Thursday, December 14, 2017
The Think Tank Archipelago
The Gulag Archipelago was the term used by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solshenitzyn to describe the secretive network of precincts, star-chambers and labor camps by which the Soviet government terrorized its own citizens. (Reminder: things like the "Secret Service" and the "Department of the Interior" mean very different things outside the US). I've borrowed the term for the network of think tanks, magazines, and political consulting firms that became much more noticeable with the 2016 Republican primary and general election. Z-Man calls them The Rackets. (Again, no copy-pasta, so you'll just have to click through). I was unaware of most of them until Trump started threatening to put the supposedly conservative GOP into actual power. Then all these people I never heard of came out of the woodwork to tell us Trump would grab your wives' cootches and put everybody in the camps and Russian troops would be sleeping on cots in the very White House.
When people squawk that hard, usually the real concern is not so much policy as loss of money or status. Jeb Bush lavished millions on people who couldn't tell him that the fly-overs don't want to be made strangers in their own country and don't care whether Jeff Bezos gets a few more million in tax savings to tack on to his multi-billion dollar net worth. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio ran expensive, hard-fought campaigns premised on the subtleties of Constitutional law and how awful it would be if we socialized medicine for anybody who's not employed by federal, state or local government, military or ex-military, and anybody who's not old or poor. (That leaves the rest of you to pick up the tab, schmucks).
I recall hearing the name Rick Wilson a lot in 2016, and wondering who in the world that was.
Apparently there's this whole industry of people who make a very good living off political consulting. I hadn't really thought about them at all until they started crawling out from under rocks in 2016. Political campaigns are scrupulously managed by an army of paid consultants. Then a blowhard like Trump comes along and tweets off his cellphone and rents arenas and gets the locals to volunteer the entertainment and spends an hour extemporaneously telling people what they want to hear. You don't need to pay anybody several million dollars to figure that out.
The related pundit and journalist classes have the same problem: their product is not particularly unique or arcane, and people are wondering why they ever paid for it. You can fork over your credit card information and wade through all the ads and pop-ups to sniff through George Will's precious droppings, or you can just type in anti-gnostic.blogspot.com. Or click on Sailer, or Z-Man, or anybody else in the blogroll, or thousands of others.
Trump and Trumpism threaten livelihoods and status of a large class of feeders, and this motivates the animus toward him as much as any actual policy. The Think Tank Archipelago subsists off favorable treatment under 501(c)(3) and tax-sheltered gifts from wealthy individuals. Naturally, therefore, the Archipelago broadcasts the sort of policies that keep the wealthy wealthy. It's also no coincidence that many of these entities are clustered in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic, near Washington D.C. Trump calls them The Swamp--a whole political-economic sector whose members rotate among government employment, government contracting, government lobbying, campaign consulting, and lecturing the rest of us via legacy media.