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.

Peak Centralization?

Each day brings new news of mandates and lockdowns in America as pressure builds to enact even more draconian controls. Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World morph into non-fiction with each new dictate. But the inexorable march of western societies toward total centralization of power isn’t necessarily a given.

For example, the 2016 election of Donald Trump contradicts the seeming trend toward inevitable authoritarianism. His emergence on the political scene came as a great surprise to the oligarchs. They were caught napping; then they sought to reclaim control of the system. Their subsequent narratives – like golden showers, Russiagate, and Ukrainegate – have exhibited an air of desperation.

Prior to 2016, the deep state had enjoyed a win-win situation for decades. Whether the sitting president was a Republican or a Democrat, alphabet agency agendas would ascend. After 2016, however, their efforts to control have required more of a “gloves are off” approach. Tactics that once worked easily now require larger energy expenditures, greater risk-taking, and taller tales.

Many citizens have noticed that these initiatives often violate centuries-long tenets of the Republic. And a small but determined backlash of public thinkers has brought intellectual firepower into the lower quadrants of the political circle. Many who previously identified solely as liberal or conservative now join forces with one another against common adversaries.

Another counterpoint to the inevitable authoritarianism prediction is seen in the Afghanistan War failure. The twentieth century witnessed greater American control at home and abroad. But a series of inconclusive or failed wars has diminished the U.S. Government’s ability to dictate events overseas.

These actions have accelerated the now-dominant division between centralists and citizens. Conflicts have felt more like “their” wars than “our” wars, with the collective component of “we’re all in this together” gone AWOL. In its place were substituted wonky, fraught discussions of “government policy.”

This diminished support of the citizens did not go unnoticed by the deep state. And their growing insecurity – caused by this shift – manifests as one cause of their redoubled efforts to dictate events at home.

But the home front also exhibits an erosion of confidence. Officials who were formerly protected by an edifice of carefully crafted credentials are now forced to engage in discourse on the public square, where they backpedal in response to growing criticism of questionable judgement. Bureaucrats like Anthony Fauci and Robert Mueller are now viewed as a specific form of partisan …… one who seeks increasing levels of centralized political control.

Centralized Power will always coexist in an ever-changing and uneasy balance with its opposite: citizen empowerment. And the field of battle will always look different tomorrow than it did yesterday.

Throughout the twentieth century, that field appeared to be stable: centralized policies increased slowly and inexorably: control gradually became more concentrated within the oligarchic national institutions of corporate and “federal” America.

Perhaps that trend and its seeming stability will continue. Perhaps it will slowly reverse. Or perhaps the dam of control will break, as a chaotic series of events unfolds.

A Constitutional Convention (Part Three)

Part One Part Two


When the political circle is seen from the top, our view is one-dimensional. This limited perspective reads as a line running from left to right …… a perspective that dominated American politics throughout the twentieth century.

When the circle is viewed from the side, we again see a line. This one runs from top to bottom. It represents the perspective of those who constructed the U.S. Constitution.

These two approaches are rarely connected in our minds. But they are connected ……

Despite limitations in the founders’ understanding, it’s nevertheless instructive to view the world through their eyes. While they didn’t have access to the concept of a spatial political construct, we can still interpret where they wanted to place the constitution’s position. Their debate indicates a location mid-way between the two poles ……

As discussed in Part Two, the nation’s governance never stabilized at the constitution’s initial position. Instead, it moved steadily upward on the power axis. Rather than maintain balance between upper and lower poles, centralized institutions came to dominate ……

This movement upward on the y-axis can be attributed to a number of factors, including (1) the discovery of powerful fuels and technologies, which enabled top-down corporate structures like Standard Oil (including its descendants) and other monopolies to dominate the economy, (2) the stealth application of corporate personhood into US Supreme Court rulings during the late nineteenth century, (3) the passage of new laws, circa 1913, that concentrated power within state bureaucracies, including the Federal Reserve Act, the popular election of US Senators, and a mandatory income tax, and (4) a greatly expanded interpretation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century.

These are only a few of the markers along the country’s long power migration from a mid-axis position to a high position.

Thus, the prime task assigned to the state delegates at some future constitutional convention would be to review the impact of history’s centralizing shifts, and to remedy those which have created the greatest concentrations of power.

But a second priority would also require the delegates’ attention ……

The trend toward overly-centralized power commenced in the earliest stages of the union, even though it wasn’t detected until much later. This trend was initiated by Alexander Hamilton’s influence on the original convention, and by his subsequent actions within President Washington’s first administration.

This indicates that structural flaws were built into the founders’ original framework. Therefore, those flaws must also be considered.

In geometric terms, the “Hamiltonian trend” means that the initial mid-axis position of the original constitution might have been too high. In order for a longer-lasting balance between the upper and lower poles to be maintained, a new position lower on the axis might be required.

When viewed in two dimensions, it becomes clear that such changes would need to accommodate the beliefs of both lower quadrants. This means that an amended constitution would address the concerns of left-leaning and right-leaning positions within the circle’s lower regions.

A Constitutional Convention (Part Two)

In our republic’s early days, Thomas Jefferson predicted that Christianity would soon be relegated to a minor role in American society. His assessment wasn’t radical: it was the linear projection of a trend in place. Interest in religion had waned among his peers.

As Jefferson’s assertions were being made, however, a movement toward more intense Christian belief was already underway in distant parts of the country …… one of several such waves to occur during the early periods of American history.

The relationship between religion and constitutional governance is rarely analyzed in its proper context. To understand it, we must start with a discussion of power. Only then can values choices be considered with fairness.

Power dynamics drove the colonies’ relationship with their parent country from the outset of settlement in North America. The settlers were locally-oriented and independent. They required emergent, self-organizing solutions to survive in a harsh environment. This pushed their political orientation downward on the circle.

In contrast, Britain’s empire relied on hierarchical, top-down decrees. Its approach stood in diametric opposition to that of the colonies. Eventually, when each side had fully gravitated to its chosen pole of power, a war of revolution commenced ……

When the colonies emerged as a nation, the conflict over power wasn’t finished. It’s never resolved …… in any society. Therefore, the new country faced a choice.

The founders had learned during the war that it’s untenable for a country to be managed from a position at the bottom of the circle. An orientation that’s too local, libertarian, and laissez-faire becomes chaotic and anarchic. Some form of centralized power must be applied …… even if it’s limited. Thus, the U.S. Constitution tried to establish balance between the two vertical poles. It took a midway position on the power axis ……

Since political decisions are made in two dimensions, and not one, the nation’s power decision had to be accompanied by a complimentary values decision. Therefore, if a society wants to hold a moderate vertical orientation, its center of gravity must reside near the political circle’s left or right pole. Since society had historically been paternal, the country’s belief system moved right ……

Inherent within the nation’s founding manifesto (the Declaration of Independence) was the assertion that all humans are created equal. Therefore, widely-divergent human belief systems were increasingly granted equal treatment under the law. This provided an opportunity for maternal beliefs to gradually gain ground within the society, as seen in the growth of community-centric movements like feminism, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights. A slow migration of positions toward the circle’s left side commenced.

This migration required regular appeals to top-down power, in the form of congress, the president, the Supreme Court, etc. It unexpectedly increased the country’s reliance on centralized decision-making structures ……

Unfortunately, rather than create balance between two competing values forces, the process has led to a dependence on concentrated power. In short, it has led to the oligarchic crisis we face in the early twenty-first century. The required resolution to that problem will be discussed next ……

The Constitutional Convention of 2028?

I have often asserted in this blog that twenty-first century political conflict cannot be described using today’s dominant political language, which relies too much on the terms left and right (though those concepts do represent important values orientations). Instead, our era’s existential dispute aligns vertically – between those who support more centralization of power, and those who seek a release from its tightening grip, using some process of decentralization.

A picture has emerged of two combatants sharply divided. Central bankers, regulatory bureaucrats, corporate CEOs, social media monopolists, and other avatars of concentrated power attempt to control an aging system of economic and social structures …… by ratcheting up the centralization further. But unexpected new adversaries continue to pop up on the streets, around the capitol, and in chat rooms.

The potential chaos created by this conflict has spawned apocalyptic prophecies …… many of them surprisingly well-researched and data-driven. There’s James Howard Kunstler’s Long Emergency, James Rickards’ Road to Ruin, the World Economic Forum’s Orwellian “Great Reset”, predictions of a return to Wiemar era hyperinflation, worries about an impending civil war or super-sized economic depression, and competing visions of woke dystopia. This brief list only represents the tip of an iceberg.

Most predictions of the future address: (1) some potential collapse, and (2) a descent into dystopia. In contrast, few scenarios envision an attempt to resolve today’s partisan divisions.

In subsequent posts, I’ll explore one potential pathway toward a resolution: the Constitutional Convention. This option – rarely discussed to date – is not an infeasible scenario. While none of the republic’s twenty-seven amendments have been passed through such a gathering, Article Five of the Constitution does provide a pathway.

One indicator that this option could come to fruition is evidenced in a slowly emerging trend: our conflict’s center of gravity is beginning to shift away from national structures …… toward non-national structures. One instance of this pattern can be seen in the greater willingness of state officials to challenge decisions made in Washington DC.

For example, liberal centralist state governors, like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, have begun to subtly sabotage the national conservative policies they disagree with. Similarly, red state governors are pushing back against the actions of big tech, and the Biden administration, in the latest top-versus-bottom conflict. (Their recent moves are usually misinterpreted as liberal versus conservative, but they more accurately reflect civil war within a Republican party that’s torn between its centralizing and citizen-empowering wings.)

This venturing of states into matters of national policy isn’t new. But the trend does seem to be gaining in intensity since the beginning of our century. The challenges of state attorney generals to Obamacare represent an example.

But such actions are only one factor that could lead to a future constitutional convention. The states occupy an intermediate position between deeply concentrated national power, on the one hand, and a new impetus for individual and local assertions, on the other. The interplay between these opposing forces, and the misunderstandings or machinations that are likely to arise, will be explored in coming posts.

An Age of Ayahuasca?

Most Americans favored local, horizontal organizations from the time of the earliest European settlements through the late 1700s. As a Christian society with an entrenched warrior ethos, the colonists’ approach to two fundamental questions placed them in the lower right quadrant of the political circle. The distribution of positions looked something like this ……

This set of answers placed the new society in conflict with the British government’s authoritarian controls. Ironically, the ensuing war began to push America’s political outlook upward on the circle.

Alexander Hamilton is one example of this shift. Wartime experiences convinced him that some form of concentrated control would be required in the nation’s affairs, leading him to argue for a strong central authority at the Constitutional Convention. He then helped to strengthen that approach as America’s first treasury secretary.

Therefore, in the early 1800s, the country’s collective power answer slowly began to shift from citizen-centric to centralist within the still-conservative, still-Christian, and still-capitalist nation. This trend accelerated during the Civil War, then reached its apex as new corporations like Standard Oil, US Steel, the railroads, and the House of Morgan drove the late nineteenth century economy. America held to the same values as in earlier times, but a new power answer was now dominant.

Populist movements led a backlash against the moguls’ power, however. In response, central government was made more robust. The core components were put in place around 1913, as the Federal Reserve, the popular election of U.S. Senators, and the income tax shifted influence from top-down corporations to institutions of government.

This trend accelerated under Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as more bureaucracies and regulations were established in Washington DC. Later presidents consolidated those gains. Thus, the twentieth century became a golden age for the upper left quadrant. Power remained centralized, but the liberal values of cooperation, consensus, civil rights, and care for the commons gradually superseded the capitalistic conquests of America’s early industrial age.

A counterclockwise movement around the political circle can thus be discerned across a span of more than three hundred years. The eighteenth century favored the lower right quadrant. The nineteenth featured a shift to the upper right. And by the twentieth, the upper left was in control.

If the trend continues, another shift can be expected. Liberal values would remain dominant, but America’s power answer would become more decentralized, horizontal, emergent, and self-organizing. The lower left quadrant would rise ……

Two questions come to the fore. First, what would American society look like under an ascendant lower left quadrant? Second, how would the transition take place?

Characteristics of the New Paradigm

The lower left quadrant was largely depopulated in the twentieth century. But emerging signs of virulence are now visible. Grassroots trends like permaculture, functional medicine, and local sourcing find a home in this part of the circle. Related movements like vaccination choice, new urbanism, and homeschooling span the axis between lower quadrants.

Under citizen-empowered liberalism, the nation’s value structure would largely stay the same: issues like environmentalism, women’s equality, and LGBT rights would remain priorities.

In contrast, difficult changes would occur in the pragmatic arrangements of American life. Large bureaucracies, both public and commercial, would scale down. Entertainment conglomerates would fall from favor. Federal control and funding would diminish. Wall Street would retrench.

These losses would be offset by the growing influence of asymmetrically structured local communities. Free speech and transparency would be prioritized. Psychedelics usage would be legitimized, and possibly ceremonialized. A myriad of new organizations with diverse goals would emerge, featuring horizontal, fluid connections between members.

A shift of positional distribution toward the lower left would also impact the other quadrants. For example, the lower right would benefit because the upper left’s diminished influence would reduce the threat of Nanny State interventions. Similarly, conservative evangelicals would move lower on the circle, calculating that an alliance with the lower left would protect religious freedoms.

In contrast, centralist conservatives would fare poorly, due to a simple rule of political geometry: when one quadrant gains power, its diametric adversary loses power. Therefore, legacy corporations would languish, American military influence would decline, and the dollar would relinquish its reserve currency status …… among other limitations.

The remaining quadrant – the upper left – has the most to lose from a shift of influence. Therefore, its fate is closely tied to the other major question ……

What Would a Transition to Lower Left Dominance Look Like?

Would the process of change be organized and strategic? Or would it be disorderly? Might it begin with some kind of structure and then morph into chaos?

If the path were incremental, the lower left would have to build strong coalitions within the quadrant. Alliances would also have to be built between quadrants.

Initial indications of an internal coalition are emerging in the “free speech wing” of liberalism, a loose aggregation of free thinking, determined intellectuals. Similarly, nascent alliances between lower left and lower right can be seen in the diverse membership of informal groups like the IDW.

But after two centuries of holding the reins, centralists of the left and right would be unwilling to relinquish their grip on power. This is especially true of the upper left, which has already utilized unprecedented tactics to maintain control. An oligarchic alliance would attempt to stifle the lower left’s growing influence.

This alliance would be resisted by a different kind of left-right coalition: one formed at the bottom of the circle. The resulting vertically-oriented conflict would be intense but would likely be of limited duration. It could turn kinetic, or it could remain cold.

Carefully constructed alliances and coalitions might be bypassed, however. Instead, a runaway train of fiscal and financial dysfunction could create a cascading series of uncontrolled events. In this scenario, citizens would band into hastily constructed, locally cooperative communities just to survive.

So, transition scenarios are impossible to foresee in advance. But relationships between quadrants follow a predictable structure. If the lower left does gain influence, every other part of the circle will be forced to adjust.

Kunstler’s Commitment

The verdict is in, folks. James Howard Kunstler has made his decision on the 2020 election. He’d rather have gonorrhea than cholera.

In a recent column, Kunstler stated he’ll vote for Donald Trump over Joe Biden this November. His choice isn’t so much a vote “for” the orange man. Instead, it’s a vote “against” the hypocrisy, gaslighting, and grift of today’s Democratic Party.

His thesis was thorough in its indictment of the DNC. But it’s even more significant as an early indicator of November’s results. Kunstler is typically one of the first figures to correctly assess a complex, evolving situation. His choice tells us the swing voters of 2020 are more likely to break toward Trump.

To understand who today’s swing voters are, we must first assess the political position of the current president …… as opposed to who he was as a past candidate. In 2016, Trump attacked the establishment as an outsider. His supporters saw him as an agent of change.

But now we’ve all witnessed four years of Trump’s association with figures like John Bolton, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and James Mattis. We’ve watched him jawbone the Fed’s top-down economic policies. We’ve seen the liberal use of executive orders. Trump has a track record. As president, he governs from a location far closer to the top of the circle than the 2016 candidate ever indicated.

The 2016 presidential race was the first election in generations to be decided along the power axis. That electoral result was a reaction to the authoritarian tendencies of Obama’s administration. And of Hillary Clinton’s commitment to a continuation of those policies.

In the general election of 2016, Trump’s position was lower than Hillary’s on the circle. This gave him a crucial advantage when voters calculated less on left versus right, and more toward top-down versus bottom-up.

The mainstream political analysis only interpreted that race in terms of liberal versus conservative, though. Hillary’s strategy in the general election followed the standard template: to control the “centrist sweet spot” in the middle of the one-dimensional left-right line. Since Trump didn’t fit the old paradigm, most pundits saw him as an inexplicable outlier candidate who was destined to lose. They realized too late that a new paradigm was governing voter preferences. Then their hastily planned countermove was to plant the panicked seeds of Russiagate and “the resistance.”

This obtuse and cynical reaction has not been lost on the majority of Americans through the ensuing four years, including many who are ambivalent about Trump. Thus, when we fast forward to 2020, polarization along the power axis is far more firmly entrenched. More folks realize that a battle is on between the credentialed class and the rest of the citizenry. The action is now vertical, not horizontal. Significant numbers of citizens have moved their positions downward on the circle.

If Trump had held more firmly to the tenets of his 2016 campaign, he would hold a major advantage today with the occupants of both lower quadrants. But those advantages have been diminished by his upward move on the circle.

In theory, Trump’s upward shift should have provided an edge to his opponent. Therefore, a simplistic assessment of the 2020 race would tell us that the democrat only needs to get lower on the circle than Trump. But Biden, following the DNC’s lead, has taken a position closer to the top pole.

“Simplistic” is the key word here, however, because elections aren’t won or lost based on simple geometry. Instead, a complex distribution of 130+ million positions must work itself out by early November. Groups of these positions often clump into nodes or clusters. Therefore, some aggregations, like the Never-Trumpers, are still located high in the upper right quadrant, similar to the typical positions of 20th Century Republican officials. Other players – members of the Woke Movement, for instance – have become even more authoritarian, thus moving upward within the upper left quadrant. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans are gradually moving downward on the circle, shifting from their previous higher positions on the right and the left.

This brings us to the swing voters of 2020. You’ll find these figures in a region equidistant between the two candidates, far down on the circle ……

The Democratic Party’s candidate has an advantage with this group because most of them either identify as liberal, or have historically voted with the democrats. But Biden has already squandered his best opportunity to gain their trust. If he had selected Tulsi Gabbard as his running mate, or even Andrew Yang, these voters would be more likely to look the other way on the Democratic Party’s growing authoritarian tendencies. But he didn’t.

I suspect that discussions with Gabbard progressed far further than anyone has fathomed. There must be figures among the DNC leadership attempting to stage interventions against the party’s intent to inflict self harm. But Biden couldn’t pick Gabbard (and , likewise, Gabbard wouldn’t entertain an alliance with Biden) for the very reasons outlined in Kunstler’s essay. The party has fully committed to a woke version of authoritarianism.

So …… now we wait for other figures near the bottom pole to break for one candidate or the other. They include members of the intellectual dark web, and signers of the Harper’s letter on free speech. Many free-thinking citizens are joining them. And it’s increasingly likely they’ll reluctantly break for the incumbent.

Will Joe Rogan announce his vote in some informal conversation? Will the Weinsteins acquiesce after Unity 2020 ultimately fails? Or will they be like many other Americans who choose not hurt their old friends’ feelings in public, but quietly pull the lever for Trump in private?