisanship was explored. The conclusion: Partisan viewpoints aren’t the one-dimensional left-right outlooks that everyone assumes them to be. Instead, partisanship is two-dimensional. Some of our disagreements weigh more toward subjective questions. Others involve objective assessments.

Since science orients toward logic, its conflicts orient vertically on the political circle ……

I took this point further in my book by observing a pattern: “If a person claims to be ‘non-partisan’ in one direction, then they will be highly partisan in the other.”

The description fits the “follow the science” proponents with precision. Their narrative presents science as a non-partisan standard, with the implication that no rational person could come to a conclusion that differs from theirs. But it’s more accurate to describe their approach as a specific form of partisanship. Their “scientific conclusions” still require robust debate. Sometimes such conclusions become stronger under scrutiny. Other times, they weaken.

Unfortunately, within the Covid narrative, one set of partisans is attempting to shut down debate, in an effort to anoint their conclusions as “truth.” The latest iteration of this trend can be seen in initiatives and policies that mandate the use of mRNA vaccines. Establishment scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, and other representatives of entrenched top-down bureaucracies have spearheaded such attempts.

But a “diametrically opposed” viewpoint also claims to follow the science. PhDs and MDs like Bret Weinstein, Robert Malone, and Chris Martenson, point out a series of blind spots and flaws in the establishment’s reasoning.

The dispute between these two camps can either be described as featuring differing interpretations of a set of facts or as the application of differing sets of facts. But the conflict also runs deeper: the two sides support opposed assessments of science’s meaning and role in society. The non-establishment figures address science as a process which leads to conclusions that must be tested. They never present science as “settled.” In contrast, the establishment players increasingly present science as an unassailable standard to be established by credentialed experts.

In truth, most advances throughout the history of science have been accompanied by inter- and/or intra-disciplinary partisan divisions. One recent example is the debate over whether a comet collided with the polar ice cap approximately 12,800 years ago, resulting in unprecedented environmental changes. Scientific discourse has displayed strident conflict on this question in recent years, just as science has engaged in similar discourse in past centuries regarding other objective questions like the motions of the planets or movement of the earth’s continents. Scientists line up on either side of these partisan divides with predictable regularity.

But today’s Covid-related divisions differ in nature, and in scale, from the typical scientific conflict because vaccine mandates are also features of political power. They aren’t just professional disputes about reasonable conclusions surrounding objective facts. They are also political disputes about who, if anyone, should be granted the power to make decisions about other people’s lives. Some people believe that specific “experts” are qualified to mandate control over others. Others believe that most individuals should maintain wide latitude over their own decisions.

To be understood properly, these issues must be distilled to their essence. “Follow the science” has been presented as an objective proposition …… which it is. But it’s more accurately described as a partisan assertion of centralized power, which now increasingly ventures into authoritarian territory.

The debate over Covid mandates, allegedly in the name of science, follows the paradigm I’ve discussed many times in this blog. The twenty-first century’s primary conflict is not horizontal: left versus right has become a secondary concern. When two opponents argue that “the science” exonerates their views while dismissing their adversaries’ assertions, they are engaging in vertical political conflict ……

In this context, the debate about science is subsumed by a larger conflict. That larger conflict is framed by a Fundamental Question: What should the structure of power be within our society? In other words, who should have control? Should heterodox thinkers like Weinstein, Martenson, and Malone be allowed to air their analysis on the public square? Or will the heads of centralized bureaucracies, like Fauci and Walensky, be the only voices we hear …… and the generators of mandates we all must follow?

It falls to our era to determine the outcome of this larger power struggle. It is an objective question that is nevertheless quite partisan.

Substack Nation = Proof of Concept

When I spoke with James Howard Kunstler, way back in the antecovidian days of 2019, his first question was tough, but fair: “If the political spectrum takes the form of a circle, then where are all the residents of the lower quadrants?” He noted that Ron Paul and Ralph Nader fit the profile, but both were getting long in the tooth.

Julian Assange and Edward Snowden had already performed much of their work before I wrote The Great Conflation, so a handful of members did represent the lower quadrants ……

But Kunstler had a point. Few figures stridently combined a citizen-empowering power answer with their longer-held values orientation, whether that values belief resided on the left or the right.

This dearth had always been less pronounced on the right, where libertarian leanings occasionally allied with conservative values. On the left, however, the thrall of progressivism caused many liberals to equate centralized power with insightful wisdom and a seemingly limitless capacity for good works …… if stubborn obstructionists would just get out of the way.

But today, for a growing number of liberals, faith in the state has eroded.

Exhibit A for this trend is the group of left-leaning writers who now congregate on the online platform Substack. Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss, and Michael Tracey are just a few of the journalists, formerly employed by mainstream publications, who have become “substackerati” …… either by choice or by circumstance. They’re joined by thinkers like John McWhorter who maintain a relationship with their mainstream institutions while speaking out against the direction of those institutions’ policies.

These figures have two key characteristics in common. (1) Each represents a set of values that is avowedly liberal. (2) They are also some of the strongest voices arrayed in opposition to the authoritarian policies of the establishment (in general) and the Forces of Woke (in particular).

Unfortunately, while their writing establishes the transformational edge of today’s political discourse, they often fail to recognize the paradigm that they themselves represent. This becomes apparent in their use of language. Even the most gifted of writers, like Taibbi and Greenwald, frequently use the same term (“liberal,” “left,” “progressive“) to represent opposed concepts …… occasionally connoting contradictory definitions of the same term within consecutive paragraphs. But “The Left” cannot represent the good guys and the bad guys at the same time. An entity cannot oppress itself.

Clearer distinctions will emerge over time, as more minds move toward the lower quadrants, and as existing occupants become more familiar with the twenty-first century’s terms of engagement.

What are those terms of engagement? ……

While divisions between the left and right – our values orientations – will remain important, they have now become secondary to the other Fundamental Question, which addresses power. The prime conflict of the current epoch orients vertically. Our era’s battle is waged between the march of uniform centralization at the top of the circle, and an edge-of-chaos empowerment of citizens – including their communities – at the bottom.

Substack Nation has chosen its ground in this conflict.

The Two Words to Watch For

DeltaNewsHub (CCBY2.0)

When some political entity feels backed against a wall, and in need of a knockout punch, one of two words will be featured in their language. This pair of terms provides clues about our political system’s structure. And you can learn a lot about an entity based on which word their statements emphasize.

For example, the CEO of Delta Airlines issued a release last week about Georgia’s election bill. The money line was concise: “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.

One can imagine his team of consultants carefully crafting the language …… debating the impact of phrases like “crystal clear.” By finishing with the word “values” they tried to establish an unassailable position. Who could argue with a company that defends its values?

A different kind of statement was also made last week: one I discussed previously. During an NCAA basketball tournament telecast, Charles Barkley said: ” I think our system is set up where our politicians …… are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power.” Here again, a sentence’s final word received the most emphasis: power.

These two words – power and values – sit at the heart of every debate in America. And it’s instructive to observe whether one (or the other) of these terms is left out of some entity’s effort to influence those debates.

In Barkley’s case, an indirect reference to values was added to his more direct reference to power when he said: “I think most white people and black people are great people.

On the other hand, Delta wasn’t fully forthcoming about its orientation toward power. The company was deeply involved in crafting the Georgia election bill, as were other corporations. But this attempt to influence politics was downplayed until others called the company’s bluff. Delta is organized around a top-down structure, with employees and customers arranged into silos. The company skillfully exercises centralized power, both internally and externally.

Americans were free to feature the values debate throughout the first two centuries of the country’s history because our initial governing framework featured a robust balancing of power. But that dynamic has gradually shifted as centralized institutions – corporations like Delta, and statist bureaucracies – have garnered outsized influence.

In our own century, the Power Question is no longer resolved. More citizens, like Barkley, are calling for a re-balancing between centralized and citizen-based power. But the elites insist on hiding behind indistinct assertions about values, without acknowledging their behind-the-scenes machinations.

The liberal versus conservative values debate can no longer be regarded as the primary conflict of our society. Instead, the late-1700s power conflict of centralized versus citizen-empowerment has reemerged. But a deeper conflict always lies below these two fundamental debates. The Power Question and the Values Question compete for every entity’s loyalty.

Barkley and Delta have made their choices on the deeper debate. Both are focused on power. Unfortunately, only one of them will admit it.

Barkley and the Backlash

chensiyuan (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Recent political comments by Charles Barkley have received a lot of attention, including an intense pushback. But his dust-up isn’t just another example of mudslinging. A sound structure sits below both sides of the debate he instigated. And every citizen will need to become more familiar with it.

Using unambiguous language, Sir Charles blamed both major political parties for America’s divisions: “I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power.” (Spoiler alert: regular readers will notice the importance of that last term.)

In response, Barkley’s detractors accused him of blindly following a “both sides” fallacy. One twitter user summed it up: “I’d love to see someone ask Charles to explain exactly which D politicians are trying to make white people and black people hate each other, which ones are using racial dog-whistles or racist tactics like voter suppression/accusations of fraud to divide and demean.”

This debate was instigated by the topic of race. But it’s centered on the two political parties. Barkley astutely wove together several subjects that weren’t often grouped together in past eras, but are increasingly associated with one another in ours: race, power, political parties, and intentional division.

Beneath the surface of our discourse, America has been experiencing a surreptitious yet unrelenting shift toward such connections. Barkley’s comments bring that perspective into the mainstream. But the underlying framework needs to be better understood ……

At the most basic level, Barkley acknowledges that the country’s primary conflict is not left versus right. Instead, he sees a top versus bottom division: centralized power structures in vertical opposition to the citizens. Then he favors one end of that axis by professing faith in those citizens: “I think most white people and black people are great people.”

Barkley’s detractors, on the other hand, insist that the country’s only conflict is left versus right: a horizontal framing that can label “the other side” as racist.

At the heart of this debate sit the RNC’s and DNC’s chameleon-like, shape-shifting self-presentations. Barkley calls out both as coercive, top-down forces. He accuses them of controlling people from their powerful position.

The response can be distilled to: “No, the parties are opposed!”

Where do the parties really reside? Both sit high in the upper quadrants of the circle ……

The two Fundamental Questions function as the foundation of this conflict. Barkley favors one: “Who should control power in America?” The backlash favors the other: “Which side exhibits better values?” Each of us much choose which to prioritize: Is the horizontal values question more important? Or should I focus vertically …… on power?

The parties pretend to compete on one, while they quietly cooperate on the other. Their power grab is becoming difficult to hide, though. If they can’t tamp down on comments like Barkley’s, they’ll be facing a two-front war for the hearts of the American people.

It’s not a war they can win.