State Power, Political Warfare, and the Effort to Reclaim America: A Conversation with L0m3z

Recently, I read an essay by the shadowy commentator known only as “L0m3z,” titled “Our Generation’s War.” He begins on an ominous note: “It is appropriate to begin to understand yourself as a combatant in a war that you may only be dimly aware is being waged. You are in fact operating in the battlespace at this very moment. Consider the implications. Consider that you are marked. Your self-identification as a combatant, or not, is irrelevant. You have been declared an adversary of the True and Just cause of Democracy.” 

L0m3z goes on to describe the crisis of legitimacy that has arisen for the American government, one that extends from the populist uprising that is still unfolding. His explanation of the state’s strategy for navigating this crisis—using the techniques of “fifth-generation warfare” domestically—piqued my interest and helped me to think about some of the contradictions that are increasingly evident in American governance.

Readers with a large appetite for opinion writing may be familiar with L0m3z’s other work at American Greatness, The American Mind, and elsewhere. I had some further questions extending from the piece named above, so I caught up with L0m3z via email. Below is a transcript of that discussion, which addresses the origins of the regime’s crisis of legitimacy, the utilization of state power in response to that crisis, and the means available to dissidents for enacting significant reform.

AE:  You identify January 6 (the date of the riot at the Capitol) as the place where the regime marks the beginning of the war you describe, but you suggest this is a cover—a post hoc justification of the hostilities. What was the true beginning?

L0m3z:  State power is consolidated through crisis. Machiavelli knew this. Caesar knew this. Even George W. Bush knew this. (Donald Trump, unfortunately, may not have known this, but I digress.) Crisis puts the population on edge. A good crisis is one where the population’s way of life (in actuality or by perception) is existentially imperiled. Such a crisis requires an immediate and strong centralized response so the population can feel safe again. That is what the population wants from their government. This is, in fact, the government’s fundamental purpose. This is the Hobbesian view, anyway. And it follows that any government wishing to legitimize the consolidation of its power must do so in response to vulnerability, in response to crisis.

 Now, in the case of January 6, there is a kind of tortuous irony that needs to be untangled. The regime—and here I mean the ruling uniparty clique that runs our bureaucracies and institutions, what our friend Bronze Age Pervert calls the occupational class—is facing a very real crisis of legitimacy. One obvious measure of it is the polls showing that more than 50 percent of Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen (they are right about that, by the way). You see the crisis in cratering trust in the media. You see it in the skepticism over vaccinations and the public health bureaucracy. You see it in increasingly negative attitudes toward academia. You see it in the tenor of our national discourse. You see it everywhere you look: John and Jane Doe losing faith in the prevailing order. This includes many on the Left. And these trends are not new. They have been accelerating since at least the Great Recession and took their most noteworthy form in Trump’s election in 2016.

 Trump in many ways was a paper tiger, without the personnel or long-term vision to deliver the fatal blow preceded by this crisis of legitimacy, but the popular energy that put him into power —the reaction against an illegitimate regime—is not so easily constrained. And this is the real crisis to which the regime is currently responding. So, January 6 is the quasi-artificial crisis they use to conceal the real one, the much, much bigger one. Their failures become Trump’s alone. The wariness and dissatisfaction of the population at large is projected onto some smaller, déclassé, and disgruntled segment of the population known by their MAGA hats. The illegitimate regime is thereby made legitimate in their defense of the Republic against the greatest threat to our way of life since [insert your favorite catastrophe here].

 AE:  From the perspective of the current regime, what would victory in this battle look like?

 L0m3z: Victory for them is a restoration of legitimacy. But they know that this cannot be accomplished by reverting back to the 20th century paradigm. Thus, Year Zero of our Lord George Floyd. Thus, Build Back Better. It is hard to say exactly what a successful consolidation of power will look like at the granular level, but it will almost certainly be more international and more top-down than what preceded it. It will be democratic only in name. It will have successfully put down the threat of populist nationalism and cowed what remains of the non-compliant middle class.

 AE:  You say that victory for the regime would be a “democracy in name only.” But you also say that 2020 was stolen. But doesn’t that imply that, at least at the national level, we are already a democracy in name only? My suspicion is that an honest, neutral observer could only say that we are an oligarchyone that uses democratic rhetoric, and goes through the motions of democratic procedures, to conceal its status as such. Do you agree with that assessment? And if so, in an oligarchy like ours (which is so unique in historical terms), what means are left for the subjects of such an oligarchy to reassert and reclaim our status as citizens with legitimate political agency (rather than subjects)? 

L0m3z:  Yes, that is correct. “Democracy in name only” describes our present circumstances as well as the future one. This is true not only at the level of actual vote tallying (where in national elections and in big urban centers Republicans face something in the ballpark of a roughly 5 percent baseline fraud deficit right out of the gates), but also true at a structural level. Mass immigration, of course, is the best means of vote engineering. This isn’t some kind of conspiracy theory. Go ask Democratic strategist Ron Brownstein or even the New York Times when they are feeling their oats. They are explicit about this. Only when you read their words back to them do they deny it. 

But even then, the situation can always get more perverse. Basic measures to counteract fraud and demand transparency are already being denied by the courts, through fiat by CEOs, and by threat of more “mostly peaceful protests” from the NGO arm of the occupational class. Who has the power to control voting procedures in Georgia? The Georgia voters or Delta Airlines? And this is all justified, of course, as necessary to protect democracy. This is what I mean by “perverse.” It is all quite funny, and fodder for a good speculative novel, but alas it is the future into which we are stepping. And what is to be done in such circumstances? Replace the current regime with a new one, legally and peacefully, of course. 

AE:  You imply that Delta Air Lines (serving here, I think, as a metonym for corporate America writ large) has more say in Georgia’s elections than Georgians. 

L0m3z:  Yes, Delta Air Lines here is a stand-in for Woke Capital writ large. As to the relative power of these corporations versus the voting public, even before Delta (and Coca-Cola and MLB et al.) came out publicly in opposition to Georgia’s new laws, we learned that Brian Kemp was consulting with the CEOs of these companies in crafting them. That an airline company has a say in state election proceduresin any capacityis evidence enough of their undue influence. This is far from the most egregious example of Woke Capital, and it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be, but nonetheless illustrative of the central critique: corporations, and corporate capital, are one of the central nodes of the modern Democratic Party. 

AE:  Why is it that the corporations so quickly realigned with the political and cultural Left? Is it just that the Democratic Party is the party of liquid modernity (moving values, moving goods, moving people, (re)moving all kinds of borders, literal and figurative) and is therefore the party of global capitalism? Is it really as simple as money lust?

L0m3z:  Why have these corporations aligned with Democrats and not Republicans? Richard Hanania says it’s because the Left cares more about politics and will punish corporations for not taking their side. This is true to an extent, but it’s also true that the Right has not yet figured out how to mobilize its base to pressure corporations in the other direction. The etiology of Woke Capital runs deeper than that though, and can be traced back at least to the vagaries of Civil Rights law. This isn’t just Chris Caldwell and right-wing think tankers dreaming this stuff up. Lefty academics who study bureaucratic management like Harvard’s Frank Dobbin have been making the connection between the rise of the HR-ization of corporate America and civil rights law since the late ’90s. 

The CliffsNotes version of the story is that civil rights law created ambiguous requirements and constraints for which corporations had to employ entire divisions of human resources consultants and lawyers to manage, who were incentivized to inflate the threat of these laws and the costs of violating them. Much like a counterterrorism campaign often creates more terrorism (which in turn justifies more resource allocation to the counter-terrorism campaign), these HR departments and lawyers, aided by their friends in the academy, created ever newer and broader and more intractable problems under the umbrella of civil rights to manage. Eventually, you end up with the infinitely expansive abstraction of “systemic racism” which can be used to justify just about any program or expenditure. 

But even that isn’t the whole story. As late as the early 2010s, corporate culture in general was at least politically neutral, if not exactly conservative. I have a few thoughts about what happened over the last decade or so that flipped the corporate world blue. First was the emergent political realignment that happened around Barack Obama, who brought together a dumbbell coalition of, crudely speaking, poor minorities and powerful financial interests. As a matter of basic cultural and political affinities, this realignment moved corporate America to the Left by some degrees. 

This relates closely to the second explanation, which is that an increasing number of second and third tier managers within critical corporations were women—importantly “career women”—who for a whole host of complex socio-political reasons also helped pull corporate America’s center of gravity to the Left. Finally, and maybe most importantly, was Occupy Wall Street in 2012 and the resurgence of class-conscious lefty politics, which eventually took its political form in the rise of Bernie Sanders. Corporate power learned that these threats from the Left could be neutralized by racializing—by wokifying—the Left’s structural critiques.

 AE: You suggest that the aim of the state’s fifth-generation war against the people it governs is “to enforce the conditions of consent.” Of course, when consent is coerced, it isn’t “consent” at all. Why, then, is the appearance of popular consent so important for the regime?

 L0m3z: There is a concept from behavioral economics that is useful to understand this distinction between consent and coercion called “nudge theory.” The idea of nudge theory is to design a very narrowly-constructed “choice architecture” that incentivizes and leads people toward a particular behavior while providing freedom (or the illusion of freedom) in a limited sense. So, when I say they will “enforce the conditions of consent” I mean that they will construct a choice architecture, of greater or lesser range, that at the scale of a population is guaranteed to produce a favored outcome. In this case, they consent to the regime’s legitimacy.

AE:  You also say the regime is in no mood to test its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. But do you think the regime even believes it is failing? Or do you think that, in their eyes, the developing popular revolt is unfair and unjustified? 

L0m3z: I think it is probably true that on some level they know they are failing—or really, that they are weak, which is different. But they also think that the revolts against them are unjustified. I think Trump pierced any illusion, even for the most ardent “End of History” fantasist, that the liberal order was not nearly as stable as they’d hoped. The over-the-top reaction to him indicates as well as anything that this is true. A self-confident regime would not have reacted in that way. 

That said, they still believe they are our rightful rulers. Certainly, they would not consider an uprising from the middle—an uprising of benighted yokels who cannot even appreciate the transcendent high-art of Lin Manuel Miranda—to be their rightful successors. They are much too self-satisfied for that. Maybe they would accept a revolt from further below, the black and brown workers of the world united at last! You sometimes get the sense they would love this. They would certainly get a thrill out of it. But MAGA moms? Hairdressers and contractors? Ranchers and factory foremen? No. Deplorable. 

AE: You suggest that absent any real political power, opponents of the regime will need to convince the normies. You acknowledge that they remain unconvinced in part because their immediate material concerns have not been disrupted. They can still get a steak, they have reliable internet access, and Amazon will deliver anything they order to their door in two days. I suspect that the regime understands that a significant decline in the system’s ability to satisfy these material concerns would be enough for much of the population to fully reject the legitimacy of the existing order. For that reason, I expect that the regime will be very zealous in providing for the material wants and needs of the public. Do you agree that the regime has effectively weaponized material well-being in this way? And, if so, how might the normie be persuaded, given his continued state of material affluence? 

L0m3z:  This is a question of some considerable debate. I do hold the belief that the Grill American is too comfortable, for now, to take any drastic measures, or to support drastic measures taken by others on his behalf. He is not desperate enough to countenance strong action on his own, but the exogenous influence of a charismatic figure could very easily get him across the Rubicon. Trump was almost that, but not quite. 

There is another view though, one preferred by Curtis Yarvin, which I think also has some merit. Yarvin has said that revolutions are not born of the common man’s desperation, but of his luxury. To insist that the Grill American’s material conditions must deteriorate to the point of desperation before he will act is not really what we see historically. Nevertheless, I think America’s world-historical wealth and middle-class creation makes the case for a radical changing of the guard—again a peaceful and legal changing of the guard—a harder one to sell.  

AE: You insist upon a “peaceful and legal changing of the guard,” which I assume you mean to be taken facetiously. But if, as you suggest, 2020 was rigged and a Left-aligned corporate America holds the political agency that is the rightful property of everyday Americans, then it would seem a “peaceful and legal changing of the guard” would be impossible. Is that incorrect? Or, if it is correct, absent the “exogenous influence of a charismatic figure,” what is the role of everyday Americans in inducing that changing of the guard? 

L0m3z: No, I am not being facetious when I say “peaceful and legal.” Violent revolt is a sure loser for a million reasons. It is unambiguously the case that the state holds a monopoly on violence. You might say, “Well, Antifa and BLM commit violence with impunity all the time.” Yes, exactly. The state holds a monopoly on violence, and that includes the state’s shock troops. So, no. Americans who want a new regime would be swiftly and summarily crushed in any armed conflict that attempted to take control of the government. It’s a laughable notion. 

Instead, a legal and peaceful regime change would require “everyday Americans” to commit themselves to a president and some number of aligned representatives, perhaps under a third party (though in theory it could entail a hostile takeover of the GOP) who state directly their objectives, and once in power, rules as a unified bloc to reassert executive power and reform procedural mechanisms to starve hostile bureaucracies and/or abolish them outright. This would also include the wholesale turnover of personnel across hundreds of departments and offices, as well as a sufficient network of allies in tech, media, military, finance, and elsewhere willing to assist in this agenda. The Grill American’s job in all of this is to simply grill and be merry. 

AE:  This seems like a contradiction: you are advocating a procedural/electoral approach to facilitating what would be a major structural reformation. I agree that any violent “insurrection” (the real kind) would be doomed to fail. But . . . if the outcome of election 2020 was orchestrated by the state, isn’t that evidence that a procedural/electoral attempt at reform simply won’t be tolerated by the powers that be? Isn’t it self-defeating to insist upon playing by the rules if the other player has sole discretion to change the rules or make them up as the game unfolds?  

L0m3z: No, I think this view gives the regime far too much credit. It imagines an omnipotent and fully competent opposition. They are not. Just because the 2020 election was manipulated in a handful of Democrat Machine cities under the unique conditions of COVID and the loosening of election procedures around mail-in voting does not discount the possibility of sufficiently robust Republican countermeasures to overcome the worst incidents of fraud, or attempts at fraud, in future elections. 

I do not agree with others on the Right who claim that elections are (or soon will be) unwinnable for conservatives. But it is imperative that Republican officials be hardened in their resolve to enact voter ID Laws and new rules ensuring same-day voting, signature verification, etc. So long as conservatives rally themselves around the emerging populist consensus and reject the worst excesses of the left’s cultural revolution and the zombie GOP’s free-market essentialism, there is an open lane for retaking political control. Which is a necessary but insufficient condition for resolving the rest of what ails us.


About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

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