11 min read

The Year My Warnings Went Mainstream. Project 2025, Totalitarianism, and Why Establishments Need (But Hate) Visionaries

The Year My Warnings Went Mainstream. Project 2025, Totalitarianism, and Why Establishments Need (But Hate) Visionaries
Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Hi! How’s everyone? I hope you’re all doing marvelously well, welcome new readers, and by all means introduce yourselves in the comments, many thanks old friends, and a Big Thanks again to all those who’ve joined and taken a seat aboard this little catamaran on these stormy seas so far.

Today we’re going to discuss…

The Year My Warnings Went Mainstream

This year, a funny thing’s happened. My warnings have gone…well, see for yourself.

Biden’s allies believe that journalists are failing to meet the moment; that they’re falling back on horse-race coverage and ignoring the knock of fascism at America’s door.

That’s from the august pages of The Atlantic. A publication whose writers would sort of regularly attack, if not hound me when I warned of exactly…that. And here they are, today, doing the unthinkable: using the F-word. Sort of funny, sort of…here’s another example.

Project 2025, the right-wing blueprint for a second Trump term that threatens to wreak havoc on the Department of Justice, consolidate federal power, and ultimately “take over the legal structures of our nation.”

We’ll discuss Project 2025 in more detail in just a minute. That’s from MSNBC, and it’s another example. You can feel the panic setting in in the quote and segment above. The sort of sense of disbelief turning to shocked…wow, this is really happening.

It’s an example of a larger theme. Now, you’ll hear the liberal establishment…liberally…pun fully intended…using the very words that not so long ago were taboo…fascism, authoritarianism, democracy in peril, etcetera…and  more to the point, you can feel it feeling what I, and probably you, felt for a long time, too: a sense of horror, the need to warn, a sense of trainwreck style surreal tragedy, the obligation to sort of make sense of it all. Not just deny it all away.

So this is the year my warnings went mainstream. And if you’re not an old friend, maybe you need an example of what I’m talking about, so let’s go back in time to just one of the things I wrote about all this, “Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse.” That was six years ago now. Prescient? You can judge that part. I’m just going to talk about how I feel about it for a moment, watching the mainstream suddenly rush to incorporate all these ideas and notions and warnings.

You might think to yourself, as those who’ve doubted my motivations over the years have done, like the Atlantic used to do when I warned of rising fascism, and here they are sort of horrified finally themselves—that I feel vindicated, or triumphant, or gleeful. Ha-ha! They sure learned, didn’t they! 

Wrong. I don’t feel that way at all, because my motivations here were never egoistic, about me, getting some kind of dumbass ego trip or rush from being “right.” They were about trying to prepare our institutions for the age we’re in now. It was never—ever—about me. Me? Hell, I would’ve been a million times better off sort of writing about anything—anything, from brands to fashion to the kinds of music I love—else.

So how do I feel—really? I’ve learned a lot. About…human folly. How things go wrong. And why.

Let me tell you a story.

My Dad, and the Kind of Person I Could Never Be

Way back when I was a little kid, they took me to a psychologist, who gave me a test, and promptly declared me “gifted.” And put me into a special program at school. This was a bummer for me. I was already sort of lonely, and now I was weird.

But things were about to get much, much worse for me. This program, you might think to yourself, was probably about math, science, accelerated classes, and so on. And partly, it was. But mostly? It was about breeding fierce little competitors. They’d set us against one another, and make us play these weird games, deeply psychological ones, mind-games, basically. Whose only point was to win. By being cleverer than everyone else, finding ways to beat, trick, intimidate, hustle, hassle, whatever, them.

And I hated it. You see, I didn’t want to be that kid. I didn’t see the point of it. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to create. I loved learning, from books, lectures, talks, paintings, music. And I loved creating things, whether they were poems or songs or stories or theories. Competition? For its own sake? It seemed to me as pointless as wings on a bull. I didn’t want to play their mind games.

I slunk into a deep, deep depression, because I knew this was what they wanted from me, but I couldn’t give them. And one day, at last, my poor dad exploded at me in exasperation. Why can’t you just be more…competitive, he cried, in rage and despair.

He only wanted the best for me. And maybe, I think now, he was right.

Because all this is connected. Why were my warnings ignored? I don’t like calling them warnings, and we’ll come back to that—just, let’s say, my perspective? Because I wasn’t competitive enough. There was a time when I was on CNN and MSNBC and whatnot all the time. But I sort of walked away, and they washed their hand of me, too. Because I wanted to focus on what I thought was true. Not the…24 hour cycle du jour, and whatever it’s scandal that minute happened to be. I didn’t want to play the role they wanted me to play, and they all want you to play a role—one which was, curiously, just like back in the gifted program when I was a kid: a competitor, a rival, an adversary, trying to beat the other one.

And so I walked away, and they washed their hands of me.

And yet here they are, trying desperately now, to understand why things are collapsing around them, and finally beginning to sound…a whole like me. You. Us.

So, like I said, these things are connected. But not in a superficial way. Society needs people to be thinkers. And those people probably shouldn’t be interested in political games, competition, rivalry, winning stuff. They should just be interested in truth, beauty, goodness, the future, etcetera. And so while I sort of walked away from the adversarial games they wanted me to play—both at school, as a kid, and then again, as a young man, from the liberal establishment—I think we both made a mistake.

I could have been a little more…willing to play the game, I guess. And they could have been more interested in the idea, the possibility, that all this was really going to happen, because thinkers like me, with long track records, and plenty of data, blah blah, thought so.

And that way, we would have all been better off.

And so I’ve learned a great deal about folly. I’m never going to be the person the establishment wanted me to be. And so it needs to want a different kind of person, if it wants to avoid messes like the one it’s in, which is imminent collapse, and we’re about to come to that. Yet people like me, too, need to learn to work with establishments, to some degree, as much as we’re capable, and help guide them in the right directions, instead of just walking away, because we can’t stomach the games.

Can that be done? I don’t know. I do know that over the last few years, for me, and for them, it was impossible. And so here we are, watching the worst-case scenario sort of come true, which is democracy imploding before our eyes. Am I being hyperbolic again? Committing the very sin the establishment exiled and hounded me for? But if I am, why do they sound like I used to now?

All of that brings me to…

(A Few Thoughts on) Project 2025

By now, you’ve heard about Project 2025. The establishment’s currently in a frenzy over it—it’s a thousand page plan, or manifesto, to reshape America’s government, in granular detail, every agency and department of it, along extremist lines, from purging federal employees, to abolishing departments, to restructuring others, and on and on. If you haven’t read it, you should at least check out the table of contents.

So…how bad is it? When I give my warnings—let me stop there. I don’t like that word. Because I try to be non-judgmental, as much as I can. I prefer maybe just perspective, or forecast, or idea. Because…let’s take Project 2025 as an example. If you like democracy, it’s a very bad thing. If you don’t, it’s a great thing. To think clearly, I try to present things sort of neutrally to you, and that gets tricky, because, for example, even Trump calls his enemies now “fascists,” which tells us that nobody wants to be thought of a fascist. When I say stuff like that, I’m just trying to discuss reality with you, and you can interpret the sort of moral valence of it yourself.

Let me now try to clarify what Project 2025 is. The establishment’s still groping for the right words to really understand it, so let me give them to you. It’s a blueprint for a totalitarian society. 

Again, I’m not saying that’s inherently good or bad, though I suppose even a high schooler should be able to make moral judgments of their own about it. I’m just saying what it is.

Now. Project 2025. Let’s think about the most elementary aspect of it, which is that it wants to purge the government, and replace its employees with loyalists, literally ones who’ve signed a pledge to Trump. How profound is that, how far does it go? The federal government is America’s largest employer

So imagine the consequences of purging such an organization. It’d send the economy into a tailspin, for one thing, and wreck the DC area’s and much of the East Coast’s economy almost instantly, but more than that, hiring an army of loyalists would take time, effort, and sort of rip apart the social fabric of the nation. Imagine, I don’t know, Walmart, or McDonald’s firing everybody. It’d be on that scale, but even more dramatic and catastrophic, economically, socially, and culturally. 

And that’s just the beginning—before we get to what extremists who’ve signed personal loyalty pledges are willing to do once they hold levers of power like entire government departments. Imagine that, for example, the State Department gets purged. Do you know how broad the reach of America’s State Department really is? It employs countless numbers of people across the entire world. I could go on, but the point it, the words the establishment is still groping for are…

It’s a blueprint for a totalitarian society. And that crosses a line. These days, it’s de rigueur to call Trump a fascist. Even an authoritarian. What this does is take us past another threshold, which is into totalitarianism proper. Fascism’s an ideology. Authoritarianism’s about politics and parties. Totalitarianism is broader, wider, and deeper still—it’s about a society, its governance, in the most granular way, and how severely it’s controlled and coerced and dominated.

It’s a strange thing that’s happening, because if you think about it, sure, there have been blueprints for totalitarian societies before. East Germany, the Soviet Union, there are countless examples in even modern history, but what’s different is that they usually took pains—great pains—to hide these blueprints. East Germany didn’t exactly publish a manifesto and operating plan for the Stasi for every citizen to pore over.

But here Trump’s side is, doing just that. Weird, no? It’s a testament to how weird our world is now. They’re doing it, in a sense, because now movements are built organically, and so they need public manifestos to coalesce around. They’re doing it to signal their intentions, to not just the base, but to their opponents. And they’re doing it to lay the legal and formal groundwork, so that it can happen before the election, through institutions like the Supreme Court. 

A Blueprint for a Totalitarian Society

It’s rare in history to see all this. To see a blueprint for totalitarianism that’s public. And to hear it trumpeted and talked about as the governing agenda and idea…publicly. Dictators and tyrants don’t usually crow about that, but this is sort of a hyper-modern collapse, in which the point is to make public the agenda to restructure the government, and so drive the base into a frenzy, and demoralize opponents, all while gluing together the movement institutionally. 

If you think, by the way, I exaggerate, consider how something as fundamental to modernity as IVF—and even divorce—is in the crosshairs now. Isn’t taking those basic rights away from people sort of…totalitarian? As in, saying, you can only live the way we want you to?

Now. If you’re a fan of totalitarianism, I guess all that’s great. If you really want people to only live the way you want them to, because that’s what the gods say, or that’s what nature intended, or that’s just what you think their limited place in society is, then all this is…fantastic, spectacular, and wonderful. If, on the other hand, you think that democracy’s fundamental values count, of freedom, equality, and justice, then all this is…pretty terrible, because it’s not just sort of opposed to them, it’s a blueprint to end them for good, and literally orient the governance of a society on and for the loss of the most basic freedoms there are.

That part’s up to Americans to decide, and it’s what the election, of course, is really about. Many are going to vote on the basis of the economy, but what they’ll be voting for, in actuality, is the larger now totalitarian project. And when a movement goes from fascism to authoritarianism to totalitarianism, and then to outright public totalitarianism…that’s about as much trouble as a democracy can be in.

Why Establishments Need (But Hate) Visionaries

Americans are going to have to decide all that, and to do it, they’re going to have to consider what’s really at stake here. And to do even that much, I suppose, the establishment is going to have to give them the words and ideas that are missing from the conversation, even now, which is where “alarmists” and “hysterics” like you and me come in. 

They sound like we did, years ago, finally—and even that’s meagre gruel, too little, almost too late. But the danger now? They sound like we do today, tomorrow, because by then, it’ll be far, far too late.

Uh-oh. I just broke my own rule. That sounded a whole lot…like…a warning.

The establishment, by now, should be learning that it’s job isn’t to deny and minimize our warnings, but to amplify them. And me? I guess I’ve learned that I have to be a little less of a d*ck to make that happen, and not be so quick to judge it for being hostile to visionaries and thinkers and ideas-people. I guess, maybe, all those years ago, I should learned to play their games, a little bit more and better. 

Dad was right, and I sort of love him bitterly and furiously all the more for it. 

But, the establishment, too, should have learned that in times like these, you need those who can sense the earliest warnings, instead of just playing yesterday’s games.

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