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Michael Brendan Dougherty's Paleocon Blues

Over at The Week, our friend Michael Brendan Dougherty isn't feeling very optimistic about the chances for Trump's domestic agenda or for those of Europe's Nationalist Right-Wing. As Dougherty sees it, the Neoliberal Internationale's inner defenses have now been fully activated, with their army of hacks, sycophants, and timeservers now running interference against Trump's attempts at domestic reform:

President Trump and other populist nationalists are finding out that victory doesn't mean carrying all before you.

The establishment that Trump defeated in the election is still able to strike back. Part of this is just American federalism coming back to life. It was notable that America's states were able to successfully challenge the executive order travel ban. These checking institutions and powers may have been largely quiet over the last two administrations, as presidents have expanded the use of executive orders, but that wasn't a sign that they were dead.

And it turns out the establishment can still wage a defensive battle within the bureaucracy of the federal government. Even though Trump's two predecessors tried to create better relations with Moscow, intelligence agencies and media outlets seem to act in concert to make any possible improvement of U.S.-Russian relations impossible.

All of this is undoubtedly true. Both the Conservative and Liberal wings of the Neoliberal Washington consensus are using their apparatchiks in the federal bureaucracy to slow the process of reform to what looks like a crawl at best. This is a contingency which has long been foreseen by keen observers of American politics, and the question was always when this would happen not whether it would. Trump's only way out of this quagmire is through it. He must, in the short term, find a way to circumnavigate the resistance and, in the long term, begin the process of liquidating it.

This is not Dougherty's impression, however, as he decides to forego any constructive criticism and instead skips directly to open defeatism:

It's not just the establishment in America having a few good days. There is also no evidence that anti-immigration populism across the Western world is connected in a domino theory. Some of the more esoteric cases made by intellectuals on behalf of Trump assumed that the moment invincibility was stripped away from one Western establishment, the whole system of post-1989 liberalism would collapse. That is just not the case...

And perhaps that's the lesson.

While Western countries still have stable institutions, their electoral politics are still more likely to involve just incremental changes in policy, not enormous paradigm shifts, whatever candidates promise. Trump will be here for four to eight years, but the establishment might be eternal.

Now if one were to read this article without being familiar with Dougherty's other work, one could be forgiven for thinking that his analysis is merely a sober and realistic look at the present state of contemporary Right-Wing populism. One would also, of course, be wrong.

Dougherty's general style is one of resignation, a style, and mindset we can refer to as the "Paleocon Blues." This disposition is characterized by a withering critique of the present Liberal order combined with a resigned acknowledgment that said order's hegemony is both inevitable and unassailable. It is rotten, it is vile, it is corrupt, and there is also no real point in opposing it, especially in any way that goes beyond the performative acts of the symbolic. This is the lesson Dougherty consistently tries to teach his readers.

This same style of Amor Fati can be observed among other Paleocons, particularly almost all of those presently writing at the American Conservative. Who, although they occasionally provide thoughtful analysis and critiques, always seem to go out of their way to ensure their work never becomes genuinely interesting. Gone are the day's of Pat Buchanan's brilliant and fearless savagery, replaced instead with disavowals of Donald Trump (the legitimate heir of Buchananism) and a naive promotion of a simple-minded version of "localism."

The true failure of Dougherty and his Paleocon brothers and sisters is one of imagination. They simply refuse to entertain the possibility of a different future, one that is free of Liberal hegemony. And this failure is much more important than Dougherty may like to admit.

Fat Slovenian Leftist, cocaine enthusiast and friend of Thermidor Slavoj Zizek has famously said that people in the West today have an easier time imagining the end of the world then they do the end of Neoliberalism. This no doubt is the case with Dougherty who finds it easier to wring his hands over Trump's stumbles and personal defects than he does contemplating the possibility that he could eventually succeed; while Dougherty is certainly correct that "the moment invincibility was stripped away from one Western establishment, the whole system of post-1989 liberalism would collapse" he seems to miss the point.

While the puncturing of Neoliberalism's Fukuyamaist air of invincibility and inevitability is not sufficient for the ultimate destruction of the Globalist system, it is necessary. In order for a better order to ever be realized it must first be imagined. The Great Global game presently being played out between the forces of the Right and the forces of the Global Liberal Managerial class, of which the great meme war of 2016 was just one theater, is primarily a war of perception and morale. A war in which rival memes do battle in the digital ether and compete for narrative supremacy, and he who controls the narrative will ultimately succeed in winning the war.

Albert Camus once said that "The future is the only transcendental value for men without God" and this is nowhere more evident than in the eschatology of the barely sentient soymasses who crowd the comment sections of Salon and Slate. These Neoliberal functionary's flaccid existences are structured around the premise that their strivings are, in their own little way, helping to bring about Fukuyama's vision of Neoliberal hell utopia.

But call this premise into serious question, and quickly the panic begins to set in, as was witnessed after both the unexpected success of Brexit and Trump's victory in November. The narrative failed spectacularly and then the panic began to set in, as they finally learned what real fear was.

The fact that since that fateful day in November they have managed to stage something of a counterattack, or at the very least staunched the bleeding, is not surprising, nor is it, contra Dougherty, especially significant. This last ditch defense organized by the Globalist Hivemind is not a sign of virility but of desperation, in the same way, that the German offensives after Stalingrad were. Though they still could muster significant and impressive forces, their former aura of invincibility had been shattered forever, and the writing of their inevitable defeat was on the wall. And as it went for the first German Fuhrer so it may very well go with the Second one.

Ultimately Doughtery's prognosis that "the establishment may be eternal" reflects more his own fear of change and deep-seated normalcy bias than it does the likely course of future events (which none of us are actually privy to.) Regardless of the outcome of the French or German elections, the shine is now off of the Globalist bloom and no amount of wishful thinking and happy talk, by Dougherty or anyone else, will be able to put it back on again.