Streetwise Professor

November 11, 2020

The Victory (Perhaps) of the Cadres

Filed under: Politics — cpirrong @ 7:51 pm

When contemplating the likely (though not definite) waning days of the Trump administration, this quote from Stalin came to mind:

A cadre must know how to carry out instructions, must understand them, adopt them as his own. attach the greatest importance to them, and make them part of his very existence. Otherwise, politics loses its meaning and consists merely of gesticulating. Hence the decisive importance of the cadres department in the apparatus of the Central Committee. Every functionary must be closely studied, from every angle and in the most minute detail.

Stalin, in other words, understood agency problems. He also had thoughts on how to deal with them!

The quote highlights the biggest structural weakness of Trump’s presidency: the lack of reliable cadres, at every level.

This is an inherent feature of Trump’s entire candidacy and presidency. He was an outsider, and a renegade one at that. That was his message, his appeal, and what made him appealing. He tapped into a deep disgust with the establishment–a disgust that is likely more intense today, in large part because of the despicable way that the establishment treated Trump, and by extension, his admirers and supporters.

But that renegade, insurgent approach to winning office brought huge difficulties in governing. Trump had no loyal cadres to turn to, and the material he had to work with was either similarly lacking in personal connections, or actively hostile.

The biggest problem has been in the national security establishment, AKA The Deep State: the Pentagon, State Department, the CIA, and the FBI. It is a problem that Trump has grappled with, but utterly failed to dent.

As illustrated by his recent unceremonious (but still too respectful) termination of his fourth defense secretary, Mike Esper. The fact that the average tenure of a Trump SecDef is a year tells you all you need to know. And the causes (plural) of his defenestration are tiresomely familiar. In a nutshell: insubordination. Trump has assiduously attempted to get the US out of Afghanistan, where we have been pointlessly engaged at a substantial cost in blood and treasure for just over 19 years. (The Rangers went into Afghanistan in October, 2001.) And Esper, like his predecessors, has fought a grueling rearguard action to stymie the president.

Further, Esper has publicly disagreed with Trump on renaming bases named for Confederate generals, and on other matters near and dear to the Woken SS, but an anathema to Trump supporters.

Given all this, firing is too good for him.

Indeed, perhaps the most distressing thing to contemplate about a Biden-Harris administration is that Trump’s reticence about ceaseless and futile foreign military adventures will leave office with him (some warmonger!), and the neocon resurgence will keep the US stuck in old conflicts and embroil them in new ones. This is a waste of good American lives, and a disastrous strategic miscalculation.

Trump has of course also been thwarted at every turn by the CIA and the FBI. Would that Haspel and Wray be unceremoniously booted too. Followed by a massive declassification of what they have been hiding, probably to cover their own compromised asses. (E.g., Haspel was London station chief when the machinations against Trump incubated there in 2016.)

And of course there are the seemingly numberless bureaucratic cockroaches at these entities, such as the execrable Alexander Vindman, who is only a representative example of thousands in the “cadres” who substituted their own policy preferences for those of the elected Commander-in-Chief, and who believed (and believe) that any means of thwarting him is justified, and indeed, righteous.

Trump has had some good servants. Mnuchin at the Treasury has done a yeoman’s job, with little controversy. After the unfortunate Tillerson Experiment (which, alas, I initially supported), Pompeo has been a loyal and successful Secretary of State.

Bill Barr has rescued a disastrous situation at the Justice Department, where a feckless and then castrated Jeff Sessions flopped around like a gaffed marlin on the deck of a fishing boat while his deputy, uber-weasel Ron Rosenstein aided and abetted the lawfare against Trump. Barr has certainly talked a good game on the outrageous conduct of the FBI, CIA, and others in their actions against Trump the candidate, the president elect, and president. The lack of concrete action against those conspirators does raise questions (and no doubt Trump is furious about it), but one has to consider the obstacles, legal and political, that Barr faces in bringing that lot to justice.

But the cadre difficulties have not been limited to cabinet ranks. Trump also had no network of people to tap for mid-level posts. He certainly did not have the time to study closely “every functionary . . . from every angle and in the most minute detail.” He didn’t even have people who could do this for him.

Moreover, the Democrats fought day in and day out to prevent or at least delay those he did nominate from assuming their positions. This had direct effects–it delayed the filling of posts for months on end–but also indirect ones: what capable person in his or her right mind would want to put up with that bullshit?

So when the Democrats now appeal for unity, there’s only one answer: Fuck. You. Turnabout is fair play, bitches.

Thinking about this turned my mind to Trump’s closest parallel in US political history: Andrew Jackson. Jackson, like Trump, was a political insurgent who swept into office on a wave of populist disdain for a corrupt establishment. But Jackson succeeded where Trump has apparently failed. Why?

The answer is overdetermined.

The institutions are so different. Jackson couldn’t utilize Stalin’s means of addressing agency problems, but he had much more effective cudgels than aa modern president. He couldn’t kill the underperforming, or consign them to the Gulag, but he could fire them wholesale, peremptorily. Federal employees did not have civil service protection, and the spoils system allowed him to choose and reward loyal supporters, rather than have to lay down with the civil service serpents.

Moreover, government is so much larger now. Even absent a deliberate “resistance” within the bureaucracy, its massive size and control over information flow makes it virtually possible to control.

Relatedly, the urban-centered establishment is far larger and more powerful in the 2020s than in the 1820s. Jackson had to tame the Second Bank of the US–and not much else. Corporate power, so inextricably linked with government power, is vastly greater now.

The media and information structures are far different too. In Jackson’s day, the media was vicious, but reflected a diversity of viewpoints more in line with the diversity within the population. Now, the media is monolithic, and deeply enmeshed with the state. It is part of the same establishment. Moreover, it is acutely vulnerable to manipulation, especially by the Deep State, via everything ranging from leaks, to more systematic manipulation and disinformation campaigns being waged out of Langley and elsewhere.

In sum, the correlation of forces has been far more adverse for Trump than for Jackson. Indeed, given the daunting odds, it is remarkable that he has achieved as much as he has.

In these post-election days, the Trump administration gives off a sort of Lost Cause vibe–without the negative slavery connections, of course. Trump has waged an insurrection against tremendous odds. He survived and at times seemed at the verge of victory, only to succumb in the end to the overwhelming forces arrayed against him. Was victory ever really possible? Probably not. But there were times when it looked in reach.

A major difference could be that whereas the South lost fair and square on the battlefield, there is a high likelihood that Trump has lost by foul means at the ballot box. Or, perhaps more accurately, at the mailbox and the counting station.

Even in losing by test of arms, the South seethed in resentment for decades, and waged a relentless political, and at times guerrilla, war against those who had vanquished it. The widespread perception that Trump lost due to fraud and corruption–a well-founded perception, as the intense fight against efforts to prove it suggest–will trigger similar resentment that will similarly poison American politics for decades to come.

Trump was not a fluke. He was the product of deep dismay among a large swath of Americans, Americans who are not and who will never be in the cadres. That dismay will not go away, and indeed, given the triumphalism of the Democrats and Never Trumpers, will in fact intensify.

The “resistance” has never acknowledged the roots of the Trump phenomenon. As a result, they underestimated it. They underestimate it still. And they will think it is behind them. They are wrong, and their misjudgment–their willful ignorance alloyed with arrogance–will keep American politics on a high boil for years and years to come.

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  1. “Woken SS”


    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 11, 2020 @ 8:07 pm

  2. Whatever happens to Trump, it is becoming apparent that Twitter and Facebook have taken their first-mover advantage and set it on fire. Censoring the President, various Senators, and official government accounts is objectively more stifling anything AOL did in its censorious heyday. Even Pastebin put an offensive content label on a Python script that simply fetches election results, because a blogger used it to analyze for election fraud. Pastebin! A Python script!

    Parler shot to the #1 app download and doubled its membership in a week, and Gab continues its massive growth curve. One notable recent change is that major conservative commentators (and Trump) are now cross-posting their content. Enough of this will erode the odious effects Facebook v Power Ventures. That ruling effectively banned (on copyright grounds) cross-platform social media *clients*, but that won’t stop cross-platform *publishing*. The situation reminds me of AT&T during the long-distance price wars of the 80’s: once a certain tipping point is reached, there is no bottom.

    Trump has been a windfall, and deserves our support to the bitter end, but in the long run he cannot be not our hero. We must save ourselves from the unaccountable administrative state and censorious big-tech platforms.

    Comment by M. Rad. — November 11, 2020 @ 9:31 pm

  3. Good analysis here:

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 11, 2020 @ 9:34 pm

  4. That alone would be bad enough.

    But given that the Dems and their Woken SS have effectively declared war on half the country …

    We now see John Voight make a ‘resistance’/’ils ne passeront pas’ vid. I can’t help but think he speaks for many millions who have had a gutful and won’t tolerate any more, especially not from an illegitimate government led by someone who it appears sold his office for cash during the last administration.

    Lots of things are going the wrong way fast. Thoughts and prayers.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — November 12, 2020 @ 1:23 am

  5. The GOP, and modern right-wing parties in general, are notoriously bad at installing and running government administrations. The problem is that the relationships within them are primarily transactional; there is little if any loyalty beyond what’s in it for the individual. Witness what is happening in the Supreme Court (ACA here we come! Maybe), or here in our government (if you can be bothered – it’s truly depressing). Dubya’s government was a clusterf*ck much of the time and was only really held together by the likes of Cheney. Trump’s government in comparison was utterly shambolic and in constant turmoil. It will be interesting to see how much of his legacy, such that it is, was enacted by Executive Order, which was really the only way he could get anything done.

    Loathe him or loathe him more, you know Biden will bring a competent and settled team with him, and will have no problems reaching across the divide as Obama did. It won’t be anywhere near bad as you all fear.

    Comment by David Mercer — November 12, 2020 @ 3:20 am

  6. @ M Rad. The likes of Parler and Gab have a mountain to climb, both financially and in public perception. It will take a brave advertiser to go with them, and there’s literally no coverage of them on MSM. Also, what’s the point in just interacting with like-minded people?

    Does make me laugh those peeps who Tweet “I’m on Parler”. No you’re not!

    Comment by David Mercer — November 12, 2020 @ 3:28 am

  7. “So when the Democrats now appeal for unity, there’s only one answer: Fuck. You. Turnabout is fair play, bitches.”

    How virulently petty. Yet also, how ironic that Trump supporters are now advocating the kind of pettiness and willful bureaucratic inertia that made “The Swamp” of Washington seem a hostile alien being in the first place. It is a remarkably anti-fragile phenomenon.

    Somewhat forgotten is that Trump did not even bother to nominate people to scores of posts, and has been circumventing senate appointments with “acting” officials and delegation (which has a certain ingenuity about it). Perhaps his own emotional fragility, inability to countenance dissent (privately as well as publicly) and lack of interest in the details of governance were also reasons for his failures.

    Comment by mjmd — November 12, 2020 @ 4:03 am

  8. @7 mjmd

    Not petty at all, in fact it’s the only viable approach at this stage. Liberals and the left have spent the last four years (and even earlier) demonizng their political opponents, employing venomous rhetoric, etc. (Even Biden’s attempts at magnanimity over the weekend was accompanied by Michelle Obama’s “reminder” to their own cadres that 70 million Americans voted for “hate”.) And now they want to play nice? I can only say: fuck you.

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 12, 2020 @ 7:30 am

  9. Typical patterns with this right winger blog. Block or censor comments of anyone who disagrees and most importantly accuse the other side of that which they’ve already accused you. In this case “WOKE SS” as we all know the neocons, Trump and co are very much fascist in ideology. Some people are simply mindless.

    Comment by Jim Mcnary — November 12, 2020 @ 7:32 am

  10. Stalin did massive purges in the Red Army leadership and cadres. You had to be totally, unwaveringly loyal to him, and to the ideology of the day (it changed regularly, and you had to be able to adapt and wholeheartedly parrot the new thing, even if it contradicted what you were told to be true a month ago).

    All the rest went to Gulags, prisons, or graves. When the war started, and the Wehrmacht went through the Red Army like hot knife through butter, it really showed that loyalty and competence are negatively correlated. Stalin, faced with the prospect of annihilation, did the only sane thing, and brought back all those competent people, and said: “fight for the Motherland”.

    The rest is, uhm, history….

    Comment by tegla — November 12, 2020 @ 10:59 am

  11. It’s very hard to have cadres when you don’t have an ideology. David Mercer is right when he criticises the Right for its lack of ready made appointees, but that cannot be a cricism of the right itself, for it’s the very fact that the Left’s ideology allows them to ensure that everyone will act in lockstep that makes them more efficient in getting their people in place, the quicker to bugger everything up for the rest of us.

    Unfortunately the size of current administrations is designed to favour ideological groups and, whatever else he is, Trump isn’t ideological. We’re screwed.

    Comment by Recusant — November 12, 2020 @ 11:07 am

  12. @9 tegla

    Yes, when push came to shove Stalin resorted to good old fashioned patriotism because he knew Russians wouldn’t fight and die for mindless ideology. I wonder if liberals will do the same thing; who in their right mind would believe them?

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 12, 2020 @ 11:08 am

  13. Obviously Erdogan, the President of Turkey is a disciple of Stalin given his purges through the military, police and the law. Commentary above reminds me of why people who want to forge a life in small business vote for the Right and those who want to live on stipends tend to vote Left. In one’s (Ms Right) success there are tax liabilities which increase with even more success. Whilst in the other, Mr Left, it is living off the success of Ms Right and creating a sense of personal success by interfering in the tax payers’ activities.

    Every thinking person may wish to consider reading or likely re-reading many of the books on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to realise a good forecast of what you younger ones are likely to see over the next 50 years or more. A reading of such material would suggest that the great Enlightenment and Western Civilisation in general is stuffed. We can complain about it but I would now be thinking about how to live with it and get prepared. Perhaps the SWP could consider comparing the two periods for a future article.

    Comment by Epicurious — November 12, 2020 @ 5:22 pm

  14. I risk feeding the troll here, but to @David Mercer’s point on interacting with like-minded people: that is the point, really. No one needs to be introduced to leftist talking points when the whole world is soaked in them.

    An online forum of the like-minded can (a) distill experience to core principles, (b) rapidly winnow pithy expressions, and (c) quickly discover pertinent facts. The “Manosphere” is an example of (a), where a loose cadre of irreverent bloggers (and earlier, posters on started from brutally candid “field reports” on what worked and what didn’t, working up to methods to score massive amounts of sex, to general principles for men to be more successful in all manner of relationships. Feminists had nothing to offer to the process; everyone already knew what feminists would say about these topics and everyone there had long passed the threshold of not caring anymore. The tech “jargon” is an example of (b), and Eric Raymond’s introduction to his jargon compilation hits on this point. An example of (c) is the de-bunking of the fake Dan Rather memos on Free Republic. By the time conservative radio hosts came on air the next morning, Freepers had already duplicated the forgery in Microsoft Word.

    This is why merely kicking dissenters out isn’t good enough. They must capture all of us on their platform, where they control us. Hence the obsession with keeping Gab down (and in an earlier day, silencing Rush Limbaugh). Powerful ideas must be silenced early, before (a), (b), or (c) occur.

    Comment by M. Rad. — November 12, 2020 @ 11:11 pm

  15. @M Rad: Well you can do all that on Twitter, and with a massive attendant audience. Point (c) is the cruncher – if they were actual facts then you wouldn’t have a problem. These new entrants’ only USP is that you can post any old conspiracy bollox without restraint (that Parler has overtly aligned itself with QAnon says everything you need to know).

    What is ironic is that Trump has probably done more to raise Twitter’s profile than anyone alive (something for his legacy statement…)

    Re Gab, well good luck with that. I’ve heard that the app feels like it is powered by a hand-crank.

    PS Newsgroups!! Wow, a blast from the past. Never visited that one though – no call to 😉

    Comment by David Mercer — November 13, 2020 @ 3:19 am

  16. LOL at liberals warning about only interacting with like-minded people.

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 13, 2020 @ 7:52 am

  17. They’re not even pretending anymore:

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 13, 2020 @ 7:59 am

  18. God, these people are fucking boring:

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 13, 2020 @ 9:45 am

  19. This is really getting pathetic:

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 13, 2020 @ 3:18 pm

  20. They’re not flattening the curve (or whatever the current propaganda is):

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 13, 2020 @ 6:41 pm

  21. @Jim Mcnary. I did nothing. Your comment got caught in the spam filter. I don’t censor.

    You can fuck off now.

    Comment by cpirrong — November 13, 2020 @ 6:47 pm

  22. Craing, Have you seen the Gateway Pundit article comparing Trump election-day and mail-in vote percentages among all 67 Pennsylvania counties? GP claims the difference between the two percentages was very close to 40 percent in those counties. Looks very suspicious. Please take a look. See

    Comment by LB100 — November 13, 2020 @ 8:05 pm

  23. Dieselboom!,

    “Yes, when push came to shove Stalin resorted to good old fashioned patriotism”

    in the form of free vodka in front and zagradotryad behind

    “because he knew Russians would”

    happily shoot their compatriots in the back for a little extra ration.

    Comment by Ivan — November 14, 2020 @ 4:00 am

  24. @23 Ivan

    Sure, the Soviets employed rear-guard troops against deserters (as all armies do, but the Soviets were particularly harsh), and despite the German’s stupid and foolish brutality over a million Soviet subjects served in the Wehrmacht (not just Ukranians and Balts, who had some justification, but Russians as well). But at the end of the day, patriotism was the rallying cry, not world-wide proletarianism (or some other such idiotic ideology like liberalism, etc.).

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 14, 2020 @ 8:03 am

  25. Let’s recall for context that the US and the UK had been enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq since 1991. After the 1991 war to drive him from Kuwait, Saddam had been using his military to conduct a genocidal program — Anfal — against the Kurds. He had also massacred some 300,000 Shia Arabs in the south.

    The no-fly operation was hot. Iraqi forces fired at the over-flying jets. The US and UK carried out raids on suspected weapons labs and anti-aircraft installations.

    This went on for 10 years, prior to the 2003 war.

    Saddam had built something like 17 palaces during the 1990s oil for food program, each including several very large buildings with facilities covering acres. He disallowed any UN inspectors into these palaces. No one knew what was in them, but weapons labs or stores were strongly suspected.

    Saddam had also drained the marshes of the Shatt al-Arab; perhaps the greatest ecological disaster in Mesopotamia, eclipsing even his igniting of the Kuwaiti oil fields. He did it to destroy the lives of the Shia Arabs who lived there.

    The “yellow cake” business was a bungled mess. But Saddam was a loose cannon. He had had a sophisticated nuclear weapons program, which the Israelis had crippled when they destroyed his Osirak reactor in 1981. Given the opportunity, there’s about zero doubt he’d have started it up again.

    It’s easy to condemn that was in hindsight. Everyone who does so justifies their rejection in terms of the yellow cake business, and George Bush’s manufactured decision.

    But the larger context of an on-going low intensity war and Saddam’s malignancy should not be ignored.

    Christopher Hitchens discussed the war against Iraq in the video clip here:

    In it, he points out that Saddam’s Iraq had violated all four conventions that remove the right to national sovereignty. The most telling was violation of the genocide convention.

    One can’t see all of Hitchen’s discussions of the Iraq war without questioning the automatic rejection on the grounds of Bush and yellow-cake. It’s worth searching youtube for them.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 14, 2020 @ 9:49 pm

  26. Come on Pat, you’re really not helping yourself here. No one in their right mind defends Bush’s stupid war. And Christopher Hitchens, really?

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 14, 2020 @ 9:53 pm

  27. But one example, Saddam’s worst assault on the Kurds took place during the war with Iran and it’s aftermath, not after he was driven out of Kuwait (although of course there were anti-Kurd action then as well).

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 14, 2020 @ 10:09 pm

  28. And it should be pointed out that the US and Europe supported Saddam in the war with Iran.

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 14, 2020 @ 10:09 pm

  29. Your criticism has no force if you’ve not listened to Hitchens on that war, Dieselboom.

    Bush may have been stupid — I never liked him as president. But his stupidity is not the be-all and end-all about the Iraq war.

    Comment by Pat Frank — November 14, 2020 @ 11:05 pm

  30. @Pat: I, and many others in the UK, always doubted the actual case for invasion. Blix seemed to have a pretty good handle on what the Iraqis were up to and capable of. The years of sanctions and military action had done considerable damage to Saddam’s ambitions, and it should have been obvious to the intel community that his subordinates were stringing him along with tales of progress etc.

    Despite that it did seem to me like the right thing to do, not only to help with the US’s closure after 9/11 (Afghan was too easy) and put other such regimes on notice that such obduracy would not be tolerated. My primary criticism was in regard to the branding/framing of the operation – it should have been more a policing action in response to the country’s continuing violations of UN sanctions (as was the liberation of Kuwait), not an overt military action.

    Interesting that you cite Chris Hitchins. His brother Peter is a journalist who has some interesting takes on current affairs (not all of which I necessarily agree with).

    Comment by David Mercer — November 15, 2020 @ 9:08 am

  31. Couldn’t agree more … about the lack of cadres, that is.
    Trump was always a small businessman running what was essentially a family shop. The ‘professional’ help that he had? Well, Michael Cohen was his lawyer so that tells you all you need to know about DJT’s understanding of professionalism and its standards.

    Nonetheless!!, winning the Election back in 2016, DJT had ambitions!! The pinkos were alarmed: Another Hitler or, more plausibly, another Mussolini. Shame that neither they nor Trump read their history books with its How-to instruction guide.

    Mussolini developed the concept of the Party/State over more than a decade. Hitler took that idea, refined it and sharpened it so that within months of winning the chancellorship in 1933, his cadres had seized the commanding heights of the bureaucracy with especial attention to the police and internal security.

    That said, it’s a tossup as to whether it was Hitler or Stalin who most thoroughly perfected the Party/State machine. But History’s award will surely go to Xi for that particular accolade. AI and the omniscient surveillance mechanism that modern technology offers allow Xi to exercise control that Hitler/Stalin could only dream of.

    Trump didn’t understand and took years to comprehend that barking orders created sound waves but no action. Unless the Party can surveil and manage the bureaucracy, the latter will operate autonomously according to its own internal rationale. You can tweet endlessly about locking Hilary up from the outside but the prosecutors/police will not act unless the Party exists within their institutional boundaries. That’s why Bill Barr has been so effective. Now if DJT had read his history books, he would have picked Barr from the very beginning and not Sessions. Ditto the other branches of the State. Especially Defense and FBI/CIA

    Lesson for next time??

    Comment by Simple Simon — November 15, 2020 @ 9:42 am

  32. @31 Simon

    Spot-on, China is our frightening future (Silicon Valley already uses a social credit system). Unfortunately the lesson has been learned by liberals (or more accurately the oligarchs they serve) and it’s quite possible there will be no next time. As in 1984 they will move to put the Outer Party (meaning not just government bureaucracy but the middle class who works in technocratic and administrative support functions under managerial capitalism) under permanent surveillance while leaving the Proles (meaning not just the remnants of the old manufacturing labor class but the urban underclass) more or less alone (until they’re needed for some periodic agitation function). Dystopia awaits.

    Comment by Dieselboom! — November 15, 2020 @ 10:07 am

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