Trumpian Motion

Posts in this series; some of the terms I use are described more fully in these posts.
Trumpian Motion
Negative Responses to Trumpian Motion
Economic Elites Drive Trumpian Motion
Beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion
Notes on Trumpian Motion Series


The press has taken to bemoaning the speed of the news cycle, as in this Washington Post story. Harpers Magazine sends a weekly email listing some of the previous week’s craziness before it falls down the memory hole. The constant uproar in our media environment over every little thing reminds me of Brownian Motion. This is from the Wikipedia entry:

Brownian motion … is the random motion of particles suspended in a fluid (a liquid or a gas) resulting from their collision with the fast-moving molecules in the fluid. Fn. omitted.

Think of a grain of pollen in a drop of water on a microscope slide. When you look through the lenses, you can see it move around randomly as the molecules of water bang into it; at least that’s what Einstein said. If there is an external force, the particle moves gradually in accordance with that force. Imagine that the particle is iron and that there is a magnet near one end of the drop of water.

The analogy I see is that we swim in a pool of media water, being bounced around randomly by whatever we click on or see in our news feed, crashing from one stupid to another outrage. The water particles aren’t organized either. Each one acts under forces it can’t completely understand, and often with no purpose other than to slam into us pollens. Then there are the people aggresssively trying to influence us. Think of them as the magnets. The forces are all unseen and to the pollen undetectable. The clamor is deafening. Thought is inconceivable. Understanding is impossible.

That’s part of the reason I’ve been reading and writing here about old books by French and German writers. They were trained in a different time, under different scholarly imperatives. Unlike so many of us, they weren’t trained to get a job; their training was specifically directed at creating at least a few people to study society as objectively as possible. They were all raised in intellectual traditions, including Marxism, but they proved capable of seeing the problems of their own training as clearly as any other problem, and of advancing human understanding. And since Arendt and the members of the Frankfurt School were directly affected by the rise of totalitarianism, they too faced horrifying societal conditions. Foucault and Bourdieu came later but were raised in a similar tradition, in which the intellectual life was valued, and the effort to understand society and history were valued.

I personally feel battered by the media environment. I don’t watch cable news or tv news at all, but even the Twitter is so confounding that some days it’s hard to concentrate on my reading. So, I’m going to write a short series trying to use the ideas I’ve picked up from my reading to provide a sort of grounding, a context, a historical analogy, a comparison to the times observed by some smart people. I’ve tried to do a bit of this in my posts on these old books, so this isn’t new, it’s just a bit more direct. I will start with Hannah Arendt, from The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3 on Totalitarianism.

We are told that the Republicans are a movement, and we know they are ideologically driven. The ideology is neoliberalism. The most important principle of neoliberalism is that markets know best, and if let alone that Invisible Hand will drive the human race to perfection. Any interference in the workings of the market will only make things worse. The market is the most marvelous information processor imaginable. No human or group of humans can hope to match its deliberations. Therefore, no human interference with the workings of the markets is permissible, including especially concerted action through government. The market will always work for the best interests of all of us.

Arendt doesn’t think much of ideologies.

Ideologies [are] -isms which to the satisfaction of their adherents can explain everything and every occurence by deducing it from a single premise….

… The ideology treats the course of events as though it followed the same “law” as the logical exposition of its “idea.” Ideologies pretend to know the mysteries of the whole historical process—the secrets of the past, the intricacies of the present, the uncertainties of the future—because of the logic inherent in their respective ideas. P. 468-9.

Ideologies work by the process of logic, the deductive working out of the idea behind the ideology. The ideologies Arendt is discussing, the Marxist idea of the progress of history, and the Nazi idea of racial purity, both have an inherent motion, from the past to the present and on into the future, all driven by a deductive logic. The same is true of neoliberalism. The state of the market at one point in time and the actions taken at that moment create the next state of the market, and on and on like a clock stepping forward.

In Arendt’s description of the rise of totalitarianism, the primary tool of the leaders is terror, a gradually increasing level of fear of armed force, first under the guise of law, and then without any pretense of legal justification. The analogy in the case of neoliberalism is also fear, not of armed force, but of immigrants, or of losing jobs, or that lack of cash will mean death from the money-centric health care system or outright starvation, or of a loss of status that might lead to those terrifying outcomes.

That kind of fear doesn’t work on everyone, but it works on enough people to set a swarm in motion. Suddenly a large group of people are moving almost in lockstep. The racket, the noise, the movement, all draw the attention of the media, and of everyone else through their ceaseless yammering. and the weak-minded hangers-on join in. The goal of the leaders, the Republicans, is to get that mindless crowd in motion. It is the movement itself that they seek, because once in motion, the masses can be led wherever the leaders want them to go. The constant injection of new and more terrifying fears increases the movement; faster and faster, until the very notion of thought disappears in a whirlwind of brainless and frightening activity.

Even if you don’t want to pay attention, the threatening noise and action are everywhere. They’re driving people nuts. That’s what the Republicans want.

37 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    The Invisible Hand

    Maybe out-of-sight,
    but you know it must be there.

    CFPB drops investigation into Equifax dump.

    DHS hires BAH for ‘security’.

    Yeah, sure.

    Potus already shifting intel funds around?

    The Invisible Hand is misdirection like Hanlon’s Razor.

    All ‘Big Lie’ stuff.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Not much invisible about that.  One tribe protecting its own, in spite of, perhaps in order to create, great detriment to the many.

      Neoliberalism appears to be a tool designed to enhance the prosperity of the few.  It creates the appearance of false choice, when what’s on offer is take it or be punished. It is acts as a curtain, to disguise the fact, and a shield, to prevent the many from dismantling that tool to promote their own well-being.  It is also a cultural weapon used to maintain advantage.  The non-serious, like David Graeber, are mislabeled by it, to reduce their status, as part of that war.

      At risk of using another -ism, we’ve often talked before about feudalism.  In its predominantly subsistence economy, wealth was derived by aggregating resources produced by others by stealing it.  The arrangements were legalized, of course, and given the imprimatur of a holy seal.  I guess if we don’t learn from history, we’re bound to repeat it. Feels like Groundhog Day.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        One tribe protecting its own, like the noisy withdrawal of Rick Gates’s three attorneys, for reasons cannily kept under seal.

        Leaving a client, let alone so ostentatiously, can create the sensation that it is the client’s fault his lawyers can no longer ethically represent him.  Possible, but so are many alternatives.  But it’s never helpful for the client who ends up in court.  Mueller wouldn’t be phased by it, but that does not detract from its PR value.

        A follower of Dick Cheney could imagine reasons why a hypothetical defense counsel might withdraw from a high-profile case on the periphery of so much power in Washington.  Money or the lack of it.  Not wanting to work with a cooperating witness.  Another is that the announcement tells everyone that Gates can no longer be trusted to take one for the team.  It also puts the information “out there”, which would mask knowledge of Gates’s defense by others who might have learned about it outside normal channels.

        It would be interesting to know who was paying for Gates’s legal defense and whether that’s changed with this announcement.

      • Silence Hand says:

        Oh, cripes.  I hadn’t really integrated the Feudalist model into my thinking about current events.  Thanks a ton for some serious lost sleep.

        (edit: searched the site for “feudal”; reading list assembled!)

  2. Galactus-36215 says:


    Jeremey Scahill has Professor David Harvey on his podcast where he gives a great definition of Neoliberalism. Have a listen.

    It isn’t quite the definition of hands off of the markets but rather government (when needed to tax) not affect companies. ie….banks and companies are always given preference to help the Capital Class. It begins at 27:45.

    enjoy. ;)

  3. greengiant says:

    Neoliberalism, “free markets” are such a hoot. Any trader or business capitalist should be able to state the mode of the “game” is acquire a monopoly preferably by government mandate or license. Secondary scams involve captured markets by control of market pricing, information asymmetry, justice system, contractual take it or leave it terms, William Black’s “control fraud” and on and on.
    Apparent open market auctions are anything but. Both at estate auctions and property foreclosures there are two auctions, the first nominally open where the clique never bids against itself, and the second when the conspirators hold the true auction and divide the spoils err profit as they deem fit. That there is always only one clique is a proof exercise.

  4. Joe Student says:

    One can’t predict what an individual will do, but it is fairly easy to predict what a mob will do with an external stimulus applied.

    I can’t remember who came up with that, but it was from a logit modeler trying to define market behavior/game theory to me a few decades ago. And I am sure he got it from someone else.

    • bmaz says:

      Not sure either, but good quote. Also, have to say, you original comment on 1/26 is looking good, and ever better.

    • Silence Hand says:

      Actually, it’s surprisingly difficult to predict what a mob will do when the individuals are behaving with anything other than essentially mindless action (fear, hunger, etc).  Maybe that’s the point of the apparent fear-inspiring chaos:  it paradoxically makes prediction somewhat easier.

      Agent-based modeling is coming along such that better predictions of group and individual behavior in nuanced real-world situations should be possible, though it’s still limited by computing power.   Think murmuration of starlings.  Decent high-level tutorial here. (PDF of ppt)

      Cool video of a simulation (link to github code) here:

  5. Christopher OLoughlin says:

    Ed, thank you for the post. I couldn’t agree more. Terror is the currency of Billionaires especially in our Palace. If only 6 states are in electoral “play” how much terror does it take to elect a Billionaire? Majority meet Electoral college 2016. Should we begin with a majority of states modifying their unique state electoral mandate amended to declare the winner of the majority vote in that state will get all state electoral votes? Thereby using the existing framework of our founders but making it reflective of 2018 media driven societal hyper-fear- terror dystopia?

  6. Rapier says:

    I apologize for dumping this in this thread if your not interested. The topic is Neoliberalism

    Neoliberalism has a branch which infers a belief in laissez-faire but in fact the point is not having the government keeping it’s hands off the market but rather to use the government to create the markets they want. Construct your own list of who “they” are. Thus the stock and bond markets have been designed to inflate, always referred to as ‘increase in value’, the government and the Central Banks active partners. Enlisted so to speak into the market design. So over 30 years we have had 3 extremely long and large bull markets in stocks. The market is designed to rise. Bonds have had a bull market the entire time. Till now? Well…..

    With risk banished, except the odd circumstance like 2008, or the last 10 days,
    ‘wealth’ in guaranteed to those who own the assets traded in the ‘market’.

    Health care? A well designed market as a system of profit and some very very very very good salaries. Does ACA rhyme with market design?

    I am not saying the results of asset inflation or our health care system are some hell on earth. I am just saying recognize them for what they are. Markets designed by those who profit from them and, surprise surprise, they profit. The structure of a market determines it’s outcome.

    All markets are not the same.

  7. Anon says:

    That is a fair point. May I suggest that you add Eric Hoeffer to your reading list. His points on the function of ideology for individuals are important and add greatly to understanding Ardent.

  8. Phillip Schuman says:

    The ‘magnet’ that creates the order out of chaos is the’noble [sic] lie,’ as so many neo-cons learned at the knee of professor Leo Strauss (and from his classical forebearers).

    A unifying myth.

    In theory, I guess it might be a neutral idea. If we had wise and good philosopher-kings in charge, per Plato’s Republic, such deception might lead to an acceptable end.

    In practice, we’ve seen this movie before. It always ends very badly.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The good philosopher-king is a thought experiment.  There is no such animal outside the imaginary perfection of Plato’s thought.  Counterweights and process are the only protection from the inevitable imperfections of any leader.

      Must be a slow news day when the MSM spends so much time on whether it’s reasonable for an American president to scream treason in the face of anyone who does not stand up and cheer his most meager thought.  Because it’s not obvious the newsmakers know the answer and are doing this to make it clearer to their viewers.

      • Trip says:

        When everything is called treason, nothing is treason at all. Why do they keep giving the propaganda machine an assist?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        One would hope MSMers know more about words and their meaning than the philosopher-king now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I would even prefer Sean Connery as Agamemnon.

  9. Bjorn Jensen says:

    Möbius Trump
    comes to mind as well-
    -a one sided surface embedded in a three dimensional space. If we are the “ant” we are traversing a topologically unorientable surface only to arrive at a ground hog day point of non origin. The ant or ants, that is to say, us, the public , would be able to walk on the Mobius strip on a single surface indefinitely since there is no edge in the direction of their movement.

    There seems to be no end or beginning to this collective catastrophe using the Möbius metaphor.

    Another theory comes to mind as a metaphor:

    The Doppler Trump.

    The poor little ant remembers the fading past but imagines the future yet to come as it pointlessly travels the Möbius space. An asymmetric reality takes shape for the ant as the near future seems closer than the immediate past. The same distance in time is no longer an objective distance since the measured time for either event is the same- yesterday at 3pm and tomorrow at 3pm. Psychologically the ant perceives the future date as closer than the past date even though empirically measured are exactly the same . So this is attributable perhaps to the ant traveling through space in anticipatory movement which appears to quicken whereas the movements of the ant’s past travels recede very quickly. Doppler steps in to explain. Plenty of waves.

    So Möbius Trump and Doppler Trump are conjoined twins both living in a non orientable space and a future forward orientable imagined space. A virtual place not yet existent.

    Rather more effective for the ant is not the physics of time but the psychology of time. This can serve two purposes – the joy of the anticipation of future events or the dread of future events. The ant in this instance is traveling towards its future universe of dread but simultaneously its future joy. Since the prevailing choices do not exist in Möbius world the ant is just a helpless traveller awaiting either an existent or non existent outcome .

    In Jean Baudrillard’s America, the French philosopher traverses America like Alexis de Tocqueville before him. The difference is Baudrillard’s observations are devoid of people (the social, economic and cultural) in his “astral” America. The desert southwest compels his soliphistic observations, “The silence of the desert is a visual thing, too. a product of the gaze that stares out and finds nothing to reflect it “.

    Or, the “limitless horizontality” of Los Angeles and that the people are “like shadows that have escaped from Plato’s cave”.

    On the wide expanses-“Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered,everything to be obliterated.”

    Baudrillard marvels and contemplates what is this America that he observes:

    “Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.”

    The book is a must read or a re- read as its relevance is now more potent.

    The wonders of Simulacra and Simulation not withstanding:

    “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.”

    I look forward to Marcy Wheeler’s future contemplations not with dread but joy. I am only a simple ant after all.

  10. Trip says:

    I await the end of this Twilight Zone episode, where the twist is an unexpected weighty comeuppance for the greedy, vain, indifferent and generally awful, concluding as a devastating morality lesson for those offenders.

    I suppose that wish is a delusion, in and of itself. Good guys finish last, don’t they, if they even exist at all?

  11. Noserider Magneeesole says:

    Discovering reliable sources is work. Thank God for me I could sort of pursue it as a hobby. I could look at it that way at times. The way I take Christopher Lasch’s days-of-yore contribution is that conservatives began to imitate the meritocratic aspects of liberalism [as that aspect was swallowing liberals like some very local black hole]. The whole nature of pluralism in America was affected by this. The camps became more alike. And now the sophistication of viewing technology (even if you’re viewing words) figures for both like the sophistication of ones library in the past. The more sophisticated, the more you believe its contents. But the hooplah over each new “book” was always too much (today over each new share). What matters is not what’s tacit and set-down. What matters is what the struggling individual must carry with herself. That person is the disciplined one. S/he goes to the shares, but s/he must then return to the struggle. Between the two, one simply cannot CARRY along a bunch of rigid/fixed solid things. What one carries has to be flexible, resilient, and light…but strong. If enough wind up carrying such a thing (perspective) in a given era, it must be that the morphic field makes it so.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Donald’s lawyers – and his good friends – are reportedly saying the Don shouldn’t have an interview with Bob Mueller. They are afraid he’ll be charged with perjury. What’s missing in that advice? The Don has to lie. His lies have to be material, and Mueller has to rely on them. The Don might even be given a chance to correct himself.

    The Don’s lawyers know all that. They also know their client. Trump lies all the time, whether it’s about the small and the tall, the impact of tax cuts, the size of his hands or his wealth. He lies because it’s convenient, because he needs to buttress his fragile ego, because he feels like it. He lies to protect himself. Don will be afraid of Mueller, so he will bluster and lie. He’ll try to stick to the script, but he won’t have much success at it. Bob Mueller doesn’t have to trap Trump, he just has to let him be. That’s on Trump.

    The reports also seem to miss that the president has an obligation to talk with Mueller about a criminal investigation that involves his campaign and his closest advisers. It is part of his job as president to enforce the law, which includes investigations and legal process. If he chooses not to, Mueller can have a grand jury subpoena him, in which case Donald gets to chat without his lawyers present. That’s on Don, too.

  13. Trip says:

    NWS New York NY‏Verified account @NWSNewYorkNY

    A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have TEST in the message. We are currently trying to find out how a message went out as a warning. We will update you when we find out more.

    There seems to be a pattern of disinformation coming from emergency warning systems. Is the entire program rife with incompetence, or is something else going on?

  14. lefty665 says:

    We need to remember that Dem leadership is every bit as neoliberal as the Repubs. The rigging of the primaries in ’16, the purge of Sanders supporters from leadership positions in ’17, and Party embrace of Blue Dogs (DLC-neoRepubs) in ’18 makes that clear. The Repubs richly deserve to be tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, but Dem leadership equally needs it.

    Democratic neoliberalism visibly goes back to repeal of Glass-Steagall, the Enron Act – deregulation of commodities and derivatives, and racially disparate drug and sentencing laws during the Clinton administration. Currently it is responsible for much of the hysteria that makes up the Dem side drivers of Trumpian Motion.

    Neoliberalism, its slow death, independent of party, cannot come quickly enough.


    • Jonf says:

      Agreed, started as a “me too” from Clinton, while they nicely showed Keynes and friends the door.  I suspect the dems are now more “neoliberal” than the republicans under Trump.

  15. Ed Walker says:

    1. I wrote this post, not Marcy.

    2. It seems to me that the level of noise in the media is overwhelming, Trump and his noise-makers have clotted the air with mindless gibberish, so that just fighting it off takes more energy than I used to spend on policy nad general reading. I think this is a serious problem.

    • Trip says:

      I agree, Ed.  He’s definitely getting help with it, intentional or not, from MSM. They have his stooges on, quote them in print and talk about him constantly. There is no alternative to him, his policies, his nonsense, being promoted or even listened to. It’s what drove him to power in the first place, so much attention. So much noise. He LOVES it, too.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yes, and thanks for that, Ed.  I’m looking forward to more of your examining Arendt and the neoliberal “mind”.

    • lefty665 says:

      re 2. You’re right, the Repubs have been extraordinarily gibberishy. But don’t discount the Dem hysteria that has been no less bizarre. We are now so polarized that rationality has disappeared from both camps.

      Arguing to win has replaced arguing to learn. It is all ‘gotchya’ screaming and the media is going to the bank on it.

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