Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that the House of Representatives would open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The inquiry comes comically late, as Biden’s rampant corruption has been evident for years. But it is nice when Republicans at least pretend to fight the left.
The inquiry is unlikely to go anywhere despite Biden’s obvious guilt, and if the Republicans were any form of serious political opposition, they would be using their formal power of the purse to defund the administration’s partisan and malicious abuse of agencies like the FBI. While impotent half-measures from GOP leadership are unsurprising, the far more interesting aspect of this news cycle was the response from the left and its media lickspittles. Shortly after McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, the White House rushed out a memo to the press instructing them to increase the scrutiny they were applying to the charges. The amazing thing was watching how quickly and blatantly the press complied with the order in real time.
After the memo’s release, media outlets reported on these instructions from the Biden administration as if they were breaking news. Outlets including CNN, NBC, and Axios dutifully echoed the sentiments of the letter from the White House while reporting on it. Politico’s Heidi Przybyla followed her announcement of the memo’s existence with a Twitter thread that “fact-checked” the claims of the inquiry, just as the administration had ordered her to do. Neoconservative and Trump derangement syndrome patient David Frum eagerly retweeted the thread.
Not to be outdone, CNN, despite having just revealed that the White House had ordered reporters to attack the impeachment inquiry, produced its own “fact-check” to comply with the demands of the regime. There is a good argument to be had over whether a free press has ever really held government power in check, but today that assertion is beyond laughable.
In 2019, I learned about the political theorist Curtis Yarvin and his concept of the Cathedral, which is a way to model the decentralized network of prestige, influence, and information that drives the political will of our current regime. Since then, I have dedicated a large amount of time to explaining how that system works and how the right can use that model to understand the manner in which power is wielded.
Under Yarvin’s model, power does not reside primarily in the formal organs of government but rather in the story that informs the values of our ruling class. University is the core formative experience that all ruling elites share, and those prestigious schools shape the morality and worldview of every person who enters the halls of power.
Journalists do not see themselves as neutral arbiters of truth but as zealous crusaders against injustice who reinforce the narrative they learned in university with every stroke of the pen. The functionaries who fill government bureaucracies do not see themselves as servants of the average voter but as transformative agents whose purpose is to engineer the deplorables of red America into compliant progressive cultists. The university grads who populate the management of every Fortune 500 company do not see themselves as businessmen but as representatives for racial justice and equity. This shared value system means that, while there is no formal government propaganda apparatus in the United States, all of the county’s major institutions, both public and private, end up pursuing the same goals and spouting the same platitudes.
While this distributed network of influence was less efficient than an explicit organ of state propaganda, it had some distinct advantages. Change was slower but also felt more organic. People were more likely to feel that social attitudes, which were being pushed from on high, were actually emergent from the shifting tastes of the popular will.
Maintaining this kind of soft power is very difficult, requiring a high degree of skill and subtlety, but it has also proven far more resilient than more direct methods of propaganda. In a system where popular sovereignty is the only acceptable legitimating mechanism of government power, control of public opinion is key.
The left’s hegemony over mass media and education provided all the tools necessary to insert ideas into the popular consciousness and wait patiently, nudging and prodding when necessary, until the people believed that this is what they wanted all along. Manufacturing consent without setting off the alarm bells of the populace can be a delicate balancing act, but if a ruling class can pull it off, they have one of the most stable power structures ever conceived.
While detailing this system has been a major focus of my work, it also seems to have been a bit of a waste, because the regime has decided to throw it in the trash bin. There is nothing subtle or delicate about the White House handing out explicit marching orders in public and the press falling over each other to see who can comply first. No one needs a complicated theory of decentralized coordination when the elites are just announcing their collusion in public.
Now, to be clear, there is still some value in understanding how the old system worked. There are still many ideas and attitudes that the elites attempt to pass through their soft power network against which the right should be on guard. Also, the flow of power is not as obvious as it may seem. The press give the Biden administration orders just as often, if not more, than the White House gives orders to journalists. What has become blindingly obvious, however, is that the ability of our elites to wield soft power is failing, and they have in many cases stopped going through the motions entirely.
There are a number of different factors contributing to the collapse of total narrative control by our ruling elite. The internet, while granting our evil overlords all kinds of terrible tools, is fundamentally an agent of decentralization. It breaks the monopoly of mass media that was once held by a tightly controlled network of television stations, news broadcasts, and movie studios. While opposing voices can be, and are, regularly banned from major platforms, new dissident voices and outlets seem to emerge twice as quickly as they can be silenced. Despite the ludicrous amount of censorship that is regularly applied in venues like Twitter, the truth has a nasty habit of getting out.
The rapidly declining quality of our ruling elite is another matter. Subtlety, nuance, and patience are key factors necessary to the maintenance of soft power. The legitimacy of institutions, experts, and narratives must be accumulated slowly and guarded carefully. The sophisticated elite wields soft power with a high degree of self-control. It is not for irate toddlers who wish to crush their enemies tomorrow.
But our system has selected for conformity and compliance, not for intellect or discipline. Progressives have always been deconstructionists, but at least they used to produce thought-provoking works of art. Now all they are capable of is endless social justice sermons masquerading as comic book movie sequels. Our elites have managed to degenerate to unthinkable depths while simultaneously becoming more confident of their right to rule than any group in history. It is no wonder that they have gotten sloppy and obvious.
We are in an interesting moment when ruling elites who once relied on the subtlety and finesse of soft power become entirely incapable of operating the system their more talented predecessors established. We have lived our lives watching a show, the pantomime of a political process put on by those who sought to hide the real exercise of power. That is a scary thing to realize, but it also creates opportunities that did not previously exist.
The comforting fictions of a free press that holds politicians accountable or a public-private distinction that limits government power simply cannot survive what has become blindingly obvious due to the incompetence of our leaders.
While our elites will continue to put on the show for a while longer, their narrative control is slipping, and that creates new opportunities, both great and terrible, for the future.