The McMahons and the American Dream…

I cackled at this Republican’s analysis of the reaction to Linda McMahon, wife of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, being made Donald Trump’s head of Small Business Administration.


In a way he’s right. The McMahons are geniuses. They built a multi-billion dollar empire from the ground up, and have maintained it for going on 35 years. It is worth, however, asking how.

The “small business” element of Linda McMahon’s new job title is ironic because the World Wrestling Federation was built on ignoring the age-old traditions of regional wrestling and invading people’s territories to hold shows, sign talent and take television time. As their business grew, their wrestlers did as well. Steroids were rampant, with top stars, and Vince McMahon himself, injecting. He escaped conviction after procedural errors.

In the 1990s, US culture became more aggressive and more dissipitated and the WWF entered its “Attitude Era”. Targeting young men and boys, their content began to include sex, stalking, suicide and necrophilia. The wrestling grew violent as well, with stunts involving ladders, fire and sixteen foot high cages, and a brutal repertoire of strikes to unprotected heads. This, combined with a gruelling schedule that forced wrestlers to rely on pain pills, booze and recreational drugs to live, ensured that young men, and women, died at staggering rates of heart attacks, or overdoses, or at their own hands. It was only after one-time champion Eddie Guerrero died, aged thirty-eight, that the now WWE instituted its Wellness Policy. A year later, Chris Benoit, who had wrestled through years of head trauma and steroid abuse, killed his wife, his seven-year-old son and himself.

Throughout all of this, the McMahons have been obsessed with image; endlessly combative in their relationship with media. The WWE denied that steroids were related to the Benoits’ deaths even as inquiries were ongoing.

They are not simply self-serving. As an onscreen character, Vince is the only businessman who has allowed his employees to hit him in the head with chairs, kendo sticks and a hospital bedpan. Such is the man’s nerve that he tore both of his quadriceps and didn’t break character. He is a freak.

Perhaps the McMahons do symbolise what has become of the American Dream. They have worked night and day, and risked everything, to be successful and have turned their little business in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts into a gigantic entertainment empire spanning states, countries and continents. That took talent, dedication, courage and tirelessness. But it could not have been done without disregarding tradition, truth, taste and concern for other people’s wellbeing.

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The Extreme Centre…

What does it mean to be “moderate” or a “centrist”? As far as I can tell it means to support supranational institutions, globalisation, mass immigration, social liberalism and some sort of Wilsonian interventionism. This is “moderate” only because it has been modish. In many ways it is a radically modern and subversive worldview, which seeks to democratise that which has never been democratic, diversify that which has been more or less homogeneous, integrate those which have been separate and revolutionise that which has been traditional.

I would not say the “liberal world order” these ideas have produced has had no achievements. Some of its competitors are worse. It could postpone its decline with more restrained attitudes towards, say, migration or democratisation. But it won’t because “centrists” tend not to be rational pragmatists but varying forms of progressive ideologues.

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Enemies to the Right…

The absurd idea that one should have “no enemies to the right” is based on the absurd idea that progressives do not police their ranks. Only people with no knowledge of the left could think this. Take Noam Chomsky: by no means the furthest left of leftists but a man who is consistently, extensively and very publically condemned by mainstream Liberals. Why? Image, of course. They have no wish for people to associate them with real or alleged America-haters. But it is also because of something deeper. The left and the right are heterogeneous and doomed to heated competition over which beliefs and goals acquire status and significance. Within the left there have been long-running arguments over US foreign policy and the state of Israel and hawkish Liberals compete with anti-imperialists over whose ideas will define the Democratic Party and left-leaning cultural institutions. Did this stop them from beating the right? No, because – and hear me out on this – people can do more than one thing at a time.

There are qualifications I should add at this point. Internal criticism can become indulgent and introspective. Disavowals can be cowardly and dishonest. But there’s really nothing wrong with hating Nazis.

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Against Lost Cause Communism…

It can be hard, even impossible, to make significant achievements in this world without doing harm. Let us not be euphemistic and reference omelettes and eggs. Sometimes you have to kill people to save other people. Still, it is striking how the Marxist commentator Sam Kriss writes movingly of Victor Jara, the Chilean singer who was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s firing squads, and then eulogises Fidel Castro without mentioning that the Cuban summarily executed hundreds of his foes.

“In Cuba we survived,” writes this English millenial, avoiding the irony of his being able to attack his government on the Internet when a Cuban cannot criticise the Castro regime and until eight years could not even own a computer.

Still, Kriss must feel that the cause justifies this oppression. The benefits of socialism must be so exceptional, and so endangered, that such measures become a necessity. After all, as he writes, “For decades Cuba was a light to Latin America and the world”. A light to the world! Truly, a paradise on Earth. Well, no. How one can apply this notion to a poor, under-resourced, corrupt society is beyond me. Hats off to the education system for achieving Cuba’s admirable literacy rates but with such limitations on what you can read and write, and such little opportunity for innovation, that knowledge is worth less than it might be elsewhere. People who use their learning for dissent and irreverence are still tossed into jail. The idea of this vulnerable Eden struggling to defend its riches is pathetic.

Still, Cuba is far from being the worst country in the world. British allies are by any measure more obnoxious. I will even state again that one thing gives Castro undeniable poetic resonance: his apparently indomitable defiance of the world’s richest and best-armed superpower. Yet I resent the Lost Cause mythologising of Marxists, who often dwell on South America where, communist atrocities notwithstanding, leftists were often treated with spectacular cruelty. “We’re doomed,” Kriss mourns, “And we fight anyway, against it all.” Yet communists have not been victims of history. From Russia to China to Korea, Albania, Vietnam, Cambodia, Romania and Ethiopia communists have toppled governments and replaced them. What a record of sweeping intercontinental triumphs for the odd theories of a long-dead German philosopher! What an astonishing series of achievements! The problem is that Marxists are not keen to associate themselves with the killing, torture, theft, rape and famine that soon followed them. Without Yankee imperialists to blame they can only accuse old comrades of betraying the cause. With no desire to launch into Kołakowskian exegesis of communist dogma I can only say that “triumphs” so liable to prompt bloodbaths are probably not worth seeking – and that once you accept savage means of achieving desired ends you are less able to prevent savagery from spreading. But ideologues are deaf – or, at least, hard of hearing. How can one take seriously people who think they were the plucky heroes of a time when Mao, Hoxha, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Kim Il-Sung, Mariam and Ceaușescu slaughtered millions? It makes the most ardent admirers of General Lee seem balanced. Even the Castros have lost their claims to being underdogs. In 2016, with Obama attempting to normalise relationships with Cuba and the CIA about as liable to organise as a coup as to send a Christmas card to Julian Assange, they were still carting dozens of peaceful protestors off to jail. Communists have been victims, like the unfortunate Victor Jara, but more often than not they have been oppressors.

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Conservatism and the Status Quo…

What has happened to conservatism, Nick Cohen asks, in an age of Trump, Farage, Le Pen et cetera? Cohen makes reasonable points about right wing populism. It is true that populists are often opportunists, pursuing their own ambitions and dismissing critics under the pretense of being the sole legitimate representatives of the people. Unhinged demotism can be a destructive force as well, when bitterness, paranoia and utopianism thrive. Where Cohen goes wrong, and badly wrong, is thinking that conservatism is the practice of maintaining the status quo. Often, yes, but not in every case. Just as a captain changes course to avoid an iceberg, conservatives oppose the status quo if it is unduly transformative; rationally and carefully, one hopes, but also effectively. It is the failure of conservatives to be this opposition in a normal sense that has opened the door to the populists.

Cohen’s liberal triumphalism is evident when he condemns Daniel Hannan for calling Enoch Powell “dazzlingly intellectual”. Powell was made a professor of Ancient Greek aged 25 and went on to write books on Thucydides, Herodotus and the Bible. Whatever your views of his political career it is immensely smug and blinkered to dismiss him as “brutish”.

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Atomised Ethnonationalists…

To put whiteness at the core of one’s identity is to imagine oneself as possessing some kind of deep kinship with Slavic miners, Sardinian olive farmers, New York real estate agents, Swedish academics, Texan ranchers, Belgian chocolatiers and Westminster politicians. It is, ironically, delusional internationalism. Britons find it difficult to think of themselves as a people. Whites, as much as it is to be welcomed that we do not kill each other en masse anymore, are never going to.

Identity is local and particular. To build it on such an enormously vague and broad concept is symptomatic of the decline of families, communities and nations. It is for the victims of atomisation.

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On Judging Dead Rulers…

Fidel Castro was perhaps the best communist. This is, of course, to damn him with faint praise but it is nonetheless worth noting that he murdered thousands rather than millions of his people and never drove his nation to economic collapse. He was a sincere and courageous man whose more than five decade long defiance of the world’s leading superpower will be remembered among history’s most audacious achievements. Still, he was a communist: cruel, in his oppression of political opponents, and deluded and incompetent, as a man who, with his comrades, believed in the creation of a “new man”, “selfless and cooperative, obedient and hard working”, yet left behind an impoverished, corrupt and stiflingly repressive society. That Marxists praise him with such vehement hyperbole is evidence of just how much their representatives have failed.

The deaths of public figures are a time for political football. People tend to expect unqualified denunciation of oppressive politicians who oppose their broad ambitions yet doggedly excuse or at least contextualise the oppression of politicians who share them. Many of the people who are outraged by the notion that one might praise Castro for anything believe that one should balance the cruelty of Pinochet against the economic achievements of his administration. Others who are rhapsodising about Cuban schools and hospitals would be appalled to hear praise of the general. Civilisation was built on enough slaughter and oppression that it is naive to judge dead rulers by their darkest acts. This is especially true of rulers in the Third World, where social problems are so great and institutions are so weak that even good man are tempted towards brutality. We should take their whole legacies into account – a measure by which even the best of the communists fails.

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