Matt Taibbi wrote . . . . . . . . .
On the morning of the 21st of December, 1989, Romanian General Secretary Nicolae Ceaușescu was in a foul mood. The Berlin Wall had fallen, and Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush had recently announced the end of the Cold War, making the end of Ceaușescu’s rule inevitable, though he couldn’t see this yet. Worse, his security leaders had just failed to violently put down protests in the city of Timisoara, a fact that enraged his wife Elena.
“You should have fired on them, and had they fallen, you should have taken them and shoved them into a cellar,” she said. “Weren’t you told that?”
Long one of the world’s most vicious dictators, Ceaușescu’s most recent plan for winning over the heartland was forcing half the country’s villagers to destroy their own homes — with pick-axes and hammers, if they couldn’t afford a bulldozer — and packing them into project apartments in new “agro-industrial towns,” for a “better future.” Despite this, and his long history of murder, terror, and spying, Ceaușescu to the end did not grasp that his unpopularity had an organic character. He was convinced ethnically Hungarian “terrorists” were behind the latest trouble.
After reaching the balcony of Bucharest’s Central Committee building to give a speech that December day, he’s genuinely surprised when the crowd turns on him. When he tells them to be quiet, he’s befuddled by their refusal, saying, “What, you can’t hear?” Elena jumps in and yells, “Silence!”, to which Ceaușescu, hilariously, replies, “Shut up!” The crowd listens to neither of them.
Paul Kenyon’s Children of the Night describes the morbid black comedy that ensued. The Ceaușescus and a motley gang of undead apparatchiks that included the “morbidly obese Prime Minister, Emil Bobu” later tried to load into a single helicopter — Bobu “waddled, walrus-like, to the rear” Kenyon writes — but there were too many of them, and the copter barely got off the ground. “Where to?” asked the pilot, and nobody knew, because there was no plan, since none of them had ever considered the possibility of this happening.
The sky was full of stuff, including other helicopters, which were dropping leaflets on the crowd giving what Kenyon described as a Marie Antoinette-like order to ignore “imperialist conspiracies” and return home “to a Christmas feast.” Four days later, a firing squad put the Ceaușescus against a wall and gave them their final, solid lead Christmas presents.
Ceaușescu’s balcony will forever be a symbol of elite cluelessness. Even in the face of the gravest danger, a certain kind of ruler will never be able to see the last salvo coming, if doing so requires any self-examination. The neoliberal political establishment in most of the Western world, the subject of repeat populist revolts of rising intensity in recent years, seems to suffer from the same disability.
There may be no real-world comparison between a blood-soaked monster like Ceaușescu and a bumbling ball-scratcher like Joe Biden, or an honorarium-gobbling technocrat like Hillary Clinton, or a Handsome Dan investment banker like Emmanuel Macron, or an effete pseudo-intellectual like Justin Trudeau. Still, the ongoing inability of these leaders to see the math of populist uprisings absolutely recalls that infamous scene in Bucharest. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to, now, the descent of thousands of Canadian truckers upon the capital city of Ottawa to confront Trudeau, a consistent theme has been the refusal to admit — not even to us, but to themselves — the numerical truth of what they’re dealing with.
Trudeau is becoming the ultimate example. Truckers last month began protesting a January 22nd rule that required the production of vaccine passports before crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Canadian truckers are reportedly 90% vaccinated, above the country’s 78% total, a key detail that’s been brazenly ignored by media in both countries determined to depict these more as “anti-vax” than “anti-mandate” protests (which seem to be about many things at once, but that’s another story). When an angry convoy descended upon the capital, Trudeau dismissed them in a soliloquy that can only be described as inspired political arson:
The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians…who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to ensure our rights, our freedoms, our values as a country.
A near-exact repeat of the “basket of deplorables” episode, Trudeau’s imperious description of “unacceptable” views instantly became a rallying cry, with people across the country lining the streets to cheer truckers while self-identifying as the “small fringe minority.” Everyone from high school kids to farmers and teachers and random marchers carrying jerrycans of fuel joined in as Trudeau’s own words were used to massively accelerate his troubles.
Trudeau fled the city, removing his family to what aides called a “secret location” for “security reasons,” a politically disastrous move denounced by just about everyone with a microphone or a Twitter account, including members of his own party. Liberal MP Joël Lightbound took things a step further. He ripped Trudeau’s politics as divisive, saying his government needs to recognize people have “legitimate concerns” while adding, acidly, “Not everyone can earn a living on a MacBook at a cottage.” This has been a theme in the States, too, where the people most dickishly insistent on the necessity of lockdowns or mandates have tended to be Zoomer professionals spending the pandemic in pajamas.
Meanwhile, in a hilarious third-rate spoof version of American conventional wisdom — when Canadians try to imitate American pretensions, does it ever not end in a cringe-worthy self-own? — CBC announcer Nil Köksal went on air on January 28th and suggested the trucker protests were a Russian concoction. “Given Canada’s support of Ukraine in this current crisis with Russia,” she posited, to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, “there is concern that Russian actors could be continuing to fuel things as this protest grows, or perhaps even instigating it from the outside.”
The Russians must be fabulous organizers, as they not only managed to turn out big numbers to participate in the “Freedom Convoy,” but prevailed upon towing companies across the country to refuse orders to have the trucks removed from Ottawa. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reportedly also tried to get such companies to remove trucks from another blockade in Alberta, and they were refused there, too.
The Canadian government had less resistance when, in an extraordinarily sleazy move, they asked GoFundMe to shut down a fundraiser for the protests. They succeeded at first in getting roughly $10 million frozen on the highly dubious grounds that “the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”
Ultimately GoFundMe offered to return the donations, and the truckers raised money via a different portal, GiveSendGo, helping the Canadian government and its backers complete a master class in how not to deal with a peaceful national protest. From underestimating to overreacting to needlessly insulting to trying to steal legitimate donations to fleeing the scene to leveling accusations of treason, sedition, “occupation,” and “insurrection” — there’s another ham-fisted facsimile of American hysteria — Canadian authorities did everything but the obvious move, meeting protesters head-on and negotiating with them in realistic terms. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to deal with them, which in this case means giving up the fantasy that your opposition is “small” or “fringe.”
The incredible thing about politicians like Trudeau is that they genuinely seem sure their opposition is limited to small extremist pockets. They simply don’t believe how many people hate them and are continually flabbergasted to discover that insults and authoritarian tactics don’t improve their situations.
There’s a Narcissistic Personality Disorder element to this, where some pols seem unable to imagine that any sane person would feel anything but admiration and respect toward them. This in turn means their detractors can’t be merely wrong, but must be abnormal or literally defective people somehow, seduced by foreign spies or driven by criminal or politically illegitimate impulses. This is how we get to a place where over half of America is reflexively denounced as racist or white supremacist —another brilliant American political fashion adopted by Trudeau, who last year denounced anti-vaxxers as “misogynists and racists” in a bold move, considering his own blackface history
This delusional blindness has been on display all over the world for at least six or seven years now. I first noticed it in 2016, when aides and reporters alike refused to believe there was anything newsworthy about Hillary Clinton’s small crowds. The Clinton campaign was doing what Democrats always do as a means of juicing turnout with “ordinary people,” rolling out celebrities like Eva Longoria and Lena Dunham, only this time they acted peevish when halls didn’t fill, like it was the crowd’s fault. The Onion captured the vibe:
When talking about Trump’s massive crowds, reporters would say things like, “That just proves he’s an amateur,” and, “He’s going to places where they already love him, you can’t win that way.” That sounded off to me, but what did I know? Even academics were chiming in to agree:
Lara Brown, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University, argues size doesn’t necessarily matter.
“Trump is a novelty and for some, to say that they went is like saying they went to a sporting event,” she argues. “Trump has also regularly been going to places where he is most beloved, not where the ground game is most competitive.”
For a while I thought this issue was specific to this candidate, that maybe Clinton reacted poorly to bad news and aides just came up with this Spinal Tap “our appeal is just becoming more selective” deal in order to chill her out. As time went on, though, it became clear that both Clinton aides and my colleagues in the press actually believed it. Campaign spokespeople would talk about how they picked less populous sites “for a reason,” and repeatedly sold reporters on the (unintentionally ironic) notion that she was a “silent majority kind of candidate,” who had a mysterious new kind of support that couldn’t be measured by crowds.
Then Trump won, and the excuses that piled up were legend. We were told the true victorious result had simply not been allowed to come out, thanks to a conspiracy of cheaters whose ranks kept growing as more truths were uncovered: it was the fault of the New York Times, Macedonian troll farms, James Comey, misogynists, “deplorables,” Wikileaks, Assad, suburban women lacking gender consciousness, Bernie Bros, Bernie himself (for not campaigning hard enough), Facebook, Twitter, and most importantly, Russians.* Yes, I know that Donald Trump has spent over a year now crisscrossing the country denying his 2020 electoral defeat, but that’s the point: supposedly smart people mock him for that when they spent years doing the same thing, and somehow don’t think that’s weird at all.
In the many related stories of populist uprisings, from Trump’s win to the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the gilets jaunes protests to Brexit, establishment politicians kept searching for the certainly illegitimate and probably foreign source of their problems. Meanwhile, the real issue was usually a simple two-step progression, in which people all over the planet first just disliked their leaders, then reacted badly to being called racist traitors for saying so.
From there, in a process that snowballed for years, the neoliberal commentariat gradually widened the definition of “deplorables” and “unacceptables,” to the point where you’re probably on the list right now if you’re not physically in the town of Davos snuggling with a NATO analyst as you read this. Their relentless propaganda campaigns have given most of the world an out-group identity by now, even a growing segment of the intellectual class, and like the Ceaușescus, their leaders still act like there’s a cellar somewhere in which all their detractors can be stuffed, instead of just treating them like legitimate political actors whose complaints need to be dealt with. They will need to reach that second conclusion eventually, but keep delaying, unable to get themselves to a place where they can see the “unacceptables” as members of their same species.
Even here in America, a Homeland Security alert this week ostensibly describing our own population instead reads like the last dispatches of alien occupiers waiting to be eaten by the earth-apes:
The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors. These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence.
Trudeau’s error was enormous. He gave the world graphic visual evidence of what happens when everyone in the current political scrum is forced to put their cards on the table. The “small fringe minority” turns out to be anyone who would answer a Trudeau phone call, and the giant pool of everyone else turns out to be the people with direct control over whether or not shelves are stocked, gas delivered, food harvested. Emboldened, another convoy is now organizing to descend on Washington. The hashtag #TruckersConvoy2022 already has millions of interactions and the main Facebook groups have gained 200,000 members in two weeks.
They’re coming, but it seems like the only thing our thinking classes can think to do in response is mass-produce news stories denouncing everyone involved as neo-Nazi QAnon loons, basically a repeat of Trudeau’s “fringe” approach. Those stories may be comforting to the Georgetown set, but it’s not going to help when 70 miles of trucks or whatever show up at the edge of the capital. By the time these people realize that what they’re dealing with is bigger than a caricature, it’ll be too late. If the Ceaușescus were around, they’d explain: politicians don’t always have the luxury of waiting to face reality.
* My all-time favorite excuse, popularized in New York Magazine, was that Clinton’s campaign was “too smart to win,” because the “iron self-confidence” of key aides in their prognostication models made them “largely impervious to feedback” about “danger signs” emanating from key states. Most of us would define this not as smartness but its opposite, but this was the kind of thing that prestige media ate up at the time.
Source : ZeroHedge