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Why you must read Revolt of the Public
Martin Gurri did not set out to explain Trump and Brexit, but...
Many of my best friends cannot fathom how someone could have voted for Donald Trump. One of the hardest things to get them to understand is that an intelligent conversation about the subject cannot be about Donald Trump. It has to be about the “ruling class” and how they are seen by the nearly 80 million voters who voted for Trump in 2020.
Martin Gurri wrote “The Revolt of the Public” before the 2016 election and the Brexit referendum, after which he added an addendum. While it was not his intent to explain Trump or Brexit, for those willing to engage in a discussion about the Trump Voter which necessarily cannot be about Trump, the book is required reading.
Who is the Public?
Gurri identifies the Public as any assemblage of persons interested in a matter. He describes individuals among a Public as Homo Informaticus - Information Man. Gurri worries about the future of liberal democracy due to the elites’ loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the Public. While his analysis is well-worth the time, I believe he has mis-diagnosed the underlying problem for three reasons.
Money and Purchasing Power
The first is his failure to consider how money and its purchasing power reaches into every area of the Public’s trust; money is the scaffolding of all social order. When the money we receive in return for our labor cannot be trusted to purchase tomorrow what it purchases today, all other forms of political trust are silently undermined.
Second, Gurri presumes our current political arrangement to be “liberal democracy.” Gurri reaches back often to the French Revolution and compares it with the Arab Spring. This is the right comparison. But he misses the essential observation made over 200 years ago by John Adams:1 The French had not thought through what would replace the monarchy. Neither had Egypt thought through what would replace Hosni Mubarak. Both experiments failed for the same reason. Neither grasped (nor does Gurri, apparently) that legitimacy does not come only from the popular vote but from the majority choosing to limit its powers over the minority. Or perhaps from the ruling class limiting its power over the ruled.
This tendency toward the tyranny of the majority (or of the mob) arises from human nature, and will always end with some form of totalitarianism. I'll discuss how America has flirted (far more promiscuosly than most think) with Fascism. It has been said that history does not repeat, but it does rhyme. When we understand what Fascism really is, we might also realize that “our democracy” is quickly becoming more a propaganda label for the rule of the elite than an accurate description of our current political arrangement.
Making the existing model obsolete
Lastly I will explain why Gurri’s proposed solutions cannot possibly succeed. Futurist Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Gurri’s proposals merely tinker at the edges of the existing model. That the status quo would somehow be rendered obsolete scares Gurri because he mistakenly identifies it with liberal democracy. When we understand how liberal democracy has been nearly buried in a compost pile of Techno/Financial Corporatist Fascism, we can better understand what it is that we are seeking to replace - and that we can only replace it with a new instance of the model we once had.
I'll review and respond to Gurri’s book in separate essays covering these three angles. At each turn I am going to do my best to avoid the “specialty language” of the elite (identifying samples where helpful). Gurri writes extensively about the Occupy movements (e.g. Occupy Wall Street). My express intent here is to “Occupy the Language.”
UPDATE: Part 1 of 3: What if they devalued the foot?
UPDATE: Part 2 of 3: The Subtle Rise of Corporatist Techno-Fascism